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October 1, 1875


APPEAL from the Supreme Court of the Territory of Wyoming.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Clifford delivered the opinion of the court.

Mr. W. R. Steele for the appellants.

Mr. A. H. Jackson, contra.

Counties, cities, and towns are municipal corporations, created by the authority of the legislature; and they derive all their powers from the source of their creation, except where the constitution of the State otherwise provides. Beyond doubt, they are, in general, made bodies politic and corporate; and are usually invested with certain subordinate legislative powers, to facilitate the due administration of their own internal affaris, and to promote the general welfare of the municipality. They have no inherent jurisdiction to make laws, or to adopt governmental regulations; nor can they exercise any other powers in that regard than such as are expressly or impliedly derived from their charters, or other statutes of the State.

Trusts of great moment, it must be admitted, are confided to such municipalities; and, in turn, they are required to perform many important duties, as evidenced by the terms of their respective charters. Authority to effect such objects is conferred by the legislature; but it is settled law, that the legislature, in granting it, does not divest itself of any power over the inhabitants of the district which it possessed before the charter was granted. Unless the Constitution otherwise provides, the legislature still has authority to amend the charter of such a corporation, enlarge or diminish its powers, extend or limit its boundaries, divide the same into two or more, consolidate two or more into one, overrule its action whenever it is deemed unwise, impolitic, or unjust, and even abolish the municipality altogether, in the legislative discretion. Cooley on Const., 2d ed., 192.

Sufficient appears to show that the complainant county was first organized under the act of the 3d of January, 1868, passed by the legislature of the Territory of Dacotah, which repealed the prior act to create and establish that county. When organized, the county was still a part of the Territory, and embraced within its territorial limits all the territory now comprising the counties of Laramie, Albany, and Carbon, in the Territory of Wyoming,–an area of three and one-half degrees from east to west, and four degrees from north to south. Very heavy expenses, it seems, were incurred by the county during that year and prior thereto, greatly in excess of their current means, as more fully explained in the bill of complaint, which increased the indebtedness to the sum of $28,000. Other liabilities, it is alleged, were also incurred by the authorities of the county during that period, which augmented their indebtedness to the sum of $40,000 in the aggregate.

Pending these embarrassments, the charge is, that the legislature of the Territory passed two acts on the same day,–to wit, Dec. 16, 1868,–creating the counties of Albany and Carbon out of the western portion of the territory of the complainant county, reducing the area of that county more than two-thirds; that, by the said acts creating said new counties, fully two-thirds of the wealth and taxable property previously existing in the old county were withdrawn from its jurisdiction, and its limits were reduced to less tham one-third of its former size, without any provision being made in either of said acts that the new counties, or either of them, should assume any proportion of the debt and liabilities which had been incurred for the welfare of the whole before these acts were passed.

Payment of the outstanding debt having been made by the complainant county, the present suit was instituted in her behalf to compel the new counties to contribute their just proportion towards such indebtedness. Attempt is made to show that an equitable cause of action exists in the case by referring to the several improvements made in that part of the Territory included in the new counties before they were incorporated, and by referring to the great value of the property withdrawn from taxation in the old county, and included within the limits of the newly-created counties.

Process was served, and the respondents appeared and filed separate demurrers to the bill of complaint. Hearing was had in the District Court of the Territory, where the suit was commenced; and the court entered a decree sustaining the demurrers, and dismissing the bill of complaint. Immediate appeal was taken by the complainant to the Supreme Court of the Territory, where, the parties having been again heard, the Supreme Court entered a decree affirming the decree of the District Court, and the present appeal is prosecuted by the complainant.

Two errors are assigned, as follows: (1.) That the Supreme Court erred in affirming the decree of the District Court sustaining the demurrers of the respondents to the bill of complaint. (2.) That the Supreme Court erred in rendering judgment for the respondents.

Corporations of the kind are properly denominated public corporations, for the reason that they are but parts of the machinery employed in carrying on the affairs of the State; and it is well-settled law, that the charters under which such corporations are created may be changed, modified, or repealed, as the exigencies of the public service or the public welfare may demand. 2 Kent, Com., 12th ed., 305; Angell & Ames on Corp., 10th ed., sect. 31; McKim v. Odom, 3 Bland, 407; St. Louis v. Allen, 13 Mo. 400; The Schools v. Tatman, 13 Ill. 27; Yarmouth v. Skillings, 45 Me. 141.

Such corporations are composed of all the inhabitants of the Territory included in the political organization; and the attribute of individuality is conferred on the entire mass of such residents, and it may be modified or taken away at the mere will of the legislature, according to its own views of public convenience, and without any necessity for the consent of those composing the body politic. 1 Greenl. Ev., 12th ed., sect. 331.

Corporate rights and privileges are usually possessed by such corporations; and it is equally true that they are subject to legal obligations and duties, and that they are under the entire control of the legislature, from which all their powers are derived. Sixty-five years before the decree under review was rendered, a case was presented to the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, sitting in Maine, which involved the same principle as that which arises in the case before the court. Learned counsel were employed on both sides, and Parsons was Chief Justice of the court, and delivered the opinion. First he adverted to the rights and privileges, obligations and duties, of a town, and then proceeded to say, 'If a part of its territory and inhabitants are separated from it by annexation to another, or by the erection of a new corporation, the former corporation still retains all its property, powers, rights, and privileges, and remains subject to all its obligations and duties, unless some new provision should be made by the act authorizing the separation.' Windham v. Portland, 4 Mass. 389.

Decisions to the same effect have been made since that time in nearly all the States of the Union where such municipal subdivisions are known, until the reported cases have become quite too numerous for citation. Nor are such citations necessary, as they are all one way, showing that the principle in this country is one of universal application. Concede its correctness, and it follows that the old town, unless the legislature otherwise provides, continues to be seized of all its lands held in a proprietary right, continues to be the sole owner of all its personal property, is entitled to all its ...

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