In determining its constitutionality, a state statute must be
read in the light of the construction given to it by the state
court, and if the state court has held a described use for which
property may be taken thereunder to be a public one, this Court
will accept its judgment unless it is clearly without ground.
Even though a spur track at the outset may lead only to a single
industry, it may constitute a part of the transportation facilities
of the common carrier operated under obligations of public service,
and as such open to all and devoted to a public use.
There is a clear distinction between spurs operated as a part of
the system of a common carrier under public obligation and mere
private sidings. The former are limited to public use and may be
the basis for exercise of eminent domain.
It is within the power of the state to invest railway
corporations with power of eminent domain to acquire land for a
spur track necessary for its transportation business and subject to
regulation and open alike to all, even though such track at the
outset may serve only a single industry which is to defray the cost
thereof subject to reimbursement by others subsequently availing of
it, and so held as to § 1797-11m, Wisconsin Statutes, providing for
construction of spur tracks under conditions specified therein.
152 Wis. 633 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the
Fourteenth Amendment of a statute of Wisconsin permitting
condemnation of right-of-way for spur tracks, are stated in the
Page 233 U. S. 216
MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This proceeding was instituted by the Chicago & Northwestern
Railway Company to take land for a spur, the construction of which
had been ordered by the Railroad Commission of the state. The land
was owned by the Union Lime Company, the plaintiff in error, and
the application was resisted upon the ground that it was sought to
be taken for a private, and not a public, use, and therefore that
its taking would operate as a deprivation of the property of the
plaintiff in error without due process of law, and a denial to it
of the equal protection of the laws, contrary to the Fourteenth
Amendment. This contention was overruled by the supreme court of
the state, which affirmed the judgment in condemnation (152 Wis.
633, 140 N.W. 346), and this writ of error was sued out.
The proposed track was to form an extension of an
Page 233 U. S. 217
existing spur, owned and operated by the railway company, which
leads from its main line to the quarries and kilns of two lime
companies; one of these companies is the plaintiff in error at
whose works the spur now terminates. Beyond these works lie those
of the Eden Independent Lime & Stone Company, which applied to
the Railroad Commission for an order requiring the railway company
to extend the spur to its plant. It is provided by § 1797-11m of
the Wisconsin Statutes that every railroad shall acquire the
necessary right of way and shall construct and operate a
"reasonably adequate and suitable spur track" whenever it does not
necessarily exceed three miles in length, is "practically
indispensable to the successful operation" of any existing or
proposed manufacturing establishment, and is not "unusually unsafe"
or "unreasonably harmful." The railroad may require the person,
firm, or corporation primarily to be served thereby to pay the
legitimate cost of acquiring, by condemnation or purchase, the
necessary right of way for the spur and of its construction, as
determined by the Railroad Commission. By § 1797-12n, the
Commission is authorized to receive complaints, in case of the
failure or refusal of railroads to perform the prescribed duty, and
to make appropriate orders. *
these sections, the
Page 233 U. S. 218
Commission directed the railway company to extend the spur as
desired by the Eden Company, and thereupon this proceeding was
brought to condemn the land for the right of way.
The assignments of error come to the single point -- as to the
character of the use. The state, through its highest court,
declares the use to be a public one, and we should accept its
judgment unless it is clearly without ground.
Page 233 U. S. 219
Fallbrook Irrigation District v. Bradley, 164 U.
, 164 U. S. 160
Clark v. Nash, 198 U. S. 361
198 U. S. 369
Strickley v. Highland Boy Mining Co., 200 U.
, 200 U. S. 531
Offield v. N.Y., N.H. & H. R. Co., 203 U.
, 203 U. S. 377
Hairston v. Danville & Western Ry. Co., 208 U.
, 208 U. S. 607
The general authority to exercise the power of eminent domain for
the construction of spurs is found in § 1831a, Stat. (Wis.), which
"Every railway company . . . may build, maintain, and operate
branches and spur tracks from its road or any branch thereof to and
upon the grounds of any mill, elevator, storehouse, warehouse,
dock, wharf, pier, manufacturing establishment, lumber yard, coal
dock, or other industry or enterprise . . . , and every such
company may acquire by purchase or condemnation in the manner
provided in this chapter for the acquisition of real estate for
railway purposes, other than for its main track, all necessary
roadways and rights
Page 233 U. S. 220
of way for such branches, spur tracks,"
etc. The supreme court of the state sustained the validity of
this provision in Chicago & Northwestern Ry. v.
112 Wis. 1, holding (p. 11) that
"the fact that a spur track may run to a single industry does
not militate against the devotion of the property thereto being a
public use thereof, so long as the purpose of maintaining the track
is to serve all persons who may desire it, and all can demand, as a
right, to be served, without discrimination."
In Union Lime Company v. Railroad Commission,
523, the court had under review an earlier order of the Commission
requiring the railroad to build the spur extension now in question,
and, while that order was set aside because a proper hearing had
not been afforded, it was held that the spur would not be a private
track, but would be devoted to a public use. In the view that the
tracks contemplated would be of this character, the court sustained
the statutes (§§ 1797-11m and 1797-12n), under which the Commission
was proceeding, against the same objections that are now raised.
The court said (id.,
pp. 533, 534):
"Such track when built becomes a portion of the trackage of the
railroad. The fact that its initial cost is borne by the party
primarily to be served, with provisions for subsequent equitable
division of such cost, does not make it a private track nor change
the nature of its use. Over it the products of the industry find
their way into the markets of the world, and every consumer is
directly interested in the lessened cost of such products resulting
from the building and operation thereof. That these products are
supplied by a single owner, or by a limited number of owners,
affects the extent, and not the nature, of its use -- the track is
nonetheless a part of the avenue through which the commodities
reach the public. Subject to the equitable division of initial
cost, the track is at the service of the public as much as any
other, and it constitutes an integral part of the railroad system.
Page 233 U. S. 221
duty to maintain and operate it rests upon the railroad. Except
that it is relieved of the initial cost of right of way and
construction, the track stands in the same relation to it that any
other portion of its track does. The owner of the industry obtains
no interest in or control over it beyond that of being served by it
equally with anyone else who may desire to use it."
This decision was followed in the present case. 152 Wis. 633,
Assailing this ruling, the plaintiff in error insists that the
statute itself (referring to §§ 1797-11m and 1797-12n) authorizes
the taking of property for private use, and that, being
unconstitutional on its face, it cannot form the basis of any valid
proceeding. It is said, in the first place, that the statute does
not declare in terms or by necessary implication that the use for
which the property is to be taken is a public use. But this
contention is plainly without merit, as the statute must be read in
the light of the construction placed upon it by the state court,
which has held the described use to be a public one. The judgment
of the state, so far as it is competent to determine the matter,
has thus been fully expressed.
It is urged, further, that the statute is necessarily invalid
because it establishes as the criterion of the Commission's action
the exigency of a private business. This objection, however, fails
to take account of the distinction between the requirements of
industry and trade which may warrant the building of a branch
track, and the nature of the use to which it is devoted when built.
A spur may at the outset, lead only to a single industry or
establishment; it may be constructed to furnish an outlet for the
products of a particular plant; its cost may be defrayed by those
in special need of its service at the time. But nonetheless, by
virtue of the conditions under which it is provided, the spur may
constitute at all times a part of the transportation facilities of
the carrier which are operated under the obligations of public
service, and are
Page 233 U. S. 222
subject to the regulation of public authority. As was said by
this Court in Hairston v. Danville & Western Ry. Co.,
p. 208 U. S.
"The uses for which the track was desired are not the less
public because the motive which dictated its location over this
particular land was to reach a private industry, or because the
proprietors of that industry contributed in any way to the
There is a clear distinction between spurs which are owned and
operated by a common carrier as a part of its system and under its
public obligation and merely private sidings. See De Camp v.
Hibernia R. Co.,
47 N.J.L. 43; Chicago &c.. R. Co. v.
43 Minn. 527; Ulmer v. Lime Rock R. Co.,
Me. 579; Railway Company v. Petty,
57 Ark. 359;
Dietrich v. Murdock,
42 Mo. 279; Bedford Quarries Co.
v. Chicago &c. R. Co.,
175 Ind. 303.
While common carriers may not be compelled to make unreasonable
outlays (Missouri Pacific Ry. Co. v. Nebraska,
217 U. S. 196
is competent for the state, acting within the sphere of its
jurisdiction, to provide for an extension of their transportation
facilities, under reasonable conditions, so as to meet the demands
of trade, and it may impress upon these extensions of the carriers'
lines, thus furnished under the direction or authority of the
state, a public character regardless of the number served at the
beginning. The branch or spur comes into existence as a public
utility, and as such is always available as localities change and
communities grow. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has left no doubt
with respect to the public obligations imposed upon the carrier in
relation to the spurs and branches to be provided under the statute
in question, and we find no ground for the conclusion that this
enactment was beyond the state power.
It is also contended by the plaintiff in error that the finding
by the state court that the use in the present case is a public one
is not supported by the facts. But this
Page 233 U. S. 223
criticism of the court's finding is in substance a repetition of
the argument that is urged against the validity of the statute, and
what has been said upon that point is applicable.
The judgment is affirmed.
* These sections, enacted by chapter 352 of the Laws of 1907, as
amended by Chapter 481 of the Laws of 1909 and Chapters 193, 663 of
the Laws of 1911, are as follows:
"Section 1797-11m. 1. Every railroad shall acquire the necessary
rights of way for, and shall construct, connect, maintain, and
operate a reasonably adequate and suitable spur track, whenever
such spur track does not necessarily exceed three miles in length,
is practically indispensable to the successful operation of any
existing or proposed mill, elevator, storehouse, warehouse, dock,
wharf, pier, manufacturing establishment, lumber yard, coal dock,
or other industry or enterprise, and its construction and operation
is not unusually unsafe and dangerous and is not unreasonably
harmful to public interest."
"2. Such railroad may require the person or persons, firm,
corporations, or association primarily to be served thereby, to pay
the legitimate cost and expense of acquiring, by condemnation or
purchase the necessary rights of way for such spur track, and of
constructing the same, as shall be determined in separate items by
the commission, in which case the total estimated cost thereof
shall be deposited with the railroad before the railroad shall be
required to incur any expense whatever therefor; provided, however,
that, when any such person, firm, or corporation, or association
shall be required by the commission to deposit with the railroad
the total estimated cost, as herein provided, such person, firm,
corporation, or association may offer or cause to be offered a
proposition in writing to such railroad, to construct such spur
track, such proposition to be accompanied by a surety company bond,
running to such railroad, and conditioned upon the construction of
such spur track in a good and workmanlike manner, according to the
plans and specifications provided by such railroad, and approved by
the commission, and deposit with such railroad the estimated cost
of the necessary right of way for such spur track, and whenever
such proposition and security company bond shall be offered, the
person, firm, corporation, or association primarily to be served
thereby shall not be required to deposit as herein provided, as the
total estimated cost of such construction, an amount in excess of
the estimated cost of the right of way, and the total amount stated
in such written proposition. Provided further that, before the
railroad shall be required to incur any expense whatever in the
construction of said spur track, the person, firm, corporation, or
association primarily to be served thereby shall give the railroad
a bond to be approved by the commission as to form, amount, and
surety, securing the railroad against loss on account of any
expense incurred beyond the amount so deposited with the
"3. Whenever such spur track is so connected with the main line,
as herein provided at the expense of the owner of such proposed or
existing mill, elevator, storehouse, warehouse, dock, wharf, pier,
manufacturing establishment, lumber yard, coal dock, or other
industry or enterprise, and any person, firm, corporation, or
association shall desire a connection with such spur track,
application therefor shall be made to the commission, and such
person, firm, corporation, or association shall be required to pay
to the person, firm, corporation, or association that shall have
paid or contributed to the primary cost and expense of acquiring
the right of way for such original spur track, and of constructing
the same, an equitable proportion thereof, to be determined by the
commission, upon such application and notice, to the persons,
firms, corporations, or associations that have paid or contributed
toward the original cost and expense of acquiring the right of way
of constructing the same."
"Section 1797-12n. In case of the failure or refusal of any
railroad to comply with any of the provisions of §§ 1797-11m and
1797-12n, the person or persons, firm, corporation, or association
aggrieved thereby may file a complaint with the railroad commission
setting forth the facts, and the said commission shall investigate
and determine the matter in controversy, in accordance with the
provisions of §§ 1797-1 to 1797-38, inclusive, and any order it
shall make in said proceeding shall have the same force and effect
as an order in any other proceeding properly begun under and by
virtue of the provisions of said sections."