Whether the statutes of a state authorize the incorporation of a
bridge company to construct a bridge over a navigable river
separating it from another state, whether such statute confer the
right of eminent domain on a corporation of another state, and
whether such a corporation can exercise therein powers other than
those conferred by the its creation, are all question of state law,
involving no federal questions, and the rulings of the highest
court of the state are final and conclusive upon this Court.
The Act of January 26, 1901, 31 Stat. 741, having authorized the
construction by an Illinois corporation of a bridge and approaches
across the Mississippi River, it is within the power of one of the
states within which the bridge was constructed to authorize
extensions thereof and connections therewith necessary and proper
to make it available for the use contemplated by the statute, and
although such extensions and connections were not within the plans
and specifications of the bridge itself and its approaches as
approved by the Secretary of War, the condemnation of land
necessary for the bridge company to construct them is not in
contravention of 9 of the Act of March 3, 1899, 30 Stat. 1151,
making it unlawful to deviate in the construction of any bridge
over navigable waters from the plans approved by the Secretary of
194 Mo 175 affirmed.
Page 206 U. S. 268
The facts are stated in the opinion.
Page 206 U. S. 269
MR. JUSTICE Day delivered the opinion of the Court.
On March 3, 1899, Congress passed an act providing, among other
"That it shall not be lawful to construct or commence the
construction of any bridge, etc., . . . over . . . any . . .
navigable river . . . of the United States until the consent of
Congress to the building of such structures shall have been
obtained, and until the plans for the same shall have been
submitted to and approved by the Chief of Engineers and by the
Secretary of War."
The act further provided:
"That when plans for any bridge or other structure have been
approved by the Chief of Engineers and by the Secretary of War, it
shall not be lawful to deviate from such plans either before or
after completion of the structure, unless the modification of said
plans has previously been submitted to and received the approval of
the Chief of Engineers and of the Secretary of War."
30 Stat. 1151, sec. 9, c. 425.
On January 26, 1901, Congress passed an act (31 Stat. 741)
authorizing the Southern Illinois & Missouri Bridge Company
(defendant in error), a corporation of the State of Illinois, to
erect, construct, maintain, and operate a bridge and approaches
Page 206 U. S. 270
thereto over the Mississippi River from a point on the
Mississippi River in Alexander County, in the State of Illinois,
opposite the terminus of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway at or
near Gray's Point, in Scott County, in the State of Missouri, or
from some other convenient point on said river in said Alexander
County, Illinois, to some opposite point on said river in the State
of Missouri, within the distance of three miles above or below the
terminus of said railway.
The bridge was to be constructed for the passage of railway
trains, and at the option of the corporation, might be so
constructed as to provide for the use thereof by wagons, vehicles,
and the transit of foot passengers and animals at such reasonable
tolls as might be approved by the Secretary of War.
It was also provided that the bridge constructed under the act
and subject to its limitations should be a lawful structure and
recognized and known as a post route of the United States.
Section 5 provides:
"That the approaches to the bridge built under this act shall be
so designed and constructed as not to interfere with the free
discharge of the river in seasons of flood, and any encroachment on
the high water cross-sections by piers, solid embankments, or
otherwise, which might result in unduly accelerating the high water
current at the site of the bridge, shall not be allowed."
Section 7 provides for the submission to the Secretary of War of
the drawings of the bridge, piers, approaches, and accessory works
and a map of the location, giving, for the space of at least two
miles above and one mile below the proposed site, the topography of
the banks of the river and the shore lines at high and low water.
The maps and drawings are to be referred to the board of officers
of the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, for examination and
Provision is made for hearing objections to the construction of
the bridge, and it is provided that the proposed bridge shall be a
lawful structure only when built in accordance with the plans
recommended by the Board of Engineers and approved
Page 206 U. S. 271
by the Chief of Engineers and by the Secretary of War, and while
so managed and kept in repair as to offer at all times reasonable
and proper means for the passage of rafts, steamboats, and other
water craft under the said bridge, and while said requirements are
Section 10 provides for alterations and changes as may be
required by the Secretary of War, in accordance with existing law,
in the bridge constructed under the provisions of the act, so as to
preserve free and convenient navigation. Such changes were to be
made, under the direction of the Secretary of War at the expense of
the persons, companies, or corporations owning, controlling, and
operating the bridge.
Section 11 provides that the bridge shall be constructed under
the general supervision of the Secretary of War, and no changes or
alterations in the plan shall be made during the construction of
said bridge or after its completion, unless recommended by the
Chief of Engineers and approved by the Secretary of War.
The act makes provision for the preservation of the navigable
channel during the construction of the bridge.
Section 12 provides that, whenever Congress shall decide that
the public interests require it, the right to order the removal of
the bridge at the expense of the owners is expressly reserved,
without liability for damages on the part of the United States.
Section 13 provides that, if the bridge is not commenced within
one year and completed within three years from the date of the
approval of the act, the same shall be null and void, and the
rights thereby conferred ceased and determine.
The Southern Illinois & Missouri Bridge Company, in
pursuance of this act, submitted its drawings and plans and the
same were duly approved as required by law.
The bridge company, on the twenty-fourth day of April, 1902,
filed its petition in the Circuit Court of Scott County, Missouri,
for the appropriation of a strip of land containing 20.3 acres,
said to be approximately 4,000 feet long and 200 feet wide,
alleging that it is necessary to have a right of way
Page 206 U. S. 272
for the railway tracks, bridge, and terminal yards of the
company, and, for the purpose of carrying out its charter
privileges, it is necessary to hold and own the described
On trial in the circuit court that court held that the bridge
company had no right to make the appropriation under the laws of
From this adjudication, an appeal was taken to the Supreme Court
of Missouri, and that court reversed the judgment of the circuit
court, and remanded the case with directions to the lower court to
appoint three disinterested commissioners to assess the damages
which the defendants would sustain by the appropriation of the
strip of land. 174 Mo. 1.
Such proceedings were had, and $10,000 was assessed as damages
in favor of the plaintiffs in error, defendants below, and a second
appeal was prosecuted to the Supreme Court of Missouri, where
judgment below was affirmed. 194 Mo. 175.
To that judgment this writ of error is prosecuted.
Many of the assignments of error involve only questions of state
law, the rulings concerning which, in the supreme court of the
state, are conclusive, and involve no substantial federal
Among these may be named:
The contention that the statutes of Missouri do not authorize
the incorporation of a bridge company to build a bridge across the
That the laws of Missouri do not confer the right of eminent
domain on a corporation of another state;
That a corporation of Illinois can only exercise in Missouri
such powers as are conferred upon it by the State of its
These questions involve the powers of corporations under the
laws of Missouri, which are concluded by the adjudication of the
state supreme court.
There is no contention that the statutes conferring the right of
eminent domain, passed by the Legislature of the State of Missouri,
and which its courts have decided authorize this
Page 206 U. S. 273
appropriation by the defendant in error, do not make ample
provision for assessment of damages to the landowner by due process
of law. Whether a given corporation comes within the law of the
state, and is entitled to assert its power, presents only a
question of state law.
Nor is error shown in the contention that the erection of the
bridge was not begun within the year, as provided by the act of
Congress. The evidence shows that the bridge has been constructed
without complaint by the federal authorities, and, indeed, Congress
has extended the time for the completion of the bridge by an act
passed January 18, 1904. 33 Stat. 6, c. 5. It cannot prejudice any
federal right secured to the plaintiffs in error that the right of
eminent domain is authorized by the state notwithstanding the
bridge was not begun within the time which Congress might have
insisted upon as a condition of enjoyment of the privileges
If the record presents any federal question at all, it rests in
the contention that the appropriation in controversy is in
contravention of the act of Congress because it is an unauthorized
extension of the approaches to the bridge upon the Missouri side,
not included in the drawings and plans as submitted to the
Secretary of War, and which met with his approval, as already
The copy of the approved drawings in the record shows that the
approach to the bridge upon the west side was shown in a series of
arches extending from the river bank to a distance of 720 feet. And
it is the contention of the plaintiffs in error that, in view of
the act of Congress, the approach must be limited to the extent and
construction shown in the plans and drawings thus approved by the
Secretary of War. Indeed, it is contended that this plan, after its
approval, became a limitation upon the power of the state to extend
the bridge by authorizing further approaches and connections.
But we think this contention wholly untenable. The act of
Congress and the powers given the Secretary of War thereunder are
the result of the exertion of the constitutional power
Page 206 U. S. 274
conferred upon Congress to regulate commerce between the states.
federal control of bridges constructed over navigable waters is
maintained because of the right to prevent obstructions to
navigation and preserve such public highways as rivers for free and
unobstructed use in the interest of commerce. Bridge Company v.
United States, 105 U. S. 470
105 U. S. 475
and cases therein cited.
An examination of the act of Congress under which the bridge
company was authorized to construct this bridge manifests the
purpose to prevent its becoming an obstruction or interference with
free navigation of the river, and when the matter of approaches is
specifically spoken of, it is provided that they shall be so
designed and constructed as not to interfere with the free
discharge of the river in seasons of flood.
It is evident that the purpose of requiring the submission of
plans, and their approval by the Secretary of War, was to preserve,
as far as may be, the unobstructed passage of the river in the uses
of navigation. To the extent that it was necessary to protect such
interests, the law provides that the structure shall be
unalterable, and that its approaches shall be approved by the
Secretary and remain unchanged without his sanction, but it
certainly never was designed to destroy the usefulness of the
bridge by limiting the power of the state to authorize the
corporation constructing and owning it, by proper connections and
other facilities, to make the bridge available for the purposes for
which it was intended. The bridge and approaches as approved by the
Secretary of War have not been altered. The connecting approaches
and tracks are additional means of making the bridge available for
the purposes intended.
As was pertinently observed by the Chief Justice, in delivering
the opinion of the court in Union Pacific Ry. Co. v. Chicago
&c. Ry Co., 163 U. S.
"A railroad bridge can be of no use to the public unless united
with necessary appurtenances, such as approaches, tracks, depots,
and other facilities for the public accommodation. "
Page 206 U. S. 275
If the state was deprived of its power to authorize extensions
and connections which should make this bridge available for the
common use of railroads for which it was intended, it would have
been a vain thing to provide for a bridge abruptly terminating at a
height and point where, without further approaches and connecting
facilities, its usefulness would have been destroyed.
This record shows that the point 720 feet to the west, where the
approach required by the War Department ends, is at a height of
some 60 feet from the ground. The structure was thence extended
some distance to the crest of a bluff, thence over the lands of the
plaintiffs in error to a point where the terminal yards of the
bridge company are situated.
We cannot find it within the purpose of Congress, if it had the
power so to do, by the terms of this act to limit the state in its
right to authorize these necessary terminals and connecting
facilities, because the plans and specifications, which fully
subserved the purpose of showing the extent to which navigation
would be affected, had been specifically approved by the Secretary
of War, and are not to be altered without his consent.
In our view, no federal right was taken from the plaintiffs in
error by the action complained of under the state laws as
interpreted by the Supreme Court of the State of Missouri, and if
it may be said that the contention fairly presents a federal
question, we are unable to find merit in it.
Judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri is