BARBIER V. CONNOLLY, 113 U. S. 27 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27 (1885)

Barbier v. Connolly

Submitted November 25, 1884

Decided January 5, 1885

113 U.S. 27


A municipal ordinance prohibiting from washing and ironing in public laundries and washhouses within defined territorial limits from ten o'clock at night to six in the morning is a purely police regulation within the competency of a municipality possessed of the ordinary powers.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does not impair the police power of a state.

In error to a state court, this Court cannot pass upon the question of the conformity of a municipal ordinance with the requirements of the constitution of the state.

On the 8th of April, 1884, the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, the legislative authority of that municipality, passed an ordinance reciting that the indiscriminate establishment of public laundries and washhouses where clothes and other articles were cleansed for hire, endangered the public health and the public safety, prejudiced the wellbeing and comfort of the community, and depreciated the value of property in their neighborhood, and then ordaining, pursuant to authority alleged to be vested in the board under provisions of the state constitution and of the Act of April 19, 1856, consolidating the government of the city and county, that after its passage, it should be unlawful for any person to establish, maintain, or carry on the business of a public laundry or of a public washhouse within certain designated limits of the city and county without first having obtained a certificate, signed by the health officer of the municipality, that the premises were properly and sufficiently drained and that all proper arrangements were made to carry on the business without injury to the sanitary condition of the neighborhood; also a certificate, signed by the board of fire wardens of the municipality, that the stoves, washing and drying apparatus, and the appliances for heating smoothing irons were in good condition, and that their use was not dangerous to the surrounding

Page 113 U. S. 28

property from fire, and that all proper precautions were taken to comply with the provisions of the ordinance defining the fire limits of the city and county and making regulations concerning the erection and use of buildings therein.

The ordinance requires the health officer and board of fire wardens, upon application of anyone to open or conduct the business of a public laundry, to inspect the premises in which it is proposed to carry on the business in order to ascertain whether they are provided with proper drainage and sanitary appliances and whether the provisions of the fire ordinance have been complied with, and, if found satisfactory in all respects, to issue to the applicant the required certificates without charge for the services rendered. Its fourth section declares that no person owning or employed in a public laundry or a public washhouse within the prescribed limits shall wash or iron clothes between the hours of ten in the evening and six in the morning, or upon any portion of Sunday, and its fifth section that no person engaged in the laundry business within those limits shall permit anyone suffering from an infectious or contagious disease to lodge, sleep, or remain upon the premises. The violation of any of these several provisions is declared to be a misdemeanor, and penalties are prescribed differing in degree according to the nature of the offense. The establishing, maintaining, or carrying on the business without obtaining the certificates is punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by imprisonment of not more than six months or by both. Carrying on the business outside of the hours prescribed or permitting persons with contagious diseases on the premises is punishable by a fine of not less than $5 or more than $50 or by imprisonment of not more than one month or by both such fine and imprisonment.

The petitioner in the court below, the plaintiff in error here, was convicted in the Police Judge's Court of the City and County of San Francisco under the fourth section of the ordinance of washing and ironing clothes in a public laundry within the prescribed limits between the hours of ten o'clock in the evening of May 1, 1884, and 6 o'clock in the morning of the following day, and was sentenced to imprisonment in

Page 113 U. S. 29

the county jail for five days, and was accordingly committed, in execution of the sentence, to the custody of the sheriff of the city and county, who was keeper of the county jail. That court had jurisdiction to try him for the alleged offense if the ordinance was valid and binding. But, alleging that his arrest and imprisonment were illegal, he obtained from the superior court of the city and county a writ of habeas corpus, in obedience to which his body was brought before the court by the sheriff, who returned that he was held under the commitment of the police judge upon a conviction of a misdemeanor, the commitment and sentence being produced. The petitioner thereupon moved for his discharge on the ground that the fourth section of the ordinance violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and certain sections of the constitution of the state. The particulars stated in which such alleged violation consists were substantially these (omitting the repetition of the same position): that the section discriminates between the class of laborers engaged in the laundry business and those engaged in other kinds of business; that it discriminates between laborers beyond the designated limits and those within them; that it deprives the petitioner of the right to labor, and, as a necessary consequence, of the right to acquire property; that it is not within the power of the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco, and that it is unreasonable in its requirements. The superior court overruled the positions and dismissed the writ, and the petitioner brought this writ of error.

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