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U.S. Supreme Court

Long Island Water Supply Co. v. Brooklyn, 166 U.S. 685 (1897)

Long Island Water Supply Co. v. Brooklyn

No. 216

Argued March 17-18, 1897

Decided April 16, 1897

166 U.S. 685


In cases brought here from state courts, their decisions are final in matters of procedure and on alleged conflicts between the statutes of the state and its Constitution.

Page 166 U. S. 686

An existing system of water supply in a municipality which is the property of private individuals and is operated under a contract with the municipal corporation for furnishing it with a portion of its needed supply of water under rates fixed by the contract is private property which may be acquired by the public in the exercise of the power of eminent domain on the payment of a just compensation, including compensation for the termination of the contract.

In condemnation proceedings for that purpose, the assessment of damages may be made by commissioners where the statutes so provide, and there is no denial of due process of law in making their findings final as to the facts, leaving open to the courts the inquiry whether there was any erroneous basis adopted by the commissioners in their appraisal, or other errors in their proceedings.

There was nothing in the statute under which the Long Island Water Supply Company was organized, nor in its contract with the Town of New Lots for the supply of water, nor in the act of annexation to Brooklyn, which gave to that company rights exclusive and beyond the reach of such legislative action.

Under authority of chap. 737 of the Laws of New York for 1873 (Laws N.Y. 1873, p. 1100), as amended in 1881 (Laws N.Y. 1881, p. 443, c. 321), the plaintiff in error was organized as a water company. On September 15, 1881, it entered into a contract with the Town of New Lots by which it agreed to lay water pipes and mains in the streets of New Lots and supply the town with water. The town, on the other hand, agreed to pay for hydrants to be furnished and supplied, as provided in the contract at a specified rate per hydrant, the number of hydrants to be not less than 200. The term of the contract was twenty-five years. This contract was modified on July 2, 1885, but the modification contains nothing material to this controversy.

In 1886, by c. 335 (Laws N.Y. 1886, p. 540), the Town of New Lots was annexed to and merged in the City of Brooklyn, to be known thereafter as the Twenty-Sixth Ward of said city.

The fourth section of this act provided, among other things, that

"the amount annually payable by said town for water supplied to it under existing contracts between it and the Long Island Water Supply Company, shall, after this act takes effect, during the terms of said contract, or until said city shall purchase or acquire the property of said water company, as in the next section provided, be levied and collected

Page 166 U. S. 687

from the property situated and taxable within the territory hereby annexed, and such amount shall be paid to the said water company by said city as it falls due from time to time under said contracts, and the said City of Brooklyn shall not distribute or furnish water for consumption of use within said territory, or lay any pipes or mains for the distribution or supply of water within said territory, until the expiration of the charter of said company or until the said city shall purchase or acquire the property of said company, as in the next section provided."

By section 5, the city was given power to purchase or condemn the property of the company within two years, but did neither. In 1892, the legislature passed another act (Laws 1892, p. 960, c. 481), authorizing the City of Brooklyn to condemn the property of the company, the first section of which is as follows:

"Section 1. The public interest requires the acquisition by the City of Brooklyn, for the public use of the reservoir, wells, machinery, pipes, franchises and all other property of the Long Island Water Supply Company, and the said City of Brooklyn is hereby authorized to acquire the same for such use by condemnation, free of all liens and incumbrances whatsoever, provided that the proceedings herein, hereinafter, and hereby authorized shall be commenced within one year after the passage of this act."

Subsequent sections prescribed the procedure. Proceedings were had under this act. The commissioners appointed as provided therein valued the property of the company at $570,000, of which $370,000 was named as the value of the tangible property, and $200,000 that of the franchises, contracts, and all other rights and property, of whatsoever nature or kind, of the company, including therein the contract between the Town of New Lots and the company. The special term of the supreme court, on June 29, 1893, made an order vacating and setting aside this report and appointing new commissioners. The City of Brooklyn appealed to the general term of that court, which, on December 1, 1893, reversed the order of the special term and confirmed the report of the commissioners.

Page 166 U. S. 688

The company then took an appeal to the Court of Appeals. That court affirmed the decision of the general term, 143 N.Y. 596, and remitted the record to the supreme court, which court, on December 4, 1894, entered final judgment in favor of the City of Brooklyn, and thereupon this writ of error was sued out.

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