MISSOURI V. ILLINOIS, 200 U. S. 496 (1906)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Missouri v. Illinois, 200 U.S. 496 (1906)

Missouri v. Illinois

No. 4, Original

Argued January 2-4, 1906

Decided February 19, 1906

200 U.S. 496


Missouri filed its bill in this Court to enjoin Illinois and the Sanitary District of Chicago from discharging sewage through an artificial channel connecting Lake Michigan with the Desplaines River, a tributary of the Illinois, the latter of which empties into the Mississippi River above St. Louis, claiming that such sewage so polluted the water of the Mississippi as to render it unfit to drink and productive of typhoid fever and other diseases. Illinois denied the jurisdiction of this Court, and the allegations of the bill, and alleged that, if the conditions complained of at St. Louis existed, they resulted from discharge of sewage into the Mississippi by cities of Missouri and from other causes for which Illinois was not responsible. A demurrer was overruled, with leave to answer, 180 U. S. 180 U.S. 208; after answer and taking of proof, including much expert testimony as to effect of sewage on water and health, held that:

This Court has jurisdiction and authority to deal with a question of this nature between two states which, if it arose between two independent sovereignties, might lead to war.

In such a case, while this Court cannot take the place of a legislature, it must determine whether there is any principle of law, and if any, what, on which the plaintiff state can recover.

Every matter which would be cognizable in equity if between private citizens in the same jurisdiction would not warrant this Court in interfering if such matter arose between states; this Court should only intervene to enjoin the action of one state at the instance of another when the case is of serious magnitude, clearly and fully proved, and in such a case, only such principles should be applied as this Court is prepared deliberately to maintain.

While a state may have relief in this Court against another state to prevent it from discharging sewage through an artificial channel into, and thereby polluting the waters of, a river flowing through both states and on which the complainant state relies for water supply, if the alleged facts as to such pollution are not fully proved, and it also appears that such pollution might result from the discharge of sewage by cities of the complainant state into the same river the bill should be dismissed, but in this case without prejudice.

The reasons on which prescription for a public nuisance is denied or granted to individuals against the sovereign power to which he is subject have no application to an independent state, but it would be contradicting a fundamental principle of human nature not to allow effect to the lapse of time. The fixing of a definite time, however, is usually for the legislature, and not for the courts.

Page 200 U. S. 497

The mere fact that the drainage canal, constructed by authority of Illinois and also under authority of an act of Congress, brought water from the Lake Michigan watershed into the watershed of the Mississippi does not, in the absence of proof of the deleterious effects of such water, render the canal an unlawful structure the use whereof should be enjoined at the instance of another state in the Mississippi watershed.

The facts, which involved the right of the defendants to discharge the sewage of Chicago through an artificial channel into the Desplaines River, which empties into a tributary of the Mississippi River, are stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 200 U. S. 517

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