The widows of two judges are seeking in these proceedings the issuance of writs of mandamus ordering the State Auditor and State Treasurer to approve their applications for, and to pay to each of them, a widow's pension to which they assert they are entitled under the provisions of Act 697 of 1954, R.S. 13:5.
Judge Hugo Dore died on April 28, 1953, at the age of 63. At that time, he was Senior Judge of the Court of Appeal, First Circuit, having served continuously as a member of that court since 1935. The term he was serving at the time of his death does not expire until 1962 and, if he had lived, he would have been eligible in 1955 for retirement under the provisions of Section 8 of Article VII of the Constitution, as he would have reached the age of 65 and would have completed more than 20 years of service as a Judge of a court of record. Judge Dore's widow was married to her late husband in 1914 and resided with him continuously until his death.
Judge Hal A. Burgess died on January 19, 1947, while serving as a Judge of the Eleventh Judicial District Court. He had been elected to that office in 1924 and served continuously until the time of his death. Had he lived to the end of the term for which he was elected in 1942, he would have been eligible for retirement under Section 8 of Article VII of the Constitution since he would have then completed more than 23 years of continuous service as a Judge of a court of record. Mrs. Burgess married her late husband in 1914 and lived with him continuously until his death.
The respondents concede the facts, as above stated, but assert that they should not be required to recognize the claim of petitioners for two reasons: (1) that Act 697 of 1954 is unconstitutional, being violative of Sections 3 and 12 of Article IV and Section 8 of Article VII of the State Constitution, as amended, and (2), alternatively, should it be held otherwise, petitioners are ineligible under the provisions of the Act for the benefits therein granted.
After a hearing in the district court, where the cases were consolidated for purposes of trial, the alternative writs of mandamus theretofore issued were made peremptory and respondents were ordered to comply with petitioners' demands. Respondents have appealed from the adverse judgments, reasserting in this court the contentions made below.
Before scrutinizing respondents' plea of unconstitutionality, we must initially determine whether these State Officers, charged merely with the performance of ministerial duties in relation to the statute, have any interest or right to challenge its validity. Petitioners objected in the district court to the consideration of the plea of unconstitutionality, citing State ex rel. New Orleans Canal & Banking Co. v. Heard, 47 La.Ann. 1679, 18 So. 746, 47 L.R.A. 512, as authority for their position. The Judge thought the point well taken but, nevertheless, as a matter of precaution, examined respondents' contentions and held the statute constitutional.
The Heard case, which represents the majority view in this country, enunciates the general rule
The respondents profess that the holding in the Heard case was prompted by the peculiar facts therein under consideration and, hence, is inapplicable here. Furthermore, they declare that that decision has not been approved in the later jurisprudence on the subject, the case of State ex rel. Huggett v. Montgomery, La.App., 167 So. 147, being cited in support of this proposition.
There is no substance in the contention that there is a material difference between the instant suits and the Heard case, which was a mandamus proceeding to compel the State Auditor and State Treasurer to warrant and pay certain claims as directed by an Act of the Legislature. The respondents there, as here, assailed the constitutionality of the statute but the court held that they were without interest to do so.
Nor do we find merit in the argument that the doctrine of the Heard case has not been followed in the later jurisprudence as we know of no pronouncement by this Court wherein the soundness of that decision has been questioned.
State ex rel. Huggett v. Montgomery, supra, relied on by respondents, was a mandamus proceeding to compel the tax collector of the City of New Orleans to cancel
Although the decision in the Huggett case is correct as the City of New Orleans and the parish school board, having a real interest, were entitled to assert the unconstitutionality of the Act, the remark of the Court concerning the uncertainty of our jurisprudence in these matters was not appropriate. This statement undoubtedly emanated from the failure of the Court to recognize the difference between cases wherein political subdivisions have been permitted to raise the constitutionality of a legislative act which adversely affects them, City of Gretna v. Bailey, supra,
The instant cases fall squarely within the doctrine of the Heard case and we consequently conclude that respondents are without right to question the constitutionality of Act 697 of 1954.
Respondents also contend that petitioners are not entitled to the pension provided by
It is the position of respondents that, whereas petitioners fall within the classification of surviving widows entitled to the pension under the proviso contained in the first section of the Act, which we have above italicized, they are nonetheless ineligible as they are unable to fulfill the additional qualifications prescribed by Section 2, since neither Judge Dore nor Judge Burgess were retired or eligible for retirement at the dates of their death, and, therefore, petitioners could not have been married to them for ten years prior thereto.
It is shown by the Legislative Journals, which were admitted in evidence, that Senate Bill No. 239 (which later became Act 697) as amended after its introduction, provided pensions for the spouses of judges within three classifications, (1) judges presently living who had retired either before or after the passage of the Act, (2) judges presently living who were then eligible for retirement, but who had not retired, and (3) to all other judges upon their becoming eligible for retirement after the passage of the Act.
Section 2 of the Act, as originally drawn and enacted, was sufficient in its verbiage to include the qualified widows of the judges in the categories above mentioned because it made the surviving widow's right to a pension dependent upon her having been married to the judge at the date of his death for ten years either prior to his retirement or ten years prior to his eligibility for retirement. When the Bill reached the House of Representatives, following its passage by the Senate, it was amended on the floor by the insertion, in Section 1, of the proviso which we have above italicized and, as thus amended, was finally enacted as Act 697. This added provision created two new classifications of judges; whose widows were to be accorded pension rights—that is, to the surviving widow (otherwise qualified) of (1) any retired judge who had died before the effective date of the Act, and (2) of any judge "who would have been eligible for retirement at the end of the term of office for which he had already been elected and who died before the effective date of this act."
Unfortunately, Section 2 of the Statute was not amended before its final passage so as to clearly cover and embrace with appropriate language this second classification of widows of judges, provided for by the floor amendment to the Act. As a result, under a literal reading of Section 2, providing only for the additional qualifications for spouses of the judges coming within the classifications originally contained in the bill, there is no way by which
In this situation, the question arises as to the duty of the court in construing the statute. It has been many times said that it is the function of the courts to interpret the laws so as to give them the connotation the lawmaker obviously intended and not to construe them so rigidly as to give them preposterous or odd meanings. State ex rel. Womack v. Jones, 201 La. 637, 10 So.2d 213; Berteau v. Police Jury of Parish of Ascension, 214 La. 1003, 39 So.2d 594 and Webb v. Parish Council of Parish of E. Baton Rouge, 217 La. 926, 47 So.2d 718. The object of the court in construing a statute is to ascertain the legislative intent and, where a literal interpretation would produce absurd consequences, the letter must give way to the spirit of the law and the statute construed so as to produce a reasonable result. Bradford v. Louisiana Public Service Commission, 189 La. 327, 179 So. 442; See also City of Shreveport v. Gregory, 186 La. 407, 172 So. 435.
Sutherland, "Statutory Construction", 3rd Ed., Vol. 2, Section 4703, states:
Applying the foregoing canons of construction to the cases at bar, it is manifest that, since the Legislature has evinced in clear and unmistakable language its intention in Section 1 of the Act to grant pensions to the wives of judges who died before the passage of the Act, if those judges would have become eligible for a pension during the term they were serving at the time of their death, it is our duty to give effect, if possible, to that paramount design.
As stated above, the only basis upon which the petitioners' eligibility for the benefits of the Act could be denied is that a literal reading of the language of Section 2 makes it impossible for them to qualify. However, if we consider Section 2 in a broader aspect, it is plain that the legislative purpose in providing the additional qualifications therein stated of marriage for ten years prior to the retirement of the judge at the time of death or ten years prior to the judge's eligibility for retirement, was to insure that the spouse had lived with the judge during a substantial part of his judicial tenure and thus, to some extent, had contributed to the public service. It would therefore seem conformable with this objective to construe Section 2 of the Act to mean that, if the applicant, otherwise eligible for the pension, had lived with the deceased judge for a period of ten years prior to his retirement, or ten years prior to the time the judge became eligible for retirement, or ten years prior to the time the judge would have become eligible for retirement in case he died before the passage of the statute, she qualifies to receive the benefits of the Act. In this manner, the legislative intent can be given effect and we conceive it our obligation to adopt such a construction as any other would necessarily defeat the purpose of the provisions added to Section 1, which extends the pension rights to the spouses of those judges who passed on before the effective date of the law and who would have been eligible for retirement before the expiration of their term of office.
Since the petitioners had lived with their respective spouses for almost 40 years prior to their deaths, the judge was correct in holding that they are qualified for the pensions for which they applied.
The judgments appealed from are affirmed.