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LINDSAY & PHELPS CO. V. MULLEN, 176 U. S. 126 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Lindsay & Phelps Co. v. Mullen, 176 U.S. 126 (1900)

Lindsay and Phelps Company v. Mullen

No. 44

Argued April 6-7, 1899

Decided January 15, 1900

176 U.S. 126


The provision in § 2400 of the statutes of Minnesota of 1894, requiring each surveyor general to survey all logs and timbers running out of any boom now chartered or which may hereafter be chartered by law in his district, refers to corporations organized under a general law, as well as to those whose organization is provided for by special act.

The business of booming logs on the waters of streams running through the forests of the West is a lawful business, and the Minnesota Boom Company was a lawfully organized corporation for the purpose of doing such lawful business.

The statute of Minnesota requiring all logs running out of a boom to be surveyed, inspected, and scaled is compulsory, and such legislation was within the power of the state.

The scale bills in this case were certified as required by the laws of the state, and, being so certified, were competent evidence, and when taken in connection with other evidence, supported the finding of the court that the work was done as alleged.

A record in the books of the surveyor general is not preliminary to a right to a lien for such work. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 176 U. S. 127

The logs of one party passing the boom can be subjected to a lien for surveying and scaling not only his own logs, but also for surveying and scaling the logs of other parties, as any log owner may send his logs down the river without the use of the boom, taking proper care of them, and if he uses the boom, he takes it subject to the conditions prescribed by the legislature.

The improvement made in the Mississippi River by the construction of the boom and its works, and the exaction of reasonable charges for the use of such works, including fees of state officials for inspecting and scaling, if done under state authority, cannot be considered in any just sense a burden upon interstate commerce.

On August 1, 1893, the plaintiff in error commenced its action of replevin against one of the defendants in error, John H. Mullen, to recover possession of a quantity of logs said to be of the value of $15,000. Mullen answered, alleging that he was the Surveyor General of logs and lumber for the Fourth District of Minnesota; that, as such surveyor general, he had scaled and surveyed a large number of logs in a boom belonging to the Minnesota Boom Company, for which service he was entitled to fees amounting to the sum of $11,088.92, and had seized these logs under the statute giving him a lien to enforce payment thereof, and praying for a return of the property, or, if that could not be had, for judgment for the sum of $11,088.92, together with ten percent, $1,108.89, costs of collection as provided by law, and interest. To this answer the plaintiff filed a reply, challenging on several grounds the validity of the claim for fees and lien. Thereafter the State of Minnesota was, on its application, made a party defendant, and answered setting forth in substance that, since the filing of the pleadings, the defendant Mullen had received from the State of Minnesota the full amount of his fees, and had transferred his claim to the state, and adopting the answer of Mullen, so far as it was applicable. On these pleadings, the case went to trial before the court without a jury. No special findings of fact were made, but only a general finding for defendants. A bill of exceptions was preserved, reciting the testimony, showing that at the close, the plaintiff requested of the court the following declarations:

"First. That it has not been shown that the logs for which

Page 176 U. S. 128

defendants claim fees for scaling in this case ever ran into or through any boom chartered by law and therefore the defendants have no right to the fees claimed or to any lien on the plaintiff's logs therefor; but the court refused to make such declaration; to which ruling and order the plaintiff then and there duly excepted."

"Second. That the defendants have not shown themselves entitled to any lien upon the plaintiff's logs:"

"a. Because the scale bills, defendants' Exhibits 3 and 4, are not evidence of the scaling of the logs therein described."

"b. Because it appears affirmatively that the said scale bills were not, nor were either of them, recorded in any book in the office of the surveyor general of that district."

"c. Because it appears that a very great proportion of the logs mentioned in these scale bills, defendants' Exhibits 3 and 4, were not the plaintiff's logs, and that the work done was not done at the request of the plaintiff or anybody else."

"d. Because the pretended records of said scale bills were not in fact any record whatever."

"e. Because it does not appear that any of the log marks shown on defendants' scale bills, Exhibits 3 and 4, were ever recorded in the office of the surveyor general of logs and lumber of the Fourth Lumber District of the State of Minnesota in accordance with the provisions of title 3, of chapter 32, General Statutes of the State of Minnesota."

"But the court refused to make such declaration; to which ruling and order the plaintiff duly excepted."

"Third. That the statute under which the defendants claim a right to scale these logs and recover fees therefor, and to a lien on the plaintiff's logs therefor, is, as applied to the place and business where this scaling was done, an attempted regulation by the state of interstate commerce, and is unconstitutional and void, being in contravention of subdivision 4, of section 8 of article 1 of the Constitution of the United States."

Upon the general finding, the court entered a judgment for the defendants for a return of the property or the payment of the fees, costs, and interest. Thereupon the plaintiff chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 176 U. S. 129

brought the case directly to this Court by writ of error on the ground that the laws of Minnesota, under which these fees and lien were claimed, were in contravention of the Constitution of the United States.

The facts developed on the trial, and upon which the questions of law arise, are these: the State of Minnesota was by law divided into five districts for the inspection of logs and lumber. The fourth district was defined as follows: "The Mississippi River and its tributaries below the outlet of Lake Pepin to the southern line of Wabasha County." The defendant Mullen was the duly appointed and qualified surveyor general of logs and lumber for this district, and as such performed the services for which the fees and lien were claimed. The Minnesota Boom Company was a corporation organized under the general laws of the State of Minnesota in April, 1889. The purposes for which the corporation was organized are stated in article 1 of its charter:

"The general nature of the corporate business shall be the construction, maintenance, and use of booms, dams, and all other structures of any kind necessary or advantageous for the performance of the logging and lumbering business herei