« AnteriorContinuar »
ter. And it seems to me, in view of the severe penalties denounced by these acts of the Legislature, that the officers of the corporations could not have done otherwise than to have refused to act under those circumstances, where their action would have laid them liable to severe penalties; and every subordinate, who under their direction should attempt to violate these provisions, being also liable to like penalties, would also refuse. There is no question but that such legislation is vicious, almost a disgrace to the civilization of the age, and a reproach upon the intelligence and sense of justice of any Legislature which could enact provisions of that kind. In case of the refusal to issue a ticket at a certain rate which is fixed by the Legislature as proper, but which the railroad companies hold to be void and unconstitutional (and which would be an act of itself not immoral nor malum in se, but would ordinarily afford the person who was refused the privilege of a ticket a right of action against the railroad company), in case he was in the right and the refusal was wrong, there would be no question but that in a civil action any such person would receive an adequate remedy; there would be no danger that any court or jury would refuse to give ample damages. Beyond question, the result of actions of that kind would be that the damages would almost certainly border on the excessive, instead of failing to remunerate the party for any wrong he would suffer on account of such a refusal. But under the provisions of these laws, acts not immoral or wrong in themselves, but which are only unlawful because prohibited, would entail upon the person refusing to comply with such laws the position of being convicted of a felony. They make the refusal a felony, and impose a punishment very unusual
-a fine that might be to the amount of $5,000, or imprisonment in the state prison to the extent of five years, or both, in the discretion of the court; punishments which are applied only to the very highest crimes short of homicide of which men are ever guilty; punishments which would be deemed adequate in cases of burglary, highway robbery, or crimes of the highest character, short, as I say, of homicide. There is no doubt that the directors and officers of railroad companies were entirely justified in refusing to take the hazard that would fall upon them (and their employés, if they acted under their advice) by taking any steps to save the stockholders from the consequences of these laws.
I agree with counsel for the defendants that these matters must be considered separately. For instance, the order of the Commissioners of September 6, 1906, which went into effect on November 15th of the same year, must be considered by itself upon the charge that it did not afford adequate compensation to the railroad companies and had the effect of confiscating their property. If it did not have that effect, it would not have that effect if the subsequent acts added to it had that effect. And so with the act of April 4th—the passenger act. If that did not reduce the revenues of the companies to a degree which would leave them without sufficient compensation, even after the reducing effect of the order of the commissioners, then that would not be unconstitutional; it would be constitutional and proper. And the same remarks would apply to the act of April 18th, which affected the rates chargeable upon commodities. It would have to be considered, of course, with reference to the reductions theretofore made by the two previous acts; but if that still left enough to compensate the railway companies for their services rendered in the transportation, and left an adequate return upon the value of the property which was used in the transportation within the state, the complainants would have no cause for complaint. But, of course, the latter act must be considered with reference to the reductions made in the earlier order and the earlier act. Now, I will not attempt—it would be impossibe that I should do so—to go through with the different estimates that have been made in respect to the expenses of the railroads in the transportation of freight and passengers, state and interstate, and what is applicable to the state properly.
It is argued that this court has not jurisdiction of the case because it does not raise any federal question, for the reason that there is no controversy as to the effect of the constitutional provision in the fourteenth amendment, that I have referred to, because it is admitted on the part of the defense that the construction claimed for that provision by the complainants is the true construction, and that there is no controversy in relation to it, and that the only controversy arising upon this hearing is in relation to matters of fact alone. With respect to that, I might say that there is not really any controversy in respect to matters of fact, until we come to the ultimate facts in the case. There is no controversy as to what the order of the Railroad and Warehouse Conmission actually was. There is no controversy as to the terms of that order or its effect upon the different articles of merchandise in respect to which it fixes the rates. There is no controversy in relation to the purport of the two different acts of the Legislature to which I have referred. There is no controversy with respect to the showing which has been made by the railroad companies as to the cost of transportation, their operating expenses in the past, and the anticipated increase in those expenses in the present year. Nor is there any controversy with respect to the amount invested in these railroad properties, in the first place. There has been no attempt to show that they are different from what they are claimed to be in the showing made by the railroad companies themselves, nor with respect to the fixed charges, which are incumbrances upon these different properties, nor with respect to the amount of stock outstanding in these different companies. In relation to some of them (the Chicago Great Western in particular), I believe that the evidence is that there are no outstanding bonds, anything which is usually reckoned by railroad companies as among their fixed charges; but it does appear that there are outstanding debentures, and that there are classes of preferred stock, several of them, each class in its order being allowed a certain amount of dividend before the next class in order would be entitled to any, and so on, until we come to the common stock. And I am inclined to think that debentures of that kind, and preferred stock, which is entitled to dividends before anything goes to the common stock, are very much of the same nature as bonds or securities, which would be entitled to the payment of interest upon them before there would be any dividends on the preferred or common stock. That they are very much of the same character as these others which are reckoned under the head of fixed charges.
Now, the showings by the different railroad companies amount to this: That in the years past, including the year 1906, there was not enough revenue from the business carried on within the state, including business that was entirely local to the state and the share of the interstate business which would properly be chargeable to or applied upon the property of the railroad companies within the state, to entirely pay the fixed charges outstanding and afford any adequate dividend or compensation to the owners of the stock itself, which repreşents the property, after paying all the operating expenses; and the showing was, in some cases, that there were no charges made, in the keeping of the accounts, under the head of or for or on account of depreciation in the road or rolling stock, the property of the company. It is evident that there ought to be a proper account under that head; that a railroad, like everything else, will wear out in time, and they have been used so long in this country that there can be a reasonable estimate of the percentage of loss each year from depreciation of the roadbed, culverts, bridges, rolling stock; that it would be proper to lay aside a reasonable amount to furnish replacements, renewals, and repairs when needed; and that if that was not done the railroad company might soon be in a position in which it could not keep up, with the receipts that it was getting, and maintain its property in an efficient state to render such service as the public is entitled to receive from it. Now this is a matter in which the public has an interest, as well as the railroad companies and the stockholders of the railroad companies. Some of us older men can remember, in the early days, about the time when the state was admitted, the great anxiety that the people of the state had at that time that railroads should be brought into the state; that persons having capital should be induced to bring railroads into the state; that it was necessary for the prosperity and the upbuilding of the state that it should have railroad connections with the rest of the world; that great and successful efforts were made to get large subsidies, in the way of land grants, from Congress; and that almost every community in the state, every village that had hopes of getting a railroad to it, counties, and all the municipalities were ready to vote, and did vote, bonds as subsidies, for the purpose of inducing men with capital to come into the state and build railroads. They could foresee that it was necessary for the advancement and prosperity of the state to bring emigrants and others into the state, and change what at that time was a large waste into the sites of prosperous cities, thriving towns, and villages and farms, and therefore to have railroads built, giving them connection with the rest of the world; that there should be a way to take farm products, grain, cattle, hogs, everything that was produced by the farmer, in the quickest manner to the best market, and to bring into the state commodities that were needed by its people. And that was done. Railroads were built. We have them. We see the effect of the railroads; and I think every one will admit that no institutions that we have had in the state have done so much to bring about the present state of prosperity, upbuild cities, and cover the state with prosperous farms and with a large population, as the railroads; and it would certainly be a very great calamity if these railroads were dealt with in such a way as to destroy their efficiency and usefulness to the inhabitants of the state. But, notwithstanding this, there is, of course, a danger that the mass of the people, looking upon these large aggregations of wealth, seeing occasionally a person who is reputed to be or who has become wealthy on account of his connection with these railroads, and that they are getting considerable amounts of money from the people of the state as compensation for the services that they are performing, will manifest a disposition to reduce this compensation; to save to the people a certain amount of what they have to pay when they patronize the railroads as passengers, or have commodities of any kind to ship upon the railroads. It is quite natural that they should want to have those charges reduced to the lowest point, at any rate, which would be consistent with keeping up the efficiency of the railroads and the advantages which they are receiving from them. There is a danger that this feeling of selfishness may lead them too far, and reduce this compensation so much that it will not enable the railroads to serve them with efficiency—to keep up their roadbed, culverts, bridges, and everything so that they will be entirely safe for the transportation of passengers and freight, and to keep the rolling stock in the best state of efficiency, and enable them to provide the best service attainable. And that is exactly what those corporations are required to do. They are required to exercise the highest degree of care in relation to the transportation of passengers, and a high degree of care in relation to the transportation of freight, and it is certainly for the interests of the people that they should be enabled to do this; and it would be a very short-sighted policy which would reduce the compensation of these railroads to a degree that would disable them from performing these services fully and fairly for the benefit of the people.
A question has been raised in the case that these rates fixed by the Railroad and Warehouse Commission and by the Legislature trench upon the authority of Congress under the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives to Congress the entire control and regulation of commerce among the states and with foreign nations and the Indian tribes. There is no question made that this is an exclusive power, and that no state has any right to trench upon it in the least, and the decisions of the Supreme Court have been quite frequently to the same effect. In the Eubank Case (Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Eubank, 184 U. S. 27, 22 Sup. Ct. 277, 46 L. Ed. 416), and in the case of the transportation from St. Louis to Texas (I do not remember the title), where the Legislature provided that the shipper could not recover any greater amount than was stated upon the bill of lading, and where, after the bill of lading had been issued, the Interstate Commerce Commission, or some persons acting through its authority, raised the rate, and the railroad company collected the rate, which was above the amount named in the bill of lading, the Supreme Court held that an act of that kind by the Legislature was matter affecting interstate commerce and not within the power of the Legislature to enact. There were several of those decisions referred to on this hearing.
It is claimed on the part of the complainants that these regulations of rates in this state, passenger and freight, do interfere with interstate
and instances have been cited as to their effect upon transportation between, we will say, the Twin Cities, and points on the border line of North Dakota; a comparison between the rates which the state has fixed, which would govern as between these cities and Moorhead, and rates which would govern transportation across the river to Fargo. And it has certainly been very persuasively argued that these rates, fixed by the Minnesota Legislature in relation to transportation in Minnesota alone, do of themselves necessarily interfere with interstate commerce, and, under the provisions of the Hepburn law, prohibiting discrimination in respect to localities similarly situated, it is claimed that if the railroad companies themselves, without authority of the state, should fix the present rates between these cities and Moorhead and the interstate rates now existing between these cities and Fargo (and the same with Grand Forks and other places) that they would be liable to prosecution for discrimination. And it would seem to be very difficult to avoid that conclusion, and the conclusion that these rates fixed in respect to Minnesota do necessarily and directly affect interstate commerce. But, on the other hand, we have decisions of the Supreme Court, going back at least as far as the case of Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113, 24 L. Ed. 77, and the Granger Cases (Chicago, B. & Q. R. Co. v. Iowa, 94 U. S. 155, 24 L. Ed. 94; Peik v. Chicago & N. Ry. Co., 94 U. S. 164, 24 L. Ed. 97; Chicago, M. & St. P. R. Co. v. Ackley, 94 U. S. 179, 24 L. Ed. 99; Winona & St. P. R. Co. v. Blake, 94 U. S. 180, 24 L. Ed. 99), and repeated by very many decisions since and up to the present time (the last one being what inay perhaps be termed the dictum of Mr. Justice White in the case which was decided only on the 19th of April last), to the effect that the state has the right to fix rates in respect to local business within the statu; that each state has that right. That has been, as I say, decided over and over again by the Supreme Court, and as it is a fact that, if these rates fixed by the Minnesota Legislature do interfere with interstate commerce, it is not simply the rates between here and Moorhead which interfere with it, but it would be as well the rates fixed to any point near the borders of the state, the rates in the state to Willmar, or Detroit, or Crookston, would, in the same way, to a lesser degree, interfere with the interstate rates that existed prior to that time between these cities and points in North Dakota. A holding that they did so interfere, and for that reason are unconstitutional, if held at all, vould apply, it would seem to me, to these rates entirely throughout the state. The state is bordered on all sides by other states, and I do not think it can be held that the rates simply to Moorhead might be unconstitutional, and the rest of them constitutional; but, in view of the decisions of the Supreme Court, to which I have referred, and which have been so continually adhered to down to the present time, it seems to me it would be very improper that I should attempt, on this preliminary hearing in this case, to make a holding entirely contrary to those holdings of the Supreme Court. I should hesitate very much before doing so. Although I do not think I ordinarily hesitate in any case to rule as I deem to be correct according to law, I certainly do pause before holding that these rates are not within the power of the Legislature, if they are fairly compensatory.