No. 136.

188 U.S. 410 (1903)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided February 23, 1903.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. S.A. Lynde and Mr. Warren B. Wilson for appellants.

Mr. Charles M. Walker and Mr. Henry Schofield for appellees.

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

1. We hold that the Circuit Court had jurisdiction in this case. That the parties, plaintiffs and defendant, are citizens of the same State is not sufficient to defeat the jurisdiction; for by the act of March 3, 1887, c. 373, as corrected by the act of August 13, 1888, c. 866, the Circuit Courts have jurisdiction, without reference to the citizenship of the parties, of suits at common law or in equity arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States. 24 Stat. 552; 25 Stat. 434. The present suit does arise under the Constitution and laws of the United States, because the plaintiffs base their right to construct the dock in question upon the Constitution of the United States, as well as upon certain acts of Congress and the permit (so-called) of the Secretary of War — which legislative enactments and action of the Secretary of War were, it is alleged, in execution of the power of Congress under the Constitution over the navigable waters of the United States. Clearly, such a suit is one arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States. That it is a suit of that character appears from the bill itself. The allegations which set forth a Federal right were necessary in order to set forth the plaintiffs' cause of action.

2. The appeal was properly taken directly to this court, since by the act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, this court has jurisdiction to review the judgment of the Circuit Court in any case involving the construction or application of the Constitution of the United States. 26 Stat. 834. The present case belongs to that class; for it involves the consideration of questions relating to the power of Congress, under the Constitution, over the navigable waters of the United States.

3. We come now to the merits of the suit as disclosed by the bill. The general proposition upon which the plaintiffs base their right to relief is that the United States, by the acts of Congress referred to and by what has been done under those acts, has taken "possession" of Calumet River, and so far as the erection in that river of structures such as bridges, docks, piers and the like is concerned, no jurisdiction or authority whatever remains with the local authorities. In a sense, but only in a limited sense, the United States has taken possession of Calumet River, by improving it, by causing it to be surveyed, and by establishing lines beyond which no dock or other structure shall be erected in the river without the approval or consent of the Secretary of War, to whom has been committed the determination of such questions. But Congress has not passed any act under which parties, having simply the consent of the Secretary, may erect structures in Calumet River without reference to the wishes of the State of Illinois on the subject. We say the State of Illinois, because it must be assumed, under the allegations of the bill, that the ordinances of the city of Chicago making the approval of its Department of Public Works a condition precedent to the right of any one to erect structures in navigable waters within its limits, are consistent with the constitution and laws of that State and were passed under authority conferred on the city by the State.

Calumet River, it must be remembered, is entirely within the limits of Illinois, and the authority of the State over it is plenary, subject only to such action as Congress may take in execution of its power under the Constitution to regulate commerce among the several States. That authority has been exercised by the State ever since it was admitted into the Union upon an equal footing with the original States.

In Escanaba Company v. Chicago, 107 U.S. 678, 683, the question was as to the validity of regulations made by the city of Chicago in reference to the closing, between certain hours of each day, of bridges across the Chicago River. Those regulations were alleged to be inconsistent with the power of Congress over interstate commerce. This court said: "The Chicago River and its branches must, therefore, be deemed navigable waters of the United States, over which Congress under its commercial power may exercise control to the extent necessary to protect, preserve, and improve their free navigation. But the States have full power to regulate within their limits matters of internal police, including in that general designation whatever will promote the peace, comfort, convenience, and prosperity of their people. This power embraces the construction of roads, canals, and bridges, and the establishment of ferries, and it can generally be exercised more wisely by the States than by a distant authority. They are the first to see the importance of such means of internal communication, and are more deeply concerned than others in their wise management. Illinois is more immediately affected by the bridges over the Chicago River and its branches than any other State, and is more directly concerned for the prosperity of the city of Chicago, for the convenience and comfort of its inhabitants, and the growth of its commerce. And nowhere could the power to control the bridges in that city, their construction, form, and strength, and the size of their draws, and the manner and times of using them, be better vested than with the State, or the authorities of the city upon whom it has devolved that duty. When its power is exercised, so as to unnecessarily obstruct the navigation of the river or its branches, Congress may interfere and remove the obstruction. If the power of the State and that of the Federal Government come in conflict, the latter must control and the former yield. This necessarily follows from the position given by the Constitution to legislation in pursuance of it, as the supreme law of the land. But until Congress acts on the subject, the power of the State over bridges across its navigable streams is plenary. This doctrine has been recognized from the earliest period, and approved in repeated cases, the most notable of which are Willson v. The Blackbird Creek Marsh Co., 2 Pet. 245, decided in 1829, and Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713, decided in 1865."

To the same effect is the recent decision in Lake Shore & Michigan Railway v. Ohio, 165 U.S. 365, 366, 368. See also Cardwell v. American Bridge Co., 113 U.S. 205, and Huse v. Glover, 119 U.S. 543.

Did Congress, in the execution of its power under the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce, intend by the legislation in question to supersede, for every purpose, the authority of Illinois over the erection of structures in navigable waters wholly within its limits? Did it intend to declare that the wishes of Illinois in respect of structures to be erected in such waters need not be regarded, and that the assent of the Secretary of War, proceeding under the above acts of Congress, was alone sufficient to authorize such structures?

These questions were substantially answered by this court in Lake Shore & Michigan Railway v. Ohio, above cited, decided in 1896. That case required a construction of the fifth and seventh sections of the River and Harbor Act of September 19, 1890, upon which sections the plaintiffs in this case partly rely. In that case this court said: "The contention is that the statute in question manifests the purpose of Congress to deprive the several States of all authority to control and regulate any and every structure over all navigable streams, although they be wholly situated within their territory. That full power resides in the States as to the erection of bridges and other works in navigable streams wholly within their jurisdiction, in the absence of the exercise by Congress of authority to the contrary, is conclusively determined. . . . The mere delegation to the Secretary of the right to determine whether a structure authorized by law has been so built as to impede commerce, and to direct, when reasonably necessary, its modification so as to remove such impediment, does not confer upon that officer power to give original authority to build bridges, nor does it presuppose that Congress conceived that it was loding in the Secretary power to that end. . . . The mere delegation of power to direct a change in lawful structures so as to cause them not to interfere with commerce cannot be construed as conferring on the officer named the right to determine when and where a bridge may be built." Referring to the seventh section of the act of 1890, the court said: "The language of the seventh section makes clearer the error of the interpretation relied on. The provision that it shall not be lawful to thereafter erect any bridge `in any navigable river or navigable waters of the United States, under any act of the legislative assembly of any State, until the location and plan of such bridge . . . have been submitted to and approved by the Secretary of War,' contemplated that the function of the Secretary should extend only to the form of future structures, since the act would not have provided for the future erection of bridges under state authority if its very purpose was to deny for the future all power in the States on the subject . .. The construction claimed for the statute is that its purpose was to deprive the States of all power as to every stream, even those wholly within their borders, whilst the very words of the statute, saying that its terms should not be construed as conferring on the States power to give authority to build bridges on streams not wholly within their limits, by a negative pregnant with an affirmative, demonstrate that the object of the act was not to deprive the several States of the authority to consent to the erection of bridges over navigable waters wholly within their territory."

The decision in Lake Shore & Michigan Railway v. Ohio was rendered before the passage of the River and Harbor Act of 1899. But the tenth section of that act, upon which the permit of the Secretary of War was based, is not so worded as to compel the conclusion that Congress intended, by that section, to ignore altogether the wishes of Illinois in respect of structures in navigable waters that are wholly within its limits. We may assume that Congress was not unaware of the decision of the above case in 1896 and of the interpretation placed upon existing legislative enactments. If it had intended by the act of 1899 to assert the power to take under national control, for every purpose, and to the fullest possible extent, the erection of structures in the navigable waters of the United States that were wholly within the limits of the respective States, and to supersede entirely the authority which the States, in the absence of any action by Congress, have in such matters, such a radical departure from the previous policy of the Government would have been manifested by clear and explicit language. In the absence of such language it should not be assumed that any such departure was intended.

We do not overlook the long-settled principle that the power of Congress to regulate commerce among the States "is complete in itself, may be exercised to its utmost extent, and acknowledges no limitations other than are prescribed in the Constitution." Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 196; Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419, 446; Brown v. Houston, 114 U.S. 630. But we will not at this time make any declaration of opinion as to the full scope of this power or as to the extent to which Congress may go in the matter of the erection, or authorizing the erection, of docks and like structures in navigable waters that are entirely within the territorial limits of the several States. Whether Congress may, against or without the expressed will of a State, give affirmative authority to private parties to erect structures in such waters, it is not necessary in this case to decide. It is only necessary to say that the act of 1899 does not manifest the purpose of Congress to go to that extent under the power to regulate foreign and interstate commerce and thereby to supersede the original authority of the States. The effect of that act, reasonably interpreted, is to make the erection of a structure in a navigable river, within the limits of a State, depend upon the concurrent or joint assent of both the National Government and the state government. The Secretary of War, acting under the authority conferred by Congress, may assent to the erection by private parties of such a structure. Without such assent the structure cannot be erected by them. But under existing legislation they must, before proceeding under such an authority, obtain also the assent of the State acting by its constituted agencies.

For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Circuit Court is



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