The Clinton Bridge
Annotate this Case
77 U.S. 454 (1870)
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U.S. Supreme Court
The Clinton Bridge, 77 U.S. 10 Wall. 454 454 (1870)
The Clinton Bridge
77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 454
1. An act of Congress enacting that a certain bridge, already built over a river which divides two states, "shall be a lawful structure, and shall be recognized and known as a post route," means not only that the bridge shall be a post route, but also that, as built, with its abutments, piers, superstructure, draw, and height, it should have the sanction of law, and be maintained and used in that condition. This, although the act was declared by its title to be simply an act declaring the bridge "a post route."
2. A suit in chancery begun previously to the passage of the act, praying injunction against building of the bridge as a nuisance is abated by such an act, though pleas and replication had been filed, proofs taken, and the case ready for hearing.
3. The act is constitutional.
Gray filed a bill in equity in the court below against the Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad Company to enjoin them from building a railroad bridge across the Mississippi River at the town of Clinton, situate on its banks on the Iowa or western side, U.S. and extending to a point opposite on the eastern or Illinois side. Railroads in each state came to the termini of the bridge. After setting out the interest which the complainant had in the free and unobstructed navigation of the river, and the serious danger and obstruction to the navigation by the erection of the bridge, the bill concluded with a prayer for a temporary injunction against the defendants, enjoining them from building the bridge until the final hearing of the cause, and for a perpetual injunction on the final hearing. Answers and replications were put in, and a large amount of proofs were taken by both parties. When the cause came on for a final hearing the counsel for the defendants objected to the proofs of the complainant being read, on the ground that, since the erection of the bridge, Congress had passed an act declaring it a lawful structure.
The act of Congress thus relied on as concluding the case, and which was passed 27th February, 1865, was entitled "An Act declaring Clinton Bridge across the Mississippi River, at Clinton, in the state of Iowa, a post route." It ran thus:
"SEC. 1. The bridge across the Mississippi River, erected by the Albany Bridge Company and Chicago, Iowa & Nebraska Railroad Company, under the authority of the States of Iowa and Illinois, between the Towns of Clinton, Iowa, and Albany, Illinois, shall be a lawful structure, and shall be recognized and known as a post route, upon which also no higher charge shall be made for the transmission over the same of the mails, the troops, and the munitions of war of the United States than the rate per mile paid for their transportation over the railroads or public highways leading to said bridge."
"SEC. 2. The draw of said bridge shall be opened promptly upon reasonable signal for the passage of boats, whose construction
shall not be such as to admit of their passage under the permanent spans of said bridge, except when trains are passing over the same; but in no case shall unnecessary delay occur in opening said draw during or after the passage of trains."
"SEC. 3. In case of any litigation hereafter arising from any alleged obstruction to the free navigation of said river, the cause may be tried before the circuit court of the United States of any state in which any portion of said obstruction or bridge touches."
"SEC. 4. The right to alter or amend this act so as to prevent or remove all material obstructions to the navigation of said river, by the construction of said bridge is hereby expressly reserved."
The bridge had been completed before the passage of the act.
The court below sustained the objection made to the reading of the plaintiff's proofs, holding that the act was conclusive of the case, and refused to hear any evidence going to prove that the bridge was a material obstruction to the navigation of the Mississippi, or to sustain any of the facts set out in the bill, and dismissed it accordingly. Thereupon the complainant brought the case here.