CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT.
MR. JUSTICE LURTON, after stating the facts as above, delivered the opinion of the court.
The act of 1867 applied to "all moneyed business or commercial
corporations and joint-stock companies." The present act applies only to such corporations as are "principally engaged" in certain enumerated kinds of business. That of inn-keeping, though as old as civilization, is not specifically enumerated. Unless, therefore, a corporation engaged in the business of hotel keeping is embraced within one or the other of those which are enumerated, it is not liable to an involuntary adjudication.
The contention is that this was a corporation principally engaged in "trading" or "mercantile pursuits."
For the present we shall only deal with the bare question as to whether inn-keeping is within a proper definition of "trading" or "mercantile pursuits." The keeping of a bar, cigar and news stand are obviously but ordinary incidents to the main business when conducted within the inn, and primarily for the convenience of guests. The maintenance of a livery and of small pleasure boats for the accommodation of guests may also be accepted as merely incidental to that class of hotels called resorts. The significance of the fact that this company did, in addition to the ordinary business of hotel keeping, engage to a certain extent in an outside trading or mercantile business will later be considered.
Having thus narrowed the question, we must answer that a corporation engaged principally in running hotels is not a corporation engaged principally in "trading" or "mercantile pursuits." An innkeeper is one who maintains a house for the entertainment of strangers, for a reasonable compensation. To secure this compensation he is given a lien upon the property of his guests within the inn. For this property he is under liability much like that of a common carrier. So long as he has room, he must receive all who may apply and are fit persons. He may not discriminate. To say that he buys and sells articles of food and drink is only true in a limited sense. Such articles are not bought to be sold, nor are they sold again, as in ordinary commerce. They are bought to be served as food or drink, and the price includes
rent, service, heat, light, etc. To say that such a business is that of a "trader" or a "mercantile pursuit," is giving those words an elasticity of meaning not according to common usage.
Until changed by a Parliamentary declaration in 1825, Act 6, George IV, c. 16, defining the persons included under the term "trader," as used in the bankrupt and insolvency acts, it was held that an innkeeper was not a tradesman. Newton v. Trigg, 1 Showers, 96; Luton v. Bigg, Skinner, 276, 291; Willitt v. Thomas, 2 Chitty, 691.
In Luton v. Bigg it was said of an innkeeper: "He is in the nature of a public person, and his house and occupation a thing of necessity, and his gain does not arise from the victuals which he sells, but from his furniture and attendance."
In Newton v. Trigg, cited above, it was said: "An innkeeper cannot get his own prices, but is bound to a reasonable price. A tradesman may sell to whom he pleases. An innkeeper cannot refuse his guest. He doth not get by buying and selling. He gets by the price and hire of his lodging, also by the profit on the ale of ...