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City of Chicago v. the Willett Co.





APPEAL from the Municipal Court of Chicago; the Hon. R.P. DRYMALSKI, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied September 18, 1950.

This cause is heard here on direct appeal from a judgment of the municipal court of Chicago, finding the Willett Company, hereinafter referred to as defendant, not guilty in an action brought by the city of Chicago, which charged said defendant with engaging in the business of a carter within the city of Chicago without first having obtained or paid for a license therefor, in violation of chapter 163, Municipal Code of Chicago.

The cause was heard by the court without a jury. The parties filed a stipulation which, with certain testimony of the executive vice-president of the defendant company, constitutes the record in the cause. The trial court has certified that the validity of a municipal ordinance is involved.

Chapter 163 of the Chicago Municipal Code relates to carters and provides, in brief, that any dray type of vehicle driven or employed for the purpose of transporting or conveying property and merchandise within the city for hire or reward shall be deemed a cart within the meaning of the chapter, whether the vehicle be employed or hired from any public stand, public way, barn, garage, office or other place, or whether it be hired for the day, week, month or year. A license tax is imposed by the ordinance for each cart operated or controlled by every carter according to established fees and schedules.

The foregoing section as passed repeals the prior public carters ordinance as well as the furniture movers ordinance.

The defendant is an Illinois corporation, with its offices in Chicago, and was engaged in the business of transporting property by motor vehicles for hire in the city of Chicago. It operates as a contract carrier of commodities by motor vehicle from points and places within the State of Illinois, to points and places in the States of Indiana and Wisconsin. It further carries property within the city of Chicago from point to point under contract with various firms and other interstate and intrastate carriers entering the city. It holds itself out to serve the public and connecting carriers and forwarding companies generally up to the limit of its capacity, either (a) by leasing trucks with drivers to shippers by the hour, day, week or year or other period, (b) by making contracts with shippers to perform all trucking for a fixed period, (c) by giving occasional service or handling single shipments in local cartage for any shipper at a rate per hundred pounds, per ton, per piece, or other unit, (d) by distributing pooling cars, and (e) by rendering collection and delivery service, station or substation service, for rail, water and highway motor carriers and forwarding companies, either under contract or on some other basis. It was further stipulated that the motor vehicles operated by the defendant company in the course of a day's business would transport property from points within the city of Chicago to other points within the city of Chicago, from points within the city of Chicago to other points within the State of Illinois outside the city and from points in Chicago to other States surrounding Illinois and return. The defendant did not comply with the provisions of the carters ordinance, arguing that the ordinance was void and of no legal effect because it is in conflict with the constitution of the United States; it is in conflict with the constitution of Illinois; it is in conflict with section 23-51 of the Revised Cities and Villages Act; and it is in conflict with the Illinois Truck Act of 1939, as amended.

The finding of the trial court for the defendant is apparently based on the ground that the application of the ordinance to the defendant carrier's business would create a burden upon interstate commerce and that, therefore, the defendant is exempt from the provisions of the carters ordinance of the city of Chicago.

The argument of the city of Chicago, the appellant here, is to the effect that by the terms of the ordinance, the license fee is restricted to carters doing business "within the city" and that the natural meaning of those words restricts the ordinance to intracity business and it cannot apply to interstate commerce. In support of this construction, appellant cites Pacific Express Company v. Seibert, 142 U.S. 339, and related cases. It further argues that the mere fact that the defendant company is engaged in interstate commerce, as well as intrastate and intracity, does not prevent the city of Chicago from imposing an occupation tax upon the defendant with respect to the purely intracity operations in which the defendant is admittedly engaged. To support this view, they cite cases such as Osborne v. Florida, 164 U.S. 650, Pullman Co. v. Adams, 189 U.S. 420, and like cases.

The defendant, on the other hand, cites People v. Horton Motor Lines, 281 N.Y. 196; Northern Pacific Railway Co. v. Washington, 222 U.S. 370, and Sprout v. South Bend, 277 U.S. 166, and similar cases for the proposition that the State or municipality cannot tax interstate commerce and, in situations such as the one before the court, the tax violates the constitution of the United States and imposes a burden on interstate commerce. Both parties further argue as to the validity and invalidity of the ordinance in question.

It is the law in this State that this court will give a construction to a statute which will uphold its validity. The presumption is always in favor of the validity of an ordinance passed in pursuance of statutory authority. City of Chicago v. Hebard Express and Van Co. 301 Ill. 570.

It seems clear that the ordinance in question is not invalid by its terms, but could be held to be so by reason of its application to certain operators of carts, under the definition of the ordinance, in and around the city of Chicago. In other words, the ordinance is not invalid per se. It is only upon its application that a question of its constitutionality can arise. In Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U.S. 339, it was said, "`Business done within this State' cannot be made to mean business done between that State and other States. We, therefore, concur in the view of the court below that it was not the legislative intention, in the enactment of this statute, to impinge upon interstate commerce, or to interfere with it in any way whatever; and that the statute, when fairly construed, does not in any manner interfere with interstate commerce." Thus, we find that the ordinance in question here, when construed in the light of the above language, is invalid only when it is applied to interstate commerce in its fullest sense.

As contended by the city, there is no question but what a license tax may be imposed upon the defendant for its intracity business. In Osborne v. Florida, 164 U.S. 650, a Florida statute was involved, imposing an annual license tax on all express companies doing business in the State. The Supreme Court of Florida has construed the statute as not applying to interstate business, but only to local business, intrastate in character. The Supreme Court of Florida held the statute to be valid and the United States Supreme Court affirmed this holding, pointing out that the construction of the statute by the Supreme Court of Florida, as applying only to intrastate business, was binding upon it and would be accepted by it. The case is authority for the rule that a statute so construed does not exempt the express company from taxation upon its business which is solely within the State, even though at the same time the same company may do a business which is interstate in character.

However, the mere operation of trucks by the defendant "within the city" is not sufficient to determine the issues here. The legal effect ...

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