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Carondelet Canal & Navigation Co. v. Louisiana, 233 U.S. 362 (1914)

Carondelet Canal & Navigation Company v. Louisiana

No. 78

Argued March 16, 17, 1914

Decided April 20, 1914

233 U.S. 362


As the judgment of the state court disposed of and ordered the delivery of the property sued for, and in so doing disposed of the federal defense interposed, it has substantial finality on which to base the writ of error, notwithstanding a reservation as to some property not appurtenant and provision for an accounting as to certain disbursements.

If the further proceedings in the court below apply only to question reserved, so that the decree can be immediately executed as to the property involved, and as to that it is final, the judgment is final in form as well as in substance, and a writ of error properly lies from this Court.

The fact that the supreme court of the state did not refer to a statute claimed to have impaired the rights of plaintiff in error does not prevent this Court from considering that statute, and if it was an essential, although an unmentioned, element of the decision, it is a basis for the federal question set up.

Bad motives need not be imputed to a legislature in order to render a statute unconstitutional under the contract clause; it is not the motive causing the enactment, but the effect thereof on contract rights which determines the question of constitutionality.

The repeal of a law which constitutes a legislative contract is an impairment of its obligation.

The Acts of 1857 and 1858 of the Legislature of Louisiana did grant certain contract rights to the Carondelet Canal and Navigation Company which are within the protection of the contract clause of the federal Constitution, and the Act of 1906 repealing the Act of 1858 impaired the contract obligation of the latter.

The natural and grammatical use of a relative pronoun is to put it in close relation with its antecedent, and in this case so held as to the pronoun "it," notwithstanding its use rendered the sentence somewhat ambiguous.

The provision in the Act of 1858 of Louisiana, granting rights to a corporation on certain conditions, that, after fifty years, "it may

Page 233 U. S. 363

revert to the state" held to relate to the company, and not to one of the properties specified.

In construing a statute which at the time of its enactment was published in more than one language, the version in the other language is significant.

In this case, held that, as reversion of property to the state was contingent on compensation, the statute should be construed as making payment a condition precedent of the reversion, as it could not be intended to remit the owner to a mere claim against the state which could not be enforced as the sovereignty of the state would give immunity from suit.

129 La. 279 reversed.

The facts, which involve the jurisdiction of this Court to review judgments of the state courts and also the constitutionality under the contract clause of the federal Constitution of a statute of Louisiana relating to the property of Carondelet Canal and Navigation Company and the right of the state to acquire its property, are stated in the opinion.

Page 233 U. S. 370

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