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DOBBINS v. LOS ANGELES

November 14, 1904

DOBBINS
v.
LOS ANGELES



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Day

[ 195 U.S. Page 234]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

As this case was decided upon demurrer to the complaint, the allegations thereof must be taken as true. The question presented involves the right of the plaintiff in error to invoke the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment against alleged infraction of her rights by the action of the city council in passing and enforcing the ordinances which prevent the carrying on of the business of making and selling gas to the people of the city.

Before entering upon a consideration of the case it is essential to examine briefly the extent to which constitutional and legislative control have been exercised by authority of the State of California in reference to the erection and maintenance of gasworks in cities. The constitution of the State, section 19, article XI, provides that "In any city where there are no public works owned and controlled by the municipality for supplying the same with water or artificial light, any individual, or any company duly incorporated for such purpose, under and by authority of the laws of this State, shall, under the direction of the superintendent of streets, or other officer in control thereof, and under such general regulations as the municipality may prescribe, for damages and indemnity for damages, have the privilege of using the public streets and thoroughfares thereof, and of laying down pipes and conduits therein, and connections therewith, so far as may be necessary for introducing into and supplying such city and its inhabitants either with gaslight, or other illuminating light, or with fresh water for domestic and all other purposes, upon the condition that the municipal government shall have the right to regulate the charges thereof." By the act of the state legislature of April 4, 1870, Stats. of 1869-1870, 815, it was provided that cities may control the location and construction of works so that they may be erected in suitable localities to give the least discomfiture or annoyance to the public. By the constitution

[ 195 U.S. Page 235]

     of the State of California it is provided, art. XII, sec. 11, that any county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local, police, sanitary or other regulations as are not in conflict with the general laws. In these provisions may be found a grant of power to the city of Los Angeles to control the location and erection of gasworks within the city limits. In the grant of such control the fact is recognized that while the erection and maintenance of such works is a lawful business pursuit and one essential to the welfare and comfort of the community, its prosecution requires the use of materials of such a character, and such construction and maintenance of the works as not to be dangerous or offensive when carried on within thickly populated parts of the city, and such rights are consequently justly subject to regulation in such manner as to protect the public health and safety. The Supreme Court of California, as may be gathered from its opinion in this case, based its decision upon the proposition that as the exercise of the right to control the location and construction of gasworks is within the power conferred by the legislature upon the city, the act of the municipality in question cannot be reviewed, because so to do would be a substitution of the judgment of the court for that of the council upon a matter left within the exclusive control of the legislative body. To support this conclusion a citation is made from the opinion of this court in the case of Munn v. Illinois, 94 U.S. 113, to the effect that the legislature is the exclusive judge of the propriety of police regulation when the matter is within the scope of its power. The observations of Mr. Chief Justice Waite in that connection had reference to the facts of the particular case and were certainly not intended to declare the right of either the legislature or a city council to arbitrarily deprive the citizen of rights protected by the Constitution under the guise of exercising the police powers reserved to the States. It may be admitted that every intendment is to be made in favor of the lawfulness of the exercise of municipal power, making regulations to promote the public health and

[ 195 U.S. Page 236]

     safety, and that it is not the province of courts, except in clear cases, to interfere with the exercise of the power reposed by law in municipal corporations for the protection of local rights and the health and welfare of the people in the community. But notwithstanding this general rule of the law, it is now thoroughly well settled by decisions of this court that municipal by-laws and ordinances, and even legislative enactments undertaking to regulate useful business enterprises, are subject to investigation in the courts with a view to determining whether the law or ordinance is a lawful exercise of the police power, or whether under the guise of enforcing police regulations there has been an unwarranted and arbitrary interference with the constitutional rights to carry on a lawful business, to make contracts, or to use and enjoy property. In Lawton v. Steele, 152 U.S. 133, 137, Mr. Justice Brown, speaking for the court, said upon this subject:

"To justify the State in thus interposing its authority in behalf of the public, it must appear, first, that the interests of the public generally, as distinguished from those of a particular class, require such interference; and, second, that the means are reasonably necessary for the accomplishment of the purpose, and not unduly oppressive upon individuals. The legislature may not, under the guise of protecting the public interests, arbitrarily interfere with private business or impose unusual and unnecessary restrictions upon lawful occupations. In other words, its determination as to what is a proper exercise of its police powers is not final or conclusive, but is subject to the supervision of the courts.'

And, again, in Holden v. Hardy, 169 U.S. 366, 398, the same justice, again speaking for the court, said:

"The question in each case is whether the legislature has adopted the statute in exercise of a reasonable discretion, or whether its action be a mere excuse for an unjust discrimination, or the oppression or spoliation of a particular class."

And in Connolly v. Union Sewer Pipe Co., 184 U.S. 540, 558, Mr. Justice Harlan, delivering the ...


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