Bridge Company v. United States/Dissent Field
MR. JUSTICE FIELD.
I am not able to agree with the manjority of the court in their judgment in this case, nor in the reasons assigned for it. Their opinion proceeds upon a theory of the power of Congress over bridges crossing navigable waters to which I cannot assent. Its power to authorize the construction of such bridges not being conferred in express terms by the Constitution, must, if it exist, be deduced from the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States. This latter power authorizes Congress to prescribe rules by which commerce in its various forms may be conducted between our people and those of other countries, and between the people of different States; and also to adopt measures to facilitate and increase it. When the Constitution was adopted, commerce with foreign nations and even between the several States was carried on principally by means of vessels. Its regulation, therefore, required such control over our harbors, bays, and navigable streams connecting them or different States, as might be necessary to keep navigation free from unnecessary obstructions; and might legitimately extend to making such improvements as would facilitate the passage of vessels, render their anchorage safe, and expedite the discharge of their cargoes and the landing of their passengers and crews. To this extent its power over navigable waters goes, under the commercial clause; no further. Unless, therefore, the free navigation of the public waters is impeded by what a State may do or permit, Congress cannot interfere with its action. And what is meant by their free navigation I shall hereafter explain. The doctrine of a paramount power in Congress over bridges crossing navigable streams-either to authorize their construction, or regulate them, that is, control them when constructed-derives no support from its power to protect the free navigation of such streams. If a bridge, for example, built under the law of a State, should cross a navigable stream, at so high a point, and in such a way, as in no manner to obstruct its free navigation, Congress could not interfere with the structure. Its permission would not authorize the building, nor its command authorize the removal, of the bridge. And while Congress may declare that bridges of particular height and dimensions shall not be deemed an obstruction to the free navigation of the streams, it cannot interfere with bridges of a different size and character, unless they prove to be an impediment to such navigation.
Of course, should Congress undertake the construction of a road for the postal service, or other national purposes, it might authorize the erection of a bridge over navigable streams, to connect the road on opposite sides. But it is not of such works, or of bridges connecting them, that we are speaking; but of bridges built under the law of a State, and of the power which Congress has to interfere with and control them.
This view of the limits of the power of Congress will be more clearly apparent, if was consider it in connection with the construction of docks, wharves, and piers. Some of our bays and harbors ar miles in width. Such is the size of the bays of New York and of San Francisco; and some of the streams upon which piers and wharves are built, like the Mississippi and the Hudson, are over a mile in width. The several States own the soils under tide-waters within their limits. Speaking on this subject with reference to lands under the tide-waters of the bay of San Francisco, this court said: 'Upon the admission of California into the Union upon equal footing with the original States, absolute property in, and dominion and sovereignty over, all soils under the tide-waters within her limits passed to the State, with the consequent right to dispose of the title to any part of said soils in such manner as she might deem proper, subject only to the paramount right of navigation over the waters, so far as such navigation might be required by the necessities of commerce with foreign nations or among the several States, the regulation of which was vested in the general government.' Wever v. Harbor Commissioners, 18 Wall. 57. The same doctrine was previously asserted in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 3 How. 212; in Martin v. Waddell, 16 Pet. 367; in Mumford v. Wardwell, 6 Wall. 423, 436; and subsequently in McCready v. Virginia, 94 U.S. 391. The State of California, exercising her right of disposition of such soils, granted in 1851 to the city of San Francisco a large tract of land covered by the tide-waters of the bay; and since then the tract has been filled up, and wharves, piers, streets, and blocks of buildings of the most permanent and costly character have been constructed upon it. The bay being miles in width, its free navigation is in no way impeded by the new blocks of buildings and streets, where vessels once floated and cargoes were discharged.
Now, the control of Congress over the bay is as complete and unrestricted as over the navigable streams of the State. Could it in the exercise of its commercial power, that is, in its control over navigation, direct the destruction of the wharves, the buildings, and streets, which have been built where, in 1850, the tide-waters of the bay flowed? I doubt whether any jurist could be found who would hazard his reputation by giving an affirmative answer. And why not? Simply because until the free navigation of the bay for purposes of commerce is impeded, Congress has no power to interfere with the buildings and wharves constructed.
There are wharves and piers constructed, under State authority, at New York City, where the waters of the Hudson once flowed. There are wharves and piers in all our bays and harbors which are built in their waters. But as these structures do not interfere with the free navigation of the river in the one case, nor of the bays and harbors in the other cases, no judge or jurist has ever ventured to assert a power in Congress to order their removal at its pleasure; and simply because the right of interference on its part does not arise until the free navigation of the waters is obstructed. On what possible ground, then, can Congress order the removal of bridges built over navigable streams, under authority of the States, when they do not interfere with the free navigation of the streams? With the most careful consideratrion I can give to the subject I am unable to find any. To me it seems clear that no such arbitrary power exists.
The power of the State over its internal commerce must also be considered in treating of this subject. While the Constitution vests in Congress the power to regulate commerce among the several States, it leaves with each the regulation of its internal commerce. 'Comprehensive,' says Mr. Chief Justice Marshall, 'as the word 'among' is, it may be very properly restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one,' and 'the completely internal commerce of a State, then, may be considered as reserved for the State itself.' Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 195. The jurisdiction of the State over the navigable waters within its limits, so far as may be necessar for the regulation of its internal commerce, is as complete as the jurisdiction of Congress over them for the regulation of inter-state or foreign commerce. On this subject we said, in County of Mobile v. Kimball: 'The States have as full control over their purely internal commerce as Congress has over commerce among the several States and with foreign nations; and to promote the growth of that internal commerce, and insure its safety, they have an undoubted right to remove obstructions from their harbors and rivers, deepen their channels, and improve them generally, if they do not impair their free navigation, as permitted under the laws of the United States, or defeat any system for the improvement of their navigation provided by the general government. Legislation of the States, for the purposes and within the limits mentioned, does not infringe upon the commercial power of Congress.' 102 U.S. 691, 699.
It follows, I think, from what has been said, that the position of the majority of the court, as to the paramount power of Congress over bridges crossing navigable streams, is not tenable. Congress cannot invade the rights of a State, nor can a State impede the exercise of the just powers of the Federal government. The conclusion I draw is, that a bridge constructed by the authority of a State, if it does not interfere with the free navigation of the stream, is a lawful structure, and can neither be taken nor destroyed by Congress or by the State, except as other private property may be thus taken, that is, for public purposes upon making just compensation.
It must also be borne in mind that the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, extends to such commerce on land as well as to that on navigable waters. There are highways on land in every State, on which a far greater commerce, both inter-state and foreign, is conducted, than that which is borne upon its navigable waters. Congress can require that this commerce shall be as free from unnecessary obstruction as that on navigable waters connecting two or more States or leading to the sea. There is nothing in the Constitution which in any respect distinguishes the regulation it may exercise in either case. Its power, in all its extent and with all its limitations, is the same in both. The fact that navigable waters are natural highways, and roads, railways, and canals are of artificial construction, does not affect the power. That is one of regulation of inter-state and foreign commerce by whatever channels conducted. If bridges crossing natural highways cannot be constructed without the consent of Congress, because it is vested with the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the States, for like reason bridges cannot be constructed without such consent over artificial highways on land. The argument for the necessity of the consent in the one case is equally good in the other, and is equally unsound in both. In nearly every county of every State, bridges have been constructed under State authority over railways,-the great highways of commerce in modern times,-and it has never been suggested that the consent of Congress to their construction was at all necessary.
Nor do I find in the previous decisions of this court any recognition of a power in Congress to authorize the construction of bridges over navigable streams within or bordering on the States, in the sense that its permission will justify their construction, and that without it such construction would be unlawful,-excepting, of course, bridges which are parts of works undertaken for national purposes,-or of a power to regulate them, that is, to control them, after they are constructed. There are expressions in the opinions of the judges in the Wheeling Bridge Case, in the 18th of Howard, that, under the power to regulate commerce, Congress may declare what shall and shall not be deemed in judgment of law an obstruction to navigation. But these expressions, in their generality, were not called for by the case efore the court. That only called for a dtermination of the question whether a structure adjudged by the court to be unlawful as an obstruction to the navigation of the river could afterwards be legalized by Congress. The court held that it could be legalized, which amounted to no more than declaring that it should not thereafter be treated as interfering with the public right of navigation of the river, so far as that right was under the protection of Congress. This is a very different thing from asserting a power to declare that a structure, lawful when erected, and in no way interfering with the navigation of the river, is an unlawful structure, removable without compensation to the owner. I cannot admit that there is any such arbitrary power under our government. I find no warrant for it in the Constitution; on the contrary, all the guarantees which that instrument contains for the security of property negative its existence. Yet out of this assertion of a power to legalize a structure, which without such sanction would be deemed an obstruction to navigation, has grown up the doctrine of an independent power in Congress to authorize the construction of bridges over navigable streams without the permission of the States, and to control them when constructed. In this we are furnished with a striking illustration of the facility with which power is assumed from expressions, loosely or inadvertently used, apparently recognizing its existence. From the use of the word 'assent' to the erection of a bridge over a navigable river, or the declaring of one already erected a lawful structure, the transition has been easy and natural to the assumption of an affirmative power in Congress to authorize, independently of the action of the States, the construction of such bridges, and to control them. From the authorities cited, and the reasons assigned, it is evident that Congress possesses no such power. In the Wheeling Bridge Case, Mr. Justice Nelson, who delivered the prevailing opinion said: 'The bridge had been constructed under an act of the legislature of the State of Virginia; and it was admitted that act conferred full authority upon the defendants for the erection, subject only to the power of Congress in the regulation of commerce.' 18 How. 430. Mr. Justice McLean, while dissenting from the asserted power of Congress to declare a bridge to be a lawful structure, which had been adjudged by the court to be a public nuisance as an obstruction to navigation, spoke with emphasis against the existence of any authority in Congress to construct bridges, and, of course, to authorize their construction, and his views do not appear to have met with any dissent from the other judges. 'If,' said he, 'under the commercial power, Congress may make bridges over navigable waters, it would be difficult to find any limitation of such a power. Turnpike-roads, railroads, and canals might on the same principle be built by Congress. And if this be a constitutional power, it cannot be restricted or interfered with by any State regulation. So extravagant and absorbing a Federal power as this has rarely, if ever, been claimed by any one. It would, in a great degree, supersede the State governments by the tremendous authority and patronage it would exercise. But if the power be found in the Constitution, no principle is perceived by which it can be practically restricted. This dilemma leads us to the conclusion that it is not a constitutional power.'
Such, also, has been the uniform doctrine of the Supreme Courts of several States declared by judges, some of whom were justly distinguished for their learning and ability. Thus, in The People v. Rensselaer & Saratoga Railroad Co., in the Supreme Court of New York, Chief Justice Savage, in delivering its opinion, said: 'I think I may safely say that a power exists somewhere to erect bridges over waters which are navigable, if the wants of society require them, provided such bridges do not essentially injure the navigation of the waters which they cross. Such power certainly did exist in the State legislatures, before the delegation of power to the Federal government by the Federal Constitution. It is not pretended that such a power has been delegated to the general government, or is conveyed under the power to regulate commerce and navigation; it remains, then, in the State legislatures, or it exists nowhere. It does exist, because it has not been surrendered any farther than such surrender may be qualifiedly implied; that is, the power to erect bridges over navigable streams must be considered so far surrendered as may be necessary for a free navigation upon those streams.' 15 Wend. (N. Y.) 113, 131.
If weight is to be given to these authorities, and to the reasons on which they rest, it must follow that the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the States over their navigable waters, which were as absolute upon the adoption of the Constitution as over their roads, still continue; except that they are to be so exercised as not to obstruct the free navigation of the waters,-so far as such navigation may be required in the prosecution of inter-state and foreign commerce. And by 'free navigation' is not meant a navigation entirely clear of obstructions. In the sense in which these terms are used by European jurists, the navigation of a river is free, when it is not entirely interrupted, and not embarrassed by oppressive duties exacted by riparian States. In this country, the navigation of a river is deemed to be free, when it is kept open for vessels cleared of such physical obstructions as would retard their passage beyond what is required for the necessary transit over the stream, and is exempt from exactions and delays other than for the enforcement of quarantine and health laws; and such occasional tolls as may be levied to meet the expenses of improving its navigation. The delays attendant upon the necessary transit of persons and property, or the enforcement of quarantine and health laws, or the exaction in exceptional cases of tolls, are not deemed to be inconsistent with the free navigation of the river in the legal sense of those terms. Thus, bridges with draws of sufficient width for the passage of vessels are allowed on rivers in Europe, like the Rhine, whose navigation is declared to be free. So, in this country, such bridges do not destroy the free character of the navigation, any more than ferries, though, like them, they may cause more or less delay to vessels. In Palmer v. Commissioners of Cuyahoga County, application was made to the Circuit Court of the United States, sitting in Ohio, for an injunction to prevent the construction of a drawbridge over the Cuyahoga River, on the ground that it would obstruct the navigation of the river and injure the property of the plaintiff in its vicinity. It was founded upon the fourth article of the ordinance of 1787 respecting the Northwestern Territory, which declares 'that the navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and St. Lawrence, and the carrying places between the same, shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of said Territory, as to the citizens of the United States, and those of any other States that may be admitted into the Confederacy, without any tax, impost, or duty therefor.' The court, refusing the injunction, said that this provision 'does not prevent a State from improving the navigableness of these waters, by removing obstructions, or by dams and locks so increasing the depth of the water as to extend the line of navigation. Nor does the ordinance prohibit the construction of any work on the river, which the State may consider important to commercial intercourse. A dam may be thrown over the river, provided a lock is so constructed as to permit boats to pass, with little or no delay, and without charge. A temporary delay, such as passing a lock, could not be considered as an obstruction prohibited by the ordinance.' And again: 'A drawbridge across a navigable water is not an obstruction. As this could not be a work connected with the navigation of the riv r, no toll, it is supposed, could be charged for the passage of boats. But the obstruction would be only momentary, to raise the draw; and as such a work may be very important in a general intercourse of the community, no doubt is entertained as to the power of the State to make the bridge.'
In the Wheeling Bridge Case, the bridge was held to be an unlawful obstruction because it entirely prevented the passage of steam vessels with high chimneys; and the court ordered that it should be elevated in a manner, and to an extent indicated, so as to afford a free passage for the steamers; or that some other plan should be adopted by a day designated which would relieve the navigation from obstruction. Upon a suggestion that the obstruction to the navigation might be avoided by making a draw in the bridge, or in some other manner equally convenient to the public and less expensive than by elevating it, the matter was referred to an engineer; and upon his report the company was allowed to make an attempt to obviate the obstruction by improving another channel of the river and constructing a draw in the bridge over it. Some slight delay would be caused by the draw, and an increased distance would have to be run in passing the new channel; but the court did not consider these circumstances as constituting a material objection to the plan. See also Cooley, Const. Lim., pp. 591-594, and authorities there cited.
The considerations to which I have referred and the authorities cited lead to a ready solution of the questions raised by the case at bar.
The construction of a bridge over the Ohio River was authorized by the legislation of Kentucky and Ohio. The legislation of Kentucky, adopted in 1868, provided that the bridge 'should be so constructed as not to obstruct the navigation of the Ohio River further than the laws of the United States authorize.' The legislation of Ohio, adopted the same year, authorized the construction of a bridge 'either with a single span or with a draw,' as the company (incorporated for that purpose) might determine; but in either case, in order that said bridge might not obstruct the navigation of said river, the same should be built in accordance with the act of Congress of July 14, 1862, or of any act that Congress might thereafter pass on the subject; which, of course, meant before the bridge was built. The only regulation of Congress to which the erection of the bridge was made subject by the States, was such as had been prescribed or might be prescribed previously to the execution of the work. The bridge was not surrendered to any further disposition or control of the general government. The companies organized under the laws of the two States for the construction of the bridge were authorized to consolidate themselves into one company. They were consolidated under the name of the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge Company.
On the 3d of March, 1869, Congress passed a resolution giving its consent to this company to erect a bridge over the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Newport, provided it be built with an unbroken or continuous span of not less than four hundred feet in the clear from pier to pier, over the main channel of the river, and in all other respects in accordance with the conditions and limitations of an act entitled 'An Act to establish certain post-roads,' approved July 14, 1862; and the resolution declared that the bridge, when completed in the manner specified, should 'be deemed and taken to be a legal structure,' and should be 'a post-road for the transmission of the mails of the United States.' It also had this clause: 'But Congress reserves the right to withdraw the assent hereby given, in case the free navigation of said river shall at any time be substantially and materially obstructed by any bridge to be erected under the authority of this resolution, or to direct the necessary modifications and alterations of said bridge.'
The act of July 14, 1862, provided that any bridge erected under it might, at the option of the company building the same, be constructed either as a drawbridge with a pivot, or other form of draw, or with unbroken or continuous spans; and specified the width of the spans and the elevation of the bridge.
In March, 1869, the company commenced the construction of a bridge across the river according to a plan, which met all the conditions imposed by the legislation of the States and of Congress, and the work was prosecuted until March, 1871, when it was nearly completed, the actual cost then incurred being about $807,000. The whole cost, when completed at contract prices, would have been about $1,110,000. On the 3d of March of that year, while the company was in the prosecution of the work, Congress passed an act declaring that it would be unlawful for the company or any other person to proceed with the erection of the bridge without making various alterations, including a wider span and a higher elevation, which should be submitted to the Secretary of War for his approval.
The company immediately suspended work, adopted a new plan, submitted it to the Secretary of War, obtained his approval, and then proceeded with the bridge and completed it. The additional work, and the necessary changes in that already done, required by the act of Congress, caused an additional expenditure of over $300,000. The act also provided that, in the event the company made the changes, it should be lawful for it to file a bill in equity against the United States, in the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which should have jurisdiction to determine, first, whether the bridge, according to the plans on which it had progressed at the passage of the act, had been constructed so as substantially to comply with the provisions of law relating thereto; and, second, the liability of the United States, if any there were, to the company, by reason of the changes required; and if the court should determine that the United States were so liable, and that the bridge was so being built, then the court should further ascertain and determine the amount of the actual and necessary cost and expenditures reasonably required to be incurred in making the changes in the bridge and its approaches, in excess of the cost of building the bridge and approaches according to the original plan. The court was further authorized and required to proceed therein to final decree as in other cases in equity.
Under this act the present bill was filed, and it was clearly shown at the hearing that when the act was passed the bridge had been constructed substantially in compliance with all the provisions of law in relation thereto; that so far as constructed it did not materially obstruct the navigation of the river, and would not have done so had it been completed according to the original plan. Yet the court below held, and this court sustains its ruling, that for the enormous expenditures forced upon the company the United States are in no way responsible. This court thus, in effect, decides that the power of Congress over all structures crossing navigable streams is absolute; and that it can change or remove them at its pleasure, without regard to their effect upon the free navigation of the streams, and without compensation to the owners.
I do not think that the assent of Congress to the erection of the bridge was at all essential to its character as a lawful structure. That depended upon the legislation of Kentucky and Ohio, and upon the contingency of the bridge not interfering with the free navigation of the river. The assent of Congress, as already stated, only removed all ground of complaint of the structure as interfering with the public right of navigation, so far as that right was under the protection of the Federal government. No one could afterwards complain that the bridge, if built in conformity with the directions specified, constituted a public nuisance, because interrupting the free navigation of the river as secured under the laws of Congress, and proceed to obtain its abatement. The authority of the States to build it, oupled with the assent of Congress, if constructed in the manner prescribed, placed the work, whilst in the process of erection and when completed, beyond the reach of legal proceedings for its abatement or modification. It could not, when completed, be taken for public purposes by the general government, nor be materially changed in its form and structure whilst in the process of erection, under compulsion of the legislation of Congress, without compensation to its owners. The legislative declaration, made when it was nearly completed, that its further construction would be unlawful without a change of plan, which necessitated very costly alterations, or an abandonment of the bridge, was a taking from its owners of a portion of their work as effectually as its absolute appropriation. If not, in the strict constitutional sense, a taking of private property for public uses, it was an enforced expenditure of labor and materials by the company, not required by the work undertaken or the conditions on which assent to its construction had been given; and for such labor and materials the government should, on every principle of justice, indemnify the company. A legislative decree commanding such an expenditure is within the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitutional provisions which inhibit depriving one of his property without due process of law, and taking it from him without compensation. The wrong inflicted is as great in the one way as in the other. As the provisions were designed to secure the individual from the arbitrary spoliation of his property, their purpose could be readily evaded if a special act could exact for the protection of his property an expenditure of money or labor, which was neither exacted when the property was acquired, nor permitted by the terms of its acquisition.
This view was taken by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, in Crenshaw v. Slate River Company, reported in 6th Randolph. There it was held that after a mill had been established and a dam erected according to a law granting to the mill-owner the use of the water for grinding, a subsequent act of the legislature, which imposed on him the burden of erecting locks through his dam, keeping them in repair, and giving them attendance so as to admit the passage of boats, and on his failure, vested in a company the power to abate the dam as a nuisance, without full indemnification and equivalent for the injury thus done to his vested rights, was contrary to the Constitution of the State, and void, as a taking of private property for a public use without compensation.
There are many ways of taking property other than by occupation of appropriation, which are within the constitutional inhibition. If its beneficial use and enjoyment are prevented under the sanction of law, it is taken from him as effectually as though the title were condemned. Such is the purport of the decision in Pumpelly v. Green Bay Company (13 Wall. 166), a decision which has attracted much attention from its enlarged views of the redress afforded by the constitutional provision for injuries to property effected under authority of law, which permanently and materially impair its value. It was there held that the backing of the water of a river in Wisconsin by a dam authorized by law, so as to overflow the land of an individual, thus destroying its usefulness to him, was a taking of the property within the meaning of the Constitution. Mr. Justice Miller, in delivering the opinion of the court, very justly observed that 'it would be a very curious and unsatisfactory result, if in construing a provision of constitutional law, always understood to have been adopted for protection and security to the rights of the individual as against the government, and which has received the commendation of jurists, statesmen, and commentators, as placing the just principles of the common law on that subject beyond the power of ordinary legislation to change or control them, it shall be held that if the government refrains from the absolute conversion of re l property to the uses of the public, it can destroy its value extirely, can inflict irreparable and permanent injury to an extent,-can, in effect, subject it to total destruction without making any compensation, because, in the narrowest sense of that word, it is not taken for the public use. Such a construction would pervert the constitutional provision into a restriction upon the rights of the citizen, as those rights stood at the common law, instead of the government, and make it an authority for invasion of private right under the pretext of the public good, which had no warrant in the laws or practices of our ancestors.' It is not necessary, however, in order to charge the government with the expenditures forced upon the company, to rely upon this provision of the Constitution, further than to show the general spirit which should control the government in its legislation affecting the property of individuals. There is a general principle of justice pervading our laws, and the laws of all free governments, which requires that whoever unlawfully and wrongfully imposes upon another the necessity of an unusual expenditure of money or labor or materials for the protection and preservation of his property, shall make complete indemnity for the expenditure. The principle applies as fully to the acts of the government as to those of individuals; and wherever suits can be brought in the tribunals of the country, such indemnity can be enforced. Here the government waives exemption from suit which its soverign character gives, and submits the question of its liability to the judgment of its tribunals, thus admitting a readiness to indemnify the owners of the bridge, if it has disregarded its pledge and dealt unfairly with them in the premises.
The resolution of Congress giving its consent to the erection of the bridge specified its character and form, and the right to withdraw the consent or to direct necessary modifications and alterations of the bridge was reserved to be exercised only in case the free navigation of the river should at any time be substantially and materially obstructed by the bridge. The reservation clause is to be read as though written thus: 'But Congress reserves the right to withdraw the assent hereby given [or to direct the necessary modifications and alterations of said bridge] in case the free navigation of said river shall at any time be substantially and materially obstructed by any bridge to be erected under the authority of this resolution.' The right to withdraw the assent or to direct alterations was thus made to depend upon the same contingency; and the resolution amounts to a pledge of the government, that neither should be done unless the contingency happened. Congress said to the constructing company in substance thus: 'You are empowered by the States of Kentucky and Ohio to build a bridge over the Ohio River, of certain height and dimensions, provided it be so constructed as not to obstruct the navigation of the river further than the present laws of the United States authorize, and in accordance with the act of July 14, 1862. Now, we consent to the erection of the bridge, that is, we declare that, if constructed in the manner prescribed, it shall not be deemed an obstruction to the free navigation of the river; but we reserve the right to withdraw this assent, or to direct alterations to the bridge, if hereafter the free navigation of the river should be substantially and materially obstructed by it.'
The general government, through Congress, thus bound itself not to interfere with the construction of the bridge, nor with the bridge when completed, except on the contingency of its proving a material obstruction to the free navigation of the river. Such contingency had not occurred when the act directing the alterations was passed; it has never occurred. So the proofs in the case show, and independently of this circumstance, whether or not the contingency had occurred, was not a fact to be arbitrarily determined by the legislature. It was to be ascertained judic ally upon proofs and after hearing the parties, like any other disputed fact upon the establishment of which rights of property depend. This doctrine, as well as other positions advanced in this opinion, is well illustrated by the case of Commonwealth v. The Proprietors of New Bedford Bridge, 2 Gray (Mass.), 339. There the act chartering the corporation authorized the building over a navigable stream in Massachusetts of a toll-bridge with two suitable draws, which were to be at least thirty feet wide,-one on the west side of the river in the channel way, and the other on the east side in the most suitable place there. A bridge with such draws was accordingly built. A subsequent act of the legislature required the corporation to make and maintain, in lieu of one of these two draws, a new draw of not less than sixty feet in width, the westerly abutment of which was to be eight feet further to the eastward than the westerly abutment of the existing draw. The bridge proprietors, not making the changes required, were indicted for obstructing the navigation of the river by their bridge. They justified under their act of incorporation. In deciding upon their liability the court held that the original act of incorporation, when accepted, constituted a contract between them and the State, by the terms of which both parties were equally bound; that the proprietors could not, without the consent of the legislature, escape or evade any of the duties or obligations imposed upon or assumed by them under the act; nor could the legislature, without the assent of the proprietors, in any way affect or impair the original terms of the charter by annexing new conditions or imposing additional duties onerous in their nature or inconsistent with a reasonable construction of the contract; that by its terms the proprietors were to erect 'suitable draws, which were to be not less than thirty feet wide;' and that the question whether the draws already made were suitable, that is, constructed so as not unreasonably or unnecessarily to obstruct or impede the navigation of the river, was not a question to be determined absolutely by the legislature or by the proprietors, when disputed between the parties. 'Like all other matters involving a controversy concerning public duty and private rights,' said the court, 'it is to be adjudged and settled in the regular tribunals where questions of law and fact are adjudicated on fixed and established principles, and according to the forms and usages best adapted to secure the impartial administration of justice.' The same doctrine is also well illustrated in the case of Mayor of Baltimore v. Connellsville & Pittsburg Railroad Co., decided in the Circuit Court of the United States by the late Mr. Justice Grier. The charter of the Pittsburg and Connellsville Railroad Company, a corporation of Pennsylvania, contained the following provision, viz.: 'If the said company shall at any time misuse or abuse any of the privileges herein granted, the legislature may resume all and singular the rights and privileges hereby granted to such corporation.' Under this clause the legislature passed an act, in 1864, revoking and resuming all the rights and privileges granted to the company, so far as it authorized the construction of a line southwardly or eastwardly from Connellsville. But the court held that when the right to revoke was to be exercised only in case the corporation should misuse or abuse its privileges, the fact of such misuse, if denied by the corporation, should be established by competent proceedings; and that an act declaring a revocation without the establishment of such fact was unconstitutional. In giving its opinion Mr. Justice Grier said: 'If in the act of incorporation the legislature retains the absolute and unconditional power of revocation for any or no reason; if it be so written in the bond, the party accepting a franchise on such conditions cannot complain if it be arbitrarily revoked; or if this contract be that the legislature may repeal the act whenev r in its opinion the corporation has misused or abused its privileges, then the contract constitutes the legislature the arbiter and judge of the existence of that fact. But the case before us comes within another category. The contract does not give an unconditional right to the legislature to repudiate its contract, nor is the legislature constituted the tribunal to adjudge the question of fact as to the misuse or abuse.' 4 Am.Law Reg. N. S. 750.
A consciousness seems to have pervaded Congress that it was disregarding its pledge to the company, when it directed the alterations which proved so expensive, before the contingency mentioned had happened; and that it might turn out that the bridge completed as designed would not substantially and materially obstruct the free navigation of the river; and that, in that case, it would be justly chargeable with the commission of an injury to the company. For this reason, I think we may assume it intended that the court should award compensation to the owners for the alterations made, if, upon proof, it appeared that, so far as the bridge had been constructed, when they were required, the provisions of the law relating thereto had been substantially complied with; and it should also appear that, if completed as originally designed, the bridge would not have substantially and materially obstructed the free navigation of the river. Congress did not intend that heavy expenditures should be imposed by its will upon the company without at the same time offering, if they were illegally exacted, to reimburse them. Congress intended to be just, and I cannot resist the conclusion, that the court, in its decision, has defeated its intentions.