Skaneateles Waterworks Co. v. Skaneateles
184 U.S. 354 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Skaneateles Waterworks Co. v. Skaneateles, 184 U.S. 354 (1902)

Skaneateles Waterworks Company v. Skaneateles

No 134

Argued January 24, 27, 1902

Decided March 3, 1902

184 U.S. 354

Syllabus

On April 5, 1887, the Village of Skaneateles granted a franchise to the waterworks company to maintain and operate within the village a system of waterworks for furnishing pure and wholesome water to the village and its inhabitants, under which the company constructed its works, and on February 1, 1891, contracted to supply water to the village and its inhabitants for the period of five years. At the expiration of the term of this contract, some differences arose about the terms of its continuation, which resulted in the construction of an independent system of waterworks by the village authorities. In an action brought by the water company to restrain the village authorities from proceeding with the construction of that system or any other system for the village, it is held by the New York court (1) that the village was not required to institute proceedings to condemn the property of the plaintiff before commencing the construction of a waterworks system for the use of the village; (2) that the waterworks company under the contract did not acquire the exclusive right to furnish the village with water; (3) that, subsequently to the termination of the contract, no contractual relations existed between the water company and the village: Held:

(1) That the power of this Court to review the judgment of the New York Court of Appeals is limited to a consideration of whether any right of the plaintiff's protected by the federal Constitution has been denied.

Page 184 U. S. 355

(2) That the water company, in applying to the village and filing its certificate with the Secretary of State under the act of 1873, acquired no contract right, express or implied, to any exclusive privilege of using the streets of the village for supplying it with water.

(3) That, by virtue of its incorporation, it secured simply the right to be a corporation and the authority to lay its water pipes in any of the streets and avenues or public streets of the village of Skaneateles.

(4) That when the contract for five years had expired, there was nothing in the state legislation upon which to base an implied contract.

(6) That the decrease in the value of the property of the waterworks company caused by the exercise by the village of its right to build and operate its own plant furnishes no foundation for the plaintiff's claim.

This is a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the record having been remitted to that court from the Court of Appeals after the hearing of an appeal to the latter court and an affirmance by it of the judgment appealed from. 161 N.Y. 154.

The action was brought by the water company to restrain the Village of Skaneateles and the individual defendants, its officers, from proceeding further with the construction of a waterworks system, or from doing anything in furtherance of the construction or operation of any system of waterworks for that village. The plaintiff claimed that the village ordinance under which the proposed action on the part of the village was taken was void as impairing the obligation of a contract between plaintiff and the village; also, that its action, if continued, would result in the taking of plaintiff's property without due process of law, that the action of the defendant, if permitted, would result in the taking of private property for public use without compensation, and that such legislation denied to plaintiff the equal protection of the laws.

The defendants answered denying the contentions of plaintiff, and the case was referred to a referee for trial, who, after hearing the parties, reported that the defendants were entitled to judgment dismissing the complaint upon the merits, with costs, and judgment was thereupon entered which was affirmed by the appellate division of the supreme court of the state and upon appeal by the Court of Appeals.

Page 184 U. S. 356

As matters of fact, the referee in his report found that the plaintiff was a domestic corporation organized under the act of 1873, c. 737, and the several acts amendatory thereof; that the Village of Skaneateles was a municipal corporation and the individual defendants were respectively the president, water commissioners, and trustees of the village. On April 5, 1887, the village granted a franchise to the plaintiff to maintain and operate within the Village of Skaneateles a system of waterworks for furnishing the village and its inhabitants pure and wholesome water upon the terms and conditions stated in the franchise. The plaintiff constructed the waterworks under this franchise and completed it about the year 1889 and put the same in operation; that the system was a complete and adequate one, no complaint having been made that the water furnished by the plaintiff was not pure and wholesome or that it had been inadequate for the purposes for which the system was erected. Prior to this time, the Village of Skaneateles was not supplied with water by any company or corporation, nor did it possess any system of its own; that, since its incorporation, and for the purpose of carrying on its works, the plaintiff had encumbered its property by mortgages to secure the payment of bonds issued by it, which bonds were outstanding at the time of the trial. After the erection and completion of the waterworks and on February 1, 1891, the plaintiff and defendants entered into a contract for the supply of water and the erection of hydrants and for the payment of certain compensation therefor by the defendants; that such contract was limited by its terms to the period of five years from February 1, 1891, and that it has not been renewed since the time of its expiration on February 1, 1896; that after such time, without any proceeding to vacate or annul the franchise of the plaintiff or to dissolve the corporation, the defendant Leslie, as president of the village, appointed some of the other defendants to be water commissioners of the village, having in contemplation the purpose of constructing for said village a waterworks system of its own; that the persons so appointed commissioners entered upon the performance of their duties, called a meeting of the electors of the village, who voted in favor of municipal

Page 184 U. S. 357

ownership of the waterworks, and after such election, the water commissioners issued or caused to be issued bonds of the village to the amount of $30,000, which they sold for the purpose of obtaining money to construct a waterworks system of its own; that the board of water commissioners of the village have entered into a contract for the construction of waterworks for said village, and have expended thereon about the sum of $24,000, and the works are substantially completed; that all of the proceedings were taken without instituting any proceeding to condemn the property of the plaintiff herein, although the plaintiff offered to participate in a proceeding looking towards the condemnation of its property; that the works of the plaintiff were constructed at large expense and its property rights and franchise mortgaged to secure its bonds which had been issued, and the income of the plaintiff from the operation of its plant had been insufficient to meet its outgoing expenses, and will be insufficient to meet its outgoing expenses when it shall cease be furnish water to the Village of Skaneateles.

As conclusions of law, the referee held:

(1) That the Village of Skaneateles was not required to institute proceedings to condemn the property of the plaintiff before commencing the construction of a waterworks system for the use of the village.

(2) That the consent of the Village of Skaneateles to the organization of the plaintiff as a waterworks company, and the making of a contract by the Village of Skaneateles with the plaintiff for the supply of pure and wholesome water did not vest in plaintiff the exclusive right to furnish said village with water or prevent the village from granting to another corporation the right to supply water within the said village or the village from constructing and maintaining a waterworks system to supply itself with water.

(3) That, subsequently to February 1, 1896, no contractual relations existed between the plaintiff and the Village of Skaneateles, and the village was not under legal obligation to enter into any contract with the plaintiff after that date or to continue to take water from the plaintiff, but was entitled to construct and maintain a waterworks system of its own.

Page 184 U. S. 358

(4) That the defendants were entitled to judgment dismissing the complaint upon the merits with costs, and judgment was ordered accordingly.

Though not perhaps material upon the legal rights of the parties, yet it is seen from correspondence found in the record that, prior to the expiration of the contract in February, 1896, the company gave notice to the village that it intended to increase its rents for hydrants, etc., to fifty dollars, which sum was ten dollars per hydrant more than it was entitled to under the franchise granted it and twenty dollars more than the sum named in the expiring contract. The village authorities refused to pay the increase, and the water company, on learning it had under its franchise the right to charge but forty dollars per hydrant, reduced its demand, but the parties failed to agree, and the contract expired. After its expiration, the company notified the village that the hydrants had been closed and that there must be no interference with them, even in case of fire. Both parties became somewhat excited, it would seem, and it resulted in the village's taking proceedings under chapter 181 of the Laws of 1875 and its amendments for erecting and operating waterworks of its own.

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