Philadelphia Co. v. Stimson
223 U.S. 605 (1912)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Philadelphia Co. v. Stimson, 223 U.S. 605 (1912)

Philadelphia Company v. Stimson*

No. 70

Argued November 16, 1911

Decided March 4, 1912

223 U.S. 605

Syllabus

Exemption of the United States from suit does not protect its officers from personal liability to persons whose rights of property they have wrongfully invaded.

In case of injury threatened by illegal action, an officer of the United states cannot claim immunity from injunctive process.

Where complainant does not ask the court to interfere with an officer

Page 223 U. S. 606

of the United states acting within his official discretion, but challenges his authority to do the act complained of, the suit is not against the United States.

While the general rule is that equity has no jurisdiction over the prosecution of crimes, it may, when it is essential to the protection of property rights, as to which the protection of a court of equity has already been invoked, enjoin the institution of criminal actions involving the same legal questions.

An officer transcending the limits of his authority under a constitutional statute may inflict similar injuries on property or individuals as though he were proceeding under an unconstitutional statute, and, in either event, equity may intervene to restrain unfounded prosecutions.

A court of equity having control of the person of defendant has jurisdiction of an action to restrain him from violating the rights of the complainant in regard to property not within its jurisdiction, and may compel obedience to its decree. Phelps v. McDonald,99 U. S. 298.

While the establishment of a general system of harbor lines for the protection of navigation is not of itself an injury to property and cannot be restrained, equity may enjoin an officer from taking measures to maintain the limits against an individual proprietor and so prevent him from enjoying what he asserts to be a lawful use of his own property.

A riparian proprietor of land bounded by a stream continues to hold to the stream as a boundary where the banks are changed by accretion or erosion, but if the banks are changed by avulsion, the title is not changed, but remains at the former line. This rule applies alike to all streams and rivers, no matter how strong and swift they may be.

To bring a sudden change of channel within the rule that it will not affect the boundary line, it must be perceptible when it takes place. Nebraska v. Iowa,143 U. S. 359.

In this case, held that the changes in the line of complainant's property were due to gradual erosion, and not to sudden change of channel, and that the stream remained the boundary line.

The title to the soil under navigable waters within their territorial limits, and the extent of riparian rights, are governed by the law of the several states subject to the paramount authority of Congress, and under the authority of Congress, the Secretary of War may fix harbor lines superseding those fixed by the state.

Commerce include navigation; Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713,

Page 223 U. S. 607

and the power of Congress over navigation has no limit except those prescribed in the Constitution. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 22 U. S. 196.

The authority of Congress is not limited to water as it flowed at any preceding time. Alteration in the course of a stream does not affect the power of Congress.

The public rights of navigation follow the course of the stream.

It is for Congress to decide what shall or shall not be deemed in judgment of law an obstruction to navigation. Pennsylvania v. Wheeling Bridge Co., 18 How. 421.

Authority given by Congress to the Secretary of War to establish harbor lines is not exhausted in laying the lines once; the Secretary may change them at subsequent times in order to protect navigation from obstruction.

33 App.D.C. 338 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction and constitutionality of acts of Congress giving the Secretary of War power to establish harbor lines in navigable waters of the United States, and the validity and effect of the action of the Secretary of War thereunder in regard to harbor lines established by him in the harbor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are stated in the opinion.

Page 223 U. S. 613

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