Munn v. Illinois (94 U.S. 113)

Facts:

An information was filed in the Criminal Court of Cook County, against Munn & Scott, who were the managers and lessees of a public warehouse, known as the “Northwestern Elevator,” in which they then and there stored grain in bulk, and mixed the grain of different owners together. It was alleged that they unlawfully transacted the business of public warehousemen, without procuring a license from the Circuit Court of said county, permitting them to transact business as public warehousemen under the laws of the State and that they charged higher rates for storage and handling grain. The defendants were found guilty, and fined $100. The judgment of the Criminal Court of Cook County having been affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State, Munn & Scott sued out this writ.

Issue:

Whether or not the general assembly of Illinois can fix by law the maximum of charges for the storage of grain in warehouses.

Ruling: YES.

Looking, then, to the common law, from whence came the right which the Constitution protects, we find that, when private property is “affected with a public interest, it ceases to be juris privati only.”

Property does become clothed with a public interest when used in a manner to make it of public consequence and affect the community at large. When, therefore, one devotes his property to a use in which the public has an interest, he, in effect, grants to the public an interest in that use, and must submit to be controlled by the public for the common good, to the extent of the interest he has thus created. He may withdraw his grant by discontinuing the use, but, so long as he maintains the use, he must submit to the control.

Common carriers exercise a sort of public office, and have duties to perform in which the public is interested.

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