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decided: April 12, 1915.



Author: Mckenna

[ 237 U.S. Page 254]

 MR. JUSTICE McKENNA delivered the opinion of the court.

Suit for injunction by appellant, which we shall call complainant, brought originally against Henry L. Stimson as Secretary of War and Robert Shaw Oliver as Assistant

[ 237 U.S. Page 255]

     Secretary of War, for whom the appellees were substituted and whom we shall refer to as defendants, to enjoin them and all persons acting under their authority from taking or removing or in any way interfering with complainant's wharf or other property "along or upon the water front of its said property upon the southern branch of the Elizabeth river" in the State of Virginia. It having been constructed, it is alleged, under the authority of the State and within and upon the harbor line subsequently established by the Secretary of War, it became, it is further alleged, property lawfully owned and could, therefore, be removed only upon payment of just compensation.

A preliminary injunction was granted in accordance with the prayer of the bill.

There was a demurrer to the bill, urging, among other grounds, that the court was without jurisdiction of the persons of the defendants and also without jurisdiction of the suit because it was one against the United States. These grounds were subsequently waived and the want of equity in the bill alone relied on.

The demurrer was overruled, 204 Fed. Rep. 489, and the present defendants, substituted as parties defendant, answered.

The answer, by certain denials and admissions, in effect repeated the propositions of the demurrer and asserted the control of Congress over the river, acting through the Secretary of War, adducing 30 Stat. 1153, and concluded with a prayer that the court order the demolition of such portions of the wharf and other property as might be found to be outside the re-established pier-head line and that the injunction theretofore granted be dissolved and complainant's bill dismissed.

Further detail of the pleadings is unnecessary as a statement of facts was made which presents all that are necessary for a decision. From the statement it appears that a board of harbor commissioners was created by

[ 237 U.S. Page 256]

     Virginia in 1875 and that in 1876, the exact date not known, the authorities of the State of Virginia established a harbor line which remained until 1890, when the same was adopted by the Secretary of War as the harbor line established by the Federal Government, and it so remained until "the recent establishment of the present harbor line June 12, 1911, which was so established by the Secretary of War, after notice, etc., and that until said new line was established, no part of complainant's property was outside of the same." It appears from the statement and diagram attached that complainant had constructed two certain fills into the Elizabeth river. It made extensions into the river from two points on the shore and connected at the outer extremities, the wall forming a continuous wharf of three sides surrounding the water they enclosed, the fourth side being the high land. The space so surrounded was called a log pond and designed for the storage of logs for the purposes of complainant's business. The following also appears from the statement:

"That on the 22nd day of July, 1911, the Navy Department wrote to the complainant stating that that Department intended making certain improvements in the Navy Yard and requesting the complainant to fix a price at which it would sell so much of its property or wharf and log pond as lay without the present port warden's line. The complainant answering said letter stated that the matter would be laid before its board of directors on July 26, 1911, and thereafter the attached correspondence was had between the Navy Department and the complainant. That while the above paragraph is admitted as a fact, it is nevertheless objected to by the defendants for the reason taht the same is not relevant or material to the decision of this case and it is claimed by said defendants, Secretary of War and Assistant Secretary of War, that this admission does not bind them.

[ 237 U.S. Page 257]

     "That the water now immediately in front of complainant's property is navigable, but if the present structures are removed to the present harbor line as demanded by the Government the complainant will be cut off from navigable water unless the river is dredged where the structures now are. That an act of Congress approved March 4, 1911, entitled "An Act making Appropriations for the Naval Service for the year ending June 30, 1912, and for other purposes" (c. 239, 36 Stat. 1265, 1275), has been passed, in which Act an appropriation has been made for dredging the bottom of the river at the point in controversy, pursuant to which the Government proposes to widen the channel to the new port warden's line.

"It is further admitted that the fee simple title to the high land to low water mark adjacent to the port warden's line in question, is in the Greenleaf Johnson Lumber Company, the complainant it this suit.

"The reestablished or new harbor line runs along the front of complainant's wharf at the northern end of the property, cutting off approximately two [200] feet of the same."

There was some oral testimony, of which it is enough to say that it identified certain descriptive maps of the property. It also showed the purpose for which the property was constructed and used, and its present condition, the description of the new line and its relation to the old one, and that "the entire change made by the establishment of the new harbor line is immediately in front of the Navy Yard," and that "the Government in recent years had used the channel of the river opposite the Navy Yard and in front of the property of complainant to a very large extent for the storage of its vessels," and a witness had seen as many as five abreast, ranging from torpedo boats to colliers.

The District Court overruled the demurrer, as we have said, expressing its views in an opinion. The court also

[ 237 U.S. Page 258]

     denied the mandatory injunction prayed by the United States and continued the temporary restraining order. Subsequently the court entered its decree adjudging that the Secretary of War had no authority under the law to remove or cause to be removed the structures mentioned in the pleadings and decreed that the temporary injunction be made permanent. The decree was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 208 Fed. Rep. 1022.

Two propositions are presented: (1) The power of Congress over navigable waters. (2) Whether the acts of the Secretary of War were done in the exercise of that power.

It would seem that the existence of the power of Congress has been withdrawn from the domain of discussion by many authorities, and that little room is left for debate as to the extent of that power. But a distinction is made by complainant between structures in a river which avail of its navigability and structures which may be an obstruction to its navigation. Upon this distinction, which will be explained more fully hereafter, complainant contends that a right of property by the privilege granted by the State of Virginia became vested in it which can only be taken upon payment of just compensation. And this distinction, it is further contended, explains the cases relied on by counsel for the United States and sustains the authority of the cases adduced by complainant. A review of the cases, therefore, is worth while.

The power of Congress is expressed in a general way in Gilman v. Philadelphia, 3 Wall. 713, 731, in which a certain power was conceded to the States but necessarily to be exercised, it was decided, in subordination to the supremacy of the national power. "Until the dominant power of the Constitution is awakened," it was said, "and made effective, . . . the reserved power of the States is plenary."

In Gibson v. United States, 166 U.S. 269, there was a further expression of the principle and an application of

[ 237 U.S. Page 259]

     it to riparian ownership, and it was decided that "all navigable waters are under the control of the United States for the purpose of regulating and improving navigation, and although the title to the shore and submerged soil is in the various States and individual owners under them, it is always subject to the servitude in respect to navigation created in favor of the Federal Government by the Constitution." Citing, among other cases, Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1. The case was one for the recovery of damages caused by the construction of a dike in the Ohio river, by which the lands of Gibson were flooded. Relief was denied and the principle expressed that the exercise "of the dominant right of the Government" over navigation subjected riparian ownership to such consequence and it was said that an appropriation for improvement was an exercise of the power of Congress.

In Scranton v. Wheeler, 179 U.S. 141, access was cut off from a navigable river by improvements instituted by authority of Congress. This was said: "All the cases concur in holding that the power of Congress the regulate commerce, and therefore navigation, is paramount, and is unrestricted, except by the limitations upon its authority by the Constitution." The words "except by the limitations upon its authority by the Constitution" were not intended to qualify the power expressed, as is made manifest by subsequent cases.

In C., B. & Q. Ry. v. Illinois, 200 U.S. 561, the railway company was required to reconstruct a bridge to subserve a public work. The bridge had been constructed under lawful authority. Compensation, however, was denied, the bridge being over a public highway.The latter and public waters were considered analogous.

In West Chicago Railroad v. Chicago, 201 U.S. 506, a tunnel was constructed by permission of Chicago under the Chicago river and was subsequently required to be lowered. It ...

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