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decided: May 22, 1899.



Author: Harlan

[ 174 U.S. Page 747]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the court.

While admitting that the power to limit charges for water sold by a corporation like itself has been too often upheld to

[ 174 U.S. Page 748]

     be now questioned, the appellant contends that the constitution and statutes of California relating to rates or compensation to be collected for the use of water supplied to a municipality or its inhabitants are inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. It is said that the state constitution and laws authorized rates to be established without previous notice to the corporation or person immediately interested in the matter, and without hearing in any form, and therefore were repugnant to the clause of the Federal Constitution declaring that no State shall deprive any person of property without due process of law.

Upon the point just stated we are referred to the decision of this court in Chicago, Milwaukee &c. Railway v. Minnesota, 134 U.S. 418, 452, 456, 457. That case involved the constitutionality of a statute of Minnesota empowering a commission to fix the rates of charges by railroad companies for the transportation of property. The Supreme Court of the State held that it was intended by the statute to make the action of the commission final and conclusive as to rates, and that the railroad companies were not at liberty, in any form or at any time, to question them as being illegal or unreasonable. This court said: "This being the construction of the statute by which we are bound in considering the present case, we are of opinion that, so construed, it conflicts with the Constitution of the United States in the particulars complained of by the railroad company. It deprives the company of its right to a judicial investigation, by due process of law, under the forms and with the machinery provided by the wisdom of successive ages for the investigation, judicially, of the truth of a matter in controversy, and substitutes therefor, as an absolute finality, the action of a railroad commission which, in view of the powers conceded to it by the state court, cannot be regarded as clothed with judicial functions or possessing the machinery of a court of justice." "By the second section of the statute in question it is provided that all charges made by a common carrier for the transportation of passengers or property shall be equal and reasonable. Under this provision the carrier has a right to make equal and reasonable charges for such transportation.

[ 174 U.S. Page 749]

     In the present case, the return alleged that the rate of charge fixed by the commission was not equal or reasonable, and the Supreme Court held that the statute deprived the company of the right to show that judicially. The question of the reasonableness of a rate of charge for transportation by a railroad company, involving, as it does, the element of reasonableness, both as regards the company and as regards the public, is eminently a question for judicial investigation, requiring due process of law for its determination. If the company is deprived of the power of charging reasonable rates for the use of its property, and such deprivation takes place in the absence of an investigation by judicial machinery, it is deprived of the lawful use of its property, and thus, in substance and effect, of the property itself, without due process of law, and in violation of the Constitution of the United States; and in so far as it is thus deprived, while other persons are permitted to receive reasonable profits upon their invested capital, the company is deprived of the equal protection of the laws." Observe that this court based its interpretation of the statute of Minnesota upon the construction given to it by the Supreme Court of that State.

What this court said about the Minnesota statute can have no application to the present case unless it be made to appear that the constitution and laws of California invest the municipal authorities of that State with power to fix water rates arbitrarily, without investigation, and without permitting the corporations or persons affected thereby to make any showing as to rates to be exacted or to be heard at any time or in any way upon the subject. The contention of appellant is that such is the purpose and necessary effect of the constitution of the State. We are not at liberty so to interpret that instrument. What the Supreme Court of California said in Spring Valley Water Works v. San Francisco, 82 California, 286, 306, 307, 309, 315, upon this subject would seem to be a sufficient answer to the views expressed by the appellant. In that case it was contended that a board of supervisors had fixed rates arbitrarily, without investigating, without any exercise of judgment or discretion, without any reference to what they should

[ 174 U.S. Page 750]

     be, and without reference either to the expense incurred in furnishing water or to what was fair compensation therefor. The court said: "The constitution does not contemplate any such mode of fixing rates. It is not a matter of guesswork or an arbitrary fixing of rates without reference to the rights of the water company or the public.When the constitution provides for the fixing of rates or compensation, it means reasonable rates and just compensation. To fix such rates and compensation is the duty and within the jurisdiction of the board. To fix rates not reasonable or compensation not just, is a plain violation of its duty. But the courts cannot, after the board has fully and fairly investigated and acted, by fixing what it believes to be reasonable rates, step in and say its action shall be set aside and nullified because the courts, upon a similar investigation, have come to a different conclusion as to the reasonableness of the rates fixed.There must be actual fraud in fixing the rates, or they must be so palpably and grossly unreasonable and unjust as to amount to the same thing." "The fact that the right to store and dispose of water is a public use subject to the control of the State, and that its regulation is provided for by the constitution of this State, does not affect the question. Regulation of this State as provided for in the constitution does not mean confiscation or taking without just compensation. If it does, then our constitution is clearly in violation of the Constitution of the United States, which provides that this shall not be done. The ground taken by the appellant is, that the fixing of rates is a legislative act; that by the terms of the constitution, the board of supervisors are made a part of the legislative department of the state government and exclusive power given them which cannot be encroached upon by the courts. . . .This court has held that the fixing of water rates is a legislative act, at least to the extent that the action of the proper bodies clothed with such power cannot be controlled by writs which can issue only for the purpose of controlling judicial action. Spring Valley Water Works v. Bryant, 52 California, 132; Spring Valley Water Works v. City and County of San Francisco, 52 California, 111; Spring Valley Water Works v. Bartlett, 63 California,

[ 174 U.S. Page 751245]

     . There are other cases holding the act to be legislative, but whether it is judicial legislative or administrative is immateral. Let it be which it may, it is not above the control of the courts in proper cases. . . . We are not inclined to the doctrine asserted by the appellant in this case, that every subordinate body of officers to whom the legislature delegates what may be regarded as legislative power thereby becomes a part of the legislative branch of the state government and beyond judicial control. In the case of Davis v. Mayor etc. of New York, 4 Duer, 451, 497, it is further said: '. . . The doctrine, exactly as stated, may be true when applied to the legislature of the State, which, as a coordinate branch of the government representing and exercising in its sphere the sovereignty of the people, is, for political reasons of manifest force, wholly exempt in all its proceedings from any legal process or judicial control; but the doctrine is not nor is any portion of it true when applied to a subordinate municipal body, which, although clothed to some extent with legislative and even political powers, is yet, in the exercise of all its powers, just as subject to the authority and control of courts of justice, to legal process, legal restraint and legal correction, as any other body or person, natural or artificial.'" Again: "On the part of the respondent it is contended, in support of the decision of the court below, that notice to the plaintiff of an intention to fix the rates was necessary, and that without such notice being given, the action of the board was a taking of its property without due process of law. But the constitution is self-executing, and as it does not require notice, we think no notice was necessary. It does not follow, however, that because no notice is necessary, the board are for that reason excused from applying to corporations or individuals interested to obtain all information necessary to enable it to act intelligibly and fairly in fixing the rates. This is its plain duty, and a failure to make the proper effort to procure all necessary information from whatever source may defeat its action."

In the more recent case of San Diego Water Co. v. San Diego, 118 California, 556, 566, the ...

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