No. 10. Original.

185 U.S. 125 (1902)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided April 7, 1902.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. A.A. Godard and Mr. Eugene F. Ware for the State of Kansas. Mr. S.S. Ashbaugh was on their brief.

Mr. Luther M. Goddard, Mr. Platt Rogers and Mr. Charles S. Thomas for the State of Colorado. Mr. Charles C. Post and Mr. Henry A. Dubbs were on their brief.

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

The original jurisdiction of this court over "controversies between two or more States" was declared by the judiciary act of 1789 to be exclusive, as in its nature it necessarily must be.

Reference to the language of the Constitution providing for its exercise, to its historical origin, to the decisions of this court in which the subject has received consideration, which was made at length in Missouri v. Illinois, 180 U.S. 208, demonstrates the comprehensiveness, the importance and the gravity of this grant of power, and the sagacious foresight of those by whom it was framed. By the first clause of section 10 of article I of the Constitution it was provided that "No State shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation;" and by the third clause that "No State shall, without the consent of Congress, . . . keep troops, or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or compact with another State, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay."

Treaties, alliances and confederations were thus wholly prohibited, and Judge Tucker in his Appendix to Blackstone (vol. 1, p. 310) found the distinction between them and "agreements or compacts" mentioned in the third clause, in the fact that the former related "ordinarily to subjects of great national magnitude and importance, and are often perpetual, or made for a considerable period of time," but agreements or compacts concerned "transitory or local affairs, or such as cannot possibly affect any other interest but that of the parties." But Mr. Justice Story thought this an unsatisfactory exposition, and that the language of the first clause might be more plausibly interpreted "to apply to treaties of a political character, such as treaties of alliance for purposes of peace and war; and treaties of confederation, in which the parties are leagued for mutual government, political cooperation, and the exercise of political sovereignty; and treaties of cession of sovereignty, or conferring internal political jurisdiction, or external political dependence, or general commercial privileges;" while compacts and agreements might be very properly applied "to such as regarded what might be deemed mere private rights of sovereignty; such as questions of boundaries; interests in land situate in the territory of each other; and other internal regulations for the mutual comfort and convenience of States bordering on each other." 2 Story, Const. §§ 1402, 1403; Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U.S. 1.

Undoubtedly as remarked by Mr. Justice Bradley in Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 15, the Constitution made some things justiciable, "which were not known as such at the common law; such, for example, as controversies between States as to boundary lines, and other questions admitting of judicial solution." And as the remedies resorted to by independent States for the determination of controversies raised by collision between them were withdrawn from the States by the Constitution, a wide range of matters, susceptible of adjustment, and not purely political in their nature, was made justiciable by that instrument.

In Missouri v. Illinois and The Sanitary District of Chicago, 180 U.S. 208, it was alleged that an artificial channel or drain constructed by the sanitary district for purposes of sewerage under authority derived from the State of Illinois, created a continuing nuisance dangerous to the health of the people of the State of Missouri, and the bill charged that the acts of defendants, if not restrained, would result in poisoning the water supply of the inhabitants of Missouri, and in injuriously affecting that portion of the bed of the Mississippi River lying within its territory. In disposing of a demurrer to the bill, numerous cases involving the exercise of original jurisdiction by this court were examined, and the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Shiras, said: "The cases cited show that such jurisdiction has been exercised in cases involving boundaries and jurisdiction over lands and their inhabitants, and in cases directly affecting the property rights and interests of a State. But such cases manifestly do not cover the entire field in which such controversies may arise, and for which the Constitution has provided a remedy; and it would be objectionable, and, indeed, impossible, for the court to anticipate by definition what controversies can and what cannot be brought within the original jurisdiction of this court. An inspection of the bill discloses that the nature of the injury complained of is such that an adequate remedy can only be found in this court at the suit of the State of Missouri. It is true that no question of boundary is involved, nor of direct property rights belonging to the complainant State, but it must surely be conceded that, if the health and comfort of the inhabitants of a State are threatened, the State is the proper party to represent and defend them. If Missouri were an independent and sovereign State all must admit that she could seek a remedy by negotiation, and, that failing, by force. Diplomatic powers and the right to make war having been surrendered to the general government, it was to be expected that upon the latter would be devolved the duty of providing a remedy and that remedy, we think, is found in the constitutional provisions we are considering. The allegations of the bill plainly present such a case. The health and comfort of the large communities inhabiting those parts of the State situated on the Mississippi River are not alone concerned, but contagious and typhoidal diseases introduced in the river communities may spread themselves throughout the territory of the State. Moreover substantial impairment of the health and prosperity of the towns and cities of the State situated on the Mississippi River, including its commercial metropolis, would injuriously affect the entire State. That suits brought by individuals, each for personal injuries, threatened or received, would be wholly inadequate and disproportionate remedies, requires no argument."

As will be perceived, the court there ruled that the mere fact that a State had no pecuniary interest in the controversy, would not defeat the original jurisdiction of this court, which might be invoked by the State as parens patrice, trustee, guardian or representative of all or a considerable portion of its citizens; and that the threatened pollution of the waters of a river flowing between States, under the authority of one of them, thereby putting the health and comfort of the citizens of the other in jeopardy, presented a cause of action justiciable under the Constitution.

In the case before us, the State of Kansas files her bill as representing and on behalf of her citizens, as well as in vindication of her alleged rights as an individual owner, and seeks relief in respect of being deprived of the waters of the river accustomed to flow through and across the State, and the consequent destruction of the property of herself and of her citizens and injury to their health and comfort. The action complained of is state action and not the action of state officers in abuse or excess of their powers.

The State of Colorado contends that, as a sovereign and independent State, she is justified, if her geographical situation and material welfare demand it in her judgment, in consuming for beneficial purposes all the waters within her boundaries; and that as the sources of the Arkansas River are in Colorado, she may absolutely and wholly deprive Kansas and her citizens of any use of or share in the waters of that river. She says that she occupies toward the State of Kansas the same position that foreign States occupy toward each other, although she admits that the Constitution does not contemplate that controversies between members of the United States may be settled by reprisal or force of arms, and that to secure the orderly adjustment of such differences, power was lodged in this court to hear and determine them. The rule of decision, however, it is contended, is the rule which controls foreign and Independent States in their relations to each other; that by the law of Nations the primary and absolute right of a State is self-preservation; that the improvement of her revenues, arts, agriculture and commerce are incontrovertible rights of sovereignty; that she has dominion over all things within her territory, including all bodies of water, standing or running, within her boundary lines; that the moral obligations of a State to observe the demands of comity cannot be made the subject of controversy between States; and that only those controversies are justiciable in this court which, prior to the Union, would have been just cause for reprisal by the complaining State, and that, according to international law, reprisal can only be made when a positive wrong has been inflicted or rights stricti juris withheld.

But when one of our States complains of the infliction of such wrong or the deprivation of such rights by another State, how shall the existence of cause of complaint be ascertained, and be accommodated if well founded? The States of this Union cannot make war upon each other. They cannot "grant letters of marque and reprisal." They cannot make reprisal on each other by embargo. They cannot enter upon diplomatic relations and make treaties.

As Mr. Justice Baldwin remarked in Rhode Island v. Massachusetts: "Bound hand and foot by the prohibitions of the Constitution, a complaining State can neither treat, agree, nor fight with its adversary, without the consent of Congress; a resort to the judicial power is the only means left for legally adjusting, or persuading a State which has possession of disputed territory, to enter into an agreement or compact, relating to a controverted boundary. Few, if any, will be made, when it is left to the pleasure of the State in possession; but when it is known that some tribunal can decide on the right, it is most probable that controversies will be settled by compact." 12 Pet. 657, 726.

"War," said Mr. Justice Johnson, "is a suit prosecuted by the sword; and where the question to be decided is one of original claim to territory, grants of soil made flagrante bello by the party that fails, can only derive validity from treaty stipulations." Harcourt v. Gaillard, 12 Wheat. 523, 528.

The publicists suggest as just causes of war, defence; recovery of one's own; and punishment of an enemy. But as between States of this Union, who can determine what would be a just cause of war?

Comity demanded that navigable rivers should be free, and therefore the freedom of the Mississippi, the Rhine, the Scheldt, the Danube, the St. Lawrence, the Amazon, and other rivers has been at different times secured by treaty; but if a State of this Union deprives another State of its rights in a navigable stream, and Congress has not regulated the subject, as no treaty can be made between them, how is the matter to be adjusted?

Applying the principles settled in previous cases, we have no special difficulty with the bare question whether facts might not exist which would justify our interposition, while the manifest importance of the case and the necessity of the ascertainment of all the facts before the propositions of law can be satisfactorily dealt with, lead us to the conclusion that the cause should go to issue and proofs before final decision.

The pursuit of this course, on occasion, is thus referred to by Mr. Daniell (p. 542): "The court sometimes declines to decide a doubtful question of title on demurrer; in which case, the demurrer will be overruled, without prejudice to any question. A demurrer may also be overruled, with liberty to the defendant to insist upon the same defence by answer, if the allegations of the bill are such that the case ought not to be decided without an answer being put in. . . . A demurrer will lie wherever it is clear that, taking the charges in the bill to be true, the bill would be dismissed at the hearing; but it must be founded on this: that it is an absolute, certain, and clear proposition that it would be so; for if it is a case of circumstances, in which a minute variation between them as stated by the bill, and those established by the evidence, may either incline the court to modify the relief or to grant no relief at all, the court, although it sees that the granting the modified relief at the hearing will be attended with considerable difficulty, will not support a demurrer."

Without subjecting the bill to minute criticism, we think its averments sufficient to present the question as to the power of one State of the Union to wholly deprive another of the benefit of water from a river rising in the former and, by nature, flowing into and through the latter, and that, therefore, this court, speaking broadly, has jurisdiction.

We do not pause to consider the scope of the relief which it might be possible to accord on such a bill. Doubtless the specific prayers of this bill are in many respects open to objection, but there is a prayer for general relief, and under that, such appropriate decree as the facts might be found to justify, could be entered, if consistent with the case made by the bill, and not inconsistent with the specific prayers in whole or in part, if that were also essential. Tayloe v. Merchants' Insurance Company, 9 How. 390, 406; Daniell, Ch. Pr. (4th Am. ed.) 380.

Advancing from the preliminary inquiry, other propositions of law are urged as fatal to relief, most of which, perhaps all, are dependent on the actual facts. The general rule is that the truth of material and relevant matters, set forth with requisite precision, are admitted by demurrer, but in a case of this magnitude, involving questions of so grave and far-reaching importance, it does not seem to us wise to apply that rule, and we must decline to do so.

The gravamen of the bill is that the State of Colorado, acting directly herself, as well as through private persons thereto licensed, is depriving and threatening to deprive the State of Kansas and its inhabitants of all the water heretofore accustomed to flow in the Arkansas River through its channel on the surface, and through a subterranean course, across the State of Kansas; that this is threatened not only by the impounding, and the use of the water at the river's source, but as it flows after reaching the river. Injury, it is averred, is being, and would be, thereby inflicted on the State of Kansas as an individual owner, and on all the inhabitants of the State, and especially on the inhabitants of that part of the State lying in the Arkansas valley. The injury is asserted to be threatened, and as being wrought, in respect of lands located on the banks of the river; lands lying on the line of a subterranean flow; and lands lying some distance from the river, either above or below ground, but dependent on the river for a supply of water. And it is insisted that Colorado in doing this is violating the fundamental principle that one must use his own so as not to destroy the legal rights of another.

The State of Kansas appeals to the rule of the common law that owners of lands on the banks of a river are entitled to the continual flow of the stream, and while she concedes that this rule has been modified in the Western States so that flowing water may be appropriated to mining purposes and for the reclamation of arid lands, and the doctrine of prior appropriation obtains, yet she says that that modification has not gone so far as to justify the destruction of the rights of other States and their inhabitants altogether; and that the acts of Congress of 1866 and subsequently, while recognizing the prior appropriation of water as in contravention of the common law rule as to a continuous flow, have not attempted to recognize it as rightful to that extent. In other words, Kansas contends that Colorado cannot absolutely destroy her rights, and seeks some mode of accommodation as between them, while she further insists that she occupies, for reasons given, the position of a prior appropriator herself, if put to that contention as between her and Colorado.

Sitting, as it were, as an international, as well as a domestic tribunal, we apply Federal law, state law, and international law, as the exigencies of the particular case may demand, and we are unwilling, in this case, to proceed on the mere technical admissions made by the demurrer. Nor do we regard it as necessary, whatever imperfections a close analysis of the pending bill may disclose, to compel its amendment at this stage of the litigation. We think proof should be made as to whether Colorado is herself actually threatening to wholly exhaust the flow of the Arkansas River in Kansas; whether what is described in the bill as the "underflow" is a subterranean stream flowing in a known and defined channel, and not merely water percolating through the strata below; whether certain persons, firms, and corporations in Colorado must be made parties hereto; what lands in Kansas are actually situated on the banks of the river, and what, either in Colorado or Kansas, are absolutely dependent on water therefrom; the extent of the watershed or the drainage area of the Arkansas River; the possibilities of the maintenance of a sustained flow through the control of flood waters; in short, the circumstances, a variation in which might induce the court to either grant, modify, or deny the relief sought or any part thereof.

The result is that in view of the intricate questions arising on the record, we are constrained to forbear proceeding until all the facts are before us on the evidence.

Demurrer overruled, without prejudice to any question, and leave to answer.

MR. JUSTICE GRAY did not hear the argument, and took no part in the decision.


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