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UNITED STATES v. ST. ANTHONY RAILROAD COMPANY

February 23, 1904

UNITED STATES
v.
ST. ANTHONY RAILROAD COMPANY



ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: PECKHAM

[ 192 U.S. Page 530]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The important question in this case is as to the meaning of the term "adjacent" when used in the first section of the statute of 1875. The act is a general one, and is therefore applicable to no particular road, except as the facts in each case may bring the road within its language. It grants the right of way through the public lands in the United States upon conditions named, to the extent of 100 feet on each side of the central line of the road. The lands from which materials for the construction of the railroad may be taken must be adjacent to this piece of land but two hundred feet wide. The term is a somewhat relative and uncertain one, and in one aspect the case may be determined with at least some reference to the size of the strip or right of way granted, and to which the land must be adjacent. It may also be remembered that the whole length of the road is but forty miles. In some views of the case the narrowness and shortness of the line might have some effect upon the question of the distance to which the word adjacent might carry one in the search for timber. As the word is frequently uncertain and relative as to its meaning, it might naturally perhaps be regarded as more extended when used with reference to a large object than with reference to a comparatively small one. In other words, it must be defined with reference to the context, at least to some extent.

We are not disposed to unduly limit the meaning of the word as used in the statute so as to exclude lands which might otherwise

[ 192 U.S. Page 531]

     fairly be regarded as within its purpose and thereby defeat the intent of Congress. The act is not to be construed in an unnecessarily narrow manner, nor at the same time should the construction of its language be extraordinarily enlarged in order to attain some special and particular end. In United States v. Denver &c. Railway, 150 U.S. 1, another question arose under this same section, and the construction of the act in that regard was certainly as liberal as its language would warrant. It was there held that a railroad company had the right to cut and take the timber or material from public lands adjacent to the line of the road and use the same on portions of its line remote from the place from which it was taken.

In speaking of the proper construction of the act, it was said by Mr. Justice Jackson, for the court:

"It is undoubtedly, as urged by the plaintiffs in error, the well-settled rule of this court that public grants are construed strictly against the grantees, but they are not to be so construed as to defeat the intent of the legislature, or to withhold what is given either expressly or by necessary or fair implication. In Winona & St. Peter Railroad v. Barney, 113 U.S. 618, 625, Mr. Justice Field, speaking for the court, thus states the rule upon this subject: 'The acts making the grants . . . are to receive such a construction as will carry out the intent of Congress, however difficult it might be to give full effect to the language used if the grants were by instruments of private conveyance. To ascertain that intent we must look to the condition of the country when the acts were passed, as well as to the purposes declared on their face, and read all parts of them together."

"Looking to the condition of the country, and the purposes intended to be accomplished by the act, this language of the court furnishes the proper rule of construction of the act of 1875. When as act, operating as a general law, and manifesting clearly the intention of Congress to secure public advantages, or to subserve the public interests and welfare by means of benefits more or less valuable, offers to individuals

[ 192 U.S. Page 532]

     or to corporations as an inducement to undertake and accomplish great and expensive enterprises or works of a quasi public character in or through an immense and undeveloped public domain, such legislation stands upon a somewhat different footing from merely a private grant, and should receive at the hands of the court a more liberal construction in favor of the purposes for which it was enacted. Bradley v. New York & New Haven Railroad, 21 Connecticut, 294; Pierce on Railroads, 491.

"This is the rule, we think, properly applicable to the construction of the act of 1875, rather than the more strict rule of construction adopted in the case of purely private grants; and in view of this character of the act, we are of opinion that the benefits intended for the construction of the railroad, in permitting the use of timber or other material, should be extended to and include the structures mentioned in the act as a part of such railroad."

It was also said that the railroad should be treated "as an entirety, in the construction of which it was the purpose of Congress to aid by conferring upon any railway company, entitled to the benefits of the act, the right to take timber necessary for such construction from the public lands adjacent to the line of the road. This intention would be narrowed, if not defeated, if it were held that the timber, which the railway company had the right to take for use in the construction of its line, could be rightfully used only upon such portions of the line as might be contiguous to the place from which the timber was taken. If Congress had intended to impose any such restriction upon the use of timber or other material taken from adjacent public lands, it should have been so expressed. No rule of interpretation requires this court to so construe the act as to confine the use of timber that may be taken from a proper place for the purpose of construction to any particular or defined portion of the railroad. To do this would require the court to read into the statute the same language, as to the place of use, which is found in the statute as to the place of

[ 192 U.S. Page 533]

     taking. In other words, it would require the court to interpolate into the statute the provision that the place at which the timber shall be used shall be 'contiguous, adjoining or adjacent" to the place from which it is taken. The place of use is not, by the language of the statute, qualified, restricted or defined, except to the extent of the construction of the railroad as such, and it is not to be inferred from the restriction or limitation imposed as the place from which it may be rightfully taken that it is to be used only adjacent to such place."

In the above case it was admitted that the lands from which the timber was taken were adjacent to the line of the road within the meaning of the statute.

It is also seen in the extract from the opinion that the word "adjacent" is therein used in connection with the words "contiguous" and "adjoining," so as to give an impression that it is almost, though not entirely, synonymous with those words. And we think this is true. "Contiguous, lying close at hand, near," is the meaning given it by the lexicographers. It ...


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