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L'HOTE v. NEW ORLEANS.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: May 14, 1900.

L'HOTE
v.
NEW ORLEANS.

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA.

Author: Brewer

[ 177 U.S. Page 595]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The question presented in this case is whether an ordinance of the city of New Orleans prescribing limits in that city, outside side of which no woman of lewd character shall dwell, operates to deprive these plaintiffs in error of any right secured by the Constitution of the United States. It is well, in the first place, to look at the negative side and see what is not involved.No woman of that character is challenging its validity; there is no complaint by her that she is deprived of any personal rights, either as to the control of her life or the selection of an abiding place. She is not saying that she is denied the right to select a home where she may desire, or that her personal conduct is in any way interfered with. In brief, the persons named in the ordinance, and against whom its provisions are directed, do not question its validity.

In the second place, no person owning buildings outside of the prescribed limits is complaining that he is deprived of a possible tenant by virtue of the ordinance, or saying that the abridgment of her freedom of domicile operates to cut down the amount of his rents.

In the third place, it will be perceived that the ordinance does not attempt to give to persons of such character license to carry on their business in any way they see fit, or, indeed, to carry it on at all, or to conduct themselves in such a manner as to disturb the public peace within the prescribed limits. Clauses 3

[ 177 U.S. Page 596]

     and 4 of the first section of the ordinance are clearly designed to restrain any public manifestation of the vocation which these persons pursue and to keep so far as possible unseen from public gaze the character of their lives, while clauses 6, 7, 8 and 9 provide means for enforcing order and preventing disturbances of the peace.

The question, therefore, is simply whether one who may own or occupy property in or adjacent to the prescribed limits, whether occupied as a residence or for other purposes, can prevent the enforcement of such an ordinance on the ground that by it his rights under the Federal Constitution are invaded.

In this respect we premise by saying that one of the difficult social problems of the day is what shall be done in respect to those vocations which minister to and feed upon human weaknesses, appetites and passions. The management of these vocations comes directly within the scope of what is known as the police power. They affect directly the public health and morals. Their management becomes a matter of growing importance, especially in our larger cities, where from the very density of population the things which minister to vice tend to increase and multiply. It has been often said that the police power was not by the Federal Constitution transferred to the nation, but was reserved to the States, and that upon them rests the duty of so exercising it as to protect the public health and morals. While, of course, that power cannot be exercised by the States in any way to infringe upon the powers expressly granted to Congress, yet until there is some invasion of Congressional power or of private rights secured by the Constitution of the United States, the action of the States in this respect is beyond question in the courts of the nation. In Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27, 31, it was said:

"But neither the amendment -- broad and comprehensive as it is -- nor any other amendment, was designed to interfere with the power of the State, sometimes termed its police power, to prescribe regulations to promote the health, peace, morals, education and good order of the people."

See also Railroad Company v. Husen, 95 U.S. 465; Beer Company v. Massachusetts, 97 U.S. 25; Patterson v. Kentucky,

[ 177 U.S. Page 59797]

     U.S. 501; Fertilizing Company v. Hyde Park, 97 U.S. 659; Plumley v. Massachusetts, 155 U.S. 461, and cases in the opinion.

Obviously, the regulation of houses of ill fame, legislation in respect to women of loose character, may involve one of three possibilities: First, absolute prohibition; second, full freedom in respect to place, coupled with rules of conduct; or, third, a restriction of the location of such houses to certain defined limits. Whatever course of conduct the legislature may adopt is in a general way conclusive upon all courts, state and Federal. It is no part of the judicial function to determine the wisdom or folly of a regulation by the legislative body in respect to matters of a police nature.

Now, this ordinance neither prohibits absolutely nor gives entire freedom to the vocation of these women. It attempts to confine their domicile, their lives, to certain territorial limits. Upon what ground shall it be adjudged that such restriction is unjustifiable; that it is an unwarranted exercise of the police power? Is the power to control and regulate limited only as to the matter of territory? May that not be one of the wisest and safest methods of dealing with the problem? At any rate, can the power to so regulate be denied? But given the power to limit the vocation of these persons to certain localities, and no one can question the legality of the location. The power to prescribe a limitation carries with it the power to discriminate against one citizen and in favor of another. Some must suffer by the establishment of any territorial boundaries. We do not question what is so earnestly said by counsel for plaintiffs in error in respect to the disagreeable results from the neighborhood of such houses and people; but if the power to prescribe territorial limits exists, the courts cannot say that the limits shall be other than those the legislative body prescribes. If these limits hurt the present plaintiffs in error, other limits would hurt others. But clearly the inquiry as to the reasonableness or propriety of the limits is a matter for legislative consideration, and cannot become the basis of judicial action. The ordinance is an attempt to protect a part of the citizens from the unpleasant consequences of such neighbors. Because the legislative

[ 177 U.S. Page 598]

     body is unable to protect all, must it be denied the power to protect any?

It is said that this operates to depreciate the pecuniary value of the property belonging to the plaintiffs in error, but a similar result would follow if other limits were prescribed, and therefore the power to prescribe limits could never be exercised, because, whatever the limits, it might operate to the pecuniary disadvantage of some property holders.

The truth is, that the exercise of the police power often works pecuniary injury, but the settled rule of this court is that the mere fact of pecuniary injury does not warrant the overthrow of legislation of a police character.

Among the cases in which this question has been presented may be noticed Fertilizing Company v. Hyde Park, supra, and Mugler v. Kansas, 123 U.S. 623. In the first of these cases an act of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois had authorized the fertilizing company to establish a plant for the purpose of converting dead animals into an agricultural fertilizer. In pursuance of this authority the company had built its factory outside the then limits of the city of Chicago and in a territory adjacent to which there was no population. As the years rolled by population gathered around the factory, and the character of the work carried on was such as to make it a nuisance to the neighborhood. The village of Hyde Park, which had grown up around the works of the company, passed an ordinance to suppress these works, and a bill was filed in the state court to restrain the enforcement of that ordinance. The Supreme Court of the State held the ordinance valid, and on error to this court that judgment was affirmed. Although there was a charter right to maintain these works, and although when established they were located in a territory in which there was no population, yet when population had gathered around them the police power of the State was held sufficient to stop their existence, and that without compensation to the owner. The pecuniary injury which directly resulted to the company from the stoppage of its works was held no bar to the police power of the State. In the other case Mugler had established a brewery in Kansas, when such an institution was authorized by the laws of the

[ 177 U.S. Page 599]

     State. The buildings and machinery were of little value except for the purpose of manufacturing beer. Yet when Kansas, in the exercise of its police power, determined that the manufacture of beer should cease, it was ruled by this court that the pecuniary loss to Mugler did not justify any restraint of the legislative acts prohibiting the manufacture of beer. Each individual holds his property subject to the ordinary and reasonable exercise of the police power, and the fact that its exercise may in a particular case work pecuniary injury was adjudged insufficient to stay the legislative action. It is true those cases involved pecuniary injury to the persons whose action was prohibited, but it cannot be that the police power of a State can be stayed because it works injury to one person, and not stayed if it works injury to another.

In 1 Dillon Mun. Corp. 4th ed. sec. 141, the rule is thus stated:

"Laws and ordinances relating to the comfort, health, convenience, good order and general welfare of the inhabitants are comprehensively styled 'Police Laws or Regulations.' It is well settled that laws and regulations of this character, though they may disturb the enjoyment of individual rights, are not unconstitutional, though no provision is made for compensation for such disturbances. They do not appropriate private property for public use, but simply regulate its use and enjoyment by the owner. If he suffers injury, it is either damnum absque injuria, or in the theory of the law, he is compensated for it by sharing in the general benefits which the regulations are intended and calculated to secure. The citizen owns his property absolutely, it is true; it cannot be taken from him for any private use whatever, without his consent, nor can it be taken for any public use without compensation; still he owns it subject to this restriction, namely, that it must be so used as not unreasonably to injure others, and that the sovereign authority may, by police regulations, so direct the use of it that it shall not prove pernicious to his neighbors, or the citizens generally."

The learned author, in these and accompanying sentences, is discussing the rule when legislative action operates directly upon the property of the complainant and where injuries alleged

[ 177 U.S. Page 600]

     to result are the direct consequence of legislative action. If under such circumstances the individual has no cause of action, a fortiori must the same be true when the injuries are not direct but consequential, when his property is not directly touched by the legislative action but is affected in only an incidental and consequential way. Here the ordinance in no manner touched the property of the plaintiffs. It subjected that property to no burden, it cast no duty or restraint upon it, and only in an indirect way can it be said that its pecuniary value was affected by this ordinance. Who can say in advance that in proximity to their property any houses of the character indicated will be established, or that any persons of loose character will find near by a home? They may go to the other end of the named district. All that can be said is that by narrowing the limits within which such houses and people must be, the greater the probability of their near location. Even if any such establishment should be located in proximity, there is nothing in the ordinance to deny the ordinary right of the individual to restrain a private nuisance. Under these circumstances we are of the opinion that the ordinance in question is not one of which the plaintiffs in error can complain. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana is therefore

Affirmed.

19000514

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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