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U.S. Supreme Court

Columbus v. Mercantile Trust & Deposit Co., 218 U.S. 645 (1910)

Columbus v. Mercantile Trust

and Deposit Company of Baltimore

No. 41

Argued November 7, 8, 1910

Decided December 12, 1910

218 U.S. 645


To furnish an ample supply of pure and wholesome water is the highest police duty resting on a municipality.

One contracting to furnish a municipality with an ample supply of pure water must at all times maintain his ability to meet the requirements of the contract, and a continuous supply of water is a vital part of the contract.

The maxim that he who seeks equity must do equity applies to one affirmatively seeking relief. It does not vest a court of equity with power to impose on a defendant terms as a condition for dismissing the bill where plaintiff wholly fails to prove his case, even if defendant has filed a cross-bill for defensive relief.

Where a water company has wholly failed to live up to its contract and the municipality has determined by ordinance to erect its own plant, a court of equity cannot, in a suit brought by the water company to restrain the municipality on the ground of impairment of contract, require the municipality to purchase any part of the plaintiff's plant as a condition for dismissing the bill.

The enforcement of a municipal ordinance will not be enjoined as impairing the obligations of an existing contract at the instance of a complainant who fails to show that the contract has been complied with.

A mortgagee of contract rights has no greater right to restrain the enforcement of an ordinance on the ground that it impairs the obligation of the contract than has the contracting party himself.

Where the breach justifies the abrogation of a contract otherwise protected by the contract clause of the federal Constitution, considerations of hardship and the interests of creditors cannot prevail to set up and enforce that contract against the party having the right to treat the contract as ended.

Where the contractor under a municipal water supply contract wholly fails to furnish an adequate supply of pure water according to the

Page 218 U. S. 646

contract, the municipality has no adequate remedy at law; it may treat the contract a ended and a court of equity may enforce such rescission.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of certain ordinances of the city of Columbus, Georgia, are stated in the opinion.

Page 218 U. S. 649

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