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HELENA WATER WORKS CO. V. HELENA, 195 U. S. 383 (1904)

U.S. Supreme Court

Helena Water Works Co. v. Helena, 195 U.S. 383 (1904)

Helena Water Works Company v. Helena

No. 27

Argued October 28, 1904

Decided November 28, 1904

195 U.S. 383


Nothing is to be taken against the public by implication; under the constitution and laws of Montana a grant by a municipality to a water works company of the right to erect and maintain water works, which expressly declares that it is not exclusive, does not raise an implied contract that the grantor will not provide its own water supply during the term of the franchise even though by accepting the terms of the franchise the grantee expressly agrees to furnish water to all the inhabitants of the city who may desire to contract for the same during that period, and the erection of its own plant by the city does not, by reason of the depreciation in value which would result therefrom to the grantee's property, violate a contract obligation or amount to a taking of property without just compensation or due process of law within the meaning of the federal Constitution.

This case was begun by a bill filed in the circuit court of the United States by the Helena Waterworks Company, successor to the Helena Consolidated Water Company, to restrain the City of Helena from erecting purchasing, or acquiring a waterworks system for said city and from acquiring water for such purpose except it purchase the plant of the complainant company, and from incurring any indebtedness or expenditure of money for such purpose.

The rights in controversy are alleged to result from a contract made by the passage, and acceptance by the company, of a certain ordinance, number 248, passed and approved in January, 1890.

It is also alleged that the Helena Consolidated Water Company, predecessor of the complainant company, complied with all the terms of the ordinance, and expended large sums of money in erecting and maintaining the plant for supplying water to the inhabitants of the said City of Helena.

It is averred that the said city has adopted certain ordinances and taken certain proceedings to acquire and build a water

Page 195 U. S. 384

system of its own, and that said ordinances and proceedings are in violation of the contract rights of the complainant company, guaranteed by section 11 of Article 3 of the Constitution of the State of Montana, and section 10 of Article I of the Constitution of the United States, and that the proceedings of the city in this behalf will amount to taking the property of the complainant company without just compensation, in violation of section 14 of article 3 of the Constitution of the State of Montana, and that its rights and property will be taken without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is further averred that the taxation necessary for the construction of the city plant is in excess of any that can be lawfully levied for such purpose.

The case was tried upon an agreed statement of facts. In the circuit court, a decision was rendered in favor of the waterworks company. Upon appeal to the circuit court of appeals, that court reversed the decision of the circuit court, and remanded the case, with instructions to dismiss the bill. 122 F. 1.

The terms of the ordinance relied upon, and so much of the agreed statement of facts as is necessary to a determination of the case, sufficiently appear in the opinion.

Page 195 U. S. 387

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