Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Interstate Transp. Co.
155 U.S. 585 (1895)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Interstate Transp. Co., 155 U.S. 585 (1895)

Texas and Pacific Railway Company v.

Interstate Transportation Company

No. 95

Argued December 3, 1894

Decided January 7, 1895

155 U.S. 585

Syllabus

When a bridge is lawfully built over a navigable river within the limits of a state, and is maintained as a lawful structure, its owners may at all times have recourse to the courts to protect it, and any relief which may be granted by the court on such application is not a regulation of commerce.

When a court of equity is satisfied that irreparable injuries may be occasioned to such a structure by careless or wanton action on the part of navigators, the ordinary rule that the court will not act where there

Page 155 U. S. 586

is a dispute about the title or the extent of the legal rights of the parties does not apply, but it may grant relief by injunction before a trial at law. In this case, as the exigency created by the existence of an unusual flood, which was made the principal foundation for the bill, has long since passed away, and as the decree below dismissing the bill reserved the right of the complainant to bring an action for the recovery of its damages, the decree below is amended so that it shall be without prejudice generally, and is otherwise affirmed.

The Texas and Pacific Railway Company was organized under an Act of Congress approved March 3, 1871, and several supplementary acts. In 1881, it acquired the railroad and franchises of the New Orleans Pacific Railway Company, a corporation of the State of Louisiana. Its main line of railroad extends from New Orleans to El Paso, Texas, and, as part of it, has a bridge, costing $300,000, across the Atchafalaya River, and which river is wholly within the State of Louisiana. The bridge has a draw of about 253 feet in the span, making a channel on each side of the center of the draw of about 126 feet. The bridge is a legal structure, and is essential to enable the railway company to perform its public duties.

The Interstate Transportation Company, a corporation of the State of Louisiana, owned and controlled certain steam towboats and barges on the lower Mississippi River and tributaries, and carried on for hire the business of towing said barges loaded with coal and other heavy cargoes.

On March 29, 1890, the railway company filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Louisiana its bill of complaint against the transportation company. The allegations of the bill substantially were that on February 19, 1890, when the waters of the Atchafalaya River were at an unusually high stage, which condition still continued, the towboat Lambert, owned and controlled by the defendant company, while undertaking to pass through the draw of said bridge, which draw had been duly opened for the passage of the steamer, struck with its tow of barges the bridge seat at the eastern end of the draw, inflicting considerable injuries on the bridge, and threatening its destruction; that said accident was caused by the attempt of the towboat to

Page 155 U. S. 587

carry through said draw upon the unusual flood waters of the river more barges than at one time could be safely and surely handled in such circumstances; that the railway company at once notified the defendant company of the accident, and warned it of the danger of such conduct, and the manifestly irreparable injury that would come from the same if the bridge should be in any wise disabled; that the officers and agents of the defendant company would make no effort to prevent a repetition of said conduct, nor give any assurance that the said conduct and method, which were manifestly tortious and unlawful, would not be repeated; that within the previous week, while the flood waters of the river were still higher and the current still swifter and more dangerous, defendant's towboats had been passing or attempting to pass through said draw with six barges in one tow, threatening to strike and destroy said bridge, and this at a time when none of said towboats have power to control and guide any tow exceeding two barges with safety.

The bill further averred that at high water, like that which prevailed at the time of the filing of the bill, it was unlawful, dangerous, and unnecessary for the towboats of the defendant company to pass through the draw with more than two barges in tow; that, while the draw is of ample width for all the navigation of the stream, yet that if the defendant company, for its own convenience and profit, undertakes to carry through more than said number of barges, the high water and currents will or may at any moment swing the long tows in a direction across the opening of the draw, and tend to strike and destroy the bridge; that the injury thus inflicted could not be compensated by actions for damages at law, nor could the defendant company, owing to the inadequacy of capital, respond in damages for the great loss that would be occasioned by the destruction of the bridge and the consequent suspension of traffic on the line of the railroad; that said high water and violent currents and flood were continuing, and might increase, and will exist for a long time, and that the towboats of defendant have not the power to safely guide each more than two of said barges through the draw at a time.

Page 155 U. S. 588

The complainant, reserving its claims for pecuniary damages for injuries theretofore or thereafter done, prayed that an injunction might issue restraining and prohibiting the defendant, its officers, agents, and servants, from passing any towboat through the draw of the bridge at high water with more than two barges in tow of such towboat, and from in any way striking and injuring said bridge, and that a restraining order might be issued, and that such injunction might be made perpetual.

On the same day that the bill was filed, a temporary restraining order was issued. On April 26, 1890, the motion for a preliminary injunction was made and argued, and on May 13, 1890, the injunction was refused, and the restraining order was dissolved, Judge Pardee, the circuit judge, filing an opinion.

On June 2, 1890, the defendant company filed a general demurrer to the bill, and, after argument, the demurrer was, on January 16, 1891, sustained, and the bill was dismissed without prejudice to complainant's right to institute any action it may have at law. An opinion was filed by Judge Billings, the district judge.

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