Chappell v. United States
160 U.S. 499 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chappell v. United States, 160 U.S. 499 (1896)

Chappell v. United States

No. 91

Submitted December 3, 1895

Decided January 6, 1896

160 U.S. 499

Syllabus

If a defendant, among other defenses, in various forms, and upon several grounds, objects to the jurisdiction of the court, and final judgment is rendered for the plaintiff, and, upon a petition referring to all the proceedings in detail, and asking for a review of all the rulings of the court upon the question of jurisdiction raised in the papers on file, a writ of error is allowed generally, without formally certifying or otherwise specifying a definite question of jurisdiction, no question of jurisdiction is sufficiently certified to this Court under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 5.

Upon a writ of error under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 5, in a case in which the constitutionality of a law of the United States was drawn in question, this Court has power to dispose of the whole case, including all questions, whether of jurisdiction or of merits.

The Act of August 1, 1888, c. 728, authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury, whenever in his opinion it will be necessary or advantageous to the United States, to acquire lands for a light-house by condemnation under judicial proceedings in a court of the United States for the District in which the land is situated, is constitutional.

A petition for the condemnation of land for a lighthouse, filed by the Attorney General upon the application of the Secretary of the Treasury, under the Act of August 1, 1888, c. 728, should be in the name of the United States.

The only trial by jury required in proceedings in a court of the United States for the condemnation of land under the Act of August 1, 1888, c. 728, is a trial at the bar of the court upon the question of damages to the owner of the land.

This was a petition, filed March 21, 1890, in the District Court of the United States for the District of Maryland for the condemnation, under the Act of Congress of August 1, 1888, c. 728, * of a perpetual easement in a strip of fast land

Page 160 U. S. 500

on Hawkins Point, in Anne Arundel County, in the State of Maryland, described by metes and bounds and courses and distances, and as owned by Thomas C. Chappell, for the purpose of transmitting rays of light, without obstruction, both by day and by night, between two beacon lights, known as "Hawkins Point Light" and "Leading Point Light," theretofore constructed and put in operation by the United States as range lights of the Brewerton Channel of the Patapsco River in the State of Maryland.

The petition was in the name of "William Windom, Secretary of the Treasury of the United States and ex officio President of the Lighthouse Board of the United States," and alleged that under the provisions of section 4658 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, the Lighthouse Board is required to perform all administrative duties relating to the construction, illumination, inspection, and superintendence of lighthouses, light vessels, beacons, buoys, and seamarks, and their appendages; that Congress appropriates annually a sum of money for repairs and incidental expenses of lighthouses, which is available to pay for the easement aforesaid, and that in the opinion of the petitioner, it was necessary and advantageous to the United States to acquire this easement by condemnation under judicial proceedings. The petition was signed by the United States district attorney, "who

Page 160 U. S. 501

appears for the Secretary of the Treasury, the petitioner, by direction of the Attorney General of the United States."

Upon the filing of the petition, the court made an order that a copy be served on Chappel on or before March 24, 1890, and that he show cause on or before April 10, 1890, why the prayer of the petition should not be granted.

On April 9, 1890, Chappell, "saving and reserving all advantages and exceptions whatsoever, prays leave to except to the order" aforesaid, and demurred to the petition, and for cause of demurrer assigned

"that there is no authority of law for this proceeding, and also that it is not shown that the Congress of the United States has appropriated or will appropriate more than five thousand dollars to pay for said easement, and that said easement is of a value greatly exceeding five thousand dollars, and whether Congress annually or has ever appropriated a sum of money for repairs and incidental expenses of the lighthouse sufficient to pay for said easement, which is applicable therefor, and also that there is no party plaintiff made in said declaration and petition, and also that the laws of the State of Maryland require said proceeding, if the right to any such has accrued, to be conducted in the circuit court for the county where said land is situated, and by the laws of the United States the said laws of the state form the rule of decision in the courts of the United States in this matter, and also that the United States of America has passed no general law or special law authorizing the petitioner or the Attorney General of the said United States, nor any other person whatsoever, to institute this proceeding, and said proceeding is instituted ultra vires, and the said United States cannot be made a party to said suit except by the direction and with the consent of the lawmaking power, and said power has neither directed the same nor consented thereto."

On May 12, 1890, after argument on the demurrer, the court, by an order reciting that it appeared that the Secretary of the Treasury and ex officio President of the Lighthouse Board of the United States had been authorized to acquire this easement for the use of the board, and was of opinion that

Page 160 U. S. 502

it was necessary and advantageous to the United States to acquire this easement by condemnation under judicial proceedings, and had made application to the Attorney General to cause such proceedings to be commenced, overruled the demurrer; and, being of opinion that condemnation of this easement ought to be had by the United States, and that the question of the damages which Chappell would sustain thereby ought to be submitted to a jury, ordered

"that, upon a day to be fixed by this Court, upon notice to said parties, a jury of this Court be impaneled, who shall be duly sworn to justly and impartially value and assess the damages which the said Chappell, as the owner of said land, will sustain by the acquisition by the United States of the easement aforesaid, and that the said jury be impaneled from twenty jurors regularly drawn to serve in this court, from whom each party may strike four jurors, or, if either party refuse to so strike, the court shall strike for him, and the remaining twelve jurors shall be the said jury of inquest to assess said damages, and the said proceeding shall be in such form as that the United States of America and the said Thomas C. Chappell shall be the parties thereto."

On October 28, 1890, in accordance with this order, a jury was duly impaneled in the cause, and was sworn

"to truly and impartially value and assess the damages for the condemnation of the said easement over the land at Hawkins Point, in said petition mentioned, and a true inquisition make according to the evidence,"

and upon a trial before the court, and after hearing evidence on behalf of the United States, and on behalf of Chappell, and the charge of the court, returned, on November 3, 1890, an "inquisition and award," signed and sealed by the twelve jurors, assessing to Chappell damages in the sum of $3,500 for the enjoyment by the United States in perpetuity of the easement aforesaid.

On November 10, 1890, Chappell filed a plea

"that the court here ought not to take cognizance of or sustain the action aforesaid, because he says that the cause of action aforesaid, if any accrued to the said plaintiff, accrued to him at Annapolis, within the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court for

Page 160 U. S. 503

Anne Arundel County, State of Maryland, and not within the jurisdiction of this Court."

On November 17, 1890, Chappell filed the following exceptions to the inquisition:

"1st. That the statute under which this proceeding is sought to be maintained is unconstitutional, and this Court has no jurisdiction of the subject matter of this suit."

"2d. That the lawmaking power of the United States has not authorized any officer to make said United States a party to this suit or proceeding, and this Court has no jurisdiction of the subject matter of this suit, there being a want of power to condemn this property described in this inquisition."

"3d. That the laws of the United States have not been complied with."

"4th. That the damages allowed are inadequate."

On December 18, 1890, the district court overruled these exceptions, and confirmed the inquisition and award.

On December 27, 1890, Chappell prayed for, and on February 24, 1891, was allowed, under section 633 of the Revised Statutes, a writ of error from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland; but never gave bond to prosecute that writ of error.

On December 15, 1891, Chappell presented to the district judge a petition for a writ of error, under the Act of March 3, 1891, c. 517, § 5, in which he mentions all the previous proceedings in the case (above stated), and,

"in order that said rulings, judgments, and orders may be reviewed and reexamined by the Supreme Court of the United States upon the question of jurisdiction raised in said exceptions, pleas, and demurrers, and the other papers on file in this cause, and either reversed or affirmed, now prays for the allowance of a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the United States, and such other process as may cause said rulings, orders, and judgments to be corrected, instead of to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Maryland."

A writ of error was thereupon "allowed," in the usual and general form, by the district judge, and was entered in this Court February 27, 1892.

Page 160 U. S. 504

On December 2, 1895, the day before the case was called for argument in this Court, the plaintiff in error moved for a writ of certiorari, suggesting a diminution of the record in omitting to state that on July 15, 1890, he filed in the district court a petition for the allowance of a writ of error from the circuit court of the United States.

Page 160 U. S. 506

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