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U.S. Supreme Court

Willamette Iron Bridge Co. v. Hatch, 125 U.S. 1 (1888)

Willamette Iron Bridge Company v. Hatch

No. 80

Argued November 28-29, 1887

Decided March 19, 1888

125 U.S. 1


On a pure bill of review, nothing will avail for a reversal of the decree but errors of law apparent on the record.

There must be a direct statute of the United States in order to bring within the scope of its laws obstructions and nuisances in navigable streams within a state, such obstructions and nuisances being offenses against the laws of the states within which the navigable waters lie, but no offense against the United States in the absence of a statute.

The provision in the "Act for the admission of Oregon into the union," 11 Stat. 383, c. 33, § 2, that

"All the navigable waters of said state shall be common highways and forever free as well to the inhabitants of said state as to all other citizens of the United States, without any tax, duty, impost, or toll therefor,"

does not refer to physical obstructions of those waters, but to political regulations which would tamper the freedom of commerce.

Until Congress acts respecting navigable streams entirely within a state, the state has plenary power; but Congress is not concluded by anything that the state or individuals by its authority or acquiescence may have done from assuming entire control and abating any erections that may have been made and preventing any other from being made except in conformity with such regulations as it may impose.

The appropriation by Congress of money to be expended in improving the navigation of the Willamette River was no assumption of police power over it.

Page 125 U. S. 2

Congress, by conferring the privilege of a port of entry upon a municipality, does not come in conflict with the police power of a state exercised in bridging its own navigable rivers below such port. Passaic Bridge Cases, 3 Wall. 782, 793, App., applied.

Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 13 How. 618, distinguished.

Bill of review. Decree dismissing the bill. Complainant

appealed. The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.

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