Bridge Company v. United States
105 U.S. 470

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bridge Company v. United States, 105 U.S. 470 (1881)

Bridge Company v. United States

105 U.S. 470

Syllabus

1. Congress, in the exercise of its power over the navigable waters of the United States, which is derived from the commerce clause of the Constitution, gave, by resolution (infra, p. 105 U. S. 473), its assent that a bridge across the Ohio at Cincinnati might be constructed in accordance with the terms of a charter conferred by state laws, but in case the free navigation of the river should at any time be substantially and materially obstructed by the contemplated bridge, the right to withdraw such assent or to direct the necessary modifications and alterations was reserved. While the bridge was erecting, in compliance with the provisions of law, Congress, by statute (infra, p. 105 U. S. 473), declared that it should be unlawful to proceed therewith unless certain specified changes should be made. The company made them and completed the bridge according to the altered plan. Held, 1. that in view of the legislation of Congress, the resolution is the paramount law by which the rights involved are to be determined, and that the company, by accepting its provisions, became subject to all the limitations and reservations of power which Congress deemed fit to impose; 2. that the withdrawal by Congress of its assent is, for the purposes of this case, equivalent to a positive enactment that notwithstanding state legislation, the further maintenance of the bridge according to the plan first prescribed was unlawful; 3. that Congress, by requiring changes and modifications to which the company conformed, incurred no liability to the latter.

2. Congress could withdraw its assent whenever it determined that in regard to the construction of the bridge, other requirements than those originally prescribed were essential to secure due protection to the navigation of the river.

On the 5th of February, 1868, the General Assembly of Kentucky passed an act to incorporate the Newport and Cincinnati

Page 105 U. S. 471

Bridge Company, with power to build a bridge across the Ohio River between Newport and Cincinnati. This charter provided "that the said bridge shall be constructed so as not to obstruct the navigation of the Ohio River further than the law of the United States authorize."

On the 3d of April in the same year, the General Assembly of Ohio enacted a statute authorizing the creation and organization of corporations to build bridges across the same river. This act, in order that the bridges to be built might not obstruct navigation, provided that they should be erected

"in accordance with the provisions of an Act of Congress approved July 14, 1862, entitled 'An Act to establish certain post roads,' or of any act that Congress may hereafter pass on the same subject."

Its eleventh section is as follows:

"SEC. 11. That any such company may fix or change the span and altitude of any bridge which it may erect and construct across the Ohio River, provided that the span of any such bridge be not less than three hundred feet in the clear over the main channel, and not less than two hundred and twenty feet in the clear in one of the next adjoining spans, and the height of the bridge in the center of the span over than main channel shall not be less than one hundred feet above the surface of the water at low water, measuring for such elevation to the bottom chord of the bridge, and such height above extreme high water mark as may be provided in any act of Congress now in force or which may hereafter be passed; but this section shall not apply to any bridge built with a draw, in accordance with the provision of an Act of Congress approved July 14, 1862, entitled 'An Act to establish certain post roads,' or any act that Congress may hereafter pass upon the subject."

On the same day this act was passed, the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge Company was organized under it in Ohio to build a bridge between Cincinnati and Newport. Afterwards, on the 16th of April, 1868, the Kentucky and Ohio companies, pursuant to provisions in their respective charters, were consolidated and became one corporation with the general powers which the divisional companies originally possessed.

Page 105 U. S. 472

The material provisions of the Act of July 14, 1862, c. 167, entitled "An Act to establish certain post roads," 12 Stat. 569, are as follows:

"SEC. 3. And be it further enacted that it shall be lawful for any other railroad company or companies whose line or lines of road may now or shall hereafter be built to the Ohio River above the mouth of the Big Sandy River, in accordance with the terms of the charter or charters of such company or companies, to build a bridge across said river for the more perfect connection of any such roads and for the passage of trains thereof under the limitations and conditions hereafter provided."

"SEC. 4. And be it further enacted that any bridge erected under the privileges of this act may, at the option of the company or companies building the same, be built either as a drawbridge, with a pivot or other form of draw, or with unbroken or continuous spans, provided that if the said bridge shall be made with unbroken and continuous spans, it shall not be of less elevation than ninety feet above low water mark over the channel of the said river, nor in any case less than forty feet above extreme high water, as understood at the point of location, measuring for such elevation to the bottom chord of the bridge. Nor shall the span of such bridge covering the main channel of the river be less than three hundred feet in length, with also one of the next adjoining spans of not less than two hundred and twenty feet in length, and the piers of said bridge shall be parallel with the current of the river as near as practicable, and provided also that if any bridge built under this act shall be constructed as a drawbridge, the same shall be constructed with a span over the main channel of the river, as understood at the time of the erection of the bridge, of not less than three hundred feet in length, and said span shall not be less than seventy feet above low water mark, measuring to the bottom chord of the bridge, and one of the next adjoining spans shall not be less than two hundred and twenty feet in length; and also that there shall be a pivot draw constructed in every such bridge at an accessible and navigable point, with spans of not less than one hundred feet in length on each side of the central or first pier of the draw, and provided also that said draw shall always be opened promptly, upon reasonable signal, for the passage of boats whose construction may not at the time admit of their passing under the permanent spans of said bridge, except that said draw shall not be required to be opened when engines or

Page 105 U. S. 473

trains are passing over said bridge, or when passenger trains are due; but in no case shall unnecessary delay occur in the opening of said draw after the passage of said engines or trains."

On the 3d of March, 1869, Congress passed a resolution entitled "A resolution giving the assent of the United States to the construction of the Newport and Cincinnati bridge." 15 Stat. 347. It is as follows:

"Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the consent of Congress be, and the same is hereby, given to the erection of a bridge over the Ohio River from the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, to the City of Newport, Kentucky, by the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge Company, a corporation chartered and organized under the laws of each of the States of Kentucky and Ohio, provided that said bridge is built with an unbroken or continuous span of not less than four hundred feet in the clear, from pier to pier, over the main channel of the river, and is built in all other respects in accordance with the conditions and limitations of an Act entitled 'An Act to establish certain post roads,' approved July fourteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-two. That said bridge, when completed in the manner specified in this resolution, shall be deemed and taken to be a legal structure, and shall be a post road for the transmission of the mails of the United States, but Congress reserves the right to withdraw the assent hereby given in case the free navigation of said river shall at any time be substantially and materially obstructed by any bridge to be erected under the authority of this resolution, or to direct the necessary modifications and alterations of said bridge."

After the passage of this resolution, the consolidated company began the erection of a drawbridge with a pivot draw, and expended a large amount of money in the undertaking, but before it was completed, Congress passed the Act of March 3, 1871, c. 121, the fifth section of which (16 id. 572) is as follows:

"SEC. 5. That it shall be unlawful for the Newport and Cincinnati Bridge Company, or any other company or person, to proceed in the erection of the bridge now being constructed over the Ohio River from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, to the City of Newport, Kentucky, and the approaches thereto, unless the said bridge shall be so constructed that the channel span of four hundred feet, as now located, shall have under said span a clear headway at low

Page 105 U. S. 474

water of one hundred feet below any point of said channel span, and in such case no draw shall be required in said bridge; all the other spans of said bridge, which cover the Ohio River to low water mark, shall have a clear headway of not less than seventy feet above low water mark, and the other spans of the said bridge, extending to each shore, may be made of less elevation than seventy feet above low water mark to accommodate a regular grade for the approaches to said bridge. And when the foregoing requirements shall have been complied with by the said Newport and Cincinnati Bridge Company, the location of said bridge, its structures and approaches, shall thereupon be deemed to be legalized and declared to be lawful structures, and shall be recognized and known as a post route. The plans for changes in such bridge made necessary by this act shall be submitted by said company to the Secretary of War for his approval. And in the event of the bridge company's making the changes provided for in this act, it shall be lawful for the said company, after they shall have made the changes in said bridge and the approaches thereto as herein provided, to file their bill in equity against the United States in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio, and full jurisdiction is hereby conferred upon said court to determine first whether the bridge, according to the plans on which it has progressed, at the passage of this act, has been constructed so as substantially to comply with the provisions of law relating thereto, and second, the liability of the United States, if any there be, to the said company, by reason of the changes by this act required to be made, and if the said court shall determine that the United States is so liable, and that said bridge was so being built, then the said court shall further ascertain and determine the amount of the actual and necessary cost and expenditures reasonably required to be incurred in making the changes in the said bridge and its approaches, as hereby authorized or required, in excess of the cost of building said bridge and approaches according to the plan proposed before the changes required by this act to be made. And the said court is hereby further authorized and required to proceed therein to final decree as in other cases in equity. And it shall be lawful for either party to the said suit to appeal from the final decree of the said circuit court to the Supreme Court of the United States, as in other cases, and the Supreme Court shall thereupon proceed to hear and determine the said case and make a final decree therein, and thereupon, if such decree shall be in favor of said company, the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States shall, out of any

Page 105 U. S. 475

moneys in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, pay to the said company such sum of money as shall by the said Supreme Court be so decreed to be paid to the said company, provided nevertheless that no money shall be paid by the Secretary of the Treasury to the said company until the Supreme Court of the United States, upon appeal taken as aforesaid, shall render a final decree in the case in favor of said company."

The company promptly yielded to these new requirements and, having completed its bridge on the altered plan, brought in the court below this suit in equity against the United States to recover the increased cost. After hearing, the court dismissed the bill, and from that decree this appeal was taken.

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