Wurts v. Hoagland , 114 U.S. 606 ( 1885 )

  • 114 U.S. 606 (1885)

    WURTS & Another
    HOAGLAND & Others, Commissioners.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    Argued March 10, 1885.
    Decided May 4, 1885.

    *610 Mr. Samuel Dickson and Mr. J.G. Shipman for plaintiffs in error.

    Mr. Theodore Little for defendants in error.

    MR. JUSTICE GRAY, after making the foregoing statement of facts, delivered the opinion of the court.

    General laws authorizing the drainage of tracts of swamp and low lands, by commissioners appointed upon proceedings instituted by some of the owners of the lands, and the assessment of the whole expense of the work upon all the lands within the tract in question, have long existed in the State of New Jersey, and have been sustained and acted on by her courts, under the Constitution of 1776, as well as under that of 1844. Stats. December 23, 1783, Wilson's Laws, 382; November 29, 1788, and November 24, 1792, Paterson's Laws, 84, 119; Jones v. Lore, Pennington, 1048; Doremus v. Smith, 1 Southard, 142; Westcott v. Garrison, 1 Halsted, 132; State v. Frank & Guisbert Creek Co., 2 J.S. Green, 301; State v. Newark, 3 Dutcher, 185, 194; Berdan v. Riser Drainage Co. cited 3 C.E. Green, 69; Coster v. Tide Water Co., 3 C.E. Green, 54, 68, 518, 531; State v. Blake, 6 Vroom, 208, and 7 Vroom, 442; Hoagland v. Wurts, 12 Vroom, 175, 179.

    *611 In State v. Newark, 3 Dutcher, 185, 194, the Supreme Court said: "Laws for the drainage or embanking of low grounds, and to provide for the expense, for the mere benefit of the proprietors, without reference to the public good, are to be classed, not under the taxing, but the police power of the government."

    In Coster v. Tide Water Co., 3 C.E. Green, 54, 518, the same view was strongly asserted in the Court of Chancery and in the Court of Errors. The point there decided was that a statute providing for the drainage of a large tract of land overflowed by tide water, by a corporation chartered for the purpose, none of the members of which owned any lands within the tract, if it could be maintained as an exercise of the right of eminent domain for a public use, yet could not authorize an assessment on the owners of such lands for anything beyond the benefits conferred upon them. But the case was clearly and sharply distinguished from the case of the drainage of lands for the exclusive benefit of the owners upon proceedings instituted by some of them.

    Chancellor Zabriskie said: "But there is another branch of legislative power that may be appealed to, as authorizing the taking of the lands required for the works to drain these meadows. It is the power of the government to prescribe public regulations for the better and more economical management of property of persons whose property adjoins, or which, from some other reason, can be better managed and improved by some joint operation, such as the power of regulating the building of party walls; making and maintaining partition fences and ditches; constructing ditches and sewers for the draining of uplands or marshes, which can more advantageously be drained by a common sewer or ditch. This is a well-known legislative power, recognized and treated of by all jurisconsults and writers upon law through the civilized world; a branch of legislative power exercised by this State before and since the Revolution, and before and since the adoption of the present Constitution, and repeatedly recognized by our courts. The legislature has power to regulate these subjects, either by general law, or by particular laws for certain localities or particular and defined *612 tracts of land. When the Constitution vested the legislative power in the Senate and General Assembly, it conferred the power to make these public regulations as a well understood part of that legislative power." "The principle of them all is, to make an improvement common to all concerned, at the common expense of all. And to effect this object, the acts provide that the works to effect the drainage may be located on any part of the lands drained, paying the owner of the land thus occupied compensation for the damage by such use. So far private property is taken by them; farther it is not. In none of them is the owner divested of his fee, and in most there is no corporation in which it could be vested, and for all other purposes the title of the land remained in the owner. To effect such common drainage, power was in some cases given to continue these drains through adjacent lands not drained, upon compensation. All this was an ancient and well-known exercise of legislative power, and may well be considered as included in the grant of legislative power in the Constitution." 3 C.E. Green, 68-71.

    Chief Justice Beasley, in delivering the judgment of the Court of Errors, enforced the same distinction, saying: "This case, with regard to the grounds on which it rests, is to be distinguished from that class of proceedings by which meadows and other lands are drained on the application of the land owners themselves. In the present instance, the State is the sole actor, and public necessity or convenience is the only justification of her intervention. But the regulations established by the legislative power, whereby the owners of meadow lands are compelled to submit to an equal burden of the expense incurred in their improvement, are rules of police of the same character as provisions concerning party walls and partition fences. To these cases, therefore, the principle upon which the decision of the present case rests is not to be extended." 3 C.E. Green, 531.

    These full and explicit statements have been since treated by the courts of New Jersey as finally establishing the constitutionality of such statutes.

    In State v. Blake, 6 Vroom, 208, and 7 Vroom, 442, a statute *613 authorizing a tract of swamps and marsh lands to be drained by commissioners elected by the owners of the lands, and the entire expense assessed upon all the owners, was held to be constitutional, although no appeal was given from the assessment. In the Supreme Court it was said: "This branch of legislative power which regulates the construction of ditches and secures the drainage of meadows and marshy lands has been exercised so long, and is so fully recognized, that it is now too late to call it in question. It is clearly affirmed in the Tide Water Co. v. Coster, and cannot be opened to discussion." 6 Vroom, 211. And the Court of Errors, in a unanimous judgment, approved this statement of the Supreme Court, as well as that of Chief Justice Beasley, in Coster v. Tide Water Co., above quoted, 7 Vroom, 447, 448.

    The constitutionality of the statute of 1871, under which the proceedings in the case at bar were had, was upheld by the Supreme Court and the Court of Errors upon the ground of the previous decisions. In re Lower Chatham Drainage, 6 Vroom, 497, 501; In re Pequest River Drainage, 10 Vroom, 433, 434; 12 Vroom, 175, 179; 13 Vroom, 553, 554, and 14 Vroom, 456. The further suggestion made by the Supreme Court in 6 Vroom, 501, 506, and 10 Vroom, 434, that this statute could be maintained as a taking of private property for a public use, was disapproved by the Court of Errors in 12 Vroom, 178.

    In Kean v. Driggs Drainage Co., 16 Vroom, 91, cited for the plaintiffs in error, the statute that was held unconstitutional created a private corporation with power to drain lands without the consent or application of any of the owners; and the Supreme Court observed that in the opinions of the Court of Errors in the present case and in Coster v. Tide Water Co., the distinction was clearly drawn between meadow drainage for the exclusive benefit of the owners, to be done at their sole expense, and drainage undertaken by the public primarily as a matter of public concern, in which case the assessment upon land owners must be limited to benefits imparted. 16 Vroom, 94.

    This review of the cases clearly shows that general laws for *614 the drainage of large tracts of swamps and low lands, upon proceedings instituted by some of the proprietors of the lands to compel all to contribute to the expense of their drainage, have been maintained by the courts of New Jersey (without reference to the power of taking private property for the public use under the right of eminent domain, or to the power of suppressing a nuisance dangerous to the public health) as a just and constitutional exercise of the power of the legislature to establish regulations by which adjoining lands, held by various owners in severally, and in the improvement of which all have a common interest, but which, by reason of the peculiar natural condition of the whole tract, cannot be improved or enjoyed by any of them without the concurrence of all, may be reclaimed and made useful to all at their joint expense. The case comes within the principle upon which this court upheld the validity of general mill acts in Head v. Amoskeag Manufacturing Co., 113 U.S. 9.

    It is also well settled by the decisions of the courts of New Jersey that such proceedings are not within the provision of the Constitution of that State securing the right of trial by jury. New Jersey Constitution of 1776, art. 22; Constitution of 1844, art 1, sec. 7; Scudder v. Trenton Delaware Falls Co., Saxton, 694, 721-725; In re Lower Chatham Drainage, 7 Vroom, 442; Howe v. Plainfield, 8 Vroom, 145.

    The statute of 1871 is applicable to any tract of land within the State which is subject to overflow from freshest, or which is usually in low, marshy, boggy or wet condition. It is only upon the application of at least five owners of separate lots of land included in the tract, that a plan of drainage can be adopted. All persons interested have opportunity by public notice to object to the appointment of commissioners to execute that plan, and no commissioners can be appointed against the remonstrance of the owners of the greater part of the lands. All persons interested have also opportunity by public notice to be heard before the court on the commissioners' report of the expense of the work, and of the lands which in their judgment ought to contribute; as well as before the commissioners, and, on any error in law or in the principles *615 judgment before the court, upon the amount of the assessment.

    The statute is applicable to all lands of the same kind, and the person can be assessed under it for the expense of drainage without notice and opportunity to be heard, the plaintiffs should have neither been denied the equal protection of the laws been deprived of their property without due process of law within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Barbier v. Connolly, 113 U.S. 27, 31; Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U.S. 90; Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97; Hagar v. Reclamation District, 111 U.S. 701.

    Judgment affirmed.