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U.S. Supreme Court

St. Louis v. Western Union Telegraph Co., 166 U.S. 388 (1897)

St. Louis v. Western Union Telegraph Company

No. 219

Argued March 18-19, 1897

Decided April 5, 1897

166 U.S. 388


Grayson v. Lynch, 163 U. S. 468, followed to the point that the special finding of facts referred to in the acts allowing parties to submit issues of fact in civil cases to be tried and determined by the court is not a mere report of the evidence, but a finding of those ultimate facts, upon which the law must determine the rights of the parties, and if the finding of facts be general, only such rulings of the court in the progress of the trial can be reviewed as are presented by a bill of exceptions, and in such case the bill of exceptions cannot be used to bring up the whole testimony for review any more than in a trial by jury.

An action was brought in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Missouri by the City of St. Louis seeking to recover from the Western Union Telegraph Company the sum of five dollars per annum per pole for 1,509 telegraph poles which the defendant maintained on the streets of that city between July 1, 1884, and July 1, 1887. The case was tried without a jury, and resulted, on June 17, 1889, in a judgment in favor of the defendant; the court holding that the burden imposed was a privilege or license tax, which the city had no authority to impose. A writ of error was sued out

Page 166 U. S. 389

of this Court, where it was held that the municipal charge in question was not in the nature of a privilege or license tax, but was a rental charge for the permanent and exclusive appropriation of those spaces in the streets which are occupied by the telegraph poles. To the defense asserted by the telegraph company that, by ordinance, the city had contracted with defendant to permit the erection of these poles in consideration of the right of the city to occupy and use the top cross-arm of any pole for its own telegraph purposes, free of charge, it was replied by this Court that there was nothing in the record to show that any of the poles were erected under or by virtue of the ordinance mentioned, and that therefore, so far as the facts appeared, there was simply a temporary matter of street regulation, and one subject to change at the pleasure of the city. But this Court did not find it necessary to consider the matter of this ground of defense at length, as on the new trial awarded, the facts in respect thereto could be more fully developed. It was further claimed by the telegraph company that the ordinance charging five dollars a pole per annum was unreasonable. But this Court thought this question also should be passed for further investigation on the new trial. 148 U. S. 148 U.S. 92.

Thereafter, in January, 1894, the second trial was proceeded with, a jury being waived, and resulted in a judgment in favor of the defendant. The present writ of error was then sued out from this Court.

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