No. 210.

170 U.S. 304 (1898)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 2, 1898.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. Lewis E. Stanton and Mr. John R. Buck for plaintiff in error. Mr. Olin R. Wood was on their brief.

Mr. Lewis Sperry for defendant in error. Mr. George P. McLean and Mr. Austin Brainard were on his brief.

MR. JUSTICE BREWER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Inasmuch as the plaintiff in error, when sued in the state court, specifically set up certain sections of the Federal Constitution as a bar to the proceedings against him, and the judgment of the state court was that they constituted no such bar, it is not open to question that this court has jurisdiction, and the motion to dismiss must therefore be overruled.

The first contention of plaintiff in error is that the contract of November 13, 1894, made between the state board and the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, was a valid contract, and that the two acts of May 24, 1895, and June 28, 1895, together with the orders and proceedings of the board of commissioners thereunder, are in violation of the tenth section of Article I of the Federal Constitution, because they impair the obligation of that contract. A sufficient answer to this contention is, that the contract, if valid — and upon that we express no opinion — was between the State of Connecticut and the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, and that they have fully settled all differences in respect thereto. The parties to a contract are the ones to complain of a breach, and if they are satisfied with the disposition which has been made of it and of all claims under it, a third party has no right to insist that it has been broken. Counsel for plaintiff in error, conceding that an entire stranger cannot take advantage of any breach, insist that the town, though not a party to the contract, had an interest in its execution, for if it had been executed and the new bridge constructed and paid for by the State, the town would not now be under any obligations to assist in the construction of the new bridge. But this results, not from the mere adjustment between the State and the Berlin Iron Bridge Company, but by reason of the fact that the legislature, in the exercise of its unquestioned powers, has seen fit to cast the burden of the construction of a new bridge — which, as claimed, it had once assumed — upon the towns. Even if the contract had been carried into effect, according to its terms, the legislature might, at the time of passing the act of 1895, have provided that the cost of such construction should be borne by the towns specially benefited thereby. It is not the breach of any contract, but an independent act of the legislature which casts the burden on the town of Glastonbury. The town is, therefore, an entire stranger to the contract, and this contention must be overruled.

Again, it is insisted that the plaintiff in error is denied the equal protection of the laws because these five towns are put into a class by themselves, organized into a single municipal corporation, and separated from other towns in the State by being subjected to different control in respect to highways. But this overlooks the fact that the regulation of municipal corporations is a matter peculiarly within the domain of state control; that the State is not compelled by the Federal Constitution to grant to all its municipal corporations the same territorial extent, or the same duties and powers. A municipal corporation is, so far as its purely municipal relations are concerned, simply an agency of the State for conducting the affairs of government, and as such it is subject to the control of the legislature. That body may place one part of the State under one municipal organization and another part of the State under another organization of an entirely different character. These are matters of a purely local nature, in respect to which the Federal Constitution does not limit the power of the State. "Whether territory shall be governed for local purposes by a county, a city or a township organization, is one of the most usual and ordinary subjects of state legislation." Kelly v. Pittsburgh, 104 U.S. 78, 81. See also Forsyth v. Hammond, 166 U.S. 506, 518, 519, and cases cited in the opinion; 1 Dillon on Municipal Corporations, 4th ed. Vol. 1, p. 52, and following.

It is further contended that the acts of May 24, 1895, and June 28, 1895, are in conflict with that portion of the Fourteenth Amendment which forbids the depriving of any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, because, first "they deprive the town of the right to perform its town duties by officers of their own choosing, which is contrary to the settled practice and law of the State, and arbitrarily destroys the right which those towns had before the constitution of Connecticut was adopted and which was not taken away by that instrument; and, secondly, because the acts provide for arbitrarily taking the property of the inhabitants of Glastonbury without proper notice of any proceeding under which the property is to be taken and without opportunity to be heard." Whatever may have been the practice of the State in the past it cannot be doubted that the power of the legislature over all local municipal corporations is unlimited save by the restrictions of the state and Federal constitutions; and that these acts in no way violate any provision of the state constitution is settled by the decision of the state Supreme Court. Backus v. Fort Street Union Depot Company, 169 U.S. 557, 566, and cases cited. It is true there was a division of opinion between the members of the state Supreme Court, but such division, although a close one, does not prevent the opinion of the majority from becoming the decision of the court, and as such conclusive upon us. When the state court decides that municipal corporations within the territorial limits of the State are subject to the control of the state legislature, and that its act in creating for certain purposes a new corporation, and merging therein five separate towns, was valid, this court cannot hold that the state court was mistaken in its construction of the state constitution or in its declaration as to the extent of the power of the legislature over municipal corporations.

Neither can it be doubted that, if the state constitution does not prohibit, the legislature, speaking generally, may create a new taxing district, determine what territory shall belong to such district and what property shall be considered as benefited by a proposed improvement. And in so doing it is not compelled to give notice to the parties resident within the territory or permit a hearing before itself, one of its committees, or any other tribunal, as to the question whether the property so included within the taxing district is in fact benefited. Spencer v. Merchant, 125 U.S. 345, 356; Parsons v. District of Columbia, 170 U.S. 45. It should be noticed that no question is presented as to the necessity of notice before any property tax is cast upon the citizen. The only question is as to the power of the legislature to cast the burden of this improvement upon the five towns, towns which have been already judicially determined to be towns benefited thereby. Although the apportionment made between the towns was not that determined by the judicial proceedings, yet it was one of which certainly the town of Glastonbury cannot complain, for the judicial apportionment was as to it reduced by the legislative act. In casting this burden upon the towns the legislature did not proceed without a hearing from the towns, for their representatives were in the legislature and took part in the proceedings by which the act was passed. So they had an opportunity to be heard, if such hearing was necessary, prior to the enactment of the law. These are all the questions made by counsel. We see nothing in the proceedings which can be said to be in violation of any provisions of the Federal Constitution, and therefore the judgment of the Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut is



1. This case, as reported in the Connecticut Reports, was entitled Morgan G. Bulkeley et al. v. Samuel H. Williams, Treasurer.


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