As the result of a collision in Kentucky of railroad trains belonging to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, which operated various lines extending through that Commonwealth as well as into Tennessee and other States, the plaintiffs Mottley and wife received serious personal injuries. The collision, it is alleged, was caused by the gross carelessness and negligence of the agents and servants of the railroad company.
After the collision the plaintiffs and the company on the second of October, 1871, entered into a written agreement of which the following is a copy:
"The Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company in consideration that E.L. Mottley and wife, Annie E. Mottley,
The railroad company adhered strictly to this agreement for many years, but finally refused further to perform it on the ground that the act of Congress of June 29, 1906, amendatory of the act regulating commerce, approved February 4, 1887, made its enforcement illegal. Thereupon Mottley and wife brought suit in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Kentucky to enforce the agreement and obtained a decree in their favor. 150 Fed. Rep. 406. But upon a direct appeal to this court that decree was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to dismiss the suit for want of jurisdiction. L. & N.R.R. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149; Metcalfe v. Watertown, 128 U.S. 586; Tennessee v. Union Planters' Bank, 152 U.S. 454, 459. The grounds upon which the Federal court was held to be without jurisdiction are not important here.
The present action was brought in the Circuit Court of Warren County, Kentucky. The relief sought was that the defendant company be required specifically to execute the above agreement by issuing passes to the plaintiffs for the year 1909 and for every year thereafter so long as the plaintiffs should each live, over all its roads in and out of Kentucky.
The railroad company resists any judgment that would compel it further to perform the agreement sued on. It bases its defense mainly on the commerce act of Congress
"SEC. 1. . . . No common carrier subject to the provisions of this act shall, after January first, nineteen hundred and seven, directly or indirectly, issue or give any interstate free ticket, free pass, or free transportation for passengers," except to certain specified persons, the plaintiffs not being within any of the excepted classes.
"SEC. 6. . . . No carrier, unless otherwise provided by this act, shall engage or participate in the transportation of passengers or property, as defined in this act, unless the rates, fares and charges upon which the same are transported by said carrier have been filed and published in accordance with the provisions of this act; nor shall any carrier charge or demand or collect or receive a greater or less or different compensation for such transportation of passengers or property, or for any service in connection therewith, between the points named in such tariffs than the rates, fares and charges which are specified in the tariff filed and in effect at the time; nor shall any carrier refund or remit in any manner or by any device any portion of the rates, fares and charges so specified, nor extend to any shipper or person any privileges or facilities in the transportation of passengers or property, except such as are specified in such tariffs. Feb. 4, 1887, c. 104, 24 Stat. 379; June 29, 1906, 34 Stat. 584, 586, Pt. II, c. 3591.
The act of June 29, 1906, regulating commerce and enlarging the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission, made its provisions applicable to "any common carrier or carriers engaged in the transportation of passengers or property wholly by railroad . . . from one State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia, to any other State or Territory of the United States or the District of Columbia, etc.;" and in this respect it has not
The state circuit court, giving the relief asked, by its judgment required the railroad company to issue to the plaintiffs and to each of them a pass over its lines and branches for the year 1909, and thereafter to renew such passes annually during their respective lives.
Upon appeal to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky that judgment was affirmed. L. & N.R.R. Co. v. Mottley, 133 Kentucky, 652.
It may be, as suggested, that a refusal to enforce the agreement of 1871 will operate as a great hardship upon the defendants in error. But that consideration cannot control the determination of this controversy. Our duty is to ascertain the intention of Congress in passing the statute upon which the railroad company relies as prohibitive of the further enforcement of the agreement in suit. That intention is to be gathered from the words of the act, interpreted according to their ordinary acceptation, and, when it becomes necessary to do so, in the light of the circumstances as they existed when the statute was passed. Platt v. Union Pacific R.R. Co., 99 U.S. 48, 64. The court cannot mold a statute simply to meet its views of justice in a particular case. Having, in the mode indicated, ascertained the will of the legislative department, the statute as enacted must be executed, unless found to be inconsistent with the Supreme Law of the Land.
In our consideration of the case it will be assumed — indeed the parties themselves assume — that the agreement
The act of February 4, 1887 regulating commerce declared it to be an unjust and unlawful discrimination for any carrier subject to the provisions of that act, directly or indirectly, by any special rate, rebate, drawback or other device, to charge, demand, collect or receive from any person or persons "a greater or less compensation" for any service rendered or to be rendered in the transportation of passengers or property than was charged, demanded, collected or received from any other person or persons for doing him or them a like and contemporaneous service in the transportation of a like kind of traffic under substantially similar circumstances and conditions. 24 Stat. 379, c. 104, § 2. But the act of June 29, 1906 made a material addition to the words of the act of 1887; for, it expressly prohibited any carrier, unless otherwise provided, to demand, collect or receive "a greater or less or different compensation" for the transportation of persons or property, or for any service in connection therewith, than the rates, fares and charges specified in the tariff filed and in effect at the time. We cannot suppose that this change was without a distinct purpose on the part of Congress. The words "or different," looking at the context, cannot be regarded as superfluous or meaningless. We must have regard to all the words used by Congress, and as far as possible give effect to them. Market v. Hoffman, 101 U.S. 112, 115. The history of the acts relating to commerce shows that Congress, when introducing into the act of 1906 the word "different," had in mind the purpose
In our opinion, after the passage of the commerce act the railroad company could not lawfully accept from Mottley and wife any compensation "different" in kind from that mentioned in its published schedule of rates. And it cannot be doubted that the rates or charges specified in such schedule were payable only in money. They could not be paid in any other way, without producing the utmost confusion and defeating the policy established by the acts regulating commerce. The evident purpose of Congress was to establish uniform rates for transportation, to give all the same opportunity to know what the rates were as well as to have the equal benefit of them. To that end the carrier was required to print, post and file its schedules and to keep them open to public inspection. No change could be made in the rates embraced by the schedules except upon notice to the Commission and to the public. But an examination of the schedules would be of no avail and would not ordinarily be of any practical value if the published rates could be disregarded in special or particular cases by the acceptance of property of various kinds, and of such value as the parties immediately concerned chose to put upon it, in place of money for the services performed by the carrier.
That money only was receivable for transportation is the basis upon which the Interstate Commerce Commission has proceeded; for, in one of its Conference Rulings (207) issued in 1909, the Commission held that nothing but money could be lawfully received or accepted in payment for transportation, whether of passengers or
It is said, however, that as the contract of Mottley and wife with the railroad company was originally valid, it cannot be supposed that Congress intended by the act of 1906 to annul or prevent its enforcement. But the purpose of Congress was to cut up by the roots every form of discrimination, favoritism and inequality, except in the cases of certain excepted classes to which Mottley and his wife did not belong and which exceptions rested upon peculiar grounds. Manifestly, from the face of the commerce act itself, Congress, before taking final action, considered the question as to what exceptions, if any, should
It is further said that the passes contemplated by the parties were not strictly free passes; for, it is argued, the railroad company would receive a valuable consideration for each one issued by it. This view is more plausible than sound, and does not meet the difficulty. Suffice it to say, in this case, that such passes, when issued, would be illegal under the act of Congress, by reason of their not being paid for in money, according to the company's schedule of rates, but in consideration only of the release by Mottley and wife of their claim for damages on account of the collision in question.
We now come to the question whether, assuming that the agreement of 1871 was valid when made, could Congress by any statute subsequently enacted make its enforcement by suit impossible? There are certain propositions at the base of this inquiry which we need not discuss at large, because they have become thoroughly established in our constitutional jurisprudence. One is, that the power granted to Congress to regulate commerce among the States and with foreign nations is complete in itself, and is unrestricted except by the limitations upon its authority to be found in the Constitution. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1; Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419; Addyston Pipe and Steel Co. v. United States, 175 U.S. 211, 229; Scranton v. Wheeler, 179 U.S. 141, 162, 163; C., B. & Q.R.R. Co. v. Drainage Com'rs, 200 U.S. 561; Union Bridge Co. v. United States, 204 U.S. 364, 400; Atlantic Coast Line &c. v. Riverside Mills, 219 U.S. 186, 202.
In the Addyston Pipe case, this court said that, under its power to regulate commerce, Congress "may enact such legislation as shall declare void and prohibit the performance of any contract between individuals or corporations
In the Scranton case, where a riparian owner sought compensation from the Government because his access to navigability had been materially obstructed by a pier constructed by the Government on the submerged grounds in front of his land, this court said: "The riparian owner acquired the right of access to navigability subject to the contingency that such right might become valueless in consequence of the erection under competent authority of structures on the submerged lands in front of his property for the purpose of improving navigation. When erecting the pier in question, the Government had no object in view except, in the interest of the public, to improve navigation. It was not designed arbitrarily or capriciously to destroy rights belonging to any riparian owner. What was done was manifestly necessary to meet the demands of international and interstate commerce."
In the Union Bridge Co. case the question was as to the constitutional authority of the Government to require the Bridge Company to make certain changes or alterations in a bridge across a navigable river of the United States, in Pennsylvania, and which bridge the company owned and constantly used. It was admitted that the bridge had been lawfully erected. But ultimately, in view of the necessities of interstate commerce, it had become an unreasonable obstruction to free, open navigation by vessels and boats then in use, and, for that reason alone, the Government, by its constituted authorities proceeding under an act of Congress, ordered the Bridge Company at its own cost to make certain changes and alterations in the structure. This court held that there was no taking of property for public use in the constitutional sense, and that although the bridge when erected under the authority of
Long before the above cases were decided it was said in Knox v. Lee, 12 Wall. 457, 550, 551, that "as in a state of civil society, property of a citizen or subject is ownership, subject to the lawful demands of the Sovereign, so contracts must be understood as made in reference to the possible exercise of the rightful authority of the Government, and no obligation of a contract can extend to the defeat of legitimate government authority."
These principles control the decision of the present question. The agreement between the railroad company and the Mottleys must necessarily be regarded as having been made subject to the possibility that, at some future time, Congress might so exert its whole constitutional power in regulating interstate commerce as to render that agreement unenforceable or to impair its value. That the exercise of such power may be hampered or restricted to any extent by contracts previously made between individuals or corporations, is inconceivable. The framers of the Constitution never intended any such state of things to exist.
It is said that if Congress intended by the commerce act to embrace such a case as this, then the act is repugnant to the Constitution. Does the act infringe upon the constitutional liberty of the citizen to make contracts? Manifestly not. In the Addyston Pipe case (p. 228) above cited, the court said: "We do not assent to the
These authorities and principles condemn the proposition that the defendants in error had the constitutional right, pursuant to or because of the agreement of 1871 and during their respective lives, to accept and use free transportation for themselves, as passengers, on an interstate train, after Congress forbade, under penalty any interstate carrier to demand, collect or receive compensation for transportation, or any interstate passenger, not within the classes excepted by the act, to use transportation tickets, except upon the basis fixed by the carrier's published schedule of rates. After the commerce act came into effect no contract that was inconsistent with the regulations established by the act of Congress could be enforced in any court. The rule upon this subject is thoroughly established.
In Fitzgerald v. Grand Trunk Ry. Co., 63 Vermont, 169, 173, which was the case of a contract for the transportation of lumber through several States, the Supreme Court of Vermont said: "Such commerce is solely regulated by Congress, and when parties make contracts to engage in interstate commerce they are held to do so upon the basis and with the understanding that changes in the law applicable to their contracts may be made. There can, in the nature of things, be no vested right in an existing law which precludes its change or repeal, nor vested right in the omission to legislate upon a particular subject which exempts a contract from the effect of subsequent legislation upon its subject matter by competent legislative authority."
In Pomeroy on Contracts, § 280 (Specific Performance), after observing that an illegal contract cannot be made the basis of any judicial proceeding and that no action in law or equity could be maintained upon it, said: "This impossibility of enforcement exists, whether the agreement is illegal in its inception, or whether being valid when
We forbear any further citation of authorities. They are numerous and are all one way. They support the view that, as the contract in question would have been illegal if made after the passage of the commerce act, it cannot now be enforced against the railroad company, even though valid when made. If that principle be not sound, the result would be that individuals and corporations could, by contracts between themselves, in anticipation
In our opinion, the relief asked by the plaintiffs must, upon principle and authority, be denied; that the railroad company rightly refused, after the passage of the commerce act; further to comply with the agreement of 1871; and, that the decree requiring performance of its provisions, by issuing annual passes, was erroneous.
Whether, without enforcing the contract in suit, the defendants in error may, by some form of proceeding against the railroad company, recover or restore the rights they had when the railroad collision occurred is a question not before us, and we express no opinion on it.
The judgment is reversed, and the cause is remanded for such further proceedings as may be deemed proper, not inconsistent with the views herein expressed.