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Opinion of the Court.
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." While such declaration of principles may not have the force of organic law, or be made the basis of judicial decision as to the limits of right and duty, and while in all cases reference must be had to the organic law of the nation for such limits, yet the latter is but the body and the letter of which the former is the thought and the spirit, and it is always safe to read the letter of the Constitution in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. No duty rests more imperatively upon the courts than the enforcement of those constitutional provisions intended to secure that equality of rights which is the foundation of free government.
Questions of this character have been frequently presented to the courts, and it is well to notice a few of the decisions. In Alabama a statute provided that a railroad corporation, or any complainant against it, taking an appeal from a judgment of a justice of the peace in a suit for damages to live stock, and failing to sustain such appeal, should be liable for a reasonable attorney's fee incurred by reason thereof. Code Alabama, 1876, § 1715. This statute was less obnoxious to the charge of discrimination than the one before us, in that it gave the same right to the corporation as to its adversary, and it was limited to cases in which an appeal was taken from a judg ment already rendered by a competent judicial officer; yet the Supreme Court of that State, South & North Alabama Railroad v. Morris, 64 Alabama, 193, 199, held it in conflict with both the state and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, saying: "Justice cannot be sold or denied by the exaction of a pecuniary consideration for its enjoyment from one, when it is given freely and open-handed to another, without money and without price. Nor can it be permitted that litigants shall be debarred from the free exercise of this constitutional right by the imposition of arbitrary, unjust and odious discriminations, perpetrated under color of establishing peculiar rules for a particular occupation. Unequal, partial and discriminatory legislation, which secures this right to
Opinion of the Court.
some favored class or classes and denies it to others, who are thus excluded from that equal protection designed to be secured by the general law of the land, is in clear and manifest opposition to the letter and spirit of the foregoing constitutional provisions." And again: And again: "The section of the code under consideration (1715) prescribes a regulation of a peculiar and discriminative character in reference to certain appeals from justices of the peace. It is not general in its provisions or applicable to all persons, but is confined to such as own or control railroads only; and it varies from the general law of the land by requiring the unsuccessful appellant, in this particular class of cases, to pay an attorney's tax fee not to exceed twenty dollars. A law which would require all farmers who raise cotton to pay such a fee in cases where cotton was the subject-matter of litigation and the owners of this staple were parties to the suit would be so discriminating in its nature as to appear manifestly unconstitutional; and one which should confine the tax alone to physicians or merchants or ministers of the gospel would be glaring in its obnoxious repugnancy to those cardinal principles of free government which are found incorporated, perhaps, in the bill of rights of every state constitution of the various commonwealths of the American Government."
In Mississippi an act somewhat similar in its nature, Laws Miss. 1882, p. 110, was adjudged unconstitutional, Chicago, St. Louis &c. Railroad v. Moss, 60 Mississippi, 641, the court saying, on page 646: "The right of appeal cannot be fettered and clogged with reference to the parties litigant or the attitude they occupy as plaintiff or defendant. All litigants, whether plaintiff or defendant, should be regarded with equal favor by the law, and before the tribunals for administering it, and should have the same right to appeal with others similarly situated. All must have the equal protection of the law, and its instrumentalities. The same rule must exist for all in the same circumstances."
In Michigan a statute was passed, Laws Michigan, 1885, c. 234, authorizing the taxing of an attorney's fee of twenty-five dollars in actions against a railroad company for damages for
Opinion of the Court.
cattle killed, and the Supreme Court of that State held it unconstitutional, Wilder v. Chicago & West Michigan Railway, 70 Michigan, 382, saying on page 384: "Corporations have equal rights with natural persons as far as their privileges in the courts are concerned. They can sue and defend in all courts the same as natural persons, and the law must be administered as to them with the same equality and justice which it bestows upon every suitor, and without which the machinery of the law becomes the engine of tyranny. This statute proposes to punish a railroad company for defending a suit brought against it with a penalty of $25, if it fails to successfully maintain its defence. The individual sues for the loss of his cow, and if it is shown that such loss was occasioned by his own neglect, and through no fault of the company, and he thereby loses his suit, the railroad company can recover only the ordinary statutory costs of $10 in the justice's court, but if he succeeds because of the negligence of the company, the plaintiff is permitted to tax the $10 and an additional penalty of $25; for it is nothing more or less than a penalty. Calling it an attorney's fee' does not change its real nature or effect. It is a punishment to the company, and a reward to the plaintiff, and an incentive to litigation on his part. This inequality and injustice cannot be sustained upon any principle known to the law. It is repugnant to our form of government, and out of harmony with the genius of our free institutions. The legislature cannot give to one party in litigation such privileges as will arm him with special and important pecuniary advantages over his antagonist." Lafferty v. Chicago & West Michigan Railway, 71 Michigan, 35.
So, in Arkansas, an act was passed providing that when stock was killed by a railroad company the owner might demand an appraisement, and that if the appraised value was not paid within a certain time and an action was brought an attorney's fee for the plaintiff might be taxed and collected, but it was held by the Supreme Court, St. Louis &c. Railway v. Williams, 49 Arkansas, 492, that such legislation could not be sustained. It was construed to be an act imposing a pen
Opinion of the Court.
alty for a failure to abide by an award of appraisers and contesting its validity in the courts. It is worthy of note that in the same volume is found a decision by the same court, sustaining a statute allowing an attorney's fee in actions for the recovery of overcharges by railroads, Dow v. Beidelman, 49 Arkansas, 455; but the statute had prescribed the rates of charge for the carriage of passengers by railroads, had forbidden an overcharge, and it was as a penalty for failure to comply with such police regulations that the allowance of an attorney's fee was sustained. See also Jolliffe v. Brown, Supreme Court of Washington, 14 Wash. 155, in which, it appearing that there was no statutory obligation on railroad companies to fence their right of way, a statute allowing attorney's fees in actions to recover damages for stock killed, was declared to be unconstitutional; and Grand Rapids Chair Co. v. Runnels, 77 Michigan, 104, in which an act authorizing an attorney's fee to be taxed in entering judg ments for personal services was set aside.
Besides these cases involving attorney's fees are others in which legislation imposing special burdens on an individual or a class has been declared beyond the power of the legislature as against equality of right. In San Antonio &c. Railway v. Wilson, 19 S. W. Rep. 910, the Court of Appeals of Texas held that a statute providing that in the event of a railroad company's refusing to pay its indebtedness to an employé within twenty days after demand, he could recover as damages twenty per cent in addition to the amount due, was class legislation and unconstitutional. In the course of the opinion, after referring to those statutes allowing double damages for stock killed, the court observed: "But when we consider the relations of railway companies to their own servants, both as to contracts of employment and payment, we find a field in which special legislation has no right ordinarily to enter, and in which railways stand on the same footing with all other corporations or persons." In Atchison & Nebraska Railroad v. Baty, 6 Nebraska, 37, there was presented for consideration a statute which gave to the owner of live stock accidentally killed or destroyed on a railroad track
Opinion of the Court.
double its value, and it was held that the statute was void. Millet v. People, 117 Illinois, 294, in which an act of the legis lature requiring owners and operators of coal mines to weigh coal in a certain specified manner, was held invalid as beyond the power of the legislature to single out certain individuals and impose upon them burdens not imposed upon all. Frorer v. People, 141 Illinois, 171, where an act which prohibited persons engaged in mining or manufacturing from keeping a store for furnishing supplies to their employés was held in conflict with the constitution. Braceville Coal Co. v. People, 147 Illinois, 66, where a like ruling was made in respect to a statute requiring certain specified corporations to pay the wages of their employés weekly. Eden v. People, 161 Illinois, 296, which set aside a statute forbidding barbers, and barbers only, to keep open their shops or work at their trade on Sundays. Durkee v. Janesville, 28 Wisconsin, 464, in which an act providing that no costs should be recovered against the city in an action commenced to set aside any assessment or tax deed, or to prevent the collection of taxes in said city, was held to conflict with the rule of equality in that suitors in all other cases were entitled to recover their costs, the court saying, on page 471, that "it is obvious there can be no certain remedy in the laws, where the legislature may prescribe one rule for one suitor or class of suitors in the courts, and another for all others under like circumstances, or may discriminate between parties to the same suit, giving one most unjust pecuniary advantage over the other. Parties thus discriminated against would not obtain justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it. To the extent of such discrimination they would be obliged to buy justice and pay for it, thus making it a matter of purchase to those who could afford to pay, contrary to the letter and spirit of this provision." Janesville v. Carpenter, 77 Wisconsin, 288, in which a statute authorizing suits for injunction to be maintained in favor of certain parties under circumstances differing from those which obtained in respect to all other suits of a similar nature, was likewise held to be void, as discriminating and class legislation, in