U.S. Supreme Court
Miller v. Ammon, 145 U.S. 421 (1892)
Miller v. Ammon
Argued April 11-12, 1892
Decided May 16, 1892
145 U.S. 421
The Supreme Court of Illinois having held that the ordinance of the City of Chicago that
"No person, firm or corporation shall sell or offer for sale any spirituous or vinous liquors in quantities of one gallon or more at a time within the City of Chicago without having first obtained a license therefor from the City of Chicago, under a penalty of not less than $50 or more than $200 for each offense"
is valid, this Court follows the ruling of that court and further holds that a contract made in violation of it creates no right of action which a court of justice will enforce.
The general rule of law is that a contract made in violation of a statute is void, and that when a plaintiff cannot establish his cause of action without relying upon an illegal contract, he cannot recover.
The Court stated the case as follows:
On March 16, 1887, the plaintiff in error, defendant below, then a citizen and resident of Wisconsin, purchased of the plaintiff, in Chicago, 1,125 gallons of sherry wine and 1,100 gallons of port wine at an agreed price of $5,287. The purchase was on ninety days' credit, and the wine was delivered to defendant in that city. Thereafter, the defendant having failed to pay for these goods, plaintiff commenced this action in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Iowa to recover the purchase price. The defendant pleaded as a defense that by chapter 24 of the Revised Statutes of Illinois, it was provided that
"The city council in cities . . . shall have the following powers: . . . To license, regulate, and prohibit the selling or giving away of any intoxicating, malt, vinous, mixed, or fermented liquor the license not to extend beyond the municipal year in
which it shall be granted, and to determine the amount to be paid for such license;"
that this statute was in force at the time of the alleged purchase; that Chicago was a city of that state; that the city council of that city had passed the following ordinance:
"An ordinance concerning the licensing of wholesale liquor dealers."
"SEC. 1. No person, firm, or corporation shall sell or offer for sale any spirituous or vinous liquors in quantities of one gallon or more at a time within the City of Chicago without having first obtained a license therefor from the City of Chicago, under a penalty of not less than $50 or more than $200 for each offense. But no distiller who has taken out a license as such, and who sells only distilled spirits of his own production at the place of manufacture, shall be required to pay the license herein prescribed on account of said sale."
"SEC. 2. All such licenses shall be issued in accordance with the general ordinances of the city governing licenses, and for every such license there shall be charged at the rate of $250 per annum."
That plaintiff was then a wholesale liquor dealer in the City of Chicago; that he was not a distiller and had not a distiller's license; that the wine mentioned in the petition was vinous and intoxicating liquor within the meaning of said ordinance, and that the sale of the wine mentioned was in violation of said law and ordinance. A demurrer to this answer was filed, and, after argument, was sustained, and the defendant electing to stand by his answer, judgment was rendered against him for the amount claimed in the petition. To reverse such judgment, the defendant sued out this writ of error.