NEWTON V. COMMISSIONERS, 100 U. S. 548 (1879)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Newton v. Commissioners, 100 U.S. 548 (1879)

Newton v. Commissioners

100 U.S. 548


1. By an Act of the Legislature of Ohio passed Feb. 16, 1846, it was provided that, upon the fulfillment of certain terms and conditions by the proprietors or citizens of the Town of Canfield, in Mahoning County, the county seat should be "permanently established" at that town. Those terms and conditions having been complied with, the county seat was established accordingly. On April 9, 1874, the legislature passed an act providing for the removal of the county seat to Youngstown. Certain citizens of Canfield thereupon filed their bill setting forth that the act of 1846, and the proceedings thereunder, constituted, within the meaning of the Constitution, an executed contract the obligation of which was impaired by the later act, and praying for a perpetual injunction against the contemplated removal. Held: 1. that no such contract existed; 2. that the act of 1846 was a public law relating to a public subject with respect to which the legislature which enacted it had no power to bind a subsequent one; 3. that if that act and the proceedings under it constituted a contract, it was satisfied on the part of the state by establishing the county seat at Canfield, with the

Page 100 U. S. 549

intent that it should remain there; 4. that there was no stipulation that the county seat should remain there in perpetuity; 5. that the practical interpretation of the phrase "permanently established," which has been in long and frequent use in the statutes of Ohio with respect to county seats established otherwise than temporarily, is, though by no means conclusive, entitled to consideration.

2. In the interpretation of statutes like that of 1848, supra, the rule is that, as against the state, nothing is to be taken as conceded but what is given in express and explicit terms, or by an implication equally clear.

The controversy relates to the removal of a county seat in Ohio from one town to another.

The case, briefly stated, is this: on Feb. 16, 1846, the General Assembly of that State passed "An Act to create the County of Mahoning." The first section creates the county and defines its boundaries, including among other towns Canfield and Youngstown, and declares that it "shall be known by the name of Mahoning, with the county seat at Canfield."

The fifth and eighth sections are as follows:

"SEC. 5. That the court of common pleas and supreme court of said county shall be holden at some convenient house in the Town of Canfield until suitable county buildings shall be erected."

"SEC. 8. That before the seat of justice shall be considered permanently established at Canfield, the proprietors or citizens thereof shall given bond with good and sufficient security, payable to the commissioners of said county, hereafter to be elected, for the sum of $5,000, to be applied in erecting public buildings for said county, and that the citizens of Canfield shall also donate a suitable lot of ground on which to erect public buildings."

To secure the permanent establishment of the county seat at Canfield, numerous citizens of that town -- some of whom are plaintiffs in this suit -- in compliance with the provisions of said sec. 8, duly executed their bond for $5,000, which was accepted by the county commissioners. A suitable lot of ground on which to erect the county buildings was also, by their procurement, conveyed to the county.

Thereupon said citizens erected on the lot a commodious courthouse suitable for the transaction of the public business of the county, at a cost of more than $10,000, which, on June 29, 1848, the commissioners accepted in behalf of the

Page 100 U. S. 550

county, in full satisfaction of the bond, and as a full compliance with said sec. 8, and thenceforward the courthouse was used as a seat of justice, and Canfield continued to be the county seat of the county.

April 9, 1874, the General Assembly of the State of Ohio passed the following act:

"An Act to provide for the removal of the seat of justice of Mahoning County from the Town of Canfield to the City of Youngstown in said county."

"SEC. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, that from and after taking effect of this section of this act as hereafter provided, the seat of justice in the County of Mahoning shall be removed from the Town of Canfield, and shall be fixed, until otherwise provided by law, at the City of Youngstown, in said county."

"SEC. 2. That the foregoing section of this act shall take effect and be in force when and so soon as the same shall be adopted by a majority of all the electors of said Mahoning County, voting at the next general election after the passage thereof, and when suitable buildings shall have been erected, as hereinafter provided."

"SEC. 3. That the electors of said Mahoning County, at the next general election after the passage of this act, shall endorse or otherwise place on their tickets either the words 'for removal' or 'against removal,' and if a majority of all the electors of said Mahoning County, voting at said election, shall vote for removal, the first section of this act shall thereafter be considered and holden to be adopted by such majority, provided that all tickets upon which the words 'for removal' shall not be endorsed or otherwise placed shall be taken and considered as votes 'against removal' as fully as though the words 'against removal' were endorsed or otherwise placed thereon."

"SEC. 4. That judges and clerks of election in the several townships, wards, and voting precincts in said county at the said general election shall cause all votes that may be so given for or against removal to be correctly counted, in doing which, all tickets upon which the words 'for removal' are not endorsed or otherwise placed shall be counted as votes 'against removal,' and shall enter and certify in their respective poll books of said general election the number of votes so counted for as well as against such removal, which poll books shall be returned and opened as required by the act regulating said general election and the opening

Page 100 U. S. 551

of the returns thereof; and the officers opening the same shall, at the same time they make, certify, and sign the abstracts required by law, also make, certify, and sign a separate abstract of all votes so returned for or against removal, showing the number so given in each township, and the footings or aggregate number given in all the townships, which abstract shall be forthwith deposited in the clerk's office of said county, and be by him forthwith recorded in the journal of the court of common pleas of said county, which record, or a duly certified copy thereof, shall be taken and received as evidence for all purposes as the result of said election."

"SEC. 5. That in case a majority of the electors of said County of Mahoning shall vote 'for removal,' as heretofore provided, the seat of justice and county seat shall be deemed and taken to be removed from Canfield in said county to the City of Youngstown in said county, and to be located at said City of Youngstown, provided however, that nothing in the act shall be so construed as to authorize the removal of said seat of justice to the City of Youngstown until the citizens of the City and Township of Youngstown, and of sufficient size and suitably located to accommodate the courthouse, jail, and necessary offices for said county, and shall have erected thereon, or shall have caused to have erected thereon, and completed thereon, suitable buildings for courthouse, jail, and all offices and rooms necessary for the transaction of all the public business of said county, at a cost for said buildings of not less than $100,000, and to the satisfaction and acceptance of the commissioners of said county, and all such buildings shall be fully completed within two years from the date of the election at which this act shall be ratified, and said commissioner shall not, nor shall any other authority of said county, levy any tax on the taxable property of said county for said land or building, provided that the citizens of Youngstown may, within said two years, build said public buildings, and tender the same to said county commissioners."

"SEC. 6. It shall be the duty of the sheriff or coroner, as the case may be, to cause proclamation to be made to the qualified electors of said county of the time of holding said election, in the same manner as by law he is required to do in other elections, notifying said electors to vote as aforesaid on the question by which this act is submitted to them."

"SEC. 7. The sections of this act subsequent to the first section shall take effect and be in force from and after their passage. "

Page 100 U. S. 552

At the next general election a majority of votes cast in the county was in favor of the removal.

Thereupon Newton, and a number of other citizens of the Town of Canfield, filed their petition in the Court of Common Pleas for Mahoning County praying for an injunction restraining the board of county commissioners from removing the county seat to Youngstown. The court denied the injunction and dismissed the petition. That decision having been affirmed by the supreme court of the state, the petitioners brought the case here.

Page 100 U. S. 556

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