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decided: May 16, 1892.



Author: Brewer

[ 145 U.S. Page 422]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

Two questions are presented: first, is the ordinance valid?

[ 145 U.S. Page 423]

     second, if so, can the plaintiff recover for liquor sold in violation of its terms?

The first question must be answered in the affirmative. The precise question, on the very ordinance, was presented to the Supreme Court of Illinois, and determined by it in the case of Dennehy v. Chicago, 120 Illinois, 627. Counsel for defendant in error strenuously insist that that decision is not controlling on this court in this case, because it was not announced until May, 1887, and after this purchase had taken place. They say that this is a controversy between citizens of different States, in which the parties have a right to the independent judgment of the Federal tribunals; that, prior to such decision, there had been no determination by the courts of Illinois of the validity of the ordinance; and that the decision in the Dennehy Case was in disregard of the general course of the legislation of the State of Illinois in respect to the liquor traffic, and of the spirit of at least two decisions of that court, Strauss v. Pontiac, 40 Illinois, 126, 301, and Wright v. The People, 101 Illinois, 133. They refer us to the cases of Pease v. Peck, 18 How. 595; Chicago v. Robbins, 2 Black, 418; Butz v. Muscatine, 8 wall. 575; Burgess v. Seligman, 107 U.S. 20; Carroll County v. Smith, 111 U.S. 556; Gibson v. Lyon, 115 U.S. 439; and Anderson v. Santa Anna Township, 116 U.S. 356, as instances in which this court did not consider itself concluded by the decision of the state court.

While not disposed to limit or qualify in any respect what has been said so frequently as to the right and duty of independent judgment, we think that this is a case in which the decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois should control. The question is one of a particularly local character, affecting solely the internal police of the State, in respect to which we have no reviewing power, and in which is involved no matter of a Federal character, or of general commercial law. The question as to what licenses shall or shall not be required of those who engage in the liquor traffic, is a matter properly submitted to the States for determination. There is no natural or Federal right claimed to have been trespassed upon by this ordinance, and the regulations as established and upheld by

[ 145 U.S. Page 424]

     the state legislature and state tribunals should not be disregarded in the Federal courts. The decision in the Dennehy Case determines for the people of the State of Illinois that at the time of the transaction in controversy there was this valid ordinance in the city of Chicago requiring a license. Why should not such decision conclude this plaintiff, as all other citizens of the State, in all their dealings within the State? It will be noticed that this is not a case in which a citizen of another State calls upon the Federal courts to ignore the judgment of the state court, because of some supposed infringement by it upon his rights. It is a citizen of Chicago, and Illinois, who is asking us to disregard the decision of the highest court of his own State. If it be said that there is not simply a question of municipal or police regulation, but also one of contract rights, the reply is that no question of contract rights can arise till after that of the validity of the ordinance is determined; and also that the party who now seeks to raise the question is one who, as a citizen of the State, ought to be concluded by the decisions of its highest court upon this local matter.

There has been no change in the rulings of the Supreme Court on this question. The prior cases referred to contain nothing inconsistent with the Dennehy Case. In Strauss v. Pontiac, the court held that authority in the charter to prohibit "tippling-houses and dram-shops," did not sustain an ordinance to prohibit generally the sale of spirits or beer. In other words, the charter power was directed towards the character of the house, and not to the matter of sales; and the ruling was, that the former did not include the latter. In Wright v. The People, it was held that the dram-shop act applied to sales made by a druggist in good faith and for medical purposes. There is no force in the argument, that because the court in the course of its opinion said that the city council had authority under the charter to grant permits to druggists to sell intoxicating liquors by the retail -- it is to be implied that the court intended to decide that the council had no power to grant like permits to sell at wholesale. The statement was simply by way of argument to show that the druggists

[ 145 U.S. Page 425]

     were within the scope of the dram-shop act, and was by no means a decision that the city council had no other authority than to permit sales by druggists at retail. So that without any contradiction in its rulings, the first and only time that this question was presented to the Supreme Court it held that this ordinance was within the powers granted to the city council; and as this decision was rendered only two months after this sale, and was in affirmance of the decisions of the trial and intermediate appellate court, it is but fair to presume that the decisions of those lower courts had been rendered before this transaction.

It must not be implied from what we have said, that we differ from the Supreme Court of Illinois as to the validity of this ordinance. The charter authority is given in broad and comprehensive terms, "to license . . . the selling or giving away of any intoxicating, malt, vinous, mixed or fermented liquor." There is no limitation or qualification as to the manner of sale, whether at wholesale or retail, or as to the character of the house at which the business is to be carried on, whether a dram-shop, a grocery or a drug store. If it was intended, and doubtless it was, to give to the city council full authority over the sale of intoxicating liquors, words more broad or comprehensive could not easily have been selected. There is no doubtful language ...

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