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DOUGLASS V. COUNTY OF PIKE, 101 U. S. 677 (1879)

U.S. Supreme Court

Douglass v. County of Pike, 101 U.S. 677 (1879)

Douglass v. County of Pike

101 U.S. 677


1. The court reviews the legislation and judicial decisions of Missouri, whereby the constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly, entitled "An Act to facilitate the construction of railroads in the State of Missouri," approved March 23, 1868, was recognized and affirmed long after the county authorities had issued, pursuant to its provisions, the bonds whereon this suit was brought. The court in this case adheres to its ruling in accordance with those decisions, as announced in County of Cass v. Johnston, 95 U. S. 360, although the Supreme Court of Missouri has since declared that act to be in conflict with sec. 14, art. 11, of the Constitution, adopted by that state in 1865.

2. Where municipal bonds have been put upon the market as commercial paper, the rights of the parties thereto are to be determined according to the statutes of the state as they were then construed by her highest court; and in a case involving those rights this court will not be governed by any subsequent decision in conflict with that under which they accrued.

3. The settled judicial construction of a statute, so far as contract rights were thereunder acquired, is as much a part of the statute as the text itself, and a change of decision is the same in its effect on preexisting contracts as a repeal or an amendment by legislative enactment.

This was an action by Joseph M. Douglass on three hundred and twenty-one overdue coupons detached from bonds issued by the county to Pike, Missouri. The bonds are in the following form:

Page 101 U. S. 678

"No. ___] STATE OF MISSOURI [$500.00"


"Issued in payment of Stock of the Pike County Short Line Railroad Company"

"Know all men by these presents that the County of Pike, in the State of Missouri, acknowledges itself indebted and firmly bound to the Pike County Short Line Railroad Company in the sum of five hundred dollars, which sum the said county promises to pay to the said Pike County Short Line Railroad Company, or bearer, at the National Bank of the State of Missouri, in St. Louis, Mo., on the first day of January, A.D. 1892, with interest thereon from the first day of January, A.D. 1872, at the rate of ten percent per annum; which interest shall be payable semiannually on the presentation and delivery at said National Bank, of the coupons of interest hereto attached, this bond being issued under and pursuant to an order of the County Court of Pike County by authority of an Act of the General Assembly of the State of Missouri, approved March 23, 1868, entitled 'An Act to facilitate the construction of railroads in the State of Missouri,' and authorized by vote of the people of Cuivre Township, in said county, taken as required by law, Feb. 7, 1871."

"In testimony whereof, the said County of Pike has executed this bond, by the presiding justice of the county court of said county, under the order thereof, signing his name hereto, and by the clerk of said court, under the order thereof, attesting the same and affixing the seal of said court; this done at Bowling Green, County of Pike aforesaid, this first day of January, A.D. 1872."



"Presiding Justice of County Court of Pike County, Missouri"

"Attest: H. C. CAMPBELL"

"Clerk of County Court of Pike County, Missouri"

The declaration avers that the county, in behalf of said township, subscribed for and received and retains the stock of said railroad company to an amount equal to the bonds, and paid the coupons falling due up to Jan. 1, 1876; that the road was built through the township; that the subscription was authorized by a vote duly taken, as required by law, on the seventh day of February, 1871; that he is the holder for value of the coupons sued on, and that he duly presented them for

Page 101 U. S. 679

payment at said bank as they became due, and that payment was refused.

Judgment was rendered in favor of the defendant on its demurrer to the plaintiff's declaration, the question involved being the constitutionality of the act whereof mention is made in the bonds.

The plaintiff thereupon sued out this writ of error.

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