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decided: May 15, 1911.



Author: Van Devanter

[ 221 U.S. Page 412]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the court.

In that view of it which must be accepted here, this case may be stated as follows: It was an action to recover damages for the death of a locomotive engineer, resulting

[ 221 U.S. Page 413]

     from the derailment of an engine which he was driving while in the service of two railroad companies which were jointly operating a line of railroad through the States of Louisiana and Texas. The derailment and ensuing death occurred in Louisiana, June 1, 1905, and proximately were caused by the negligence of the two companies. One of the companies was incorporated by a Louisiana statute of March 30, 1878, which contained a provision exempting the company from liability for the death of any person in its service, even if caused by its negligence. Laws of Louisiana, 1878, No. 21, ยง 17, p. 267. Another Louisiana statute, enacted July 10, 1884, and still in force, conferred upon designated relatives a right to recover the damages sustained by them through the death of a person negligently caused by another, but subjected the right to the limitation that the action to enforce it should be begun within one year from the death.Laws of Louisiana, 1884, No. 71, p. 94. Merrick's Revised Civil Code, Art. 2315. Within the time so prescribed the relatives so designated commenced in the District Court of Harris County, Texas, an action to recover from the two railroad companies the damages sustained by the engineer's death. The complaint, although stating all the facts essential to a recovery under the statute, was defective as a complaint in the Texas court, because it did not conform to the rule prevailing in that State that statutes of other States cannot be noticed judicially, but must be pleaded. More than a year after the death the defendants answered the complaint, and in their answers recognized the existence of the statute upon which the plaintiffs' action was founded, made allegations respecting it, and sought to enforce the one year limitation therein. At the trial the statutes of 1878 and 1884 were both duly proved, and upon all the evidence the finding and judgment were for the plaintiffs. The defendants appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals of the State, where the judgment was affirmed (128 S.W.

[ 221 U.S. Page 414]

     Rep. 1165), and then sued out this writ of error. In the trial court, and again in the Court of Civil Appeals, it was held (1) that the exempting provision in the statute of 1878 was repealed by the statute of 1884, and (2) that what appeared in the answers respecting the statute of 1884 cured the defect in the complaint and required that it be treated as an adequate and timely assertion of a right under that statute. In the assignments of error here these rulings are challenged upon the theory, which also was advanced in the state courts, that the exempting provision in the statute of 1878 was a contract and could not be repealed consistently with the contract clause of the Federal Constitution, and that, if that provision was validly repealed by the statute of 1884, the answers filed more than a year after the death could not be treated as curing the defect in the complaint without disregarding the one year limitation and thereby violating the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution.

The case is now before us on a motion to dismiss, with which is united a motion to affirm.

The doctrine that a corporate charter is a contract which the Constitution of the United States protects against impairment by subsequent state legislation is ever limited in the area of its operation by the equally well settled principle that a legislature can neither bargain away the police power nor in any wise withdraw from its successors the power to take appropriate measures to guard the safety, health and morals of all who may be within their jurisdiction. Beer Co. v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25; Fertilizing Co. v. Hyde Park, Id. 659; Stone v. Mississippi, 101 U.S. 814; Douglas v. Kentucky, 168 U.S. 488. In the first of these cases it was said:

"Whatever differences of opinion may exist as to the extent and boundaries of the police power, and however difficult it may be to render a satisfactory definition of it, there seems to be no doubt that it does extend to the

[ 221 U.S. Page 415]

     protection of the lives, health, and property of the citizens, and to the preservation of good order and the public morals. The legislature cannot, by any contract, divest itself of the power to provide for these objects. They belong emphatically to that class of objects which demand the application of the maxim salus populi suprema lex; and they are to be attained and provided for by such appropriate means as the legislative discretion may devise. That discretion can no more be bargained away than the power itself."

The fact that the provision in question was embodied in the statute incorporating the Louisiana company does not suffice to show that it became a part of the charter contract, for obviously nothing became a part of that contract that was not within the contracting power of the legislature. Such of the provisions of the statute as were within that power became both a law and a contract and were within the protection of the contract clause of the Constitution, but such of them as were not within that power became a law only and were as much subject to amendment or repeal as if they had been embodied in a separate enactment. As was said by ...

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