This Court is slow to disturb the decision of the supreme court
of a territory in regard to matters of local practice and the
construction of state statutes. Nadal v. May, ante,
233 U. S. 447
While the record of proceedings of a board of directors, when
made, is the best evidence, if it is found that no record was made,
the admission of secondary evidence is not reversible error.
Bank of the United States v.
12 Wheat. 64.
This Court sees no reason for reversing the supreme court of the
Territory of New Mexico in holding that a railroad company was
entitled under §§ 3850 and 3874, Compiled Laws, to protection as
soon as its final location was completed.
Under the circumstances of this case, the plaintiff railroad
company was not guilty of laches in the location and protection of
its right of way.
A defendant railroad company acquires no new rights by going
ahead with location and construction after a suit has been
commenced by another company claiming a prior location.
16 N.M. 281 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the conflicting claims of two railroad
companies to a right of way in New Mexico, are stated in the
Page 233 U. S. 602
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a bill brought by the appellee, a corporation of New
Mexico, to restrain the appellant from entering upon and
interfering in various ways with its right of way. After a trial,
the plaintiff (appellee) got a decree conditioned, as to the
portions of the line then occupied by the defendant in the actual
operation of its railway, upon the plaintiff's constructing at
least twenty-one miles of railroad, etc., and limited as a whole to
five years from the date of the decree. This was affirmed by the
supreme court of the territory. 16 N.M. 281. See
345. There are fifty-eight assignment of error, but the
propositions argued fall into narrower compass. They are, that the
plaintiff never adopted the line it claims, that there was no
appropriation of the land until the plaintiff's location map was
filed, after the beginning of this suit, that the plaintiff has
lost whatever rights it had by laches and inability to construct
its line, that there is no irreparable injury or other ground for
equitable relief, and that the plaintiff had adequate remedies
under the condemnation statutes and by ejectment. So far as they
need discussion, we will take these up in turn.
It is found that the plaintiff adopted the line in question, but
it is argued that this finding is shown to be wrong as matter of
law by reason of specific facts set forth in findings of the
supreme court made, after the delivery of its opinion, in addition
to those adopted from the court below. These are that certain small
portions of the line between the northern boundary of the state and
the Town of Farmington are not covered by any order of adoption on
the part of the directors shown by the records, and that finding
that those portions were adopted is based on the oral testimony of
the plaintiff's chief engineer. (We do not stop to notice a slight
Page 233 U. S. 603
in form between different parts of the findings, as the meaning
is perfectly clear.) The argument is that adoption by the directors
is necessary, which is admitted, and that, as the Complied Laws of
1897, § 3832, require the directors to keep a complete record of
all proceedings in a special book, such record is the only
admissible evidence of the fact. But this is a matter of local
practice, and the construction of a local statute, as to which we
should be slow to disturb the decision of the local court.
Nadal v. May,
this term, ante,
p. 233 U. S. 447
statute does not in terms purport to make the validity of the
directors' action dependent upon being recorded. No doubt the
record, when made, would be the best evidence, but, it being found
that no record was made, the admission of secondary evidence is no
ground for reversing the decree. Bank of
United States v. Dandridge,
12 Wheat. 64,
25 U. S. 69
the opinion of the court, this question is avoided, but the finding
subsequently added, coupled with the finding that the line was
adopted, imports the ruling of law that we have supposed.
The next objection is that the maps of the disputed portion of
the road were not filed, as required by § 3874, until the day after
this suit was begun, and attention is called to § 3850, which
requires a petition for condemnation to set forth that the company
has surveyed the line of its proposed road and made a map thereof,
and that it has located its road according to such survey. But, by
§ 3874, the company is not required to record its map until "within
a reasonable time its road shall be finally located," which it is
found to have done, and again, we see no sufficient reason for
reversing the decision of the local court that a company is
entitled to protection as soon as its final location is complete.
Wheeling, B. & T. Ry. Co. v. Camden Cons. Oil Co.,
W.Va. 205, 209.
Next it is said that the plaintiff has been guilty of laches.
But it is found that the defendant, with full knowledge,
Page 233 U. S. 604
threatened and intended to take and occupy and has crossed and
recrossed the plaintiff's location at many points and different
grades, with circumstances not necessary to be detailed, and thus
has made it impracticable for the plaintiff to proceed. It is found
also that, in the location and acquisition of its line, the
plaintiff proceeded with due diligence and in good faith, and that
it had expended more than $100,000 in the location and securing
rights of way before the beginning of this suit. The defendant has
gone ahead since the suit was begun, but, of course, has acquired
no new rights by doing so. The objections to equitable jurisdiction
do not need separate discussion. The line is found to be the best
line between the points, and the plaintiff is entitled to it. It
neither is to be forced into a compulsory sale nor to be remitted
to legal or statutory remedies that rightly are thought to be
inadequate by the local court.