Davis & Farnum Mfg. Co. v. Los Angeles
189 U.S. 207 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Davis & Farnum Mfg. Co. v. Los Angeles, 189 U.S. 207 (1903)

Davis and Farnum Manufacturing Company v. Los Angeles

No. 507

Submitted January 13, 1903

Decided March 2, 1903

189 U.S. 207


1. Where a bill is based not only upon diversity of citizenship, but also upon the alleged unconstitutionality of municipal ordinances as impairing the obligation of a contract, an appeal lies to this Court and the whole case is opened for consideration.

Where a statute delegates powers to a city, the ordinances of the municipality are the acts of the state, and their unconstitutionality is the unconstitutionality of a state law within the meaning of sec. 5 of the Circuit Court of Appeals Act.

2. A court of equity has no general power to enjoin or stay criminal proceedings unless they are instituted by a party to a suit already pending before it, and to try the same right that is in issue there, or to prohibit the invasion of the rights of property or the enforcement of an unconstitutional law. In re Sawyer, 124 U. S. 200.

One who has contracted to deliver gas machinery to a gas and fuel company has no standing in a court of equity to restrain a city from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting the erection of gas works within a portion of the city in which the erection of gas works was not prohibited when the contract was made on the ground that such ordinances are repugnant to the federal Constitution as impairing the obligation of a contract, it not appearing that the plaintiff has any contract with the city or that the gas and fuel company would not or could not, by reason of insolvency, respond to its claim under the contract.

This was a bill in equity filed in the Circuit Court for the Southern District of California by appellant, a citizen of Massachusetts, to restrain the City of Los Angeles and its officers from enforcing certain municipal ordinances prohibiting the erection or maintenance of gas tanks or reservoirs within certain portions of the city.

The gravamen of the bill was that, on September 1, 1901, Caroline W. Dobbins made a contract with the Valley Gas & Fuel Company, a California corporation, to build certain gas works for her, including all things necessary for the manufacture,

Page 189 U. S. 208

recovery, and storage of gas on lands thereafter to be designated; that, on September 17, the appellant made a contract with the gas and fuel company to erect upon Mrs. Dobbins' premises a water tank and gas holder having a capacity of 100,000 cubic feet of gas, and that immediately thereafter it constructed and prepared the material and machinery necessary for the erection of the tank and gas holder, and shipped the same to Los Angeles; that, on September 28, Mrs. Dobbins purchased certain lands in Los Angeles, which were within the limits wherein it was lawful to erect gas works as described in a municipal ordinance adopted August 26, 1901, and on November 1, applied to the board of fire commissioners for a permit to erect such gas works; that, on November 22, her petition came on for hearing before the fire commissioners, and after proof had been made that all provisions of prior ordinances had been complied with, the matter was duly considered, and finally resulted, November 29, in a vote to grant a permit to erect and maintain the gas works.

That upon the 22d day of November, Mrs. Dobbins' contractors began at once to lay the foundation for said works at a cost of upwards of $2,500, when, on November 25, the city adopted an ordinance, amending that of August 26, 1901, including her property in the prohibited territory for the erection or maintenance of gas works (which ordinance, however, seems to have proved defective), and subsequently, in February, 1902, caused certain of the employees of the gas and fuel company to be arrested, charging them with a violation of this ordinance. Subsequently, under new proceedings, certain employees of the plaintiff were arrested, and the work stopped.

Another ordinance was passed on March 3, 1902, also amending that of August 26, 1901, and other arrests were made of the employees for a violation of this ordinance. It was averred that the gas works are in an uncompleted condition, exposed to the elements and in danger of being destroyed, and that all of the aforesaid ordinances were adopted by the common council at the instigation of the Los Angeles Light Company, which has enjoyed a monopoly of the gas business for the last ten years.

Page 189 U. S. 209

A demurrer was filed to this bill by the city for want of equity and of jurisdiction, which was sustained by the court, and the bill dismissed, 115 F. 537, apparently upon the ground that a court of chancery has no power to restrain criminal proceedings unless they are instituted by a party to a suit already pending before it and to try the same right that is in issue there. Whereupon an appeal was taken to this Court.

Page 189 U. S. 216

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