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MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. LOUIS RAILWAY COMPANY v. BECKWITH.

decided: January 7, 1889.

MINNEAPOLIS AND ST. LOUIS RAILWAY COMPANY
v.
BECKWITH.



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF KOSSUTH COUNTY, STATE OF IOWA.

Author: Field

[ 129 U.S. Page 27]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD delivered the opinion of the court.

This case comes before us from the Circuit Court of Kossuth County, Iowa, the highest court of that state in which the controversy between the parties could be determined. Rev. Stat. § 709. It was an action for the value of three hogs, run over and killed by the engine and cars of the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway Company, a corporation existing under the laws of Minnesota and Iowa, and operating a railroad in the latter state. The killing was at a point where the defendant had the right to fence its road. The action was brought before a justice of the peace of Kossuth County. Proof having been made of the killing of the animals and of their value, and that notice of the fact, with affidavit of the injury, had been served upon an officer of the company in the county where the injury was committed, more than thirty days before the commencement of the action, the justice gave judgment for the plaintiff against the company for twenty-four dollars, double the proved value of the animals. The case was then removed to the Circuit Court of Kossuth County, where the judgment was affirmed. To review this latter judgment the case is brought here on writ of error.

The judgment rendered by the justice was authorized by § 1289 of the Code of Iowa, which is as follows:

"Any corporation operating a railway that fails to fence the same against live stock running at large at all points where such right to fence exists shall be liable to the owner of any such stock injured or killed by reason of the want of such fence

[ 129 U.S. Page 28]

     for the value of the property or damage caused, unless the same was occasioned by the wilful act of the owner or his agent. And in order to recover it shall only be necessary for the owner to prove the injury or destruction of his property; and if such corporation neglects to pay the value of or damage done to such stock within thirty days after notice in writing, accompanied by an affidavit of such injury or destruction, has been served on any officer, station or ticket-agent employed in the management of the business of the corporation in the county where the injury complained of was committed, such owner shall be entitled to recover double the value of the stock killed or damages caused thereto."

The validity of this law was assailed in the state court, and is assailed here, as being in conflict with the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, in that it deprives the railway company of property without due process of law, so far as it allows a recovery of double the value of the animals killed by its trains; and in that it denies to the company the equal protection of the laws by subjecting it to a different liability for injuries committed by it from that to which all other persons are subjected.

In is contended by counsel as the basis of his argument, and we admit the soundness of his position, that corporations are persons within the meaning of the clause in question. It was so held in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., 118 U.S. 394, 396, and the doctrine was reasserted in Pembina Mining Company v. Pennsylvania, 125 U.S. 181, 189. We admit also, as contended by him, that corporations can invoke the benefits of provisions of the Constitution and laws which guarantee to persons the enjoyment of property, or afford to them the means for its protection, or prohibit legislation injuriously affecting it.

We will consider the objections of the railway company in the reverse order in which they are stated by counsel. And first, as to the alleged conflict of the law of Iowa with the clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ordaining that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. That clause does undoubtedly prohibit

[ 129 U.S. Page 29]

     discriminating and partial legislation by any State in favor of particular persons as against others in like condition. Equality of protection implies not merely equal accessibility to the courts for the prevention or redress of wrongs and the enforcement of rights, but equal exemption with others in like condition from charges and liabilities of every kind. But the clause does not limit, nor was it designed to limit, the subjects upon which the police power of the State may be exerted. The State can now, as before, prescribe regulations for the health, good order and safety of society, and adopt such measures as will advance its interests and prosperity. And to accomplish this end special legislation must be resorted to in numerous cases, providing against accidents, disease and danger, in the varied forms in which they may come. The nature and extent of such legislation will necessarily depend upon the judgment of the legislature as to the security needed by society. When the calling, profession or business of parties is unattended with danger to others, little legislation will be necessary respecting it. Thus, in the purchase and sale of most articles of negeral use, persons may be left to exercise their own good sense and judgment; but wnen the calling or profession or business is attended with danger, or requires a certain degree of scientific knowledge upon which others must rely, then legislation properly steps in to impose conditions upon its exercise. Thus, if one is engaged in the manufacture or sale of explosive or inflammable articles, or in the preparation or sale of medicinal drugs, legislation, for the security of society, may prescribe the terms on which he will be permitted to carry on the business, and the liabilities he will incur from neglect of them. The concluding clause of the first section of the Fourteenth ...


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