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U.S. Supreme Court

Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61 (1911)

Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co.

No. 260

Argued January 3, 4, 1911

Decided March 13, 1911

220 U.S. 61


Courts of the United States must accept the construction put upon a state statute by the highest court of the State; and, in determining the constitutionality of a state statute, this court is not concerned with provisions thereof which the highest court of the State has declared invalid.

It is within the power of the State, consistently with due process of law, to prohibit the owner of the surface by pumping on his own land, water, gas and oil, to deplete the subterranean supply common to him and other owners to their injury; and so held that the statute of New York protecting mineral springs is not, as the same has been construed by the Court of Appeals of that State, unconstitutional as depriving owners of their property without due process of law. Ohio Oil Co. v. Indiana, 177 U. S. 190.

This court cannot give effect to statements not supported by the record and contrary to the situation as it appears to have been regarded by the highest court of the State, and which is not inconsistent with the allegations of the bill.

If the facts alleged by one contesting the constitutionality of a state statute take him out of the operation of the statute, as construed by the highest court of the State, he is not harmed by the statute, and cannot draw in question or test its validity.

The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment admits of a wide exercise of discretion, and only avoids a classification which is purely arbitrary, being without reasonable basis; nor does a classification having some reasonable basis offend because not made with mathematical nicety or resulting in some inequality.

This court will assume the existence at the time the statute was enacted of any state of facts that can reasonably be conceived and which will support a classification in a state statute attacked as denying equal protection of the law.

The burden of showing that a classification in a state statute denies

Page 220 U. S. 62

equal protection of the law as not resting on a reasonable basis is on the party assailing it.

A police statute may be confined to the occasion for its existence. If there is a substantial difference in point of harmful results between various methods of pumping gas and mineral water, that difference justifies a classification, and the burden is on the attacking party to prove the classification unreasonable; and so held that the classification in the New York Mineral Springs Act does not appear to be arbitrary, but to rest on a reasonable basis.

Where it is not an arbitrary discrimination, and there is a rational connection between two facts, a State may make evidence of one of such facts prima facie evidence of the other, so long as the right to make a full defense is not cut off, Mobile &c. R. R. Co. v. Turnipseed, 219 U. S. 35; and so held that the New York Mineral Springs Act is not rendered unconstitutional as denying equal protection of the law by the ruling of the Court of Appeals, read into the statute, that proof of certain designated facts amounts to prima facie proof establishing a reasonable presumption, but one that can be overcome, that other acts of defendants fall within the prohibition of the statute.

170 Fed.Rep. 1023, affirmed.

By a bill in equity exhibited in the Circuit Court, the appellant, as owner and holder of capital stock and bonds of the Natural Carbonic Gas Company, sought a decree enjoining that company from obeying, and the other defendants from enforcing, a statute of the State of New York, approved May 20, 1908, entitled "An act for the protection of the natural mineral springs of the State and to prevent waste and impairment of its natural mineral waters," and containing, among others, this provision:

"Pumping, or otherwise drawing by artificial appliance, from any well made by boring or drilling into the rock, that class of mineral waters holding in solution natural mineral salts and an excess of carbonic acid gas, or pumping, or by any artificial contrivance whatsoever in any manner producing an unnatural flow of carbonic acid gas issuing from or contained in any well made by boring or drilling into the rock, for the purpose of extracting,

Page 220 U. S. 63

collecting, compressing, liquifying, or vending such gas as a commodity otherwise than in connection with the mineral water and the other mineral ingredients with which it was associated, is hereby declared to be unlawful."

Laws 1908, vol. 2, chap. 429, p. 1221.

In addition to what properly may be passed without special mention, the bill alleges that the gas company owns 21 acres of lands in Saratoga Springs, New York, which contain mineral waters of the class specified in the statute; that these waters are percolating waters, not naturally flowing to or upon the surface, and can be reached and lifted to the surface only by means of pumps or other artificial appliances; that the gas company is engaged in collecting natural carbonic acid gas from these waters, and in compressing and selling the gas as a separate commodity; that this business has come to be both large and lucrative, and, as a necessary incident to its successful prosecution, the gas company has sunk upon its land wells of great depth, made by boring or drilling into the underlying rock, and has fitted these wells with tubing, seals, and pumps, whereby it lifts the waters and the gas contained therein to the surface; that these pumps do not exercise any force of compulsion upon waters in or under adjoining lands, but lift to the surface only such waters as flow by reason of the laws of nature into the wells; that, when the waters are lifted to the surface, the excess of carbonic acid gas therein naturally escapes and is caught and compressed preparatory to its sale, none thereof being wasted, and no process being employed to increase the natural separation of the excess of gas from the waters; and that many other landowners in Saratoga Springs have like wells, which are operated in a like way, with a like purpose.

It also is alleged that the gas company bottles and sells for drinking purposes and for use by invalids and others all of the mineral waters pumped from its wells "for

Page 220 U. S. 64

which there is any market or demand," but there is no allegation of the extent of this market or demand, and it was conceded in argument that a large proportion of the waters pumped from the company's wells is not used, but is suffered to run to waste.

In terms, the bill predicates the right to the relief sought upon the claim that the state statute deprives the appellant and others of property without due process of law, and denies to them the equal protection of the laws, and therefore is violative of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

In the Circuit Court, the defendants other than the gas company demurred to the bill, the demurrers were sustained (170 Fed. 1023), and a decree dismissing the bill was entered, whereupon this appeal was prayed and allowed.

Page 220 U. S. 72

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