Binney v. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company
33 U.S. 201 (1834)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Binney v. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company, 33 U.S. 8 Pet. 201 201 (1834)

Binney v. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company

33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 201

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FROM

THE COUNTY OF WASHINGTON IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Syllabus

A bill was filed in the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia against the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company, claiming as riparian proprietor from the company a right to use, for manufacturing purposes, the water of the Potomac, introduced through the land of the appellant when the quantity of water so introduced should exceed that required for navigation. The bill charged that the land of the appellant was susceptible of being improved, and was intended so to be, for the purposes of manufacturing by employing the water of the Potomac, prior to 1784, in which year the Potomac Company was chartered. All the chartered rights of that company and all their obligations were, in 1825,

transferred to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company. By the improvements made by the Potomac Company, much surplus water was introduced and wasted

on the land of the appellant. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company had deepened the canal; had made other improvements on the land of the appellant, thus introducing a large quantity of water for navigation and manufacturing. The appellant claims that under the charter of the Potomac Company, held by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company, he is entitled to use this surplus water for manufacturing purposes. If the water is insufficient for this purpose, he claims to be allowed to have the works enlarged to obtain a sufficient

supply. The court held that under the provisions of the charter, the purposes for which lands were to be condemned and taken were for navigation only,

limiting the quantity taken to such as was necessary for public purposes. By the thirteenth section of the charter of the Potomac Canal Company of 1784, the company were authorized, but not compelled, to enter into agreements for

the use of the surplus water. The owner of the adjacent lands required no such special permission by law; this is a right incident to the ownership of

land. The authority on both sides was left open to the mutual agreements of the parties, but neither could be compelled to enter into an agreement relative to the surplus water.

The appellant, on 5 December, 1831, filed a bill in the Circuit Court of the County of Washington against the appellees by which he charged that he and those under whom he claims held title to and were in possession of three adjacent tracts of land on the shore of the River Potomac, and where the said river is innavigable, prior to the year 1784.

That these lands, being situated on that part of the river called the Little Falls, were susceptible of being improved by

Page 33 U. S. 202

applying the water of the river for manufacturing purposes, and were, prior to the year 1784, intended by the proprietors to be so improved.

That when the charter of the Potomac Company was granted in 1784 by Maryland and Virginia, it was known that such improvement was intended, and the charter expressly secured the rights of such proprietors by the thirteenth section of the act of incorporation, which is in these words:

"Sec. XIII. And whereas some of the places through which it may be necessary to conduct the said canals may be convenient for erecting mills, forges, or other waterworks, and the persons possessors of such situation may design to improve the same, and it is the intention of this act not to interfere with private property, but for the purpose of improving and perfecting the said navigation, be it enacted that the water, or any part thereof, conveyed through any canal or cut, made by the said company shall not be used for any purpose but navigation unless the consent of the proprietors of the land through which the same shall be led be first had, and the said president and directors, or a majority of them, are hereby empowered and directed, if it can be conveniently done to answer both the purposes of navigation and waterworks aforesaid, to enter into reasonable agreements with the proprietors of such situation concerning the just proportion of the expenses of making large canals or cuts, capable of carrying such quantities of water as may be sufficient for the purposes of navigation, and also for any such waterworks as aforesaid."

In the year 1825, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company obtained a charter, and by this charter and the proceedings under it this company has obtained a surrender from the Potomac Company of all its chartered rights and privileges and property, and now holds the same "in the same manner and to the same effect" as they were before held by the Potomac Company.

The bill charges that in the year 1793, the Potomac Company made a condemnation under its charter of a portion of these lands for a canal, which is exhibited, and made a canal through the same which was so constructed as to admit more water than was necessary for navigation, which surplus water was wasted on the lands of complainant at four sluice gates

Page 33 U. S. 203

and three waste dams, and continued to be so wasted at such places during the continuance of the words of said company.

The complainant further charges that since their incorporation and the surrender of the charter of the Potomac Company, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company have taken possession of the canal of the former company, and of the land so condemned, and have also entered upon other parts of his said land not condemned, and have greatly enlarged and deepened the said canal, and constructed a part of it as a feeder for their main canal, and erected a permanent stone dam across the river, and introduced therein a large quantity of water for the purpose, as appears, in their own reports, memorials and proceedings, of obtaining "a large volume of surplus water to sell for manufacturing purposes, and to be applied to other canals to be hereafter authorized."

The bill further charges that these works may, if necessary in order to introduce more water into the canal, be enlarged, and though the complainant avers that the quantity of water now admitted is abundant both for navigation and for manufacturing purposes, yet he declares that he has always been, and yet is willing to make an equitable arrangement to pay a fair proportion of the expense of such enlargement if the same should be adjudged necessary.

The complainant further charges that by these works of the said two companies it has been made if not impracticable, yet very expensive and difficult for him to apply the water of the river to works upon his lands without taking the same out of the said canal and feeder. He contends that under these charters he is entitled to be allowed the use of the surplus water out of the canal and feeder, and complains that the defendant has wholly refused to admit him on any terms to use the said surplus water, or to make any equitable agreement for the enlargement of the works, if they shall contend that such enlargement is necessary, and that they avow their determination to take the water through his said lands without his being allowed in any manner or upon any terms the use of said water, and to dispose of the same, after passing through his lands, at such places as they are allowed by the present charter to waste the same, for their own benefit and profit, and also to sell the same wherever they may find it advantageous to do so,

Page 33 U. S. 204

if they can obtain an amendment of their charter to authorize them so to do, for which amendment they are now making application.

The complainant prays to be relieved against these wrongs, to be allowed to use the surplus water now admitted into the canal and feeder, which he avers is abundant both for navigation and manufacturing purposes, and if found insufficient, then to be allowed to have the works enlarged upon equitable terms to admit a sufficient supply of water for both purposes, and also prays for general relief.

The answer denies the right of complainant to the relief sought or to any relief; denies that he or those under whom he claims had any right to use the water of the river on their lands for manufacturing purposes prior to the charter to the Potomac Company in 1784; denies that such right, if he has it, has been affected by the works of either company; denies his right to any use of the water under the charter of that company and under the charter of the present company; admits that they have enlarged the canal and feeder so as to receive more water than is necessary for navigation, and

"that a considerable quantity of surplus water might be used and expended on that part of the canal adjacent to the lands claimed by complainant and through said lands without injury to the navigation of said canal,"

and "claims the said water as their sole and exclusive property," and insists that

"they possess the same right in disposing of the same to determine where it shall be vented from the canal, and in what quantities, and upon what terms it shall be enjoyed by others, as they have in exercising similar acts of ownership over any other description of property to which their title is absolute and unconditional."

It was agreed that the complainant has title to the lands set forth in the bill, and the location of the said lands and their susceptibility of improvement for manufacturing purposes were admitted to be as set forth in the bill.

The appellant made the following points.

1. That the complainant, and those under whom he claims, had the right to apply the water of the river to manufacturing purposes on the said lands, prior to the act of 1784, incorporating the Potomac Company.

Page 33 U. S. 205

2. That this right was affirmed and secured by that act and the terms and manner of exercising it provided for.

3. That the charter of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company does not impair this right.

4. The lands owned by the complainant having the entire and sole command of the falls, and no proprietor of lands below him being able to get the water without taking it through his land, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company cannot condemn his land and construct their works so as to take the water through his land and dispose of it on lands below him without his consent.

5. The company has no right to take his land or construct their works so as to admit more water into their canal than was necessary for the purposes of navigation, and this the evidence and their own reports and proceedings show they have done.

6. The Potomac Company, having constructed their canal and established sluices and waste dams for the discharge of surplus water on the complainant's lands for more than twenty-five years, which surplus water could have been applied to manufacturing purposes (as proved by the evidence of Payne Pierce and Thompson), the present company is bound to allow the complainant the use of an equal quantity of the surplus water on his said land.

7. The company, having purposely introduced more water than was necessary for navigation with a view to dispose of it for its own benefit, cannot take it through the complainant's land and dispose of it under their charter even at places where it may be necessary to waste what was thus introduced.

8. That the said company has no right to enter upon or condemn any lands of the complainant not included in the condemnation of the Potomac Company, Congress not having given any such power of entry or condemnation and Congress having no right under the Constitution and acts of cession of Maryland and Virginia to give such power.

Page 33 U. S. 206

MR. JUSTICE THOMPSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes before the Court from the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia for the County of Washington on appeal from a decree dismissing the bill of the complainant in that court, who is the appellant here.

The questions involved in this controversy are highly important to the parties in a pecuniary point of view, and embrace in some measure public considerations connected with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company. These considerations have led to a range of argument at the bar and the discussion of many questions important and interesting in themselves, but which are not raised by the case now presented to the judgment of this Court, and we shall confine ourselves to the questions properly arising out of the pleadings in the cause.

The bill filed in the court below charges that, prior to the year 1784, the appellant and those under whom he claims held title to and were in possession of certain tracts of land on the shore of the River Potomac, where the said river was innavigable. That these lands, being situated on that part of the river called the Little Falls, were susceptible of being improved by applying the water of the said river to manufacturing purposes, and were, prior to the year 1784, intended by the proprietors to be so improved.

Page 33 U. S. 207

That when the charter of the Potomac Company was granted, it was known that such improvement was intended. And that the charter expressly secured the rights of such proprietors by the thirteenth section of the act incorporating that company in the year 1784.

The bill then charges that in the year 1825, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company obtained a charter by which and the proceedings under it, this company obtained a surrender from the Potomac Company of all its chartered rights, privileges, and property, and now holds the same in the same manner and to the same effect as they were before held by the Potomac Company.

The bill further charges that in the year 1793, the Potomac Company made a condemnation under its charter of a portion of these lands for a canal, and made a canal through the same which was so constructed as to admit more water than was necessary for navigation. Which surplus water was wasted on the lands of the complainant at four sluice gates and three waste dams, and continued to be so wasted at such places during the continuance of the works of the said company.

That the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Company, since its incorporation and the surrender of the charter of the Potomac Company to it, has taken the possession of the canal of that company and of the land so condemned. And has also entered upon other portions of said land adjacent thereto and has greatly enlarged and deepened the said canal and constructed a part of it as a feeder for the main canal and erected a permanent stone dam across the river and introduced into the land a large quantity of water for the purpose, as is alleged, of obtaining a large volume of surplus water to sell for manufacturing purposes and to be applied to other canals to be hereafter authorized.

The bill further alleges that these works may, if necessary, be still further enlarged so as to admit a still further supply of water, which might be conveniently applied to the purposes both of navigation and manufactories. And that although all the water now admitted is abundantly sufficient both for navigation and for manufacturing purposes without enlargement, yet that the complainant has always been and yet is willing to make an equitable arrangement to pay a fair

Page 33 U. S. 208

proportion of the expense of such enlargement if the same shall be adjudged necessary.

The bill further charges that by these works of the two companies it has been made if not impracticable yet very expensive and difficult for him to apply the water of the river to works upon his lands without taking the same out of the said canal and feeder, and he claims that under these charters he is entitled to be allowed the use of the surplus water out of the canal and feeder. But that the defendant has wholly refused to admit him on any terms to use the said surplus water or to make any equitable agreement for the enlargement of the said works if they shall contend that such enlargement is necessary.

And the specific relief prayed is that the complainant be allowed to use the surplus water now admitted into the canal and feeder, which, he avers, is abundantly sufficient both for navigation and manufacturing purposes. And if found insufficient, then to be allowed to have the works enlarged upon equitable terms to admit a sufficient supply of water for both purposes.

The answer denies the right of the appellant to the specific relief prayed or to any relief whatever. Denies that he or those under whom he claims had any right to the use of the water of the river on their lands for manufacturing purposes prior to the charter to the Potomac Company in the year 1784. Denies that such right, if he has it, has been affected by the works of either company. Denies the complainant's right to any use of the water under the charter to the Potomac Company or under the charter to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal company.

The defendant admits that it has enlarged the canal and feeder so as to receive more water than is necessary for the purpose of navigation, and that a considerable quantity of surplus water might be used on that part of the canal adjacent to the lands claimed by the appellant and through which the canal runs without injury to the navigation of the canal. But it claims said water as its own exclusive property, and insists it has the same right in disposing of it that it has over any other description of property to which its right is absolute and unconditional.

It will be perceived by this statement of the bill and answer

Page 33 U. S. 209

that many of the questions which have been raised and argued at the bar are not necessarily involved in the decision of the cause. The rights of the appellant, and of those under whom he claims, as riparian proprietors antecedent to the charter of 1784 to the Potomac Company are not drawn in question under the allegations in the bill. The appellant does not set up any right in hostility to the rights granted by those charters, but his claim rests upon an affirmance of those charters. His claim is of a right to the use of the surplus water now admitted into the canal and feeder, and if that is insufficient both for navigation and manufacturing purposes, his prayer is that the defendant may be compelled to allow the works to be enlarged so as to admit a sufficient supply of water for both purposes. He seeks, therefore, to divert a still greater quantity of water from the river, and thereby further impairing riparian rights, if any exist which can be affected by diverting such a portion of the water from the river into the canal.

Nor does not bill seek any relief founded on an objection to the validity of the proceedings to obtain a condemnation of the land. Nor is there any complaint that the company entered upon other portions of the land (not included in the condemnation of 1793) without authority. No injunction is prayed to restrain the defendant from the use of such land, and this cannot be granted under the general prayer. No proper case is made for such relief. It does not come within the scope and object of the will, and would be inconsistent with the specific relief prayed, which, instead of restraining the defendant from the use of such lands, seeks to compel it to enlarge the canal still more, if necessary, to accomplish the purposes for which the complainant wants the water.

Nor is it matter of complaint to be made by the appellant that the company avows a determination to dispose of the surplus water after it passes through his land for its own benefit and profit. This cannot in any manner prejudice the complainant. And the bill only charges that such is the avowed purpose of the defendant when it can be done without injury to the navigation and in case it can obtain an enlargement of its charter.

By the appellant's own allegations, therefore, the defendant disclaims any intention to waste the surplus water unless it can

Page 33 U. S. 210

be done without prejudice to the navigation nor without obtaining further permission for that purpose from the competent authority.

The right of the appellant, therefore, to the relief sought is narrowed down to the single inquiry whether his claim can be sustained under the thirteenth section of the charter of 1784 to the Potomac Company.

That section is as follows:

"Whereas some of the places through which it may be necessary to conduct the said canals may be convenient for erecting mills, forges, or other waterworks and the persons, possessors of such situations, may design to improve the same, and it is the intention of this act not to interfere with private property but for the purpose of improving and perfecting the said navigation, be it enacted that the water or any part thereof conveyed through any canal or cut made by the said company shall not be used for any purpose but navigation unless the consent of the proprietors of the land through which the same shall be led be first had. And the said president and directors, or a majority of them, are hereby empowered and directed, if it can be conveniently done to answer both the purposes of navigation and waterworks aforesaid, to enter into reasonable agreements with the proprietors of such situation concerning the just proportion of the expenses of making large canals or cuts capable of carrying such quantities of water as may be sufficient for the purposes of navigation and also for any such waterworks as aforesaid."

We think that the relief sought by the appellant cannot be granted under this section of the charter. The whole structure of the act shows that the great and leading purpose for which this company was incorporated was for the extension of the navigation of the Potomac. Every antecedent provision of the charter looks to that object. The president and directors are authorized to employ persons to cut such canals and erect such locks and perform such other works as they shall judge necessary for opening, improving, and extending the navigation of the river. The said river and the works to be erected thereon in virtue of this act, when completed, are declared forever thereafter to be esteemed and taken to be navigable as a public highway, subject to the payment of certain

Page 33 U. S. 211

tolls, &c. The act declares that it is necessary for the making of said canal, locks, and other works that provision should be made for condemning a quantity of land for that purpose. And the proceedings thereupon are accordingly prescribed by the act where no voluntary agreement can be made with the owners of the land for taking a limited quantity against the will of the owner, on payment of the damages to be assessed by a jury.

After these and some other provisions are made clearly indicating an intention that the purpose for which the lands were to be taken was for navigation only, and limited to a quantity necessary for such public objects, then comes the clause in question, presenting other purposes and providing for other objects where circumstances will justify connecting private enterprises with the leading public purposes of navigation.

But this clause in the act seems studiously to guard against blending these two objects by any compulsory measures, but to make it the result of mutual and voluntary arrangement between the company and the owners of the land upon which the waterworks are to be erected. It is declared in explicit terms that it is the intention of the act not to interfere with private property except for the purpose of improving and perfecting the said navigation, and that the water shall not be used for any purpose but navigation unless the consent of the proprietors of the land through which the canal shall run be first had. It would be a very rigid and forced construction of this act to place the company at the will and pleasure of the owners of the adjacent lands, especially if this should be considered a continual subsisting right, after the canal has been once completed. If the company is prohibited from using the water except for navigation without the consent of the owner of the adjacent land, and yet be obliged to yield to the wishes of such owner to alter and enlarge the canal, there would be wanting that mutuality which is essential to the just and reasonable regulation of all rights. All the legislative provision necessary was to authorize the company to enter into such agreement with respect to the use of the water; the owner of the adjacent land required no such special permission; this is a right incident to his ownership of the land. The authority on both sides to

Page 33 U. S. 212

make such agreement being established, all was left open to the mutual arrangement of the parties, like all other contracts. But to compel one party to consent and leave the other at liberty to consent or not, at his pleasure, would be a violation of all sound principles of justice.

Much stress has been laid on the word "directed" as used in the statute. "The company are hereby empowered and directed, &c." The word, if standing alone, might imply something mandatory to the company. But it must be taken with the context and the general scope and object of the provision in order to ascertain the intention of the legislature. There was an absolute prohibition to the company to give their assent to such private use of the water, and the obvious intention of the act was to remove that prohibition and place the company in a situation capable of entering into arrangements with the owners of the adjacent lands respecting the use of the water for the purpose of carrying on waterworks of various descriptions when it could be done conveniently. But the whole structure of the clause shows it was to be a voluntary and mutual agreement of the parties. It cannot be supposed that if any compulsory measures were contemplated, the act would have been left so entirely silent as to the mode and manner in which this was to be enforced upon the company. If, as we think, it clearly was the intention of the act that their use of the water should be subject to the mutual agreement of the parties, no legislative provision was necessary. The parties having authority to make the agreement, they could make it in any manner or under such modifications as they might think proper.

It is not a well founded objection to this construction of the act that the most apt and appropriate phraseology to convey this meaning has not been employed. The great object is to ascertain the intention of the legislature, and there is certainly nothing in the language used that is repugnant to the construction we have adopted.

If the right of the appellant to compel the company to make the agreement was clearly established, it might be within the province of a court of chancery, to enforce the consummation of such agreement and carry it into effect. But the entire absence of any provision looking to compulsory measures as to

Page 33 U. S. 213

the mode and manner in which the agreement is to be made or executed is a very strong if not conclusive reason to show that no such right exists, and leads irresistibly to the conclusion that this is a matter left open for the voluntary arrangement of the parties.

To consider the company bound to enter into such agreements with the owners of the adjacent land the whole extent of the canal and liable to be called upon to alter and enlarge the same at the pleasure of such owners would be imposing an expense and limitation upon its chartered rights which ought not to be adopted without the most explicit and unequivocal provision in its charter, and which we are very clearly of opinion is not imposed upon the company in the present case.

The decree of the court below is accordingly

Affirmed.

This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record from the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Columbia holden in and for the County of Washington and was argued by counsel, on consideration whereof it is ordered, adjudged, and decreed by this Court that the decree of the said circuit court in this cause be and the same is hereby affirmed with costs.

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