North Laramie Land Co. v. Hoffman
268 U.S. 276 (1925)

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U.S. Supreme Court

North Laramie Land Co. v. Hoffman, 268 U.S. 276 (1925)

North Laramie Land Company v. Hoffman

No. 323

Argued April 14, 1925

Decided May 11, 1925

268 U.S. 276

Syllabus

1. Upon review of a judgment of a state court involving the constitutionality of a state statute, the interpretation of the statute adopted by the state court is binding on this Court. P. 268 U. S. 282.

2. The Wyoming Road Law (Comp.Stat. 1910, as amended, § 2524) limits the time within which a landowner may file objections

Page 268 U. S. 277

to the establishment of a road and claim for damages to thirty days after the Board of County Commissioners determines to establish it. Held, reasonable and consistent with the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 268 U. S. 282.

3. The necessity and expediency of taking private property for a public road are legislative questions, to a decision of which a hearing of the landowner is not essential under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 268 U. S. 284.

4. The Wyoming Road Law, supra, provides that notice of proposed establishment of a road by the Board of County Commissioners shall be published for three successive weeks in three successive issues of some official paper published in the county, that there shall be an appraisal, when claims for damages are filed, and that any applicant for damages may, within thirty days after the final decision of the board establishing the road and fixing the damages, appeal to the district court of the county, which has jurisdiction to determine the amount of damages in the same manner as in a court action. Under Comp.Stats. Wyo. §§ 1413, 1424, the meetings of the board are public, and all their proceedings must be promptly published in a newspaper of the county. Held that this procedure affords due process to the landowner on the matter of damages, since the hearing in the district court makes unnecessary a hearing before the board or the appraisers, and, through the publication of the board's action, the landowner is duly notified of the date from which his time for appeal begins to run. P. 268 U. S. 285.

30 Wyo. 238 affirmed.

The plaintiff in error, which was plaintiff below, brought action in the District Court of Platt County, Wyoming, against the Board of County Commissioners of that county asserting the illegality of the establishment of a certain road running through and appropriating for that purpose part of plaintiff's land. The petition prayed that the defendants "be perpetually restrained from taking any further proceedings or doing acts with respect to locating said proposed road." The defendants appeared and answered and, after hearing upon the issues of law and fact, judgment of the district court was entered denying relief to the plaintiff. Plaintiff thereupon removed the cause by petition in error to the Supreme

Page 268 U. S. 278

Court of the State of Wyoming, which affirmed the decree of the lower court. 30 Wyoming 238.

The case comes here upon assignments of error calling in question both the constitutionality of the public road law of the State of Wyoming and the proceedings had under it resulting in opening the road across the plaintiff's land, on the ground that such statutes and procedure amounted to a denial of due process of law and a taking of property without due process of law in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The particular grounds of attack are that the notice of the proceedings was not sufficient to meet the requirements of the constitutional provision, that there was, under the provisions of the statute, a denial of an opportunity to Plaintiff in Error to be heard, and that the entire proceedings were void for want of the sufficient statutory petition for initiating them.

The applicable statutory provisions, so far as material to the present inquiry, may be summarily stated as follows:

The Statute of the State of Wyoming known as the "Road Act," Wyoming Compiled Statutes of 1910 as amended by Laws of 1913, Chapter 73, prescribes the following procedure for the location and establishment of public roads: ,

(a) A petition for the establishment of a road signed by ten or more electors of the county residing within fifteen miles of the proposed road may be filed in the office of the County Clerk (Section 2516).

(b) Upon the filing of the petition, the Board of County Commissioners, or its chairman, is required to appoint a disinterested elector, who may be a member of the Board, as a viewer to determine whether the proposed road is required (Section 2518).

(c) The viewer is required to report whether the proposed road is practicable and ought to be established, stating

Page 268 U. S. 279

probable cost and such other matters as shall enable the Board to act understandingly (Section 2518).

(d) If the Board shall determine to establish the road, it is required to appoint a day, not less than thirty days after such determination, on or before which date all objections and claims for damages are required to be filed with the County Clerk (Section 2524).

(e) By Laws of Wyoming 1913, Chapter 73 (Section 2525), it is provided

"that notice of the proposed establishing of the road shall be published for three successive weeks in three successive issues of some official paper published in the county, if any such there be, and if no newspaper be published therein, such notice shall be posted in at least three public places along the line of said proposed or altered road,"

and the Statute provides that

"publication and posting of such notice shall be a legal and sufficient notice to all persons owning lands or claiming any interest in lands over which the proposed road is to be located or altered."

The statute does not require that the notice shall state the time within which objections and claims may be filed, and there is no direct statutory requirement that the Board shall hear objections to the establishment of a road or claims for damages, although it is given power "to continue all such claims for a further hearing" until the matter can be disposed of (Section 2527).

(f) When claims for damages are filed, the Board, "at its next regular or special meeting, or as soon thereafter as may be practicable or convenient," is required to appoint three suitable and disinterested electors of the county as appraisers to view the road, on a day to be fixed by the Board, and to report in writing within thirty days fixing the amount of damage sustained by the claimants (Section 2528).

(g) The appraisers are required to view the ground and fix the amount of damages sustained by each claimant

Page 268 U. S. 280

after allowing for benefits which may accrue by reason of the location of the road. They may notify claimants of the time and place of their meeting, and may hear evidence (Section 2530).

(h) At the next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners after the report of the appraisers has been filed, the Board may hear testimony and consider petitions and may fix damages, increasing or diminishing them, and establish the road (Section 2531).

(i) There are no statutory provisions requiring notice of the meeting of appraisers to be given to claimants or giving to them a right to be heard, either by the Board of Appraisers or the Board of County Commissioners to whom the appraisers are required to report. But from the final decision of the Board establishing the road and fixing the amount of damages, any applicant for damages may appeal to the district court of the county, which has jurisdiction to determine the amount of the damages in the same manner as in a court action. Notice of appeal is required to be filed with the Clerk of the Court within thirty days after the decision of the Board (Section 2336).

A written instrument purporting to be a petition for location of the road in question was filed with the Board of County Commissioners, and the Chairman of the Board thereupon appointed himself a viewer pursuant to Sec. 2524 of the Road Law. Acting in that capacity, he reported to the Board recommending the establishment of the road. Public notice dated May 8, 1917, of the proposed establishing of the road was given by publication, in accordance with the statute, for four successive weeks in a local newspaper, the first publication being dated May 9th and the last being dated May 30th, 1917. In the form provided by the statute and in accordance with a permissive provision of the statute (Sec. 2525 as amended), the notice as published contained the information

Page 268 U. S. 281

that all objections to the proposed road and all claims for damages "must be" filed not later than June 7, 1917. By stipulation entered into by plaintiff with the Board, the time to file claims for damages was extended until July 7, 1917. On June 30, 1917, which was after the date fixed by the published notice for filing objections and claims, and more than thirty days after the decision of the Board to locate the road and more than thirty days after publication of the notice, plaintiffs filed objections to the establishment of the road as unauthorized under the laws and Constitution of the State of Wyoming and of the United States, and made claim of damages, without specifying any amount, for the opening of the road.

In the meantime and on June 8, 1917, the Board appointed appraisers to determine the damages occasioned by the establishment of the proposed road, directing them to view the said proposed road for the purpose of determining damages. On the 16th day of June, 1917, they reported that the benefits to be derived from the road exceeded the damages to landowners. The proceedings had by the appraisers were ex parte, and without notice to the plaintiff. Thereafter, on August 10, 1917, the Board of County Commissioners of Platt County took final action establishing the road in accordance with the petition, and took no action fixing or determining the damages of any claimant. Plaintiff took no appeal from the determination of the County Commissioners authorizing the location of the road as provided by Section 2536, and, on November 30, 1917, brought its action for an injunction.

Page 268 U. S. 282

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