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U.S. Supreme Court

Morgan's Steamship Co. v. Louisiana Board of Health, 118 U.S. 455 (1886)

Morgan's Steamship Co. v. Louisiana Board of Health

Argued April 26-27, 1886

Decided May 10, 1886

118 U.S. 455


The system of quarantine laws established by statutes of Louisiana is a rightful exercise of the police power for the protection of health, which is not forbidden by the Constitution of the United States.

While some of the rules of that system may amount to regulations of commerce with foreign nations or among the states, though not so designed, they belong to that class which the states may establish until Congress acts in the matter by covering the same ground or forbidding state laws.

Congress, so far from doing either of these things, has, by the Act of 1799, c. 53, Rev.Stat., and previous laws, and by the recent Act of 1878, 20, Stat. 37, adopted the laws of the states on that subject and forbidden all interference with their enforcement.

The requirement that each vessel passing a quarantine station shall pay a fee fixed by the statute for examination as to her sanitary condition and the ports from which she came is a part of all quarantine systems, and is a compensation for services rendered to the vessel, and is not a tax within the meaning of the Constitution concerning tonnage tax imposed by the states.

Nor is it liable to constitutional objection as giving a preference for a port of one state over those of another. That section (nine) of the first Article of the Constitution is a restraint upon powers of the general government, and not of the states, and can have no application to the quarantine laws of Louisiana.

This was a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the Louisiana.

The plaintiff in error was plaintiff in the state court, and in the court of original jurisdiction obtained an injunction against the Board of Health prohibiting it from collecting from the plaintiffs the fee of $30 and other fees allowed by Act 69 of the Legislature of Louisiana of 1882, for the examination which the quarantine laws of the state required in regard to all vessels passing the station. This decree was reversed, on appeal, by the supreme court of the state, and to this judgment of reversal the present writ of error was prosecuted. chanrobles.com-red

Page 118 U. S. 456

The grounds on which it is sought in this Court to review the final judgment of the Louisiana court are thus stated in an amended petition filed in the cause in the court of first instance:

"The amended petition of plaintiffs respectfully represents:"

"That all the statutes of the State of Louisiana relied on by defendants for collection of quarantine and fumigation fees are null and void because they violate the following provisions of the United States Constitution:"

"Article first, section 10, paragraph 3, prohibits the states from imposing tonnage duties without the consent of Congress."

"Article first, section 8, paragraph 3, vesting in Congress the power to regulate commerce, which power is exclusively so vested."

"Article first, paragraph 6, section 9, which declares that no preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce to the ports of one state over that of another, nor shall vessels bound to or from one state be obliged to enter, clear, or pay duties in another."

The statute which authorizes the collection of these fees, approved July 1, 1882, is as follows:

"SEC. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana that the resident physician of the Quarantine Station on the Mississippi River shall require for every inspection and granting certificate the following fees and charges: for every ship, thirty dollars ($30); for every bark, twenty dollars ($20); for every brig, ten dollars ($10); for every schooner, seven dollars and a half ($7.50); for every steamboat (tow boats excepted), five dollars ($5); for every steamship, thirty dollars ($30)."

"SEC. 2. Be it further enacted . . . that the Board of Health shall have an especial lien and privilege on the vessels so inspected for the amount of said fees and charges, and may collect the same, if unpaid, by suit before any court of competent jurisdiction, and in aid thereof shall be entitled to the writ of provisional seizure on said vessels."

"SEC. 3. Be it further enacted . . . that all laws, and parts of laws, in conflict with the provisions of this act, are hereby

Page 118 U. S. 457

repealed, and all laws, and parts of laws, on the same subject matter, not in conflict or inconsistent herewith, are continued in full force and effect. "

Page 118 U. S. 458


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