This was a suit brought in November, 1895, in the district court of by the United States against Joseph S. Harris, Edward M. Paxson, and John Lowber Welsh, receivers of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Company, to recover a penalty in the sum of $500 for an alleged violation of 4386, 4387, 4388, and 4389 of the Revised Statutes of the United States.
There was a verdict in favor of the United States, but afterwards, on a question reserved at the trial, judgment was entered in favor of the defendants non obstante veredicto. 78 Fed. Rep. 290. Thereupon a writ of error was sued out from the circuit court of appeals for the third circuit, and on March 14, 1898, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. 57 U. S. App. 259, 85 Fed. Rep. 533, 29 C. C. A. 327. The cause was then brought to this court on a writ of certiorari.
Solicitor General Richards for petitioner. [177 U.S. 305, 306] Mr. John G. Lamb for respondents.
Mr. Justice Shiras delivered the opinion of the court:
This was an action to recover penalties for an alleged violation of the laws of the United States relating to the transportation of live stock; and the question involved is whether the defendants, who were in charge and control of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad as receivers, appointed by the circuit court of the United States, were liable in such an action.
The act under which this suit was brought was passed March 3, 1873, and was entitled 'An Act to Prevent Cruelty to Animals while in Transit by Railroad or Other Means of Transportation within the United States.' It appears in the Revised Statutes as 4386, 4387, 4388, and 4389, as follows:
The contention on behalf of the government is that, by the words 'any company,' used in 4388, Congress intended to embrace all common carriers, whether by rail or water, upon whom the duty was imposed by 4386 of unloading and feeding the animals; that the word 'company' is used in a popular sense as signifying the person or persons, the association or corporation, carrying on the business of a common carrier by rail or water; that, as shown by its title, the act in question was a humane one, designed to prevent cruelty to animals while in course of interstate transit; that the regulations were to be complied with whenever animals were transported by rail or boat from one state or another; and that whoever had charge of the railroad or the boat had to see that these wholesome and humane regulations were obeyed, or had to pay the penalty for violating them.
To strengthen the argument that Congress intended to include even receivers when managing a railroad under an appointment by a court, the government's counsel calls attention [177 U.S. 305, 308] to the provisions of the 2d and 3d sections of the act of August 13, 1888 ( 25 Stat. at L. 436, chap. 866), reading as follows: receiver or manager who shall wilfully violate in any court of the United States there shall be a receiver or manager in possession of any property such receiver or manager shall manage and operate such property according to the requirements of the valid laws of the state in which such property shall be situated, in the same manner that the owner or possessor thereof would be bound to do if in possession thereof. Any receiver or mannager who shall wilfully violate the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall, on conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not exceeding three thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding one year, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.
It is claimed that the effect of such legislation is to place receivers upon the same plane with railway companies as respects their liability to be sued for acts done while operating as railroad.
Upon the whole, the proposition of the government's counsel is that the words 'any company, owner, or custodian of such animals,' used in 4388, are intended to cover all those who can possibly violate the preceding two sections; that the words 'every company' must, therefore, be held to include a railroad company, whether a person, a partnership or a corporation, and whether acting individually, or through officers or receivers.
It may be conceded that it was the intention of Congress to subject receivers of railroad companies, appointed such by courts of the United States, to the valid laws and regulations of the states and of the United States, whose object is to promote the safety, comfort, and convenience of the traveling public. But [177 U.S. 305, 309] we are not now concerned with the general intention of Congress, but with its special intention, manifested in the enactments under which this suit was brought. Was it the purpose of Congress when prescribing a penalty for any company, owner, or custodian of animals who knowingly and willingly fails to comply with the directions of the statute, to include receivers? Can we fairly bring receivers within the penal clause by reasoning from a supposed or an apparent motive in Congress in passing the act?
It was the view of the courts below that receivers were plainly not within the letter of the statute, and not necessarily within its purpose or spirit; and an attentive examination has brought us to the same conclusion.
It must be admitted that, in order to hold the receivers, they must be regarded as included in the word 'company.' Only by a strained and artificial construction, based chiefly upon a consideration of the mischief which the legislature sought to remedy, can receivers be brought within the terms of the law. But can such a kind of construction be resorted to in enforcing a penal statute? Giving all proper force to the contention of the counsel of the government, that there has been some relaxation on the part of the courts in applying the rule of strict construction to such statutes, it still remains that the intention of a penal statute must be found in the language actually used, interpreted according to tis fair and obvious meaning. It is not permitted to courts, in this class of cases, to attribute inadvertence or oversight to the legislature when enumerating the classes of persons who are subjected to a penal enactment, nor to depart from the settled meaning of words or phrases in order to bring persons not named or distinctly described within the supposed purpose of the statute.
It may well be that Congress, in omitting to expressly include receivers in these sections, intended to leave them subject to the control and direction of the courts, whose officers they are. It does not, therefore, follow that the statute in question would be without operation where railroads are in the hands of receivers. The owners and custodians of the stock would still remain subject to the punishment prescribed. [177 U.S. 305, 310] We cannot better close this discussion than by quoting the language of Chief Justice Marshall, in the case of United States v. Wiltberger, 5 Wheat. 76, 5 L. ed. 37:
The judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals is affirmed.