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U.S. Supreme Court

Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad Co. v. Nesbit, 51 U.S. 10 How. 395 395 (1850)

Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad Co. v. Nesbit

51 U.S. (10 How.) 395


The State of Maryland granted a charter to a railroad company in which provision was made for the condemnation of land to the following effect -- namely that a jury should be summoned to assess the damages, which award should be confirmed by the county court unless cause to the contrary was shown.

The charter further provided that the payment, or tender of payment, of such valuation should entitle the company to the estate as fully as if it had been conveyed.

In 1836 there was an inquisition by a jury condemning certain lands, which was ratified and confirmed by the county court.

In 1841 the legislature passed an act directing the county court to set aside the inquisition and order a new one.

On 18 April, 1844, the railroad company tendered the amount of the damages, with interest, to the owner of the land, which offer was refused, and on 26 April, 1844, the owner applied to the county court to set aside the inquisition and order a new one, which the court directed to be done.

The law of 1841 was not a law impairing the obligation of a contract. It neither changed the contract between the company and the state nor did it divest the company of a vested title to the land.

The charter provided that upon tendering the damages to the owner, the title to the land should become vested in the company. There having been no such tender when the act of 1841 was passed, five years after the inquisition, that act only left the parties in the situation where the charter placed them, and no title was divested out of the company, because they had acquired none.

The states have a right to direct a rehearing of cases decided in their own courts. The only limit upon their power to pass retrospective laws is that the Constitution of the United States forbids their passing ex post facto laws, which are retrospective penal laws. But a law merely divesting antecedent vested rights of property, where there is no contract, is not inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States.

The facts in the case are stated in the opinion of the Court, to which the reader is referred.

Page 51 U. S. 396

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