Meyer v. Richmond
172 U.S. 82 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Meyer v. Richmond, 172 U.S. 82 (1898)

Meyer v. Richmond

No. 48

Submitted October 14, 1898

Decided November 28, 1899

172 U.S. 82

Syllabus

The plaintiffs declaration, in a case pending in a nisi prius court in Virginia, set forth that he was the owner in fee of a lot of land fronting on Eighth Street between Cary and Canal Streets in Richmond on which were located two brick buildings, the first floor of which was used for store purposes and the second story as dwellings; that said property, previous to the obstruction of Eighth Street, as hereinafter described, was very profitable as an investment, being continuously rented to good tenants, who promptly paid remunerative rents for the same; that, on the 25th

Page 172 U. S. 83

day of June, 1886, the City Council of Richmond, by ordinance, authorized the Richmond and Alleghany Railway Company to obstruct for the distance of sixty feet (commencing at Canal Street in the direction of Cary Street) Eighth Street, and by virtue of which said railway company wholly obstructed and occupied said street for said distance with its tracks, sheds, fences, etc., except to pedestrians, for whom said company was required to provide by overhead bridge and stairway approaches thereto. It further was averred that, by means of this obstruction, so made by said company by authority of said city, travel along said street was arrested and the property rights of the petitioner, as an abutter upon said street, were not only substantially injured, but practically destroyed; that the city had no right under the Constitution and laws of the land to authorize the said railroad company to close said street or place obstructions therein without proper legal proceedings for that purpose and the making of just compensation to such abutting owners as might be injured by said action; that this unconstitutional and illegal action rendered said defendants liable to the petitioner, as trespassers on his property, for all damages that he had sustained not common to the public; that the obstructions were in themselves nuisances which the city was charged with the duty of abating and moving, and that every day's continuation of the same was a new offence. A general demurrer being entered, judgment was given for defendants. The plaintiff moved to set aside said judgment solely on the ground that the Act of the General Assembly of Virginia approved May 24, 1870, providing a charter for the City of Richmond, so far as it authorized the passage of the ordinance in the declaration mentioned, as well as said ordinance, is unconstitutional and void, because in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits any state from depriving any person of property without due process of law, and therefore there was no warrant of law for the closing of said street; but the court overruled said motion and refused to grant said motion and to set aside said judgment; to which action of the court the plaintiff excepted. The Supreme Court of Appeals of the state sustained that judgment, whereupon a writ of error was sued out to this Court. Held,

(1) That the constitutional question so raised was set up in time, and this Court has jurisdiction.

(2) That the judgment of the state court was right, and should be affirmed.

This is a common law action of trespass on the case, and was brought by plaintiff in error against the defendants in error in one of the nisi prius courts of the State of Virginia. The substance of the plaintiff's declaration is as follows:

That he was the owner in fee of a lot of land fronting on Eighth Street, between Cary and Canal Streets, on which were

Page 172 U. S. 84

located two brick buildings, the first floor of which was used for store purposes and the second story as dwellings; that said property, previous to the obstruction of Eighth Street as hereinafter described, was very profitable as an investment, being continuously rented to good tenants, who promptly paid remunerative rents for the same; that, on the 25th day of June, 1886, the City Council of Richmond, by ordinance, authorized the Richmond & Alleghany Railway Company to obstruct, for the distance of sixty feet (commencing at Canal Street, in the direction of Cary Street), Eighth Street, and by virtue of which said railway company wholly obstructed and occupied said street for said distance with its tracks, sheds, fences, etc., except to pedestrians, for whom said company was required to provide by overhead bridge and stairway approaches thereto. It was averred in said declaration that,

"by means of this obstruction so made by said company by authority of said city, travel along said street was arrested and the property rights of your petitioner as an abutter upon said street were not only substantially injured, but practically destroyed; that the city had no right, under the Constitution and laws of the land, to authorize the said railroad company to close said street or place obstructions therein without proper legal proceedings for that purpose, and the making of just compensation to such abutting owners as might be injured by said action; that this unconstitutional and illegal action rendered said defendants liable to your petitioner, as trespassers on his property, for all damages that he had sustained not common to the public;"

that the obstructions were in themselves nuisances which the city was charged with the duty of abating and moving, and that every day's continuation of the same was a new offense; that the rights, privileges, and obligations of said Richmond & Alleghany Railway Company had been legally transferred to and assumed by said Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company, and that it (the said last-named company) now maintained the said obstructions, and was therefore liable, jointly with said City of Richmond, for the said trespasses. A plat of the locus in quo and a copy of said ordinance were made parts of said declaration.

Page 172 U. S. 85

Damages were claimed in the sum of five thousand dollars.

On the 9th of September, 1895, the defendants entered a general demurrer to the whole declaration and each count thereof, in which the plaintiff joined, and on the 27th of December, 1895, the court sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment for the defendants, dismissing the action.

And thereupon the plaintiff, by counsel, moved the court to set

"aside the said judgment and enter judgment for him on said demurrer, and it being represented to the court that it is the intention of the plaintiff in the case of H. Wythe Davis against the City of Richmond and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company to apply for a writ of error to the judgment of this Court entered this day in that cause, and the questions involved in that case being the same as in this case, the court takes time to consider of said motions, and by consent of parties this case is retained on the docket of this Court, and the determination of said motions to await the result of the application for a writ of error in the case of H. Wythe Davis against the City of Richmond and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company."

On the 31st day of January, 1896, the following proceedings were had:

"This day came the parties again, by their attorneys, and the court, being now advised of its judgment to be rendered herein, on the motion of the plaintiff to set aside the judgment rendered on the demurrer to the plaintiff's declaration and to each count thereof, doth refuse to set aside said judgment."

"And thereupon the plaintiff again moved the court to set aside said judgment entered on the 27th day of December, 1895, sustaining defendants' demurrer to the declaration and to each count thereof, solely on the ground that the Act of the General Assembly of Virginia approved May 24, 1870, providing a charter for the City of Richmond (Acts 1869-70, p. 120), so far as it authorized the passage of the ordinance in the declaration mentioned, as well as said ordinance, is unconstitutional and void because in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which prohibits any

Page 172 U. S. 86

state from depriving any person of property without due process of law, and therefore there was no warrant of law for the closing of said street as claimed by said defendants, but the court overruled said motion, and refused to grant said motion and to set aside said judgment, to which action of the court the plaintiff excepted, and filed his bill of exception, which was signed, sealed, and enrolled, and made a part of the record."

The plaintiff then presented a petition to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, the court of last resort of that state, asking for a writ of error to said judgment, but said court rejected the petition by the following order:

"Virginia:"

"In the Supreme Court of Appeals, held in the State Library Building, in the City of Richmond, on Thursday, February 20, 1896."

"The petition of Engelbert Meyer for a writ of error from a judgment rendered by the Law and Equity Court of the City of Richmond on the 31st day of January, 1896, in a suit in which the petitioner was plaintiff and the City of Richmond and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company were defendants, having been maturely considered and the transcript of the record of the judgment aforesaid seen and inspected, the court, being of opinion that said judgment is plainly right, doth reject said petition."

The case is here on error to this order.

In his petition to the Court of Appeals, the plaintiff set up and urged a right under the Constitution of the United States, as follows:

"Your petitioner now insists that the said law and equity court erred in sustaining said demurrer to his declaration, and also in refusing to set aside its judgment so holding, as set forth in his bill of exception."

"Your petitioner therefore humbly submits:"

"That under the constitution and laws of this state, the free and uninterrupted use of public highways once dedicated to and accepted by the public, or acquired by right of eminent domain, are for continuous public use, and that the right of

Page 172 U. S. 87

access to and use of such streets by an abutting property holder is property, of which the owner cannot, under the federal Constitution, be deprived without due process of law."

"The said law and equity court, in sustaining the said demurrer, denied to your petitioner his constitutional rights, and specially so did it in refusing to set aside its judgment when its attention was called to the unconstitutionality of the Act of the General Assembly of Virginia approved May 24, 1870 (Acts 1869-70, p. 120), so far as it authorized the passage of the ordinance in the declaration mentioned, because in conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits any state from depriving any person of property without due process of law, there being no mode prescribed in said act of the General Assembly or in said ordinance for the divesting him of his said property rights by any judicial proceedings whatsoever."

On page 88 is a copy of the diagram showing plaintiff's property and obstructions complained of.

The ordinance under which the defendants justified is inserted in the margin; also, the sections of the Virginia Acts of Assembly of 1869-70 under which the ordinance was passed are inserted in the margin. *

Page 172 U. S. 88

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Page 172 U. S. 89

The Constitution of Virginia, so far as involved in this controversy, provides, in article 5, section 14, that the General Assembly shall not pass "any laws whereby private property shall be taken for public use without just compensation."

Page 172 U. S. 91

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