ADIRONDACK RY. CO. V. NEW YORK STATE, 176 U. S. 335 (1900)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Adirondack Ry. Co. v. New York State, 176 U.S. 335 (1900)

Adirondack Railway Company v. New York State

No. 489

Argued January 15-16, 1900

Decided February 26, 1900

176 U.S. 335


While the legislative power to amend or repeal a statute cannot be availed of to take away property already acquired or to deprive a corporation of fruits of contracts lawfully made already reduced to possession, the capacity to acquire land by condemnation for the construction of a railroad attends the franchise to be a railroad corporation, and, when unexecuted, cannot be held to be, in itself, a vested right surviving the existence of the franchise or an authorized circumscription of its scope.

The highest court of the New York having held that there is no property in a naked railroad route in that state which the state is obliged to pay for when it needs the land covered by that route for a great public use, and its officers are by appropriate legislation authorized to act, this Court accepts the views of that court, and thinks that the proceedings on the part of the state which are complained of in this case impaired the obligation of no contract between it and the railway company.

The necessity or expediency of appropriating particular property for public use is not a matter of judicial cognizance, but one for the determination of the legislative branch of the government, and this must obviously be so when the state takes for its own purposes.

Page 176 U. S. 336

This is a writ of error to a judgment of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York affirming a final judgment of the supreme court of New York perpetually enjoining the Adirondack Railway Company from taking certain lands by condemnation proceedings. The People of the State of New York brought the action, and obtained Judgment at a special term of the supreme court, which was reversed by the appellate division, 39 App.Div. 34, whose order was in turn reversed by the Court of Appeals, and the original judgment affirmed. 160 N.Y. 225.

The case is thus stated in the opinion of the Court of Appeals by Vann, J.:

"In 1882, the Adirondack Railway Company was incorporated for the term of one thousand years to construct and operate a railroad from Saratoga Springs to the River St.Lawrence, near the City of Ogdensburg. It was a reorganization of an older corporation known as the Adirondack Company, which was organized in 1863, under the provisions of chapter 236 of the Laws of that year. Prior to the foreclosure which resulted in the reorganization, the Adirondack Company had constructed a railroad from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, in the County of Warren, and this railroad, together with the right to extend the same, became the property of the Adirondack Railway Company, which, in April, 1892, applied to the railroad commissioners for a certificate, under chapter 565 of the Laws of 1890, to relieve it from the statutory obligation of extending its lines; on the 9th of May following, the commissioners issued their certificate accordingly. The Adirondack Railway Company, thenceforth called the defendant, made no attempt to extend its road until the early part of 1897, when a survey was made for a proposed extension from North Creek through the Counties of Warren, Hamilton, and Essex, to the outlet of Long Lake in Hamilton County, where it was expected that, by connecting with other roads, a route would be secured to the St.Lawrence River. Before anything further was done to extend the road, certain action taken by the state should be briefly alluded to."

"In 1885 the forest preserve was created by statute, embracing

Page 176 U. S. 337

'all the lands now owned, or which may be hereafter acquired, by the State of New York within' certain counties, and the area was extended by subsequent legislation.Laws 1885, c. 283; Laws 1887, c. 639; Laws 1893, c. 332. These acts required said lands to be forever kept as wild forest lands, and provided that they should not be sold, leased, or taken by any corporation, public or private. A forest commission with appropriate powers was created to care for the forest preserve, and appropriations were made from time to time to enable it to properly discharge its duties."

"In 1890, the forest commission was authorized to 'purchase lands so located within such counties as include the forest preserve, as shall be available for the purposes of a state park,' and in 1892, the Adirondack Park was established and placed under the control of said commission. (L. 1890, c. 37; L. 1892, c. 707)."

"The revised Constitution, which went into effect on the 1st of January, 1895, provides that"

"the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed."

(Const. art. 7, § 7.)

"In 1895, the legislation relating to the forest preserve and the Adirondack Park was extended by the fisheries, game, and forest law, and it was declared by section 290 that"

"such park shall be forever reserved, maintained, and cared for as ground open for the free use of all the people for their health and pleasure, and as forest lands necessary to the preservation of the headwaters of the chief rivers of the state, and a future timber supply, and shall remain part of the forest preserve."

"(Laws 1895, c. 395, §§ 270, 295.) During the same year, the forest commission was authorized to purchase 80,000 acres for the use of the Adirondack Park. (L. 1895, c. 561.) In 1897, an act was passed the object of which, according to its title, was 'to provide for the acquisition of land in the territory embraced in the Adirondack Park, and making an appropriation therefor.' (L. 1897, c. 220.) By this act, the appointment

Page 176 U. S. 338

of a forest preserve board was authorized, and it was made its duty"

"to acquire for the state, by purchase or otherwise, land, structures, or waters, or such portion thereof in the territory embraced in the Adirondack Park, as defined and limited by the fisheries, game, and forest law, as it may deem advisable for the interests of the state."

"Section 3 of said act provides that"

"the forest preserve board may enter on and take possession of any land, structures, and waters in the territory embraced in the Adirondack Park, the appropriation of which in its judgment shall be necessary for the purposes specified in section 290 of the fisheries, game, and forest law, and in section 7 of article 7 of the Constitution."

"It is provided by the next section that,"

"upon the request of the forest preserve board, an accurate description of such lands so to be appropriated shall be made by the state engineer and surveyor, or the superintendent of the state land survey, and certified by him to be correct, and such board, or a majority thereof, shall indorse on such description a certificate stating that the lands described therein have been appropriated by the state for the purpose of making them a part of the Adirondack Park, and such description and certificate shall be filed in the office of the Secretary of State. The forest preserve board shall thereupon serve on the owner of any real property so appropriated a notice of the filing and the date of filing of such description, and containing a general description of the real property belonging to such owner which has been so appropriated, and from the time of such service, the entry upon and appropriation by the state of the real property described in such notice for the uses and purposes above specified shall be deemed complete, and thereupon such property shall be deemed and be the property of the state. Such notice shall be conclusive evidence of an entry and appropriation by the state. § 4. Provision is made by the next section for the payment for lands so taken, and for damages resulting from the appropriation by agreement with the owner and the delivery of a certificate payable by the state treasurer upon the warrant of the comptroller. § 5. If the forest preserve board is unable to agree with the owner upon

Page 176 U. S. 339

the value of the property appropriated, the owner, within two years after the service upon him of the notice of appropriation, may present a claim for the value of the land to the Court of Claims, which has jurisdiction to hear and determine the same and to render judgment thereon. The amount of the final judgment is payable by the treasurer upon the warrant of the comptroller. § 6. No provision is made by the act for the payment of any lien upon the lands except that when a judgment for damages is rendered and it appears that there is a lien or encumbrance upon the property appropriated, the amount thereof shall be stated in the judgment, and the comptroller may deposit the amount awarded in the proper bank to be paid and distributed to the person entitled to the same as directed by the judgment. § 19. The sum of $600,000 was appropriated for the purposes specified in the act, and the comptroller was authorized to borrow $400,000 more upon the request of the forest preserve board to be expended under its direction."

"On the 6th of August, 1897, after certain negotiations with the owners of a part of an extensive tract of land known as the Totten & Crossfield purchase, the forest preserve board passed a resolution accepting the offer of the owners of about 18,000 acres of township 23, and 32,000 acres of township 15 of that purchase for the sum of $149,000, of which $99,000 was for the land and $50,000 was for certain improvements at Indian Lake for the use of the state, to be made in accordance with the plans and specifications to be furnished by the state engineer. Township 15 of the Totten & Crossfield purchase lies, as is admitted in the answer, 'wholly within the bounds of the forest preserve and also of the Adriondack Park.' Upon the 15th of August, 1897, a representative of the state engineer with a surveying party began surveying at Indian Lake for the purpose of constructing a dam at its mouth in order to stow water for the use of the Champlain Canal and for water power on the Hudson River. Upon the completion of the survey, plans and specifications were prepared and the construction of the dam was commenced."

"September 18, 1897, the defendant caused a map and profile

Page 176 U. S. 340

to be filed in the Counties of Hamilton, Warren, and Essex for the extension of its road across township 15, which the forest preserve board had agreed to purchase as aforesaid, and which lies partly in each of said three counties. It also gave notice of such filing to the occupants as required by statute, but did nothing else. About the 1st of October following, as the owners were about to convey to the state the lands covered by the resolution of August 6, and receive their money, they were restrained from so doing by an injunction issued in an action brought by the Adirondack Railway Company against them. Thereupon they placed the deed in escrow, to be delivered when the injunction was dissolved, made another deed embracing the same premises, except the land described in the railroad survey, delivered it to the forest preserve board, and received the $99,000, according to agreement. Immediate steps were taken to vacate the injunction, but they were not at first successful, and on the 7th of October, the forest preserve board met, and, learning that the justice who granted the injunction had declined to vacate it, they took steps to appropriate the land in question for a park under the power of eminent domain. The state engineer having furnished a description in writing of the six-rod strip, which the defendant desires for a railroad, and certified that the same was correct, the three members of the forest preserve board, acting under chapter 220 of the Laws of 1897, annexed thereto a certificate of condemnation and signed the same as the forest preserve board, in these words:"

"New York, County of Albany, City of Albany, ss. We, Timothy L. Woodruff, Charles H. Babcock, and Campbell W. Adams, being the forest preserve board, acting under and in pursuance to an act of the legislature of the State of New York, being chapter 220 of the Laws of 1897, entitled 'An Act to Provide for the Acquisition of Land in the Territory Embraced in the Adirondack Park and Making an Appropriation Therefor,' do hereby certify that the lands in township 15, Totten & Crossfield purchase, in the Counties of Hamilton, Essex, and Warren, of the State of New York, described in the foregoing certificate of the state engineer, have been and hereby are

Page 176 U. S. 341

duly appropriated by the State of New York for the purpose of making them a part of the Adirondack Park."

"These papers, indorsed 'state engineer's certificate and description and forest preserve board's certificate of condemnation,' were filed in the office of the Secretary of State on the 7th of October, 1897. On the same day, a notice of this action of the board, with a general description of the property appropriated and a copy of the papers above mentioned, were served on William McEchron, the president of the Indian River Company, which then owned the lands involved. This service was made, as the special term is presumed to have found, at ten minutes before noon. On the same day, the defendant began proceedings to condemn said strip for the purpose of extending its railroad, but, as the special term is also presumed to have found, they did not file the lis pendens until afternoon, and hence not until after the aforesaid proceeding in behalf of the state had been completed. No notice of condemnation was served on the defendant."

"On the 2d of March, 1898, the injunction restraining the conveyance of said lands to the state was reversed on appeal by the appellate division, and thereupon the original deed in escrow was delivered and recorded. The defendant went on with its condemnation proceedings until it was restrained by a temporary injunction granted in this action, which was brought to restrain that company and the other defendants from further continuing the proceedings to condemn."

"The defendant alone answered, and after a trial, the special term rendered judgment for the people perpetually enjoining it from taking the land. Upon appeal, the judgment was reversed by the appellate division and a new trial ordered, by a divided vote, upon the ground that the company, by the filing of its map on the 18th of September, had impressed upon the land a lien that was good as against the State of New York. The people have appealed to this Court, giving the usual stipulation for judgment absolute. "

Page 176 U. S. 342

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