Essex v. New England Tel. Co.,
239 U.S. 313 (1916)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Essex v. New England Tel. Co., 239 U.S. 313 (1916)

Town of Essex v. New England Telegraph Company

No. 56

Argued November 5, 1915

Decided December 6, 1916

239 U.S. 313


The contention that an act of Congress as construed and applied by the district court transcends the power of Congress, if of sufficient substance, gives this Court jurisdiction of a direct appeal under § 238, Judicial Code.

The Post Road Act of 1866 substantially declares, in the interest of commerce and the convenient transmission of intelligence from pace to place by the government of the United States and its citizens, that the erection of telegraph lines shall, so far as state interference is concerned, be free to all who will submit to the conditions imposed. Pensacola Tel. Co. v. West. Un. Tel. Co., 96 U. S. 1.

A state has no authority to say that a telegraph company may operate lines constructed over postal routes within its borders. West Un. Tel. Co. v. Massachusetts, 125 U. S. 530.

A city may not arbitrarily exclude wires and poles of a telegraph company from its streets, but may impose reasonable restrictions and regulations. West. Un. Tel. Co. v. Richmond, 224 U. S. 160.

Where a town has given written permission to a telegraph company specifying how posts could be placed and wires run and the company has complied with such permission, such lines are protected by the Post Road Act of 1866 against subsequent exclusion or other arbitrary action by the town.

A municipality may, under exceptional circumstances, be held to have waived its rights, or to have estopped itself to assert them as by acquiescing for a long period in the maintenance of the system and large expenditures of money in connection therewith by a telegraph company.

The Post Road Act of 1866 must be construed and applied in recognition of the existing conditions and with a view to effectuate the purposes for which it was enacted.

Where rights of a telegraph company under the Post Road Act would be violated by threatened arbitrary action by a municipality, they may be protected by injunction, but the injunction should not prevent the municipality from subjecting the location and operation of the company's lines to reasonable regulations.

Page 239 U. S. 314

The facts, which involve the rights of telegraph companies under, and the construction of, the Post Road Act of 1866 are stated in the opinion.

Page 239 U. S. 316

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