Chicago & Alton R. Co. v. Tranbarger
238 U.S. 67 (1915)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chicago & Alton R. Co. v. Tranbarger, 238 U.S. 67 (1915)

Chicago & Alton Railroad Company v. Tranbarger

No. 214

Argued March 19, 1915

Decided June 1, 1915

238 U.S. 67

Syllabus

In an action for damages under the statute of Missouri requiring owners of railroads to maintain ditches along the right-of-way as amended in 1907 so as to require outlets for water across the rights-of-way and imposing liability and penalties for noncompliance within three months after completion and where the embankment causing damage had been erected more than three months prior to the amendment of 1907, held that:

The amendment to the statute was not an ex post facto law; it did not penalize the railroad company for the manner in which it originally built the embankment prior to the amendment, but for the manner in which it maintained it subsequently thereto.

The time limit should properly be construed as relating to railroads

Page 238 U. S. 68

erected after the passage of the act, and that, as to those already constructed, reasonable time should be allowed.

It is not necessary for this Court to determine what is a reasonable time for compliance with a police regulation when that question is raised by one refusing compliance not on that ground, but on the ground that the legislature had no power to enact the statute.

Even though the charter be irrepealable, common law rules existing at the time the charter was granted are not so imported into the contract of the charter as to cause such contract to be impaired by subsequent enactment of proper police regulations.

No person has a vested right in any general rule of law or policy of legislation entitling him to insist upon its remaining unchanged for his benefit, nor is immunity from change of general rules of law to be implied as an unexpressed term of an express contract.

The police power of the state cannot be abdicated nor bargained away, is inalienable even by express grant, and all contract and property rights are held subject to its fair exercise; it embraces regulations designed to promote public convenience or general welfare as well as those in the interest of the public health, morals or safety.

A statute requiring owners of a railroad to provide means for passing water under embankments is a legitimate exercise of the police power, and not a taking of their property without compensation. It amounts merely to an application of the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas.

The enforcement of uncompensated obedience to legitimate police regulation is not a taking of property without compensation or without due process of law in the sense of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although water may, under common law rules, be a common enemy to all property, embankments of railroads, stretching across tracts of land that are liable to injury from surface water, differ from other constructions sufficiently to afford a substantial ground for classification, and a statute otherwise legal is not unconstitutional under the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment because it applies exclusively to railroad embankments, whether the road be owned by individuals or corporations.

250 Mo. 46 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the due process and impairment of contract provisions of the federal Constitution of a statute of Missouri requiring owners of railroads to afford outlets for water across their rights of way, are stated in the opinion.

Page 238 U. S. 70

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