SAUER V. NEW YORK, 206 U. S. 536 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sauer v. New York, 206 U.S. 536 (1907)

Sauer v. New York

No. 130

Argued March 21, 1907

Decided May 27, 1907

206 U.S. 536


While under the law of the New York, the owner of land abutting on a street has easements of access, light and air as against the erection of an elevated railway by or for a private corporation for its own exclusive purposes, he has no such easements as against the public use of the streets, or any such structure which may be erected upon the street to subserve and promote the public use, and he is not therefore deprived of his property without due process of law by the erection of such a structure for the public use.

The decision of the Court of Appeals of the New York in the Elevated Railroad cases related to the structure of an elevated railroad for a private corporation, and did not create any contract within the impairment of obligation clause of the Constitution of the United States between the City of New York and owners of property abutting on the streets which would be violated by the change of grade or erection of a viaduct for public use of the city.

These rules applied to the case of an abutting owner on 155th Street in New York City and held that the erection of the viaduct therein was merely a change of grade, and that he was not thereby deprived of his property without due process of law, nor was the obligation of any contract impaired by the judgment of the Court of Appeals holding that the rule of the Elevated Railroad cases did not apply in such a case. Muhlker v. Harlem R. Co., 197 U. S. 544, distinguished.

George W. Sauer, the intestate of the plaintiffs in error (hereafter called the plaintiff), became, on July 1, 1886, the owner in fee simple of a parcel of land on the corner of One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street and Eighth Avenue, in the City of New York. There was then upon the land a building used as a place of public resort. The City of New York was and is the owner of the fee of One Hundred and Fifty-fifth street and Eighth Avenue, which it holds in trust for the public for highways.

Before the passage of the act hereinafter referred, to One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street had been graded from Eighth

Page 206 U. S. 537

Avenue in a westerly direction until it reached a high, and, for street uses, impassable bluff on the summit of which ran St. Nicholas Place, a public highway. The street, as laid out on the records, ascends the bluff and continues westerly to the Hudson River. It extends easterly to the Harlem River at a point where the river is bridged by McComb's Dam Bridge.

In 1887 the Legislature of the State of New York enacted a law which authorized the City of New York, for the purpose of improving and regulating the use of One Hundred and Fifty-fifth Street, to construct over said street from St. Nicholas Place to McComb's Dam Bridge an elevated iron viaduct for the public travel, with the proviso that no railways should be permitted upon it. There was no provision for damages to the owners of land abutting on the street. Subsequently the viaduct was constructed, resting upon iron columns placed in the roadway. The surface of the viaduct consisted of asphalt and paving blocks laid on iron beams. Opposite the plaintiff's land, it is sixty-three feet wide and about fifty feet above the surface of the original street, which, except as interfered with by the viaduct, remains unobstructed for public travel. At the junction of the street with Eighth Avenue it is widened into a quadrangular platform, 80 by 160 feet in extent. Near the plaintiff's land, the viaduct may be reached by a stairway. By the construction and maintenance of the viaduct, the plaintiff's access to his land and the free and uninterrupted use of light and air have been impaired, and the value of his property has been decreased by reason of the dust, dirt, and noise occasioned by the structure. This action was brought to enjoin the defendant from maintaining the viaduct, or, in the alternative, for the recovery of damages caused by it. There was judgment for the defendant by the supreme court, affirmed by the appellate division and the Court of Appeals. 180 N.Y. 27. After the last decision, the case was remitted to the supreme court, where there was final judgment for the defendant, and it is now here on writ of error under the claim that --

Page 206 U. S. 538

First. Plaintiff has been deprived of his property without due process of law, in violation of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and

Second. That the act under which the viaduct was constructed, as construed by the court, impairs the obligation of a contract, in violation of § 10, Article I, of the Constitution of the United States.

Page 206 U. S. 541

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