U.S. Supreme Court Adams Express v. New York, 232 U.S. 14 (1914)
Adams Express v. New York
Nos. 83, 84
Argued December 3, 4, 1913
Decided January 5, 1914
232 U.S. 14
APPEAL AND CROSS-APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED
STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
The practical construction of municipal ordinances by the local authorities prior to the controversy is persuasive, especially where, as in this case, a different construction would render the ordinances unconstitutional.
While the exertion of the police power essential for protection of the community may extend incidentally to operations of interstate commerce, the police power does not justify the imposition of direct burdens on that commerce, nor its subjection to unreasonable demands.
A state law is unconstitutional and void which requires a party to take out a license for carrying on interstate commerce, no matter how specious the pretext may be for imposing it. Crutcher v. Kentucky, 141 U. S. 47 .
An ordinance requiring an express company to take out local licenses for transacting interstate business is an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.
Congress has exercised its authority over interstate express business, and so removed that business from any action of the state directly burdening it.
A municipal license fee required for express wagons and drivers cannot be construed as a fee or tax for use of the streets or regulation of street traffic, and quaere whether the ordinance in this case, if so construed, would not be invalid as discriminating against express companies.
While regulations to insure careful driving over city streets may be proper, they should, when interstate traffic is involved, be entirely reasonable. Quaere whether a requirement that only citizens of the United States, or those who have declared their intention to become
such, can be licensed is not unnecessarily burdensome in a city such as New York.
Where a license tax is declared unconstitutional as to all classes covered by the action, it is not necessary for this Court to decide whether it ha been superseded as to one of the classes by a later statute; quaere whether the general automobile statute of New York state repealed and superseded the express license fee ordinance of the City of New York.
The ordinances of the City of New York requiring expressmen to be licensed and providing that only citizens of the United States or those who have declared their intention to become such can be licensed, as applied to interstate commerce, impose a direct burden thereon, and, as so applied, are unconstitutional under the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States.
Where a municipal ordinance is unconstitutional as applied to interstate commerce, the person or corporation whose business is impeded by the enforcement of such ordinance is entitled to an injunction restraining the municipal authorities from enforcing it in respect to its interstate business.
189 F. 28 reversed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the commerce clause of the federal Constitution of certain ordinances of the City of New York as applied to the interstate business of express companies, are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE Hughes delivered the opinion of the Court.
This suit was brought to restrain the enforcement against the Adams Express Company of a group of ordinances of the Board of Aldermen of the City of New York upon the ground that, as applied to that company, these ordinances constitute an unconstitutional interference with interstate commerce and deny to it the equal protection of the laws. The ordinances are contained in
Chapter 7 of the Code of Ordinances adopted in the year 1906, as amended (Cosby's ed.1911), and the material sections, together with portions of the context, are set forth in the margin. *
The chapter relates to specified businesses in which no one is permitted to engage except under an annual license granted by the mayor and revocable by him. Among these is the business of "expressmen" (§§ 305, 306).
It is provided that no person is to be licensed "except a citizen of the United States, or one who has regularly declared intention to become a citizen" (§ 307). The license fee is "for each express wagon," five dollars, and "for each driver of any licensed vehicle," fifty cents,
with provision for renewal at one-half these rates (§ 308). Every person driving a licensed "express" is to be "licensed as such driver, and every application for such license shall be indorsed, in writing, by two reputable
residents of the City of New York, testifying to the competence of the applicant" (§ 315). Every vehicle "kept or used for the conveyance of baggage, packages, parcels, and other articles within or through the City of New
York for pay" is to be deemed a public express (§ 330). It is to bear a designation according with its official number (§ 331). Its owner is to give a bond to the state for
"every vehicle licensed in a penal sum of $100, with sufficient surety, approved by the Mayor or chief of the Bureau of Licenses, conditioned for the safe and prompt delivery"
of all articles (§ 332). Provision is also made for the regular inspection of "all licensed vehicles and places of business" (§ 374), the report of any change of residence to the Bureau of Licenses ( id., ) the exhibition of licenses upon demand (§ 375), and the display of the prescribed letters and numbers (§ 376). Penalties are provided for the violation of these requirements, and any person carrying on any business regulated by the ordinance, without license, is guilty of a misdemeanor (§§ 307, 315, 379).
The Adams Express Company, an unincorporated association organized under the laws of New York, has been engaged in interstate commerce as a common carrier of packages since the year 1854. It transacts its business in many states, and in the City of New York it handles daily about 50,000 interstate shipments, employing 341 wagons and 68 automobiles. About one half of these wagons are stabled in Jersey City. Its shipments from New York City to the south and west are hauled to Jersey City and there loaded on express cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad; those destined to points east are taken to the terminal in New York City of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and there is also traffic for points on the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad, and tributary thereto, which is carried to the terminal of that road at Weehawken, New Jersey. Shipments received from out of the state for delivery in New York City are taken by the company's vehicles to the consignees either directly from these railroad terminals or through intermediate distributing offices. The company also
does a local business in the City of New York, and, in addition, receives packages for transportation between that city and such points within the State of New York as are on the line of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. The interstate business, however, in the number of packages, comprises 98 percent of the total business transacted in New York City, and, it being impracticable to effect a separation, the local and the other intrastate shipments are handled in the same vehicles, and by the same men, that are employed in connection with the interstate transportation. It was not until recently that the city sought to compel the company, in the transaction of this business, to comply with its license ordinances, although there have been ordinances requiring licenses for both express wagons and their drivers for over fifty years (Kent's ed. ; Valentine's ed.  pp. 374, 375; Shepard & Shafer's ed.  §§ 380-386; Laird's ed.  §§ 380-386; Percy & Collins' ed. §§ 497-504). The provisions here involved (except § 315) received their present form in 1899. (Ord. app. May 22, 1899, ante, p. 232 U. S. 25 note.) It is conceded that the company has never been compelled to obtain a license for the conduct of its interstate express business, and that its wagons and drivers employed therein have never been licensed, except "that for several years last past about forty licenses for wagons and drivers have been taken out." The evidence shows that, in 1908, an arrangement was made, by way of compromise, that the forty licenses should be issued (twenty having been taken out the year before). The company agreed to this number, without prejudice, asserting that it was larger in proportion to the total number of wagons than the local business warranted, and also that the latter was merely incidental to the interstate business, and hence not subject to the license requirements. In the fall of 1910, however at a time when the business of the company was interrupted
by a strike of its drivers, and it was endeavoring to replace those who had stopped work, the city, through its officers, undertook to enforce the ordinances with respect to all the wagons and drivers of the company, threatening to arrest unlicensed drivers of unlicensed wagons notwithstanding they might be engaged in interstate transportation, and to remove, if necessary, unlicensed wagons from the streets. This was the occasion of the present suit.
The circuit court held that §§ 305 and 306 were inoperative so far as they purported to require the complainant to obtain a local license for transacting its interstate business, and further that the requirement of licenses as to express automobiles and chauffeurs had been superseded by a state statute (Laws of 1910, c. 374). To this extent, the city and its officers, who were codefendants, were enjoined. But with respect to the payment of license fees for express wagons and drivers, and the other regulations which we have briefly described, the court held that the enactments were valid and an injunction was refused. 189 F. 268. Both parties appeal, the company insisting that it was entitled to the entire relief sought, and the city that no relief whatever should have been granted.
In restraining the enforcement of §§ 305 and 306, as stated, we think that the court was right. In the absence of a controlling state decision construing the group of ordinances in question and the statute authorizing the city to license businesses (Greater New York charter, § 51), we are not satisfied that they were designed, despite the broad definition contained in § 330, to apply to interstate business. The practical construction which they received before the present controversy arose is very persuasive to the contrary ( New York City v. New York City R. Co., 193 N.Y. 543, 549; United States v. Cerecedo Hermanos y Compania, 209 U. S. 338 , 209 U. S. 339 ). But, if the above-mentioned sections are
to be deemed to require that a license must be obtained as a condition precedent to conducting the interstate business of an express company, we are of the opinion that, so construed, they would be clearly unconstitutional. It is insisted that, under the authority of the state, the ordinances were adopted in the exercise of the police power. But that does not justify the imposition of a direct burden upon interstate commerce. Undoubtedly, the exertion of the power essential to assure needed protection to the community may extend incidentally to the operations of a carrier in its interstate business, provided it does not subject that business to unreasonable demands and is not opposed to federal legislation. Smith v. Alabama, 124 U. S. 465 ; Hennington v. Georgia, 163 U. S. 299 ; N.Y., N.H. & H. R. Co. v. New York, 165 U. S. 628 ; Lake Shore & M. S. Ry. Co. v. Ohio, 173 U. S. 285 . It must, however, be confined to matters which are appropriately of local concern. It must proceed upon the recognition of the right secured by the federal Constitution. Local police regulations cannot go so far as to deny the right to engage in interstate commerce, or to treat it as a local privilege, and prohibit its exercise in the absence of a local license. Crutcher v. Kentucky, 141 U. S. 47 ; Robbins v. Shelby County Taxing Dist., 120 U. S. 489 , 120 U. S. 496 ; Leloup v. Mobile, 127 U. S. 640 , 127 U. S. 645 ; Stoutenburgh v. Hennick, 129 U. S. 141 , 129 U. S. 148 ; Rearick v. Pennsylvania, 203 U. S. 507 ; International Text Book Co. v. Pigg, 217 U. S. 91 , 217 U. S. 109 ; West v. Kansas Natural Gas Co., 221 U. S. 229 , 221 U. S. 260 ; Buck's Store & Range Co. v. Vickers, 226 U. S. 205 , 226 U. S. 215 ; Crenshaw v. Arkansas, 227 U. S. 389 ; Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U. S. 352 , 230 U. S. 401 . As was said by this Court in Crutcher v. Kentucky, supra,
"a state law is unconstitutional and void which requires a party to take out a license for carrying on interstate commerce, no matter how specious the pretext may be for imposing it."
The requirements of §§ 305 and 306, with the schedule
of fees in § 308, cannot be regarded as imposing a fee, or tax, for the use of the streets; if they were such, the question would at once arise as to the validity of the discrimination involved in such an exaction. Nor can they be considered as a regulation in the interest of safety in street traffic. Other ordinances provide for the "rules of the road" to which wagons of express companies, as well as those of other persons, are subject (Code of Ordinances, c. 12). The sections now under consideration constitute a regulation of the express "business." Article I. is entitled, "Business Requiring a License;" § 305, containing the enumeration, provides that "the following businesses must be duly licensed," and § 306, that "no person shall engage in or carry on any such business without a license therefor" under a stated penalty ( ante, p. 232 U. S. 24 , note). The right of public control, in requiring such a license, is asserted by virtue of the character of the employment; but while such a requirement may be proper in the case of local or intrastate business, it cannot be justified as a prerequisite to the conduct of the business that is interstate. Not only is the latter protected from the action of the state, either directly or through its municipalities, in laying direct burdens upon it, but, in the present instance, Congress has exercised its authority and has provided its own scheme of regulation in order to secure the discharge of the public obligations that the business involves. Act of June 29, 1906, c. 3591, 34 Stat. 584; Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, 226 U. S. 491 , 226 U. S. 505 ; United States v. Adams Express Co., 229 U. S. 381 .
It would seem to follow, necessarily, that the annual license fees prescribed by § 308 ( ante, p. 232 U. S. 25 , note) cannot be exacted so far as the interstate business is concerned. They cannot be regarded as coming within the category of inspection fees, which are sustained when fairly commensurate with the cost of local supervision of such matters as are under local control ( Western Union Tel. Co. v.
New Hope, 187 U. S. 419 , 187 U. S. 425 ; Atlantic &c.; Tel. Co. v. Philadelphia, 190 U. S. 160 , 190 U. S. 164 ). The provisions of § 308 are inseparably connected with those of §§ 305 and 306. The sums fixed "for each express wagon" and "for each driver" measure the amount to be exacted for the granting of the license required for the carrying on of business. And it is difficult to see how the payment can be enforced as to the interstate business if the taking out of the license therefor cannot be compelled.
Similar considerations are controlling with respect to the provision of § 332 for the giving of license bonds. This in terms is related to the requirement of § 305. It is provided that a bond shall be given "for each and every vehicle licensed," and it is to be conditioned "for the safe and prompt delivery of all baggage, packages," etc., entrusted to the owner or driver "of any such licensed express." As applied to the company's business of interstate transportation, it must fall with the provision regarding the license, and, further, it must be regarded as repugnant to the exclusive control asserted by Congress in occupying the field of regulation with regard to the obligations to be assumed by interstate express carriers. Adams Express Co. v. Croninger, supra; Southern Ry. Co. v. Reid, 222 U. S. 424 ; Same v. Reid & Beam, 222 U. S. 444 , 222 U. S. 447 .
Section 315 provides for separate licenses for drivers. We may assume the propriety of suitable provision to insure careful driving over the city streets, and the existence of ample power to meet this local necessity. It is also clear that regulations for this purpose, when the movement of interstate traffic is involved, should be entirely reasonable and should not arbitrarily restrict the facilities upon which it must depend. If the provision of § 315 could be regarded as severable from the requirement of a license for the conduct of business, we should still have great difficulty in sustaining it as a reasonable regulation
with regard to drivers employed in the interstate transportation which has been described. Reading § 315 in connection with § 307, as we understand the city contends it should be read, no driver can be licensed except a citizen of the United States, or one who has regularly declared intention to become a citizen, and the assurance of his qualifications does not depend simply upon the applicant's ability to meet appropriate tests so as to satisfy the official judgment, but the application must be accompanied by the indorsement in writing of two reputable residents of the city testifying to his competence. When the importance to the entire country of promptness and facility in the conduct of the business of the express companies in New York City, and the obvious convenience of their being able to secure drivers in Jersey City as well as in New York, are considered, the provision would seem to be unnecessarily burdensome. We are not called upon, however, to decide this point. Section 315 relates exclusively to drivers of a "licensed hack or express." There is no such provision as to drivers of wagons generally. While the driver's license is separate, the ordinance refers only to such drivers as are employed in the business for the carrying on of which a license may be required. Whatever might otherwise be the city's power as to the regulation of drivers, this provision cannot be divorced from the license scheme of which it is a part.
Other requirements, such as the marking of the vehicles with their official numbers, the exhibition of licenses upon demand, and the inspection of "licensed vehicles and places of business" have obvious reference to the same license plan.
We conclude that the complainant was entitled to an injunction restraining the enforcement of the ordinances in question against the company with respect to the conduct of its interstate business and its wagons and drivers
employed in interstate commerce. In this view, it is unnecessary to consider whether the ordinances have been superseded, as to automobiles, by the state statute.
The decree of the Circuit Court is reversed, and the case is remanded to the district court with direction to enter a decree in favor of the complainant in conformity with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
" CHAPTER 7"
" TITLE I. -- BUREAU OF LICENSES"
" (§§ 300-304)"
" * * * *"
" TITLE II. -- THE GRANTING AND REGULATION OF LICENSES"
" Article I -- Business Requiring a License "
"§ 305. The following businesses must be duly licensed as herein provided -- namely, public cartmen, truckmen, hackmen, cabmen, expressmen, drivers, junk dealers, dealers in second-hand articles, hawkers, peddlers, venders, ticket speculators, coal scalpers, common shows, shooting galleries, bowling alleys, billiard tables, dirt carts, exterior hosits and stands within stoop-lines and under the stairs of the elevated railroad stations."
(Ord. app. May 22, 1899, § 1.)
"§ 306. No person shall engage in or carry on any such business without a license therefor under a penalty of not less than two dollars nor more than twenty-five dollars for each offense, and for the purposes of this ordinance the term 'person' shall include any human being or lawful association of such."
( Id., § 2.)
" Article II.-Licenses and License fees. "
"§ 307. All licenses shall be granted by authority of the mayor and issued by the Bureau of Licenses for a term of one year from the date thereof, unless sooner suspended or revoked by the mayor, and no person shall be licensed except a citizen of the United States or one who has regularly declared intention to become a citizen."
"The Mayor shall have power to suspend or revoke any license or permit issued under the provisions of this ordinance. The mayor shall also have power to impose a fine of not more than five dollars or less than one dollar for any violation of the regulations herein provided, and to suspend the license pending payment of such fine, which, when collected, shall be paid into the sinking fund for the redemption of the city debt."
( Id., § 3.)
"§ 308. The annual license fees shall be as below enumerated:"
"* * * *"
For each express wagon . . . . . . . . . . . $5.00
"* * * *"
For each driver of any licensed vehicle. . . .50
(Id. § 4.)
"§ 309. Any license, before its expiration, or within thirty days thereafter, may be renewed for another term, upon payment of one half the license fee above designated therefor."
"All licenses in force when this ordinance takes effect for any business enumerated above may be renewed under the foregoing provisions regulating renewals of licenses hereunder issued."
( Id., § 5.)
" Article III. -- Special Regulations and Rates "
" I. Public Carts and Cartmen "
"* * * *"
" II. Drivers of Licensed Vehicles "
"§ 315. Every person driving a licensed hack or express shall be licensed as such driver, and every application for such license shall be indorsed in writing by two reputable residents of the City of New York, testifying to the competence of the applicant. No owner of a licensed hack or express shall employ an unlicensed driver under a penalty of $10 for each and every offense."
(Amend. app. June 29, 1909.)
" III. Public Hacks and Hackmen "
"* * * *"
" IV. Public Hack Stands "
"* * * *"
" IVa. Public Porters "
"* * * *"
" V. Expresses and Expressmen "
"§ 330. Every vehicle of whatever construction kept or used for the conveyance of baggage, packages, parcels, and other articles within or through the City of New York for pay shall be deemed a public express, and the owner thereof shall be deemed a public expressman, and the term 'expressman' shall be deemed to include any common carrier of baggage, packages, parcels, or other articles within or through the City of New York."
(Ord. app. May 22, 1899, § 18.)
"§ 331. Every public express shall show on each outside thereof the word 'Express,' or the letters 'Exp.,' together with the figures of its official number."
( Id., § 19.)
"§ 332. Every owner of a public express shall give a bond to the City of New York for each and every vehicle licensed in a penal sum of $100, with sufficient surety, approved by the mayor or chief of the Bureau of Licenses, conditioned for the safe and prompt delivery of all baggage, packages, parcels, and other articles or things entrusted to the owner or driver of any such licensed express."
( Id., § 20.)
"§ 333. The legal rates for regular deliveries, unless otherwise mutually agreed shall be as follows in the city:"
"Between points within any borough -- "
"Not more than 5 miles apart, each piece. . . . . $0 40"
"Not more than 10 miles apart, each piece . . . . 55"
"Not more than 15 miles apart, each piece . . . . 75"
"Between points in different boroughs: One-half"
"the above rates in addition."
"Special deliveries at rates to be mutually agreed upon."
( Id. § 21.)
"[The succeeding provisions of Article III (subdivisions VI-XVI) and Article IV, relate to junk dealers, dealers in second-hand articles, peddlers, etc., being the remaining businesses described in § 305.]"
"TITLE 3 -- GENERAL REGULATIONS AND COMPLAINTS"
"§ 373. All license fees received by the Bureau of Licenses shall be regularly paid over to the city treasury, except the license fees received from hackmen, dealers in junk and second-hand articles, and for stands within stoop-lines, which shall be paid into the sinking funds for the redemption of the city debt."
(Ord. app. May 22, 1899, § 56.)
"§ 374. The Mayor shall have power to appoint inspectors in the Bureau of Licenses to see that the provisions of this ordinance are fully and properly complied with, and all licensed vehicles and places of business shall be regularly inspected, and the result of such inspection shall be indorsed on the official license therefor, together with the date of inspection and the signature of the inspector, and all inspections shall be regularly reported to the Bureau of Licenses."
( Id., § 57.)
"§ 375. Every licensee shall have the official license and exhibit the same upon the demand of any person, and shall report within three days to the Bureau of Licenses any change of residence or place of business, and shall at all times perform the public duties of the business licensed when called upon so to do, if not actually unable."
( Id., § 58.)
"§ 376. All words, letters, and numbers hereinbefore prescribed for licensed vehicles shall be shown permanently and conspicuously on each outside thereof in colors contrasting strongly with background, and not less than two inches high, as directed and approved by the Mayor or Chief of the Bureau of Licenses, and shall be kept legible and plainly visible at all times during the term of the license, and shall be obliterated or erased upon change of ownership or expiration of the license, and no person shall have or use any vehicle with words, letters, or numbers thereon like those herein prescribed for licensed vehicles without being duly licensed therefor."
( Id., § 59.)
"§ 378. The Chief of the Bureau of Licenses, or Deputy Chief, shall have power to hear and determine complaints against licensees hereunder and impose a fine of not more than five dollars or less than one dollar for any violation of the regulations herein provided, subject to the approval of the Mayor, who shall have power to suspend the license pending payment of such fine. All such fines, when collected, shall be paid into the sinking fund for the redemption of the city debt."
( Id., § 61.)
" TITLE 4 -- VIOLATIONS"
"§ 379. Except as hereinbefore otherwise provided, no person shall violate any of the regulations of this ordinance under a penalty of ten dollars for each offense. No such violation shall be continued under a penalty of one dollar for each day so continued. Any person engaging in or carrying on any business herein regulated without a license therefor, or any person violating any of the regulations of this ordinance, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof by any magistrate, either upon confession of the party or competent testimony, may be fined not more than $10 for each offense, and in default of payment of such fine may be committed to prison by such magistrate until the same be paid; but such imprisonment shall not exceed ten days."
( Id., § 62, as amended June 29, 1909.)