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STEPHENSON V. BINFORD, 287 U. S. 251 (1932)

U.S. Supreme Court

Stephenson v. Binford, 287 U.S. 251 (1932)

Stephenson v. Binford

No. 326

Argued November 14, 15, 1932

Decided December 5, 1932

287 U.S. 251


1. The highways of a State are public property, the primary and preferred use of which is for private purposes; their use for purposes of gain may generally be prohibited by the legislature or conditioned as it sees fit. P. 287 U. S. 264.

2. Texas statute regulating carriers on highways, considered and held not open to the objection that it forces private carriers to assume the duties and burdens of common carriers. Pp. 287 U. S. 265-269.

3. Unregulated use of the public highways by a vast and constantly growing number of private contract carriers operating motor trucks had the effect of greatly decreasing the freight which would be carried by railroads within the state, and, in consequence, of adding to the burden upon the highways. Held:

Page 287 U. S. 252

(1) That the removal or reduction of this burden, with its resulting injury to the highways, interference with their primary use, danger and inconvenience, was a legitimate subject for the exercise of the legislative power. P. 287 U. S. 271.

(2) Statutory provisions (a) forbidding private carriers to use the highways without permits, the issuance of which by a commission depends upon the condition that the efficiency of common carrier service then adequately serving the same territory shall not be impaired, and (b) authorizing the commission to prescribe minimum rates for private carriers not less than those prescribed for common carriers for substantially the same service, are legitimate means for conserving the highways, and do not infringe the right of the private carrier to due process. Pp. 287 U. S. 272-273.

4. The judgment of the legislature as to fitness and efficiency of means adopted by it for a legitimate end must stand if it can be seen that, in any degree or under any reasonably conceivable circumstances, there is an actual relation between the means and the end; the legislative conclusion must be accepted by the courts if not manifestly wrong. P. 287 U. S. 272.

5. When exercise of the freedom of contract conflicts with the power and duty of the state to safeguard its property from injury and preserve it for the uses for which it was primarily designed, such freedom may be regulated and limited to the extent that reasonably may be deemed necessary for the execution of such power and duty. P. 287 U. S. 274.

6. A state has power to regulate not only the use of its highways, but private contracts also, insofar as they contemplate that use; it may prescribe the terms upon which persons will be permitted to contract in respect of the use of the public highways for purposes of gain. P. 287 U. S. 274.

7. If sustained by one constitutional purpose, a statute is not invalid because designed also for another purpose which, considered apart, the legislature had no power to effect. P. 287 U. S. 276.

8. Contracts are made subject to the future exercise of the constitutional power of the state. Id.

9. Whether the provision of the Texas statute requiring private motor carriers to furnish bonds and insurance policies as security for payment for loss of, or injury to, property arising out of their operations should be construed as applicable to the cargoes they themselves carry will not be determined in the absence of any construction of it by the state courts and of any attempt to enforce it against the carriers complaining. P. 287 U. S. 276.

Page 287 U. S. 253

10. Unless obliged to do otherwise, this Court should not adopt a construction of a state statute that might render it of doubtful validity, but should await determination of the matter by the state courts. P. 287 U. S. 277.

11. The complaining carriers have not shown such construction or administration of the statute as produces undue discrimination against private carriers of their class as compared with carriers operating under special permits, or persons, commonly known as "shipper owners," who transport their own commodities. P. 287 U. S. 277.

53 F 2d 509 affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of the District Court of three judges denying a permanent injunction in a suit to restrain the Governor, and other officials, of the State of Texas from enforcing provisions of a statute regulating the use of the highways by carriers of freight by motor. The report cited above contains the opinion rendered by the District Court when it denied a temporary injunction.

Page 287 U. S. 259

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