Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company
59 U.S. 421 (1855)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, 59 U.S. 18 How. 421 421 (1855)

Pennsylvania v. Wheeling and Belmont Bridge Company

59 U.S. (18 How.) 421

Syllabus

The power of Congress to regulate commerce includes the regulation of intercourse and navigation, and consequently the power to determine what shall or shall not be deemed, in judgment of law, an obstruction of navigation.

The provisions of the Act of Congress passed August 31, 1852, 10 Stat. 112, in its 6th and 7th sections declaring the bridges over the Ohio River at Wheeling and Bridgeport to be lawful structures at their then height and position and requiring the officers and crews of vessels navigating the Ohio River to regulate their vessels so as not to interfere with the elevation and construction of said bridges are within the legitimate exercise by Congress of its constitutional power to regulate commerce.

The said sections of the aforesaid act of Congress are not invalid by reason of the compact in respect to the free navigation of the Ohio River made between the States of Virginia and Kentucky with the sanction of Congress at the time the latter state was admitted into the Union.

Neither are they in conflict with the provision of the Constitution of the United States providing that "no preference shall be given by any regulation of commerce or revenue to the ports of one state over those of another."

As a general proposition, it is true that an act of Congress cannot annul a judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States or impair the rights determined thereby, especially as respects adjudications upon the private rights of parties, and hence the decree of this Court heretofore rendered in this case, so far as it respects the costs adjudged to the complainant, is unaffected by the act of Congress referred to.

But that portion of the decree of this Court at the May term, 1852, in the case of the State of Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, which relates to the abatement of the bridge, proceeded upon the ground that the bridge was in conflict with the then existing regulations of commerce by Congress, and was executory, depending upon the bridge's continuing to be an unlawful obstruction to the public right of free navigation, and that right having since been modified by Congress in the exercise of its constitutional power to regulate commerce so that the bridge is no longer an unlawful obstruction, the decree cannot now be enforced.

After the passage of the act of Congress referred to, the bridge no longer being an unlawful interference with a public right, the defendant's authority to maintain it in its then position and height existed from the moment of the enactment, for their authority then combined the concurrent powers of both governments, state and federal, and if these are not sufficient, none can be found in our system.

The complainant's motions for a writ of assistance to execute the decree of the 27th of May, 1852, by the abatement of the bridge and for a sequestration against the corporation and attachment against its officers for disobeying said decree are therefore refused, and the motions to punish the contempt of the corporation and its officers in disobeying the injunction granted by MR. JUSTICE GRIER on the 27th of June, 1854, are also overruled, and the injunction is dissolved.

The decree for costs being unaffected by the act of Congress, the motion for taxation and award of execution for their collection is granted.

This case was one of original jurisdiction in this Court, upon the equity side, and may be said to be a continuation of the suit between the same parties reported in 54 U. S. 13 How. 518.

By turning to that case, the reader will perceive that at page 54 U. S. 627, a day was given to the plaintiffs to move the Court on the subject of the decree. It is now proposed to continue the narrative from that time.

The motion made by the complainant and the motion made by the defendants to dismiss the suit need not be particularly stated.

Page 59 U. S. 422

In the summer of 1854, the bridge was blown down by a violent storm, and the company were preparing to rebuild it according to the original plan when the next step in the history of the case was taken.

On the 26th day of June, 1854, in vacation of the Supreme Court, the State of Pennsylvania, by her attorney general and her counsel, Edwin M. Stanton, pursuant to previous notice served on the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, appeared before the Honorable R. C. GRIER, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, at chambers, and moved for an injunction as prayed for in a supplemental bill then exhibited. The substance and object of the bill is stated in the subjoined order.

On hearing the bill and affidavits, the following order was made and injunction granted.

"In the Supreme Court of the United States"

"THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA"

"v. In Equity"

"THE WHEELING AND BELMONT BRIDGE COMPANY"

"Before the Honorable R. C. GRIER, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States."

"Whereas, on the 26th day of June, 1854, at the United States courtroom in the city of Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania, by her attorney general and counsel, exhibited before me, R. C. Grier, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, her bill of complaint in equity against the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, setting forth, among other things, that the said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company is about to erect and construct a bridge over and across the eastern channel of the Ohio River at Wheeling, between Zane's Island and the main Virginia shore, at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree of the Supreme Court of the United States heretofore rendered against said company on complaint of said state, whereby the navigation of the Ohio River by steamboats of the largest class will be obstructed, to the injury of the said state; and in the vacation of the Supreme Court the said complainant hath applied to me for an injunction as prayed for in said bill against the said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, and its president, managers, officers, engineers, agents, contractors, and servants, to enjoin them from erecting and constructing a bridge at the place aforesaid at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree aforesaid, and from doing any act or thing to obstruct the navigation of the Ohio River, as prayed in said bill: "

Page 59 U. S. 423

"And reasonable notice of said application having been given unto the said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company to appear before me to resist said application, and the proofs and arguments of counsel being heard, it is considered and adjudged that an injunction, as prayed for in the said bill, be, and the same is hereby, allowed. And it is ordered that the writ of injunction of the United States of America be forthwith issued by the Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States under the seal of the said Court against the said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, its president, managers, officers, engineers, agents, contractors, and servants, and all persons acting by their instigation, authority, or procurement, or otherwise commanding and requiring them, and every of them, under the penalty of the law, that they do forthwith and absolutely desist and abstain from erecting and constructing, or causing to be erected or constructed, any bridge, structure, or device in, over, or across the eastern channel of the Ohio River at Wheeling between Zane's Island and the main Virginia shore at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree aforesaid of the Supreme Court of the United States against said bridge company, entered at the adjourned term in May, 1852, and from stretching, suspending, or placing or causing to be stretched, suspended, or placed any iron cables, ropes, wires, or chains, or any timber, structure, material, or thing whatsoever in, over, or across the said channel at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree aforesaid, and from keeping and maintaining any cable, rope, wire, chain, timber, or thing whatsoever suspended in, over, or across the said channel at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree aforesaid, and from doing, or causing to be done any act or thing to obstruct the free navigation of said channel of the Ohio River."

"It is ordered that the marshal of the District of Columbia do forthwith serve said writ."

"And the Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States is directed to file the bill of complainant on which the aforesaid application and allowance are made and enter this order and issue the writ of injunction above allowed, and also that he issue the writ of subpoena in chancery, to be served by said marshal, requiring said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company to appear, plead, answer, or demur to said bill within ninety days from the service of said writ."

"Given under my hand, at Philadelphia, this 26th day of June, 1854."

"R. C. GRIER"

"Associate Justice Sup. court U.S."

The preceding order having been filed in the office of the Clerk

Page 59 U. S. 424

of the Supreme Court on the 27th day of June, a writ of injunction, with a certified copy of the decree of the Supreme Court, entered at May term, 1852, annexed thereto, was issued and delivered to the Marshal of the District of Columbia as follows:

"THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA"

"In the Supreme Court of the United States, ss."

"The President of the United States of America, to the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, its president, managers, officers, engineers, agents, contractors, and servants, and to each and every of them, and to all persons whomsoever, greeting: "

"Whereas the State of Pennsylvania hath made application before the Honorable R. C. GRIER, one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, for an injunction as prayed for in her bill of complaint exhibited before said Justice and filed in the Supreme Court of the United States: "

"And whereas, upon hearing of said application, the following order was made:"

"[In the injunction, the preceding order was recited.]"

"We therefore, having regard to the matter aforesaid, do strictly enjoin and command the said Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company, its president, managers, officers, engineers, agents, contractors, and servants, and all persons acting by their instigation, authority, advice, procurement, or otherwise, to observe and obey the aforesaid order and injunction."

"Hereof fail not under the full penalty of the law thence ensuing."

"Witness the Honorable RPGER B. TANEY, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, this 28th day of June, A.D. 1854."

"Attest, WM. THOMAS CARROLL"

"Clerk of the Supreme Court of the United States"

The writs of injunction being served upon the company by leaving a copy at its office and with its president and secretary and also upon the managers of the company, they proceeded to erect the bridge notwithstanding the injunction, and it was completed in November.

At December term, 1854, the complainant, by her counsel, having given previous notice to the company, filed a motion for a sequestration against the company for a contempt of court in disobeying the injunction, and a motion for an attachment

Page 59 U. S. 425

against the officers personally for their contempt in disobeying the injunction. The motions were as follows:

"Motion for Sequestration"

"And now, to-wit, at the December term, 1854, comes the State of Pennsylvania by her attorney general and moves the Court to order and direct a writ to be issued against the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company to sequestrate its estate, real, personal, and mixed, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, its privileges and franchises, goods, chattels, rights, credits, moneys, and effects for a contempt of court by breach of and disobedience to the lawful writ, process, orders, decree, and commands of the Supreme Court of the United States."

"The breaches and disobedience to said writ, process, orders, decree, and commands aforesaid are stated and charged specifically as follows:"

"1. That after service upon the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company by the marshal of the District of Columbia of a copy of a writ of injunction issued out of said Court, pursuant to an order of allowance made on the 26th day of June, 1854, by the Honorable R. C. GRIER, one of the Judges of the said Supreme Court, the said company have disobeyed said writ of injunction, and are engaged in doing and performing acts and have caused and procured acts to be done in disobedience of said injunction and of the process and authority of said Court."

"2. That after service upon said company by the marshal aforesaid, of a copy of the decree entered by said Supreme Court at the adjourned term of May, 1852, in the case of The State of Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company and Others, said company have disobeyed said decree."

"3. That since the service of the writ of injunction and decree as aforesaid upon said company, said company have stretched, suspended, and placed, and caused and procured to be stretched, suspended, and placed, iron cables, ropes, wires, or chains, over and across the eastern channel of the Ohio River between Zane's Island and the main Virginia shore at Wheeling, in disobedience of said injunction, and have erected and constructed and are engaged in erecting and constructing and in causing and procuring to be erected and constructed a bridge over and across the said channel at a less elevation than is prescribed by the said decree of the Supreme Court of the United States, entered as aforesaid at the adjourned term of May, 1852, and in disobedience of said writ of injunction, and have kept and maintained and are keeping and maintaining cables, wires, chains,

Page 59 U. S. 426

timbers, and planks suspended in, over, and across the said channel at a less elevation than is prescribed by the decree aforesaid."

"4. That since the service of said writ and decree as aforesaid, the said company have obstructed the free navigation of the said channel of the Ohio River and have caused and procured the same to be obstructed, and are now keeping the same obstructed, in breach and disobedience of said writ of injunction and decree."

"F. W. HUGHES"

"Attorney General of Pennsylvania"

"Motion for Attachment"

"And now, to-wit, at the December term, 1854, comes the State of Pennsylvania, by her attorney general, and moves the Court for an order that Charles Ellet, Jr., James Baker, and E. H. Fitzhugh stand committed to the jail of the District of Columbia for a contempt of court, by breach of and disobedience to the lawful writ, process, order, decree, and commands of the Supreme Court of the United States."

"[The breaches set out were the same as above.]"

A motion for a writ of assistance to execute the decree of this Court made in May, 1852, was also filed, praying the court to order and direct such a writ to the marshal of the District of Columbia.

A motion was also made for an award of execution for the costs decreed in May, 1852.

The defendants appeared by their counsel, and resisted the foregoing motions under the 6th and 7th sections of the Act of Congress, 10 Stat. 112, entitled

"An act making appropriations for the service of The Post Office Department during the fiscal year ending the thirtieth of June, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, and for other purposes."

"SEC. 6. And be it further enacted, that the bridges across the Ohio River at Wheeling, in the State of Virginia, and at Bridgeport, in the State of Ohio, abutting on Zane's Island in said river, are hereby declared to be lawful structures, in their present position and elevation, and shall be so held and taken to be, anything in any law or laws of the United States to the contrary notwithstanding."

"SEC. 7. And be it further enacted, that the said bridges are declared to be and are established post roads for the passage of the mails of the United States, and that the Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Company are authorized to have and maintain their said bridges at their present site and elevation, and the officers

Page 59 U. S. 427

and crews of all vessels and boats navigating said river, are required to regulate the use of their said vessels and boats, and of any pipes or chimneys belonging thereto, so as not to interfere with the elevation and construction of said bridges."

The defendants also moved to dissolve the injunction granted by Mr. Justice Grier.

At December term, 1854, these several motions came on to be heard.

Page 59 U. S. 429

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