McGowan v. Columbia River Packers' Association/Opinion of the Court

McGowan v. Columbia River Packers' Association/Opinion of the Court
Opinion of the Court by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

United States Supreme Court

245 U.S. 352

McGowan  v.  Columbia River Packers' Association

 Argued: Nov. 22, 23, 1917. --- Decided: Dec 17, 1917

This is a suit brought by the appellee, the Columbia River Packers' Association, as lessee from the United States of fishing sites and riparian rights on Sand Island in the Columbia River, to compel the appellants to remove certain obstructions placed by them upon the bottom of the channel of the river in front of the plaintiff's premises, and to refrain from longer maintaining them there. Upon a bond being given a restraining order was issued on July 7, 1908; answers and a cross-bill were filed in the following August, and a demurrer to the cross-bill was overruled on October 21 of the same year. The suit had been brought in the Western District of Washington upon the belief that Sand Island was in Washington and subject to the jurisdiction that that State exercised in fact. But on November 16, 1908, it was decided by this Court that the boundary between Oregon and Washington was the ship channel north of Sand Island, and that Sand Island belonged to the former State. Washington v. Oregon, 211 U.S. 127, 29 Sup. Ct. 47, 53 L. Ed. 118; Id., 214 U.S. 205, 29 Sup. Ct. 631, 53 L. Ed. 969. Thereupon, in June, 1909, the plaintiff filed a petition that the suit be dismissed without prejudice for want of jurisdiction, since it turned out that the land concerned was not within the district for which the Court sat.

The District Court dismissed the petition and retained jurisdiction of the cause on the ground that by the Act of Congress of March 2, 1853, c. 90, § 21, 10 Stat. 172, 179, organizing the Territory of Washington, and by the Act of February 14, 1859, c. 33, § 2, 11 Stat. 383, admitting Oregon into the Union, concurrent jurisdiction on this part of the river was reserved to Washington, when it subsequently became a State. The plaintiff then filed a supplemental bill in which again it prayed that the suit might be dismissed without prejudice if the court had no jurisdiction; the case proceeded to the taking of evidence and final hearing, the temporary injunction was dissolved, an injunction was issued against the plaintiff's interfering with the defendants' appliances, and a final decree for damages caused by the temporary injunction was entered in favor of the defendants. The plaintiff appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals, and that court, being of opinion that the bill should have been dismissed on the plaintiff's petition, reversed the decree and ordered the bill to be dismissed. 219 Fed. 365, 134 C. C. A. 461.

The nuisance complained of consisted of set nets, each anchored by a stone weighing about three hundred pounds to which was attached a short cable which was clamped to a wire rope about twenty-five feet long, to which in its turn was attached a buoy of large timbers. The nets were placed between the line of extreme low tide and the channel of the river; they were alleged to interfere with the exercise of the plaintiffs' rights, and an abatement of the obstruction was prayed for in the bill. We agree with the Circuit Court of Appeals that, assuming for the purposes of decision that the State of Washington had concurrent jurisdiction 'on the Columbia,' in the words of the statute (Act 1859, c. 33, § 2), Nielsen v. Oregon, 212 U.S. 315, 319, 29 Sup. Ct. 383, 53 L. Ed. 528, the jurisdiction did not extend to the removal of such a nuisance as this. It did not reach the bed of the stream, and the officers of the State would have had no authority to intermeddle with the defendants' nets anchored to the bottom. See Wedding v. Meyler, 192 U.S. 573, 585, 24 Sup. Ct. 322, 48 L. Ed. 570, 66 L. R. A. 833. This was an important part of the relief that the plaintiff sought and when it found that it could not have it, it naturally endeavored to dismiss the bill.

It ordinarily is the undisputed right of a plaintiff to dismiss a bill before the final hearing. Carrington v. Holly, 1 Dickens, 280. Cummins v. Bennett, 8 Paige, 79. Kempton v. Burgess, 136 Mass. 192. The discussions have been directed more to the question of costs. When a bill was filed under a mistake common to both parties and in other like cases the plaintiff was allowed to dismiss his bill without costs. Lister v. Leather, 1 DeG. & J. 361, 368 (1859). Broughton v. Lashmar, 5 My. & Cr. 136, 144 (1840). Here the decision of this Court put the plaintiff in an unexpected position. The question before the District Court was not whether the bill ought to be retained for a decree in personam if the plaintiff so desired, or even one of costs, but whether it should be retained against the plaintiff's will for a trial that could not, or at least very possibly might be held unable to, give it what it asked. Upon this point also we are of opinion that the Circuit Court of Appeals was right. Its decree of course meant that the bill was dismissed without prejudice, as prayed, but it is better that it should express the fact and with that modification it is affirmed.

Decree affirmed.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).