Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City R. Co. v. Mississippi
210 U.S. 187 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City R. Co. v. Mississippi, 210 U.S. 187 (1908)

Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City Railroad Company v. Mississippi

No. 218

Argued April 29, 1908

Decided May 18, 1908

210 U.S. 187

Syllabus

The creation of a board of Railroad Commissioners and the extent of its powers, what the route of railroad companies created by the state may be, and whether parallel and competing lines may consolidate, are all matters which a state may regulate by its statutes, and the state courts are the absolute interpreters of such statutes.

Where the contention of plaintiff in error that a charter right has been impaired by subsequent state action was disposed of by the state court on the nonfederal ground that, if any such right ever existed, plaintiff in error was estopped by its own conduct from asserting it, this Court cannot review the judgment on the alleged federal ground of impairment of the contract.

A decree of a state court requiring a railroad company which does an interstate business to construct its lines within the state in accordance with the provisions of its charter and the directions of the state Railroad Commission is not an interference with interstate commerce because compliance therewith entails expense or requires the exercise of eminent domain.

How a state statute should be construed, whether a contract is created thereby, and whether the statute is constitutional under the state constitution are not, in the absence of any claim that the contract, if any, has been impaired by subsequent state action, federal questions

89 Miss. 724 affirmed.

This is a bill in equity, brought by the State of Mississippi and the Railroad Commission of that state to require the railroad companies to construct their railroad through the county seat of Pontotoc County, State of Mississippi, and to restrain them from abandoning a portion of the narrow gauge railroad formerly operated by the Gulf & Chicago Railroad Company, which ran to the town of Pontotoc.

The following is a summary of the bill: the Railroad Commission exists under the laws of the State of Mississippi, and is, under the laws, charged with the duty of supervising railroads and other common carriers, and also with the duty of

Page 210 U. S. 188

enforcing the observance of the laws by such companies and other carriers. The Gulf & Chicago Railway Company was organized in 1903, under the laws of Mississippi, with authority to construct a railroad from the Town of Decatur, Mississippi, in a general northerly direction, through the County of Pontotoc, and through the State of Mississippi to the Tennessee line. At the time of the organization of such railway company, there was in existence from the Town of Pontotoc, Mississippi, to the Town of Middleton, Tennessee, a narrow gauge road, which was operated by the Gulf & Chicago Railroad Company, a corporation under the laws of Mississippi. The railroad company was bound to continue and preserve intact throughout its entire length the narrow gauge road, and the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company and its lessee, the Mobile, Jackson & Kansas City Railroad Company, hereafter called the Mobile Company, were in turn bound to so continue and preserve intact the said line, "broadened and standardized as was stipulated in the articles of consolidation hereinafter set forth." Prior to the sixth of July, 1903, the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company and the Gulf & Chicago Railroad Company, with other railroad companies, were consolidated under the name of the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company, and on that day a petition was presented to the Railroad Commission, praying the approval of the consolidation. It was stipulated in the petition, and by the granting of it by the Commission, it was agreed that the consolidated corporation should broaden and standardize the narrow gauge road running from the Town of Pontotoc, "as it then existed and was being operated," and that, when broadened and standardized, it should be a part of the main line of the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company, extending from Decatur, Mississippi, to Jackson, Tennessee. The petition and order were made part of the bill. On or about the time of the consolidation, approved as aforesaid, the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company leased to the Mobile Company all of its railroad property then constructed and operated, and that thereafter to be constructed, including the narrow gauge road from Pontotoc

Page 210 U. S. 189

to Middleton, and including its entire proposed line from Decatur to Jackson, and since the execution of the lease, the Mobile Company has been in control and operation of the narrow gauge road. The Gulf & Chicago Railway Company, in violation of the terms and in disregard of the representations contained in its petition to the Commission, has broadened and standardized the narrow gauge road to a point one mile and a half from the end of the line in Pontotoc County, and is operating the same. The remaining part, which is the most important part of the road, extending through a thickly populated district in the principal portion of Pontotoc, has been abandoned. It was a material consideration, in passing on the petition for consolidation, and the consolidation would not have been approved but for the representation that the company would standardize and broaden the line extending into the town.

The narrow gauge road was constructed in 1887 by the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad Company. When it was extended into Pontotoc, a right of way was obtained by purchase, by the exercise of the right of eminent domain, and by donations by the community, and when the right of way was selected, it was with the view of extending the road south through the town. The town was built and established, and the town has been building for the last twenty years, with reference to the line of railroad then so located. The interests of the public are involved in the change of road; the convenience and comfort of more than 1,000 people are involved; the change of road would disturb established conditions, and practically break up a prosperous community for the benefit of the defendants and a few property owners in another part of the town, recently added thereto, and through which it is proposed to run the new line of railroad. The original Town of Pontotoc is the county seat of Pontotoc County, as fixed by the legislature of the state, and § 187 of the Constitution of the state provides that no railroad thereafter constructed in the state

"shall pass within three miles of any county seat without passing through the same and establishing

Page 210 U. S. 190

and maintaining a depot therein unless prevented by natural obstacles, provided such town or city shall grant the right of way through its limits and sufficient ground for ordinary depot purposes."

The Gulf & Chicago Railway Company is constructing its new line within three miles of Pontotoc without passing through the same. There are no natural obstacles in the way. The citizens stand ready to grant the right of way through the limits of the town and sufficient grounds for depot purposes. In fact, the company owns a right of way through a large part of the town and sufficient grounds for depot purposes. The conduct of the company is in violation of the constitution and in willful disregard of the law and of the order of the Commission and the rights of the public.

The inadequacy of the remedy at law is alleged.

The injunction prayed was against the construction of the line of road proposed, and to command the defendant to broaden and standardize the line of road extending through the Town of Pontotoc, and to compel its operation into the said county seat as a part of the line built and to be built from Decatur, Mississippi, to Jackson, Tennessee, and to extend the said line on through to the said county seat, as required by said § 187 of the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, and as required by law and by the order of the complainant, the Mississippi Railroad Commission. General relief was also prayed.

The answer of the defendant companies, in addition to traversing the allegations of fact of the bill, alleges the following: prior to the filing of the petition seeking the approval of the Railroad Commission of the state to the consolidation of the railroads, the officers of the companies had caused surveys to be made through the Town of Pontotoc with the view to best serve the interest of the people of that community in the location of the line of railroad and the establishing of its depot in the town, and it became apparent that it would be impossible to utilize that portion of the narrow gauge line extending north about one mile from the depot. This was submitted to the

Page 210 U. S. 191

people of the town, prior to the application for consolidation, in a meeting called for that purpose, and, by an overwhelming majority, the position taken by the officers of the companies was acquiesced in and approved. Before the filing of the bill, the companies had located and constructed their line as proposed at such public meeting, had purchased a depot site and erected a handsome and commodious depot on the site, into which it is now operating a standard gauge road. And all of this done before the filing of the bill.

The Railroad Commission made an order in the month of June, 1904, requiring the companies to build a depot on that part of the line of the narrow gauge road since abandoned, and upon the old site of the depot used by that road, and outside of the original Town of Pontotoc, the enforcement of which was enjoined by the United States Circuit Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, which suit is now pending. The Commission is still insisting upon the order and resisting the efforts of the companies to enjoin its enforcement. Such order, it is alleged, is inconsistent with the bill in this case.

The line of road now being constructed by the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company from Decatur to Jackson is being constructed upon a different scheme of grades from that upon which the narrow gauge line was constructed, and necessarily adopted to enable the company to transact its business with the least expense, and with the view of enabling it to successfully meet the competition of other lines. If the grades of the narrow gauge road had been adopted, it would have been practically impossible for the railway company to operate successfully, because of the heavy grades, and would have caused an additional cost of construction of $90,000; would have lengthened the road, increased the fixed charges of maintaining the property, increased the cost of operation, and the cost to the company of transacting all interstate commerce business from Mobile, Alabama, to Tennessee.

By amendments subsequently made to the answer, it was alleged that, when the consolidation of the companies was had,

Page 210 U. S. 192

it was the purpose (which was well known to the Railroad Commission) of making the consolidated company a through trunk line of railroad for interstate commerce and the transmission of the mails, and that one of the vital objects to be attained was to shorten the line in every way possible. It is further alleged that a refusal to permit the execution of such purpose

"will impose unnecessary and unreasonable burdens upon the interstate commerce, and will violate in letter and spirit § 8, Article I, of the Constitution of the United States. And it is alleged that the southern end of the old narrow gauge road line runs into deep hollows and ends in a cluster of big hills which to cut through would cause great expense and entail long delay; that the line would thereby be lengthened, and it would he hampered and prevented from doing an interstate business in successful competition with other lines."

The case, on the petition of the railroads, was removed to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Mississippi, and was subsequently remanded to the state court on motion of the defendants in error.

A temporary injunction was granted enjoining and commanding the Mobile Company and the Gulf & Chicago Railway Company to

"absolutely refrain from constructing and operating a certain line of railroad from Decatur, Mississippi, to Middleton, Tennessee, or any other line of railroad from any point whatsoever to any other point passing within three miles of the county seat of Pontotoc County, Mississippi, as the said county seat was originally laid out, marked, and established, without passing through the said county seat."

Upon motion of the companies, and after proofs submitted, a decree was entered dissolving the injunction, the decree reciting that all of the relief prayed for by the bill could be obtained by a mandatory injunction if the allegations of the bill should be sustained upon the final hearing, and further reciting that

"the public interests of the county north and south of the Town of Pontotoc, along the line of said railroad, as well as the

Page 210 U. S. 193

interests of the railroad, will suffer by reason of the continuance of the temporary injunction."

All other questions were reserved until the final hearing.

The supreme court of the state reversed the decree, reinstated the injunction, and remanded the case to the chancery court. 86 Miss. 172.

After a trial upon the merits, the chancery court entered a decree making the injunction perpetual. The decree was affirmed by the supreme court. 89 Miss. 724. Other facts will appear in the opinion.

Page 210 U. S. 197

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