HEAD V. AMOSKEAG MFG. CO., 113 U. S. 9 (1885)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Head v. Amoskeag Mfg. Co., 113 U.S. 9 (1885)

Head v. Amoskeag Manufacturing Company

Argued December 16-17, 1884

Decided January 5, 1885

113 U.S. 9


A statute of state authorizing any person to erect and maintain on his own land a water mill and mill dam upon and across any stream not navigable, paying to the owners of lands flowed damages assessed in a judicial proceeding, does not deprive them of their property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Page 113 U. S. 10

This was a writ of error to reverse a judgment of the Supreme Court of the State of New Hampshire against the plaintiff in error upon a petition filed by the defendant in error (a corporation established by the laws of New Hampshire for the manufacture of cotton, woolen, iron, and other materials) for the assessment of damages for the flowing of his land by its mill dam at Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River, under the General Mill Act of that state of 1868, c. 20, which is copied in the margin. [Footnote 1]

Page 113 U. S. 11

In the petition filed in the state court, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company alleged that it had been authorized by its charter to purchase and hold real estate and to erect thereon such dams, canals, mills, buildings, machines, and works as it might deem necessary or useful in carrying on its manufactures and business; that it had purchased the land on both sides of the Merrimack River at Amoskeag Falls, including the river and falls, and had there built mills, dug canals, and established works at the cost of several millions of dollars, and, for the purpose of making the whole power of the river at the falls available for the use of those mills, had constructed a dam across the river; that the construction of the mills and dam to raise the water for working the mills, for creating a reservoir of water, and for equalizing its flow, was of public use and benefit to the people of the state, and necessary for the use of the mills for which it was designed, and that Head, the owner of a tract of land described in the petition, and bounded by the river, claimed

Page 113 U. S. 12

damages for the overflowing thereof by the dam, which the corporation had been unable satisfactorily to adjust, and prayed that it might be determined whether the construction of the mills and dam, and the flowing, if any, of Head's land to the depth and extent that it might or could be flowed thereby were or might be of public use or benefit to the people of the state, and whether they were necessary for the mills, and that damages, past or future, to the land by the construction of the dam might be assessed according to the statute.

At successive stages of the proceedings, by demurrer, by request to the court after the introduction of the evidence upon a trial by jury, and by motion in arrest of judgment, Head objected that the statute was unconstitutional and that the petition could not be maintained because they contemplated the taking of his property for private use in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that no state shall deprive any person of property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, as well as in violation of the constitution of the state, the Bill of Rights, which declares that all men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights, among which are the acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and that every member of the community has a right to be protected in the enjoyment of his property. His objections were overruled by the highest court of New Hampshire, and final judgment was entered adjudging that the facts alleged in the petition were true and that, upon payment or tender of the damages assessed by the verdict, with interest, and fifty percent added, making in all the sum of $572.43, the company have the right to erect and maintain the dam and to flow his land forever to the depth and extent to which it might or could be flowed or injured thereby. 56 N.H. 386 and 59 N.H. 332, 563.

Page 113 U. S. 15

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