Perrine v. Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company/Dissent McLean

Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

50 U.S. 172

Perrine  v.  Chesapeake and Delaware Canal Company

Mr. Justice McLEAN.

This, like all other and similar corporations, has its rights and privileges defined in its charter, and also the duties imposed upon it. The eleventh section provides, 'that the said canal and the works to be erected thereon in virtue of this act, when completed, shall for ever thereafter be esteemed and taken to be navigable as a public highway, free for the transportation of all goods, commodities, or produce whatsoever, on payment of the toll imposed by this act'; 'and no toll or tax for the use of the water of the said canal, and the works thereon erected, shall at any time hereafter be imposed by all or either of the said States.'

By the ninth section, a great number of articles are specified, for which the company is authorized to charge certain rates of toll, 'and for every gross hundred weight of all other commodities or packages ten cents, and for all other commodities the same proportion, agreeable to the articles herein enumerated; and every boat or vessel, which has not commodities on board to pay the sum of four dollars, shall pay so much as, with the commodities on board, will yield that sum; and every empty boat or vessel four dollars, except an empty boat or vessel returning, whose load has already paid the tolls affixed, in which case she shall repass toll-free, provided such boat or vessel shall return within fourteen days after paying said tolls.'

And the tenth section declares, 'In case of refusal or neglect to pay the toll at the time of offering to pass a vessel through the canal, the collector shall have the right to refuse a passage.'

The defendant claims the right to run a line of packet-boats for passengers, to connect with steamboats at the termini of the canal; and the following questions are stated for our decision.

First, Is the canal company entitled to charge the compensation or toll mentioned in the proceedings, for passengers on board the complainant's boats passing through the canal?

Second, 'Has the complainant a right to navigate the canal for the transportation of passengers, with passenger boats, paying or offering to pay toll upon the boats as empty boats, or upon commodities on board, but without toll or compensation for passengers?' I think the first question must be considered in the negative, that the company have not the right to tax passengers one dollar each, or any other sum, for passing in a boat on the canal. They have no special authority to tax passengers in the act of incorporation, and, consequently, they cannot exercise any powers as a corporation except those which are given in the act.

I answer the second question also in the negative, that the complainant in the Circuit Court has 'no right to navigate the canal for the transportation of passengers, with passenger boats, paying toll as for empty boats.' The charter does not require this of the company, and the public can make no exactions upon the company, as accommodation, which the law does not impose upon them as a duty. The rights of the public and of the company must be determined by a construction of the charter.

What rights are reserved in the charter to the public? The eleventh section, above cited, declares the canal shall 'be taken to be navigable as a public highway, free for the transportation of all goods, commodities, or produce whatsoever, on payment of the tolls imposed.' The right of the public then is, to use the canal for the purposes stated, 'on paying the tolls imposed.' Does the right extend beyond this? It does not, in my judgment, if the section be construed by any known rule of construction.

This was the contract made with the company by the public. And is it not as binding on the one party as the other? The right on both sides is founded in contract. The company agreed to construct the work, and keep it in repair, on the conditions stated. Can these conditions be changed at the will of either party? If the public can make exactions beyond the charter, there is an end to chartered rights.

The right of transportation on this canal is given to the public, on the payment of toll, and without the payment of toll there is no such right. A boat returning empty, 'whose load has already paid the tolls,' is not charged. But an empty boat, under other circumstances, is charged four dollars. If it have commodities on board which pay less than four dollars, the boat shall be required to make up that sum. And here is the whole extent of the right of the company to exact toll, and of the right of the public to use the canal.

The conveyance of passengers was not provided for in the charter. The transportation of the commodities specified, and the passage of empty boats, were the only obligations, in this respect, imposed on the company. But a majority of my brethren have implied a right in the defendant to transport passengers without the payment of toll. The baggage of the passengers, if they have any, may be charged as commodities, but the owners of the baggage are as nothing; they are nonentities while on board the packet passenger boats on this canal; in fact, within the meaning of the charter, the boats are empty. This would seem to me to be rather a strained construction. I cannot persuade myself that the law-makers, when they authorized a tax of four dollars on an empty boat, intended to include a boat full of passengers.

We know that passenger boats afford a better profit than freight boats; and every one knows, from the more rapid movement of the former, they do more injury to the embankments of a canal than freight boats.

But it is asked in the argument, if a freight boat can be refused a passage if it have one passenger on board. Every boat must have hands on board of it to take care of the cargo and navigate the boat. And it is presumed that a strict inquiry is rarely, if ever, made, as to a single passenger on board. But I submit that this is no test of the principle involved. The right asserted is to run a line of packets exclusively for the accommodation of passengers. This will impose a duty, and a most onerous one, on the company, which, I think, is not within their charter.

If a canal-boat must be construed and taxed as empty, which is not laden with the commodities specified, I know not how deeply it may affect our internal navigation. All these questions are of great importance, and should not be influenced by presumed notions of policy. They are matters of right, as they may affect corporations, arising under contract.

Should the transportation of passengers be desirable to the company, they could, no doubt, by application to the legislative power, obtain a modification of their charter, in this respect, that shall be just to them and advantageous to the public. But as the present charter imposes no obligation on the company to transport passengers on the canal, and does not authorize them to charge a toll for such a service, this court have no power to require from them such a duty. It is not our province to make contracts, but to construe them. But this maxim, universally admitted, could give no security to chartered rights, if, by judicial construction, they may be made to include a service not expressed nor fairly implied.

It is well settled, that, where the law does not authorize toll, it cannot be charged. This is admitted and sustained by a majority of the court; and this necessarily, I think, exonerates the ¢company, where there is no express provision in the charter, from doing that for which they can receive no compensation. It is an inference as unsound in logic as it is in law, that the transportation of passengers, though not required by the charter, must be permitted by this company, without charge, as they have no power to tax them. And this, it seems, is the only duty required from the company without compensation.

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).