Louisville Bridge Co. v. United States,
242 U.S. 409 (1917)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Louisville Bridge Co. v. United States, 242 U.S. 409 (1917)

Louisville Bridge Company v. United States

No. 540

Argued December 8, 11, 1916

Decided January 8, 1917

242 U.S. 409


The Acts of July 14, 1862, c. 167, 12 Stat. 569, and February 17, 1865, c. 38, 13 Stat. 431, under which appellant's bridge was built across the Ohio River, were not intended and did not operate to confer an irrepealable franchise to maintain the bridge as authorized and originally constructed, nor did they create a vested right demanding compensation under the Fifth Amendment when changes were subsequently required by Congress in the interest of navigation. United States v. Parkersburg Branch R. Co., 134 F. 969, 143 F. 224, overruled. Monongahela Navigation Co. v. United States, 148 U. S. 312, and United States v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 229 U. S. 244, distinguished.

When indefeasible private rights are sought to be derived from regulatory provisions made in the exercise of the power to regulate commerce, the case is peculiarly one for the application of the universal rule that grants of special franchises and privileges are to be strictly construed in favor of the public right, and nothing is to be taken as granted concerning which any reasonable doubt may be raised.

In construing the acts above cited, the Court judicially notices their coincidence in time with the Civil War, the lack of bridges over the Ohio at Cincinnati, Louisville, and points west, the natural difficulties of crossing the stream, the urgent need of a bridge to transfer troops and supplies south, and the fact that financial disturbances made it difficult to secure capital for large undertakings.

Page 242 U. S. 410

The absence of an express reservation of the right to alter or repeal has not the same significance in acts of Congress as in state legislation, and in the acts above cited is without conclusive effect.

Acts like those here in question, being passed in the regulation of commerce for the guidance of future conduct, carry the suggestion of future changes, and, in their construction, it should be presumed that Congress intended to preserve its power to make future adjustments, in pace with commercial developments -- assuming, but not deciding, that such power could be shackled or surrendered.

The Act of March 3, 1899, c. 425, 30 Stat. 1121, 1153, so repealed or modified the Acts of 1862 and 1865 as to include appellant's bridge within its operation.

The authority of the Secretary of War under the Act of 1899, to require changes involves no unlawful delegation of legislative or judicial power.

233 F. 270 affirmed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

Page 242 U. S. 414

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