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ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY v. STATE GEORGIA

June 8, 1914

ATLANTIC COAST LINE RAILROAD COMPANY
v.
STATE OF GEORGIA



ERROR TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Lurton, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney

Author: Hughes

[ 234 U.S. Page 286]

 MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, the plaintiff in error, was convicted of violating a statute of the State of Georgia known as the 'headlight law.' Pub. Laws (Ga.), 1908, pp. 50, 51; Civil Code, ยงยง 2697, 2698. In defense it was insisted that the act contravened the commerce clause and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. On appeal from the judgment of conviction the Court of Appeals of the State of Georgia certified the questions thus raised, together with others involving the application of the state constitution, to the Supreme Court of the State. Answering these questions, that court sustained the validity of the statute (135 Georgia, 545), whereupon final judgment was entered and this writ of error was sued out.

The material portions of the statute are as follows:

[ 234 U.S. Page 287]

     "Section 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Georgia, and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, That all railroad companies are hereby required to equip and maintain each and every locomotive used by such company to run on its main line after dark with a good and sufficient headlight which shall consume not less than three hundred watts at the arc, and with a reflector not less than twenty-three inches in diameter, and to keep the same in good condition. The word main line as used herein means all portions of the railway line not used solely as yards, spurs and sidetracks.

"Section 2. Be it further enacted, That any railroad company violating this Act in any respect shall be liable to indictment as for a misdemeanor in any county in which the locomotive not so equipped and maintained may run, and on conviction shall be punished by fine as prescribed in Section 1039 of the Code of 1895. . . .

"Section 4. Provided this Act shall not apply to tram roads, mill roads and roads engaged principally in lumber or logging transportation in connection with mills."

The contention is made that this act deprives the company of its liberty of contract, and of its property, without due process of law. It compels the disuse of a material part of the company's present equipment and the substitution of a new appliance. The use of locomotive headlights, however, is directly related to safety in operation. It cannot be denied that the protective power of government, subject to which the carrier conducts its business and manages its property, extends as well to the regulation of this part of the carrier's equipment as to apparatus for heating cars or to automatic couplers. The legislature may require an adequate headlight, and whether the carrier's practise is properly conductive to safety, or a new method affording greater protection should be substituted, is a matter for the legislative judgment. But it is insisted that the legislature has gone beyond the

[ 234 U.S. Page 288]

     limits of its authority in making the specific requirements contained in the act as to the character and power of the light and the dimensions of the reflector. This argument ignores the established principle that if its action is not arbitrary -- is reasonably related to a proper purpose -- the legislature may select the means which it deems to be appropriate to the end to be achieved. It is not bound to content itself with general directions when it considers that more detailed measures are necessary to attain a legitimate object. Particularization has had many familiar illustrations in cases where there has been a conviction of the need of it, as, for example, in building regulations and in provisions for safeguarding persons in the use of dangerous machinery. So far as governmental power is concerned, we know of no ground for an exception in the case of a locomotive headlight:

It cannot be said that the legislature acted arbitrarily in prescribing electric light, in preference to others, or that, having made this selection, it was not entitled to impose minimum requirements to be observed in the use of the light. Witnesses for the plaintiff in error, including its general superintendent of motive power and other employes holding important positions and conversant with the exigencies of operation, presented their objections to the use of the electric headlight. Locomotive engineers who for many years had driven locomotives with such a light testified for the State, expressing a decided opinion in favor of the use of electric headlights in the interest of safe operation and submitting their views in answer to the objections that had been urged. Assuming that there is room for differences of opinion, this fact does not preclude the exercise of the legislative discretion. So far ...


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