Packet Company v. Keokuk
Annotate this Case
95 U.S. 80 (1877)
U.S. Supreme Court
Packet Company v. Keokuk, 95 U.S. 80 (1877)
Packet Company v. Keokuk
95 U.S. 80
1. A municipal corporation having, by its charter, an exclusive right to make wharves on the banks of a navigable river upon which it is situated, collect wharfage, and regulate wharfage rates can, consistently with the Constitution of the United States, charge and collect from the owner of enrolled and licensed steamboats, which moor and land at a wharf constructed by it, wharfage proportioned to their tonnage.
2. Statutes which are constitutional in part only will be upheld and enforced so far as they are not in conflict with the Constitution, provided the allowed and prohibited parts are severable.
The act of the legislature of Iowa creating the City of Keokuk a municipal corporation gave to the city council power to establish and regulate wharves, and to fix the rates of landing and wharfage of all boats, rafts, and watercraft moored at or landing at the wharves. By virtue of this power, the city council, on the 26th of February, 1872, passed an ordinance, the first section of which ordained that all the ground then lying,
or which might thereafter be made, between Water Street in the said city and the middle channel of the Mississippi River should be declared a wharf, and should be subject to be used for such purposes, under such conditions as might be prescribed by ordinance. The second section declared that the whole of Water Street, as well as the land described in the foregoing section, should be open for the uses and purposes of a wharf, subject to the rules and regulations prescribed by ordinance for its government, and that all boats, rafts, and watercraft that are moored to or landed at any part of Water Street, and the persons owning, claiming, and having charge of the same, should be subject to the same rules, regulations, wharfage, and penalties as were provided by the ordinance in relation to boats, rafts, and other watercraft landing or mooring at the wharf, as defined by the third section. The third section ordained that any steamboat that should make fast to any part of said wharf or Water Street or to any vessel or other thing at or upon said wharf or street, or should receive or discharge any passengers or freight thereon, or should use any part of said wharf or street for the purpose of discharging, receiving, or landing any freight or passenger, should be liable to a wharfage fee. This fee, the ordinance declared, should be one dollar if the tonnage of the boat was less than fifty tons; one dollar and fifty cents if the tonnage of the boat was less than one hundred tons and more than fifty; two dollars if the tonnage was one hundred tons and less than two hundred; three dollars for boats of two hundred tons and less than three hundred; four dollars for boats of three hundred tons and less than four hundred; and five dollars for all boats of four hundred tons and upwards. The section also ordained that each boat that should remain at the wharf or street over two and less than five days should pay a wharfage fee of one dollar and fifty cents for each day after the first two days, and one dollar per day for every day over five days it might remain at the wharf or street. The fourth section of the ordinance applied the provision of the third section to barges, canal boats, or keel boats used in the carrying trade, landing at the wharf, whether in tow or otherwise. This ordinance the plaintiffs in error claim to be in conflict with the Constitution. They are the owners of several steamboats
which have landed at the wharves of the city from time to time and occupied them for the purpose of receiving and discharging freight and passengers. Wharfage dues were regularly demanded, but refused. Their boats were engaged in navigating the Mississippi River between St. Louis, Mo., and St. Paul, Minn., and they landed at Keokuk, one of their regular ports. While so employed, they were duly licensed and enrolled for the coasting trade under the acts of Congress for the regulation of commerce.
These are all the material facts of the case, except that the landing of the boats was at an improved wharf which the city had built within its limits, extending about one thousand feet along the line of the river, a wharf which the city had paved, and in building, extending, and repairing of which it had expended a large sum of money. The money had been borrowed, and, to pay the interest of the debt it became necessary to charge and collect reasonable wharfage. That the rates charged, if any charge is lawful, were reasonable is not denied. They were no more than sufficient to meet the interest of the debt incurred for building and improving the wharf.
Suit having been brought to recover the wharfage prescribed by the ordinance, and a judgment for the amount having been recovered and affirmed by the supreme court of the state, the plaintiffs in error have brought the case here, and they now contend that the ordinance is invalid for several reasons. Of these, the principal alleged are that it imposes a duty of tonnage and that it is a regulation of commerce such as Congress only is authorized to make.
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