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GULF, COLORADO & SANTA FE RY. CO. V. ELLIS, 165 U. S. 150 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Ellis, 165 U.S. 150 (1897)

Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway Company v. Ellis

No. 188

Submitted November 8, 1896

Decided January 18, 1891

165 U.S. 150

Syllabus

The act of the Legislature of Texas of April 5, 1889, which provides that

any person in this state having a valid bona fide claim for personal services rendered or labor done, or for damages, or for overcharges on freight, or claims for stock killed or injured by the train of any railway chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 165 U. S. 151

company, provided that such claim for stock killed or injured shall be presented to the agent of the company nearest to the point where such stock was killed or injured, against any railway corporation operating a railroad in this state, and the amount of such claim does not exceed $50, may present the same, verified by his affidavit, for payment to such corporation by filing it with any station agent of such corporation in any county where suit may be instituted for the same, and if at the expiration of thirty days after such presentation, such claim has not been paid or satisfied, he may immediately institute suit thereon in the proper court, and if he shall finally establish his claim, and obtain judgment for the full amount thereof, as presented for payment to such corporation in such court, or any court to which the suit may have been appealed, he shall be entitled to recover the amount of such claim and all costs of suit, and in addition thereto all reasonable attorney's fees, provided he has an attorney employed in his case, not to exceed $10, to be assessed and awarded by the court or jury trying the issue,

operates to deprive the railroad companies of property without due process of law and denies to them the equal protection of the law in that it singles them out of all citizens and corporations and requires them to pay in certain cases attorney's fees to the parties successfully suing them, while it gives to them no like or corresponding benefit.

The mere fact of classification is not sufficient to relieve a statute from the reach of the equality clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and in all cases it must appear not merely that a classification has been made, but also that it is based upon some reasonable ground -- something which bears a just and proper relation to the attempted classification, and is not a mere arbitrary selection. Tested by these principles, the statute in controversy cannot be sustained.

On April 5, 1889, the Legislature of the Texas passed this act:

"SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the Legislature of the State of Texas that after the time when this act shall take effect, any person in this state having a valid bona fide claim for personal services rendered or labor done, or for damages, or for overcharges on freight, or claims for stock killed or injured by the train of any railway company, provided that such claims for stock killed or injured shall be presented to the agent of the company nearest to the point where such stock was killed or injured, against any railway corporation operating a railroad in this state, and the amount of such claim does not exceed $50, may present the same, verified by his affidavit, for payment to such corporation by filing

Page 165 U. S. 152

it with any station agent of such corporation in any county where the suit may be instituted for the same, and if, at the expiration of thirty days after such presentation, such claim has not been paid or satisfied, he may immediately institute suit thereon in the proper court, and if he shall finally establish his claim and obtain judgment for the full amount thereof, as presented for payment to such corporation in such court, or any court to which the suit may have been appealed, he shall be entitled to recover the amount of such claim and all costs of suit, and in addition thereto all reasonable attorney's fees, provided he has an attorney employed in his case, not to exceed $10, to be assessed and awarded by the court or jury trying the issue."

On October 8, 1890, defendant in error commenced this action before a justice of the peace to recover $50 for the colt killed by the railway company. The complaint alleged presentation and nonpayment, as required by the act, and demanded $10 attorney fee. The company answered, admitting everything except the claim for the attorney's fee. The case passed, after judgment in favor of the plaintiff for the amount claimed and an attorney's fee of $10, through the district court and the court of civil appeals to the supreme court of the state, by which, on May 10, 1894, the judgment against the company was affirmed. 87 Tex. 19. To reverse such judgment, the company sued out this writ of error.





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