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U.S. Supreme Court

Central R. Co. of New Jersey v. Jersey City, 209 U.S. 473 (1908)

Central Railroad Company of New Jersey v. Jersey City

No. 203

Argued April 15, 16, 1908

Decided April 27, 1908

209 U.S. 473




"Jurisdiction,' as generally used in compacts between states, has a more limited sene than 'sovereignty."

Under the agreement of 1833 between the States of New York and New Jersey, 4 Stat. 708, while exclusive jurisdiction is given to New York over the water of the Hudson River west of the boundary line fixed by the agreement, the land under such water remained subject to the sovereignty of New Jersey, and the jurisdiction given to New York over the water does not exclude the sovereign power of New Jersey to tax such land, nor does an exercise of that power deprive the owner of the land of his property without due process of law.

This Court, in construing a compact between states, will hesitate to reach a conclusion different from that reached by the highest court of both states.

43 Vroom 311 affirmed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 209 U. S. 476

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a writ of error prosecuted to review a judgment sustaining taxes levied by Jersey City upon lands of the plaintiff in error, lying between the middle of New York Bay and its low water line on the New Jersey shore. It is argued that this land, although it belonged to New Jersey until conveyed, is not within its jurisdiction, and cannot be taxed under the authority of that state. The supreme court upheld the tax, 41 Vroom 81, and its judgment was affirmed by the Court of Errors and Appeals for the reasons given by the supreme court. 43 Vroom 311.

Page 209 U. S. 477

The plaintiff in error contended that, as New Jersey had not the right to tax, the attempt was to deprive the prosecutor of its property contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and brought the case here.

The decision depends upon the construction of an agreement made between New Jersey and New York for the purpose of settling the territorial limits and jurisdiction of the two states, which previously had been the subject of dispute. This agreement was made by commissioners appointed for the purpose, was confirmed by New York on February 5, 1834, Laws of 1834, c. 8, p. 8, and by New Jersey on February 26, 1834, Laws of 1834, p. 118, and was approved by Congress by Act of June 28, 1834, c. 126. 4 Stat. 708. By Article I, the boundary line between the two states from a point above the land in dispute is to be the middle of the Hudson River, of the Bay of New York, of the water between Staten Island and New Jersey, etc., "except as hereinafter otherwise particularly mentioned." By Article II, New York retains its present jurisdiction over Bedlow's and Ellis Islands, and exclusive jurisdiction over certain other islands in the waters mentioned. By Article III, New York is to have

"exclusive jurisdiction of and over all the waters of the Bay of New York, and of and over all the waters of the Hudson River lying west of Manhattan Island and to the south"

of the above-mentioned point,

"and of and over the land covered by the said waters to the low water mark on the westerly or New Jersey side thereof, subject to the following rights of property and jurisdiction of the State of New Jersey, that is to say: 1. The State of New Jersey shall have the exclusive right of property in and to the land under water lying west of the middle of the Bay of New York, and west of the middle of that part of the Hudson River which lies between Manhattan Island and New Jersey."

2. New Jersey is to have exclusive jurisdiction over wharves, docks, and improvements made or to be made on its shore, and over vessels aground or fastened there, subject to the quarantine and passenger laws of New York. 3. New Jersey is to have the exclusive right of

Page 209 U. S. 478

regulating the fisheries on the west of the middle of said waters, providing that navigation be not obstructed or hindered.

The other articles need but brief mention. Article IV gives New York "exclusive jurisdiction" over the waters of Kill van Kull "in respect to such quarantine laws and laws relating to passengers as etc., and for executing the same," and over certain other waters. Article V gives New Jersey exclusive jurisdiction over certain other waters, subject to New York's exclusive property and exclusive jurisdiction over wharves, docks, and improvements within certain limits, and exclusive right of regulating the fisheries on its side, as above in the case of New Jersey. Articles VI and VII provide for the service of criminal and civil process of each state on the waters within the exclusive jurisdiction of the other. Article VIII and last calls for the confirmation of the agreement by the two states and approval by the Congress of the United States.

Thus, the land which has been taxed is on the New Jersey side of the boundary line, but under the "exclusive jurisdiction" of New York, subject to the exclusive right of property in New Jersey, and the limited jurisdiction and authority conferred by the paragraphs summed up. The question is, which of these provisions governs the right to tax? It appears to us plain on the face of the agreement that the dominant fact is the establishment of the boundary line. The boundary line is the line of sovereignty, and the establishment of it is not satisfied, but is contradicted, by the suggestion that the agreement simply gives the ownership of the land under water on the New Jersey side to that state as a private owner of land lying within the State of New York. On the contrary, the provision as to exclusive right of property in the compact between states is to be taken primarily to refer to ultimate sovereign rights, in pursuance of the settlement of the territorial limits, which was declared to be one purpose of the agreement, and is not to be confined to the assertion and recognition of a private claim, which, for all that appears, may have been inconsistent with titles already accrued, and which would lose significance the

Page 209 U. S. 479

moment that New Jersey sold the land. We repeat that boundary means sovereignty, since, in modern times, sovereignty is mainly territorial, unless a different meaning clearly appears.

It is said that a different meaning does appear in the Article (III) that gives New York exclusive jurisdiction over this land as well as the water above it. But we agree with the state courts that have been called on to construe that part of the agreement that the purpose was to promote the interests of commerce and navigation, not to take back the sovereignty that otherwise was the consequence of Article I. This is the view of the New York as well as of the New Jersey Court of Errors and Appeals, and it would be a strange result if this Court should be driven to a different conclusion from that reached by both the parties concerned. Ferguson v. Ross, 126 N.Y. 459, 463; People v. Central R. Co., 42 N.Y. 283. This opinion is confirmed by the judgment delivered by one of the commissioners in State v. Babcock, 30 N.J.L. 29. Again, as was pointed out by the state court, the often-expressed purpose of the appointment of the commissioner and of the agreement to settle the territorial limits and jurisdiction must mean, by territorial limits, sovereignty, and by jurisdiction something less. It is suggested that jurisdiction is used in a broader sense in the second article, and that may be true so far as concerns Bedloe's and Ellis Islands. But the provision there is that New York shall retain its "present" jurisdiction over them, and would seem on its face simply to be intended to preserve the status quo ante, whatever it may be.

Throughout nearly all the articles of the agreement, other than those in controversy, the word "jurisdiction" obviously is used in a more limited sense. The word has occurred in other cases where a river was a boundary, and in the Virginia compact was held to mean, primarily at least, jurisdictio -- authority to apply the law to the acts of men. Wedding v. Meyler, 192 U. S. 573, 192 U. S. 584. Whether, in the case at bar, some power of police regulation also was conferred upon New York, as held in Ferguson v. Ross, need not be decided now. That New Jersey

Page 209 U. S. 480

retained the sovereignty, however, seems to be assumed in article III(2), giving her exclusive jurisdiction over wharves, docks, and improvements, made and "to be made," on the shore. This does not grant the right to make such improvements, but assumes it to exist. But the right would need the permission of New York except on the hypothesis that New Jersey had sovereign power over the place.

The conclusion reached has the very powerful sanction of the conduct of the parties and of the existing condition of things. See Moore v. McGuire, 205 U. S. 214, 205 U. S. 220. The decisions of the courts have been referred to. It was admitted at the bar that the record of transfers of such lands was kept in New Jersey, not in New York. New York never has attempted to tax the land, while New Jersey has levied more or less similar taxes for many years without dispute. See, e.g., State v. Collector of Jersey City, 24 Zabr. 108, 120; State v. Jersey City, 1 Dutcher 530; State v. Jersey City, 6 Vroom 178; s.c., 7 Vroom 471. New Jersey, not New York, regulates the improvements on the shore. Act of March 18, 1851, P.L. 1851, p. 335; Rev. 1877, p. 1240; Act of April 11, 1864, P.L. 1864, p. 681; March 31, 1869, P.L. 1869, p. 1017; 3 Gen.Stat. 2784, 2786; New York, Lake Erie & Western R. Co. v. Hughes, 46 N.J.L. 67. Without going into all the details that have been mentioned in the careful and satisfactory discussion of the question in the state courts, we are of opinion that the land in question is subject to the sovereignty of the State of New Jersey, and that the exclusive jurisdiction given to the State of New York does not exclude the right of the sovereign power to tax.

Judgment affirmed.

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