Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co. v. Wheeling Bridge Co.
138 U.S. 287 (1891)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co. v. Wheeling Bridge Co., 138 U.S. 287 (1891)

Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company v. Wheeling Bridge Company

No. 1425

Submitted December 15, 1890

Decided February 2, 1891

138 U.S. 287

Syllabus

When the highest court of a state holds a judgment of an inferior court of that state to be final, this Court can hardly consider it in any other light in exercising its appellate jurisdiction.

A ferry connecting Wheeling with wheeling Island was licensed at an early day in Virginia. Subsequently a general law of that state prohibited

Page 138 U. S. 288

the courts of the different counties from licensing a ferry within a half a mile in a direct line from an established ferry. In 1847, the defendant purchased the ferry and its rights.

Held:

(1) That the general law of Virginia had in it nothing in the nature of a contract.

(2) That the transfer of the existing rights from the vendor to the vendee added nothing to them.

An alleged surrender or suspension of a power of government respecting any matter of public concern must be shown by clear and unequivocal language; it cannot be inferred from any inhibitions upon particular officers or special tribunals, or from any doubtful or uncertain expressions.

This was a motion to dismiss or affirm. The case was thus stated by the court.

This was a proceeding commenced by petition in a court of West Virginia by the Wheeling Bridge Company, a corporation under the laws of that State, to condemn for its use a parcel of ground owned by the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company, a corporation formed under the laws of Virginia, of which the territory composing West Virginia was then a part. The petitioner represented that it was created a corporation for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a bridge across the Ohio River from a point on the east side of its main channel north of the public landing in the City of Wheeling to a point nearly opposite on Wheeling Island in that city -- the bridge to be for public use, and that in order to construct it and its approaches, it was necessary to build over and to take a parcel of land belonging to the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company on Wheeling Island, which parcel was described in the petition and designated on an accompanying plat, and contained about thirty perches.

The petitioner averred that there was no lien or charge upon the parcel of land, that it was unable to agree with the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company on the terms of purchase, and that the land was necessary for the construction of the proposed bridge and the approaches to it. It therefore prayed that notice might be given to the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company of the filing of the application, and

Page 138 U. S. 289

that the same would be heard on a day designated, that commissioners be appointed by the court to ascertain what would be a just compensation for the land, and that upon the payment of the compensation thus ascertained, the title might be vested in the petitioner.

To this petition the Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company appeared and tendered seven pleas, in the first four of which the defendant joined issue, raising the question of the necessity of the parcel of land desired for the purpose of maintaining the proposed bridge of the petitioner and its approaches, and of the necessity of the parcel and certain structures thereon for the proper exercise by the defendant of its franchise. The issues were found in favor of the petitioner by a jury, establishing the fact that the land desired was essential to the proposed work of the petitioner and was not essential to the proper exercise of the franchise of the defendant. No questions were raised as to the correctness of the rulings upon the trial of these issues -- at least none which can be considered by this Court.

The other three pleas raised the question of the power of the legislature to authorize the construction of a new bridge within half a mile either way from the bridge of the defendant to transport persons and property across the Ohio River, the defendant contending that by its charter and the privileges of owners of ferries which it had acquired, it had become invested with the exclusive right to thus transport persons and property within that distance of its bridge. The court held the pleas insufficient and rejected them, and rendered judgment sustaining the proceedings for the condemnation of the property, adjudging that it was necessary for the petitioner to take it for the purpose of prosecuting its proposed work, and was not necessary to the defendant for the exercise of its franchise. The court thereupon named commissioners to ascertain what would be just compensation for the land. A writ of error was subsequently allowed, the proceedings of the commissioners stayed, and the case taken to the Supreme Court, where the judgment of the lower court was affirmed. To review this latter judgment the case was brought here.

Page 138 U. S. 290

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