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U.S. Supreme Court

Washington Market Co. v. District of Columbia, 172 U.S. 361 (1899)

Washington Market Company v. District of Columbia

No. 83

Argued December 9, 12, 1898

Decided January 8, 1899

172 U.S. 361


In the provision in the 16th section of the Act of May 20, 1870, c. 108, "to incorporate the Washington Market Company," that

"the city government of Washington shall have the right to hold and use, under such

Page 172 U. S. 362

rules and regulations as the said corporation may prescribe, the open space at the intersection of Ohio and Louisiana Avenues with Tenth and Twelfth Streets as a market,"

etc., the words "the said corporation" refer to the city government of Washington, and not to the Market Company.

The correspondence between the Market Company and the city government respecting the use and improvement of this tract which is printed below as a note to the statement of the case, creates no easement in the tract in favor of the Market Company, and the company recognized the fact that Congress might lawfully dispossess it from the use and occupancy of it.

The Washington Market Company was incorporated by Act of Congress approved May 20, 1870. 16 Stat. 124, c. 108. Authority was conferred upon the company to construct suitable buildings and operate a public market on the site of the "Center Market Space," situated in the northwest section of the City of Washington, between Seventh and Ninth Streets and B Street and Pennsylvania and Louisiana Avenues. With the exception of the sixteenth section, the provisions of the statute related solely to the public market thus authorized, and the operation and duration of the franchise.

The sixteenth section is as follows:

"SEC. 16. And be it further enacted, that the city government of Washington shall have the right to hold and use, under such rules and regulations as the said corporation may prescribe, the open space at the intersection of Ohio and Louisiana Avenues with Tenth and Twelfth Streets as a market for the purchase and sale of the following articles, to-wit, hay, straw, oats, corn, corn meal, seed of all kinds, wood for sale from the wagon, cattle on the hoof, swine on the hoof, country produce sold in quantities from the wagon, and such other bulky and coarse articles as the said corporation may designate. And from and after sixty days from the passage of this act, marketing of the products named herein shall be excluded from Pennsylvania and Louisiana Avenues and the sidewalks and pavements thereon."

The present litigation was begun on January 17, 1892, by the filing on behalf of the Washington Market Company of a bill in the Supreme Court of the District; the defendant

Page 172 U. S. 363

named therein being the District of Columbia. The bill averred that the complainant was vested by the section above quoted with authority to establish the rules and regulations therein referred to for the government of the wholesale market authorized to be established. It was also averred that, under authority of what was claimed to be a contract arising from correspondence had with the District, complainant in 1871 entered into possession of a part of the open market space referred to in said section 16, and in 1886 of the entire space. The correspondence relied on is set out in the margin. [Footnote 1] It

Page 172 U. S. 364

was alleged that the complainant graded the grounds, and made valuable structures thereon; that it had operated, and was still operating, a wholesale market thereon, and that it had received and was receiving the sources of revenue mentioned

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in the alleged contract, except as to certain charges which it was averred defendant had wrongfully abolished.

It was charged that not only by the abolition of tolls referred to, but by other acts of interference by the District, and also by recent public assertions of an exclusive right to possess and regulate said market, the receipts from the operation of the same had been greatly diminished, so that the expenses of maintaining the market had been largely in excess of the sum received from its operation. It was prayed that an account might be taken, and the District decreed to pay the losses occasioned by it; that the District might also be restrained from prescribing or attempting to prescribe rules and regulations for said market, from interfering with the sources of revenue mentioned in the contract, and from forcibly ousting, or resorting to legal proceedings to obtain

Page 172 U. S. 366

possession of the premises. General relief was also prayed.

The answer of the District asserted the invalidity of the alleged contract, averred that the District alone was entitled to occupy said market space, and to establish rules and regulations respecting the conduct of the market, and further averred the legality of any action taken by or on its behalf respecting said market space, and the tolls imposed in the operation of the market.

The court entered a decree dismissing the bill, and on appeal its action was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the District. (6 App.D.C. 34.) An appeal was then taken to this Court.

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