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Railroad Company v. Richmond (96 U.S. 521)/Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

96 U.S. 521

Railroad Company  v.  Richmond

The questions for determination in this case are:--

1. Does the municipal legislation complained of impair the vested rights of the company under its charter?

In answering this question, it becomes necessary to determine at the outset what the rights of the company, secured by its charter and affected by the ordinance in dispute, actually are. The right is granted the company to construct a railroad 'from some point within the corporation of Richmond, to be approved by the common council.' No definite point is fixed by the charter. That is left to the discretion of the company, subject only to the approval of the city. The power to approve certainly implies the power to reject one location and accept another; and this necessarily carries with it the further power to reserve such governmental control over the company in respect to the road, when built within the city to the point approved, as may seem to be necessary. The absolute grant of the charter is satisfied if the road is built within the city for any distance, by any route, or to any point. The company, however, desired to pass through Broad Street, and, for the present, to terminate the road upon the lots purchased for shops and werehouses, and requested the city to approve that location. This the city was willing to do, upon condition that it should not be considered as thereby parting with any power or chartered privilege not necessary to the company for constructing its road or connecting it with the depot. These terms were proposed to the company, and accepted. At that time the city was invested with all the powers 'necessary for the good ordering and government' of persons and property within its jurisdiction. By the conditions imposed, these powers were all reserved, except to the extent of permitting the company to construct its road upon the route designated, and connect it with the depot. All the usual and ordinary powers of city governments over the road when constructed, and over the company in respect to its use, were expressly retained. The company, therefore, occupied Broad Street upon the same terms and conditions it would if the charter had located the route of the road within the city, but, in terms, subjected the company to the government of the city in respect to the use of the road when constructed.

Nothing has been done since to change the rights of the parties. It is true that an attempt was made by the residents on Shockhoe Hill to induce the council to prohibit the use of locomotives within the city, and to require the company to so construct the road within Broad Street as to facilitate the crossing of the track; but all parties seemed to be satisfied then with the proposition of the company to run its engines slowly and with care in the city, and its liberal contribution towards the expense of paving the street. There is nowhere in the proceedings an indication of a relinquishment by the city of its governmental control over the company or its property. The 'compromise of interests' proposed related alone to the plan of the pavement.

It remains only to consider whether the ordinance complained of is a legitimate exercise of the power of a city government. It certainly comes within the express authority conferred by the amendment to the city charter adopted in 1870; and that, in our opinion, is no more than existed by implication before. The power to govern implies the power to ordain and establish suitable police regulations; and that, it has often been decided, authorizes municipal corporations to prohibit the use of locomotives in the public streets, when such action does not interfere with vested rights. Donnaher v. The State, 8 Smed. & M. (Miss.) 649; Whitson v. The City of Franklin, 34 Ind. 392.

Such prohibitions clearly rest upon the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas, which lies at the foundation of the police power; and it was not seriously contended upon the argument that they did not come within the legitimate scope of municipal government, in the absence of legislative restriction upon the powers of the municipality to that effect. It is not for us to determine in this case whether the power has been judiciously exercised. Our duty is at an end if we find that it exists. The judgment of the court below is final as to the reasonableness of the action of the council.

We conclude, therefore, that the ordinance does not impair any vested right conferred upon the company by its charter.

2. Does it deprive the company of its property without due process of law?

This question is substantially disposed of by what has already been said, as the claim of the company is based entirely upon the assumption of a vested right, under its charter, to operate its road by steam, both within and without the city, which we have endeavored to show is not true. All property within the city is subject to the legitimate control of the government, unless protected by 'contract rights,' which is not the case here. Appropriate regulation of the use of property is not 'taking' property, within the meaning of the constitutional prohibition.

3. Does it deny the company the equal protection of the laws?

The claim is, that, as this company is alone named in the ordinance, the operation of the ordinance is special only, and, therefore, invalid. No other person or corporation has the right to run locomotives in Broad Street. Consequently, no other person or corporation is or can be in like situation, except with the consent of the city. On this account, the ordinance, while apparently limited in its operation, is in effect general, as it applies to all who can do what is prohibited. Other railroad companies may occupy other streets and use locomotives there; but other streets may not be situated like Broad Street, neither may there be the same reasons why steam transportation should be excluded from them. All laws should be general in their operation, but all places within the same city do not necessarily require the same local regulation. While locomotives may with very great propriety be excluded from one street, or even from one part of a street, it would be sometimes unreasonable to exclude them from all. It is the special duty of the city authorities to make the necessary discriminations in this particular.

On the whole, we see no error in the record, and the judgment is




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).