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NOBLE V. UNION RIVER LOGGING R. CO., 147 U. S. 165 (1893)

U.S. Supreme Court

Noble v. Union River Logging R. Co., 147 U.S. 165 (1893)

Noble v. Union River Logging Railroad Company

No. 1157

Argued December 20, 1892

Decided January 9, 1893

147 U.S. 165


A decision of the Secretary of the Interior, in exercise of the powers conferred upon him by the Act of March 3, 1875, c. 152, 18 Stat. 482, that a designated railroad company is entitled to a right of way over public laud, cannot be revoked by his successor in office.

Whether a railroad company applying for such a grant is a company which the statute authorizes to receive a grant of a right of way is a quasi-judicial question which, when once determined by the Secretary, is finally determined so far as the executive is concerned.

This was a bill in equity by the union River Logging Railroad Company to enjoin the Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of the General Land Office from executing a certain order revoking the approval of the plaintiff's maps for a right of way over the public lands, and also from molesting plaintiff in the enjoyment of such right of way secured to it under an act of Congress.

The bill averred in substance that the union River Logging Railroad Company was organized March 20, 1883, under chapter 185 of the Territorial Code of Washington, authorizing the formation of "corporations for . . . the purpose of building, equipping, and running railroads," etc. The articles declared the business and objects of the corporation to be

"the building, equipping, running, maintaining, and operating of a railroad for the transportation of saw logs, piles, and other timber, and wood and lumber, and to charge and receive compensation and tolls therefor, . . . from tidewater in Lynch's Cove at the head of Hood's Canal, in said Mason County, and running thence in a general northeasterly direction, by the most practicable route, a distance of about ten miles, more or less,"

etc. The capital stock of the company being subscribed, the company proceeded by degrees to construct

Page 147 U. S. 166

and equip a road extending from tidewater in Lynch's Cove about four miles along the line above mentioned, to transport saw logs and other lumber and timber. On August 17, 1888, amended articles of incorporation were filed "to construct and equip a railroad and telegraph line" over a much longer route, with branches, and "to maintain and operate said railroad and branches, and carry freight and passengers thereon, and receive tolls therefor." Also

"to engage and carry on a general logging business, and provide for the cutting, hauling, transportation, buying, owning, acquiring, and selling of all kinds of logs, piles, poles, lumber, and timber."

In the spring of 1889, plaintiff proceeded to extend its line of road for three miles beyond the point to which it had previously extended it. It located at intervals a better line of road, made and ballasted a new roadbed of standard gauge, and substituted steel rails and another locomotive in place of those rails and equipments which had been sufficient for its limited purposes, as specified in the original articles. In January, 1889, the company desiring to avail itself of an Act of Congress of March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 482, granting to railroads a right of way through the public lands of the United States, filed with the register of the land office at Seattle a copy of its articles of incorporation, a copy of the territorial law under which the company was organized, and the other documents required by the act, together with a map showing the termini of the road, its length, and its route through the public lands according to the public surveys. These papers were transmitted to the Commissioner of the Land Office, and by him to the Secretary of the Interior, by whom they were approved in writing and ordered to be filed. They were accordingly filed at once, and the plaintiff notified thereof.

On June 13, 1890, a copy of an order by the appellant, successor in office to the Secretary of the Interior by whom the maps were approved, was served upon the plaintiff, requiring it to show cause why said approval should not be revoked and annulled.

This was followed by an order of the Acting Secretary of

Page 147 U. S. 167

the interior annulling and cancelling such maps and directing the Commissioner of the Land Office to carry out the order.

The answer admitted all the allegations of fact in the bill and averred that it became known to the defendants that the plaintiff was not engaged in the business of a common carrier of passengers and freight at the time of its application, but in the transportation of logs for the private use and benefit of the several persons composing the said company, and that, being advised that a railroad company carrying on a merely private business was not such a railroad company as was contemplated by the act of Congress, deemed it their duty to vacate and annul the action of Mr. Vilas, then Secretary of the Interior, approving plaintiff's maps of definite location, and to that end caused the notice complained of in the bill to be served. They further claimed it to be their duty to revoke and annul the action of the former Secretary of the Interior as having been made improvidently, and on false suggestions, and without authority under the statute.

Upon a hearing upon the bill, answer, and accompanying exhibits, the court ordered a decree for the plaintiff, and an injunction as prayed for in the bill. Defendants appealed to this Court.

Page 147 U. S. 170

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