UNITED STATES V. ST. ANTHONY R. CO., 192 U. S. 524 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. St. Anthony R. Co., 192 U.S. 524 (1904)

United States v. St. Anthony Railroad Company

No. 147

Argued January 28, 1904

Decided February 23, 1904

192 U.S. 524


Although a liberal construction of a statute may be proper and desirable, yet the fair meaning of the language used must not be unduly stretched for the purpose of reaching any particular case which, while it might appeal to the court, would plainly be beyond the limitations contained in the statute.

Without defining the exact distance within which lands must lie in order to be "adjacent" to a railroad passing through territory of the United States, public lands lying in Idaho, more than twenty miles from a two hundred foot right of way of a railroad, not exceeding forty miles in length, are not "adjacent public lands" within the meaning of the Act of March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 482, permitting railroad companies to cut timber therefrom for the construction of their roads.

A railroad company cutting timber for the construction of its road on public lands not adjacent thereto is liable to the United States for the value thereof, and where there is no intention to violate any law or do a wrongful act, the measure of damages is the value of the timber at the time when, and at the place where, it was cut and not at the place of its delivery. Wooden-ware Co. v. United States, 106 U. S. 432, and Pine River Logging Co. v. United States, 186 U. S. 279, distinguished.

This action was brought by the United States against the railroad company to recover damages for the unlawful cutting down and conversion by the company, in the year 1899, of certain timber on the public lands belonging to the United States in the State of Idaho. The value of the timber thus cut was, as alleged, over $20,000. The trial was had in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Idaho, Southern Division, and resulted in a judgment dismissing the complaint, which was affirmed, upon appeal, by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 114 F.7d 2, and the government has appealed to this Court.

The defendant answered the complaint and denied its averments as to unlawfully entering upon the lands and cutting

Page 192 U. S. 525

the timber. As a further and separate defense, the defendant averred that it was duly incorporated on May 18, 1899, under and pursuant to the laws of the State of Idaho for the purpose of constructing and operating a railroad from the Town of Idaho Falls in Bingham County, Idaho, to St. Anthony, in Fremont County, in that state, a distance of approximately forty miles. On or about July 7, 1899, the board of directors duly adopted the route for the railway, which was practically a straight line between the Town of Idaho Falls and the Town of St. Anthony, and passed through and over the public lands of the United States. The defendant fully performed all things required by railroad companies by the act of Congress granting to railroads the right of way through the public lands of the United States, approved March 3, 1875, and it thereby became entitled to the benefit of the privileges therein granted to railroad companies. For the purpose of procuring the necessary material with which to construct its railroad, the defendant, through its authorized agents, entered upon the lands described in the complaint, which were, as defendant alleged, adjacent to the line of the railroad, for the purpose of procuring ties and timbers for the construction of the road, and did, during the summer and fall of 1899, cut and remove timber growing on the lands, not to exceed 1,682,975 feet; that the ties and timbers were cut from the nearest public lands to said line of road, and were, as the defendant averred, adjacent thereto; that all the ties and timbers were necessary for the original construction of the road, and were used for that purpose, and the defendant cut and removed the timber in good faith, with no intention of violating any law or committing any trespass, but believing that it had the right to enter upon the lands and take the timber.

For the purpose of the trial, there was an agreed statement of facts made, and therein it was stated that the cutting of the timber was upon the lands of the government and the amount thereof was correctly stated in the answer, and its value upon delivery to the defendant was as alleged in the complaint.

Page 192 U. S. 526

The defendant did not act under any mistake of fact in regard to the status of the timber and the lands upon which it grew, and did what was done believing it had the legal right so to do. It is not disputed that the lands were unoccupied unentered public lands of the United States.

Upon the question whether the lands where the timber was cut were or were not adjacent, it was agreed:

"That said lands from the place where said timber was cut to the line of the road were and are the following distances, namely, from 17 to 23 miles by air line; from 20 miles to 25 miles by wagon road, and from 22 to 26 miles following the sinuosities of the river upon which said timber was in part conveyed. By far the larger part of the timber was driven or rafted down said river from said lands to said railroad, the other part being hauled by wagon. The wagon road referred to and so used is an ordinarily good road and involves no unusual grades, and said timber could, with reasonable profit, be hauled by wagon from the place where it was cut to said railroad, where it was used for ties and in the construction of bridges. It is further agreed that there were no other timber lands or suitable timber upon either side of said railroad as near as were the land and timber in question, and that said lands are near enough and so located with reference to said railroad as to be directly and materially benefited thereby."

The statute under which the cutting is justified is section 1 of "An Act Granting to Railroads the Right of Way Through the Public Lands of the United States," approved March 3, 1875, 18 Stat. 482, and is set forth in the margin. *

Page 192 U. S. 530

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