Walker v. New Mexico & Southern Pacific R. Co.
165 U.S. 593 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Walker v. New Mexico & Southern Pacific R. Co., 165 U.S. 593 (1897)

Walker v. New Mexico and Southern Pacific Railroad Company

No. 171

Argued January 26, 1897

Decided March 1, 1897

165 U.S. 593

Syllabus

The Act of April 4, 1874, c. 80, legislating for all the territories, secures to their inhabitants all the rights of trial by jury as they existed at the common law.

It is within the power of a legislature of a territory to provide that, on a trial of a common law action, the court may, in addition to the general verdict, require specific answers to special interrogatories, and when a conflict is found between the two, render such judgment as the answers to the special questions compel.

The doctrine of the civil law and that of the common law touching the respective rights and duties of proprietors of upper and lower land as to the flow of surface water are conflicting, and it is the duty of this Court

Page 165 U. S. 594

in cases involving such rights and duties to follow the decisions of the local state courts, although it may involve apparently contradictory decisions.

A territorial legislature has all the legislative power of a state legislature except as limited by the Constitution, and by act of Congress; and, the Legislature of New Mexico, having adopted the common law as the rule of practice and decision, this Court is bound by it.

On November 3, 1886, A. C. Walker commenced this action in the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the Territory of New Mexico in and for the County of Socorro, against the railroad company defendant, to recover damages resulting from an overflow of his lands caused, as charged, by a wrongful obstruction of a natural watercourse. Subsequently, an amended declaration was filed, and after the death of A. C. Walker, the action was revived in the name of his administratrix, the present plaintiff in error. After some preliminary proceedings, a trial was had in December, 1892, on which trial the jury returned a general verdict, finding the defendant guilty, and assessing the plaintiff's damages at $9212.50. At the same time, the jury returned, in response to certain questions submitted by the court, special findings of fact. The trial court, overruling all other motions, entered a judgment in favor of the defendant on the ground that the special findings of fact were inconsistent with and controlled the general verdict, and that, upon such findings of fact, the defendant was entitled to judgment. The case was thereafter taken to the supreme court of the territory, by which court, on August 26, 1893, the judgment was affirmed, 34 P. 43, and thereupon the plaintiff sued out this writ of error.

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