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WILLIAMS V. EGGLESTON, 170 U. S. 304 (1898)

U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Eggleston, 170 U.S. 304 (1898)

Williams v. Eggleston

No. 210

Argued April 19-20, 1898

Decided May 2, 1898

170 U.S. 304


The legislation of the State of Connecticut whereby the franchise and property of a company which had constructed and was maintaining a toll bridge across the Connecticut at Hartford were condemned for public use, and the cost was apportioned between the state and the Town of Glastonbury and four other municipal corporations in proportions determined by the statutes, and the proceedings had under this and subsequent legislation set forth in the statement of the case and the opinion of the Court, did not violate any provisions of the federal Constitution.

For three-quarters of a century prior to 1887, the Hartford Bridge Company had, under a charter from the state (Pub.Acts Conn. 1887, c. 126, p. 746), maintained a toll bridge over the Connecticut River at the City of Hartford. It also maintained on the east side of the bridge, and connected therewith, a causeway across the lowlands adjacent to the river.

On May 19, 1887, the legislature of the state passed an act making said bridge and causeway a free public highway, and providing for the condemnation of the franchise and other property of the bridge company. (Pub. Acts Conn. 1887, p. 746, c. 126.) Proceedings were directed to be instituted in the Superior Court of the County of Hartford for ascertaining the value of the property, determining the towns benefited by the establishment of the public highways, and apportioning the assessed damages. In this proceeding, the damages assessed to the bridge company were $210,000, and apportioned between five towns, as follows: to the Town of Hartford, 95/210; East Hartford, 66/210; Glastonbury, 25/210, and the towns of South Windsor and Manchester, each, 12/210.

Page 170 U. S. 305

The state, however, appropriated out of its treasury 40 percent of the entire amount, to-wit, $84,000, leaving the balance to be paid by these several towns, and such sums were paid. The act also provided that this public highway should thereafter be maintained by the towns assessed in proportion to their assessments, and that the first selectmen of each of said towns should become ex officio members of a board, constituted a body politic and corporate, and charged with this duty of care and maintenance.

On June 29, 1893, the legislature passed an act providing that said bridge and causeway should thereafter "be maintained by the State of Connecticut at its expense," and that the governor, with the consent of the Senate, should appoint three commissioners, who should constitute "a board for the care, maintenance and control" of such bridge and highway. (Pub.Acts Conn. 1893, p. 395, c. 239.) The bridge was a covered wooden bridge, which had been in existence for many years. On November 13, 1894, that board, acting through a majority of its members, made a contract with the Berlin Iron-Bridge Company for the construction of a new bridge, to cost $274,900. Some work had been done and some material furnished by the company when, on May 17, 1895, the old wooden bridge was entirely destroyed by fire. A week thereafter, and on May 24, 1895, the legislature passed an act (Pub.Acts Conn. 1895, p. 530, c. 168) repealing the Act of January 29, 1893, and directing that thereafter the five towns which had been assessed for the benefits accruing from the establishment of the public highway should maintain that highway, each of them bearing the share of the expense thereof fixed in the assessment proceedings. By the same act, a commission was appointed to hear and determine all legal claims and demands (that of the Berlin Iron-Bridge Company being specially named) arising under or by virtue of any contract made and executed by the board appointed under the act of 1893. The act provided that if the award of such commission was less than $40,000, the comptroller should draw his warrant on the treasurer for the amount thereof, to be paid upon the delivery of proper receipts, releases, and discharges. It also

Page 170 U. S. 306

provided that if any party (particularly, the Berlin Iron-Bridge Company) should not be satisfied with the decision of said commission, it might within three years commence and prosecute a suit against the state in the Superior Court of Hartford County for any legal claim, debt, or demand arising under or by virtue of any valid contract made and executed by said board, and that in any event, such Berlin Iron-Bridge Company should be entitled to recover for all material furnished and all expenses of every kind actually incurred under said contract, including therein all legal and personal expenses; that on final judgment's being rendered in such suit, the comptroller should draw his order on the treasurer for the amount of the judgment, and further, if the contract which had been entered into should be declared valid and binding, the comptroller should carry out and complete the contract according to its provisions, and draw his orders on the state treasurer for the cost thereof. Under this act, the Berlin Iron Company presented its claim to the commission, which on December 7, 1895, awarded to it the sum of $27,526. On December 13, 1895, the directors of the Berlin Iron-Bridge Company voted to accept this award, and on the same day the company received the money, and executed its release, in the following words:

"$27,526 Hartford, Conn. December 13, 1895"

"Received of the State of Connecticut the sum of twenty-seven thousand five hundred and twenty-six dollars, in full of award made on the 7th day of December, 1895, by Hon. Dwight Loomis, Hon. Benj. P. Meade, comptroller, and Hon. George W. Hodge, treasurer, of the State of Connecticut, acting as a commission constituted by chapter 168 of the Public Acts of 1895, and all other claims presented by this company to said commission are hereby withdrawn, and this payment is received in full satisfaction and discharge of all claims and demands of every nature which this company has, or ought to have, arising under or by virtue of any contract made and executed by the commission appointed under chapter 239 of the Public Acts of 1893, with this company, and the within contract is hereby surrendered to the State of Connecticut. "

Page 170 U. S. 307

On June 28, 1895, the legislature passed an act (Special Acts Conn. p. 485, c. 343), the first section of which is as follows:

"Section 1. That the towns of Hartford, East Hartford, Glastonbury, Manchester, and South Windsor be, and they are hereby, created a body politic and corporate, with power to sue and be sued, under the name of the Connecticut River Bridge and Highway District, for the construction, reconstruction, care, and maintenance of a free public highway across the Connecticut River at Hartford and the causeway and approaches appertaining thereto, as described in a decree of the Superior Court of Hartford County, passed on the 10th day of June, 1889, in which decree said highway was laid out and established."

It also created a board of commissioners for such district, to consist of eight members -- four from the Town of Hartford and one from each of the other towns -- who were given authority to maintain such free public highway and to erect new bridges along or upon said highway, to reconstruct, raise, and widen the causeway and approaches appurtenant thereto, or a part of said highway at the expense of the towns composing the district. In case of a vacancy in the board, the vacancy was to be filled by the town in which the retiring member resided. This board was authorized to issue the bonds of the district, if need be, to an amount not exceeding $500,000, for the construction of a new bridge or causeway. The burden of construction and maintenance of this public highway was distributed in a proportion different from that named in the original assessment proceedings; the Town of Hartford being required to pay 79/100; East Hartford, 12/100, and Glastonbury, Manchester, and South Windsor, each, 3/100. For all expenditures the board was directed to draw warrants upon the several towns, and such orders were declared sufficient authority for the treasurer of each of said towns to pay the amounts named therein, and the board was authorized to apply to any court of competent jurisdiction for proper writs to compel the enforcement and execution of its orders. The board, having expended the sum of $500 in the ordinary support and maintenance

Page 170 U. S. 308

of this highway, on September 14, 1895, passed a resolution apportioning the amount, and drew a warrant on the Treasurer of the Town of Glastonbury for the sum of $15, its proportion of the sum expended. The treasurer of that town refused to pay this order, whereupon, on October 16, 1895, the board presented an application to the Superior Court of Hartford County for an alternative writ of mandamus against him. The writ was answered by the treasurer, and in his answer he set forth, among other defenses, that the Act of May 24, 1895, repealing the Act of June 29, 1893, was in violation of the Constitution of the United States because it impaired the obligation of a contract; that the proceedings of the board were also in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States because they deprived the towns and the citizens thereof of their property without due process of law and denied to them the equal protection of the laws. The superior court rendered judgment pro forma in favor of the board, and directed the issue of a peremptory writ of mandamus. On appeal to the supreme court of the state, this judgment was affirmed, June 25, 1896, State ex Rel. Bulkeley v. Williams, 68 Conn. 131, whereupon this writ of error was sued out.

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