Hoboken v. Pennsylvania R. Co.
124 U.S. 656 (1888)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Hoboken v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 124 U.S. 656 (1888)

Hoboken v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Argued February 8-9, 1888

Decided February 20, 1888

124 U.S. 656

Syllabus

The title of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to its lands in controversy, derived by grant from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, was confirmed and enlarged by the Act of the Legislature of New Jersey of March 31, 1869, "to enable the United Companies to improve lands

Page 124 U. S. 657

under water at Kill von Kull and other places," and the title of the other defendants to their lands in controversy, also derived by grant from said Hoboken Company, was enlarged and confirmed by grants from the state, under the Riparian Act of the legislature of the same 31st March, and thus all these titles are materially distinguished from the title of the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company (derived only through § 4 of its charter), which was the subject of the decision of the highest court of the New Jersey in Hoboken Land & Improvement Co. v. Hoboken, 36 N.J.L. 540.

The act of the Legislature of New Jersey of March 31, 1869, "to enable the United Companies to improve lands under water at Kill von Kull and other places," embraced but one object, and sufficiently indicated that object in its title, viz., that it was intended to apply to the lands of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in controversy in these actions, and thus it complied with the requirements of the Constitution of New Jersey respecting titles to statutes.

By the laws of New Jersey, lands below high water mark on navigable waters are the absolute property of the state, subject only to the power conferred upon Congress to regulate foreign commerce and commerce among the states, and they may be granted by the state, either to the riparian proprietor or to a stranger, as the state sees fit.

The grant by the State of New Jersey to the United Companies by the Act of March 31, 1869, under which the Pennsylvania Railroad Company claims, and the grants under the general riparian act of the same date under which the other defendants claim, were intended to secure and do secure to the respective grantees the whole beneficial interest in their respective properties, for their exclusive use for the purposes expressed in the grants.

An estoppel cannot apply in this case to the state or to its successor in title.

Any easement which the public may have in New Jersey to pass over lands redeemed by filling in below high water mark in order to reach navigable waters is subordinate to the right of the state to grant the lands discharged of the supposed easement.

A riparian proprietor in New Jersey has no power to create an easement for the public over lands below high water mark, as against the state and those claiming under it, and if he attempts to do it, and then conveys to another person all his right to reclaim the land under water fronting his property, his grantee may acquire from the state the title to such land, discharged of the supposed easement.

Thee title of a grantee under the riparian acts of New Jersey differs in every respect from that of a riparian owner to the alluvial accretions made by the changes in a shifting stream which constitutes the boundary of his possessions.

The defendants in error hold the exclusive possession of the premises in controversy against the adverse claim of the plaintiff to any easement by virtue of the original dedication of the streets to high water mark on the Loss map.

Page 124 U. S. 658

The following is the case as stated by the court:

These are six actions of ejectment brought by the Mayor and Common Council of the City of Hoboken originally in the Supreme Court of New Jersey, and removed into the circuit court of the United States for that district by the several defendants on the ground of citizenship or alienage. In that court, they were tried as one case, the intervention of a jury having been duly waived in writing by the parties. Judgment was rendered in them severally for the defendants, to reverse which these writs of error have been sued out.

The general nature of the controversy is accurately stated by Judge Nixon, who tried the causes, in his opinion, as follows, 16 F. 816:

"The claim of the plaintiff is for an easement, and is based upon the dedication of certain streets, in the year 1804, by Col. John Stevens, who was then the owner of between 500 and 600 acres of land on the western shore of the Hudson River, where the City of Hoboken now stands, and who made 'a plan of the new City of Hoboken, in the County of Bergen,' and caused the same to be filed in the clerk's office of said county in the month of April, 1805. This plan, on the map known as the Loss map, exhibits a number of streets running north and south, and a still larger number running east and west, all of the latter except one apparently terminating on the riverfront at their eastern end, and one of the former having a like terminus on the south. Since that date, and by legislative authority, the riverbed below the ancient high water mark has been filled in for a long distance to the east and south of the land included in the Loss map, rendering the navigable water inaccessible from the streets as therein laid out and dedicated. This controversy has reference to extending one of these streets, not named on the map but now called River Street, to the south, and four others, to-wit, Newark Street, designated on the map the Philadelphia post road, and First, Second and Third Streets, to the east, until they respectively reach the navigable water of the river. The city claims the right of extension by virtue and force of the Stevens dedication.

Page 124 U. S. 659

The defendants resist it, asserting that the title of Col. Stevens was limited to high water mark of the river in 1804; that the soil below the high water mark, as it then existed, belonged to the New Jersey, which not only has never acquiesced in any easement over the land, but by various enactments has conferred upon the defendants or their grantors an absolute title inconsistent with any right of way in the public over the same."

The facts in all the cases are embraced in a series of findings by the court constituting a single statement, as follows:

"(1) That the tract of land on which the City of Hoboken has been mainly built was formerly the property of Col. John Stevens, and contained originally five hundred and sixty-four acres."

"(2) That in the year 1804, Col. Stevens, then being the owner of said tract, caused to be made 'a plan of the new City of Hoboken, in the County of Bergen,' known as Loss' map, which was filed in the clerk's office of the County of Bergen, in April, 1805."

"(3) That the public streets laid out on said map running east and west extended eastwardly to the high water mark of Hudson River as it then existed."

"(4) That the only street thereon running north and south which concerns the present controversy is now called River Street, and its southerly terminus on the map was at the high water mark of said river."

"(5) That subsequent to the filing of said map, Col. Stevens conveyed several lots or parcels of the land shown thereon to different persons, and describing the lots so conveyed by reference to the map and the streets delineated thereon, and that other owners deriving title from or under him have since conveyed lots within said plan, describing the same by reference to the map and streets."

"(6) That at the time of the filing of said map in the clerk's office, the title to all the land fronting the said Stevens property and lying between high and low water mark of the west bank of the Hudson River was in the New Jersey. "

Page 124 U. S. 660

"(7) That 'The Hoboken Land and Improvement Company' was incorporated by the legislature of said state by an act entitled 'An act to incorporate the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company,' approved February 21, 1838; that by § 1 of the act, they were authorized to hold real estate, but the amount held by the company should not exceed 1,000 acres at any time; that by the fourth section, the company was empowered to purchase, fill up, occupy, possess, and enjoy all land covered with water fronting and adjoining the lands that might be owned by them, and to construct thereon wharves, piers, and slips, and all other structures requisite or proper for commercial and shipping purposes, provided that it should not be lawful for the company to fill up any such land covered with water, nor to construct any dock, pier, or wharf immediately in front of the lands of any other person or persons owning down to the water without the consent of such persons first had in writing."

"(8) That by virtue of the powers and privileges of said act of incorporation, the company purchased all the land and real estate described in the deed of conveyance from Edwin A. Stevens and others, bearing date May 6, 1839, and duly recorded in the clerk's office of the County of Bergen, in Liber 13 of Deeds, fol. 105, and in which, among other land, is included the tract of 564 acres embraced in the Loss map, and formerly the property of Col. Stevens."

"(9) That at the time of said transfer by Edwin A. Stevens and others to the said Hoboken Company, the land for which these suits were brought by the City of Hoboken was under water, and since the date of said conveyance has been filled up, occupied, and possessed by said company or their grantees, and that all of said land under water was in front of and adjoining the real estate purchased by the company; that since the time of said purchase, the company, or their grantees, have at various times reclaimed the land from the water and have constructed thereon wharves, harbors, piers, and slips, and other structures requisite or proper for commercial purposes, and have been in the exclusive possession, occupancy, and enjoyment of the same from the time of such reclamation. "

Page 124 U. S. 661

"(10) That the City of Hoboken was incorporated by the Legislature of the New Jersey by an act approved March 28, 1855, with the powers and privileges therein granted, prout the same, and that the territorial limits of the said city embraced all the lands shown on the Loss map, and also a large tract of real estate adjoining the same on the west, extending to the west line of the lands of the late John G. Coster, deceased, and that previous to said incorporation, its territory embraced (a portion of) one of the townships of the County of Hudson."

"(11) That the City of Hoboken never by ordinance recognized River Street south of Third Street, and only recognized its existence as far south as Third Street by the ordinance of January 9, 1855; that Newark, First, and Second Streets were never recognized by ordinance east of Hudson Street prior to the ordinance of October 5, 1875, which ordinance provided that said streets should extend to high water mark on the Hudson River, and that Third Street was never recognized east of River Street prior to the said ordinance of October 5, 1875, which ordinance also provided that the said street should extend to high water mark of said river."

"(12) That no proceedings have been taken by the city to condemn the lands in controversy or to take them for the purposes of a public street except the passage of the ordinance of 1875 and the bringing of these actions of ejectment claiming the dedication of the lands as a public street under the Loss map of 1804."

"(13) That the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, in consideration of $68,583.33, executed a deed to the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company, dated December 1, 1864, conveying a tract of land at the foot or easterly end of Second Street, within the boundaries of which are embraced the premises that the plaintiff seeks to recover in the two suits against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and that the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company and its grantees or lessees have been in the possession of said lands since said conveyance."

"(14) That the Legislature of the State pf New Jersey, by a law approved March 31, 1869, authorized the United Railroad

Page 124 U. S. 662

Companies of New Jersey to reclaim and erect wharves and other improvements in front of any lands then owned by them or held in trust for them on any tidewaters of the state, and when so reclaimed and improved, to have, hold, possess, and enjoy the same as the owners thereof, subject only to the provisions that they should pay for such grant unto the treasury of the state the sum of $20,000 before the first day of July next ensuing, and should also file in the office of the Secretary of the State a map and description of the lands underwater in front of the upland designated in said act; that the sum of $20,000 was paid by the companies within the time limited and the map and description filed as required. Exhibit D 9."

"(15) That an act of the legislature of New Jersey, supplementary to the act to ascertain the rights of the state and of riparian owners in the lands lying under water, approved April 11, 1864, was passed on the thirty-first of March, 1869; that by a proviso to the third section of the same,"

"All previous grants of lands underwater or right to reclaim made directly by legislative act or grant or license power or authority so made or given to purchase, fill up, occupy, possess, and enjoy lands covered with water fronting or adjoining lands owned by the corporation, grantee, or licensee named in the legislative act mentioned, its, his, or their representatives, grantees, or assigns,"

are excepted from the operation of said supplement; that in the fourth section of said act, the riparian commissioners are authorized, for the consideration therein mentioned, to execute and deliver in the name of the New Jersey, to all persons coming within the terms of said proviso, a paper capable of being acknowledged and recorded, conveying and confirming to them the title to all lands, whether then underwater or not, which were held by previous legislative grant or lease either in the hands of the grantees or lessees or by their representatives or assigns.

"(16) That under the provisions of said act, the State of New Jersey conveyed to the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, by deed dated December 21, 1869, for the consideration of $35,500, so much of the land and premises purchased of Edwin A. Stevens and others as was originally below the

Page 124 U. S. 663

high water mark of the river, and all lands underwater in front of the same and as was situate between Second and Fourth Streets if extended, and in front of Third Street if extended to the exterior bulkhead and pier lines established by the riparian commissioners, and embracing the premises claimed in the several suits against the Hamburg-American Steam Packet Company and the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, and that the said company and its grantees have been in the possession of said premises since the date of said conveyance."

"(17) That on the twenty-sixth of September, 1866, the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company and Edwin A. Stevens executed a conveyance to the New York Floating Dry Dock Company for certain lots and tracts of land, above and underwater, in front of and to the east of First Street, and the northerly half of Newark Street, if extended, embracing the premises claimed in the suits against Adolph E. Schmidt and others; that the said The New York Floating Dry Dock Company transferred the same to Frederick Kuhne, trustee of the German Transatlantic Steam Navigation Company, by deed dated August 31, 1872, the said Kuhne, on the same day, executing a formal declaration of trust to the said company; that on the ninth of November, 1872, the State of New Jersey, in consideration of $22,625, granted and conveyed to said Kuhne, trustee as aforesaid, all the right and title of said state in and to the land and premises described in the above recited deed from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company to the New York Floating Dry Dock Company, and that the same has been in the possession of the said respective grantees from the date of the respective conveyances."

"(18) That on the twenty-third of April, 1872, the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company made a conveyance to the North German Lloyd Steamship Company of a lot of land situate in front of and to the east of Third Street if continued to the Hudson River, and embracing the premises claimed in the several suits against the North German Lloyd Steamship Company and the Hamburg-American Packet Company, and the premises have been in the possession of said company and its lessees since the date of said conveyance. "

Page 124 U. S. 664

"(19) That River Street, as shown on the Loss map, cannot be extended to reach the navigable waters of the Hudson River without crossing land outside of that shown on said map and without crossing land which, prior to April 28, 1874, belonged to the State of New Jersey, and which the said state, by deed of that date, leased in perpetuity to the Morris and Essex Railroad Company. See Exhibit D 8."

Upon these facts, the Circuit Court founded its conclusions of law, as follows:

"(1) That neither Col. John Stevens, in 1804, nor at any time thereafter, nor his grantees of any portion of the land delineated on the Loss map, had power to dedicate to the public use as a highway any pant of the land or water adjoining said lands and lying east of and below high water mark of the river as it then existed, and that said land underwater belonged to the State of New Jersey, and could only be dedicated or subjected to an easement by the state and its grantees."

"(2) That the charter granted by the State of New Jersey to the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company was a contract between the state and the corporators; that the fourth section expressly authorized the corporation to fill up all lands covered with water fronting and adjoining the lands they might acquire, and to construct thereon wharves, harbors, piers, and slips, and all other structures requisite or proper for commercial or shipping purposes, and that the only restriction imposed upon the corporation by the act was that it should not fill up or build any dock, pier, or wharf upon any land under water 'immediately in front of the lands of any other person or persons owning down to the water,' and that neither the plaintiff in these suits nor the State of New Jersey nor the public was 'another person owning down to the water' within the legal meaning and intent of said charter or contract."

"(3) That the provisions of the charter of incorporation of the plaintiff, so far as they are applicable to the subject of the pending controversy, negative the plaintiff's construction of its powers under said charter, in that (1) it withholds from

Page 124 U. S. 665

the corporate authorities any right or privilege as shore or riparian owners; (2) while it vests the council with power to take any lands that it may judge necessary for the opening of Third Street, it requires payment to be made to the owner for the fair value of the lands so taken and of the improvements thereon, and the damage done to any distinct lot or parcel or tenement by taking any part of it for such purposes, and (3) it expressly provides that nothing contained in the charter shall be so construed as to interfere with or impair the vested rights and privileges of any person or corporation whatever, except as to property taken for public use, upon compensation as provided for in the act."

"(4) That the State pf New Jersey, being the absolute owner of the land under the water below high water mark, which was the limit of the Stevens dedication of streets, had the right to fill in and make land as far as its ownership extended; that the soil thus acquired and redeemed from the water was in no sense alluvion or accretion which became the property of the shore owner, but remained the land of the state or its grantees, and that no right or authority existed in the shore owner, by dedicating the public streets to the limits of its ownership, to charge such newly made land with the burden of an easement over it."

"(5) That as to the two several suits against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, the locus in quo is embraced within the descriptions of the deed from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company to the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company dated December 6, 1864, and also within the grant of the state to the United Railroad Companies of New Jersey of the date of March 31, 1869, wherein the said companies were authorized, for the consideration therein expressed and afterwards paid, 'to reclaim and erect wharves and other improvements in front of any lands owned by or held in trust for them,' subject to no restriction other than the regulations as to solid filling and pier lines before recommended by the riparian commissioners, and that the defendant, who is the lessee of the said companies, is entitled to hold said premises against the claim of plaintiff unless compensation be first made for the taking thereof according to law. "

Page 124 U. S. 666

"(6) That as to the two several suits against Adolph E. Schmidt and others, the locus in quo is covered by the description of the deed from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company to the New York Floating Dry Dock Company dated August 31, 1872, and also within the grant from the state by its commissioners under the provisions of the fourth section of the supplement to the act entitled 'An act to ascertain the rights of the state and of the riparian owners,' etc., to Frederick Kuhne, trustee, etc., under whom the defendants hold by mesne conveyance, and that they are entitled to retain the possession and ownership of said premises against the plaintiff until the same is condemned and payment therefor made according to law."

"(7) That as to the several suits against the Hamburg-American Steam Packet Company and the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, the locus in quo is within the grant from the State of New Jersey to the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company of the date of December 21, 1869, and also of the deed of conveyance from the Hoboken Land and Improvement Company to the North German Lloyd Steamship Company dated April 23, 1872, and that the said defendants are entitled to hold the said premises clear and discharged of any right or claim therein or thereto by said plaintiff."

"(8) That none of the land and premises claimed by the plaintiff in either of the said several suits is subject to an easement in consequence of the dedication of public streets made by Col. John Stevens in the Loss map of 1804."

"(9) That the several defendants in the several suits should be adjudged not guilty. "

Page 124 U. S. 678

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.