« PreviousContinue »
for the regulation of pilots and pilotage is plain. The act of 1789 contains a clear and authoritative declaration by the first Congress, that the nature of this subject is such, that until Congress should find it necessary to exert its power, it should be left to the legislation of the States; that it is local and not national; that it is likely to be best provided for, not by one system, or plan of regulations, but by as many as the legislative discretion of the several States should deem applicable to the local peculiarities of the ports within their limits."
No words could be more fitly applied to the subject of the regulation of wharves than are here used by the court in reference to pilotage. It is true no act of Congress has relegated the subject of wharfage to the States, as was done in the case of pilotage; but this was not necessary: the regulation of wharves belongs prima facie, and in the first instance, to the States, and would only be assumed by Congress when its exercise by the States is incompatible with the interests of commerce; and Congress has never yet assumed to take that regulation into its own hands, or to interfere with the regulation of the States.
The power of the States to legislate in matters of a local character, where Congress has not by its own action covered the subject, is quite fully discussed by Mr. Justice Field in delivering the opinion of this court in County of Mobile v. Kimball, 102 U. S. 691, where the distinction taken in Cooley v. Board of Wardens, between those subjects which are national in their character and require uniformity of regulation, and those which are local and peculiar to particular places, is commented upon and enforced. Amongst other things, it is there said: "Where from the nature of the subject or the sphere of its operation the case is local and limited, special regulations adapted to the immediate locality could only have been contemplated. State action upon such subjects can constitute no interference with the commercial power of Congress, for when that acts the State authority is superseded. Inaction of Congress upon these subjects of a local nature or operation, unlike its inaction upon matters affecting all the States and requiring uniformity of regulation, is not to be taken as a dec
laration that nothing shall be done with respect to them, but is rather to be deemed a declaration that for the time being, and until it sees fit to act, they may be regulated by State authority." See also the remarks of the Chief Justice in Hall v. De Cuir, 95 U. S. 485.
It is not necessary to cite other cases. The principle laid down in Cooley v. Board of Wardens has become fully recognized and established in our jurisprudence; and it is manifest that no subject can be more properly classified as local in its nature, and as requiring the application of local regulations, than that of wharves and wharfage.
From this view, it is plain that the courts of the United States have no authority to ignore the State laws and regulations on the subject of wharves and wharfage, and to declare them invalid by reason of any supposed repugnancy to the Constitution or laws of the United States. As already remarked, the courts cannot take the initiative in this matter. Congress must first legislate before the courts can proceed upon any such ground of paramount jurisdiction. If the rates of wharfage exacted are deemed extortionate or unreasonable, the courts of the United States (in cases within their ordinary jurisdiction) as well as the courts of the States must apply and administer the State laws relating to the subject; and these laws will probably, in most cases, be found to be sufficient for the suppression of any glaring evils. At all events, there is not, at present, any Federal law on the subject by which relief can be obtained.
In the various bridge cases that have come before the courts of the United States, where bridges (or dams) have been erected by State authority across navigable streams, the refusal to interfere with their erection has always been based upon the absence of prohibitory legislation by Congress, and the power of the States over the subject in the absence of such legislation. Where the regulation of such streams by Congress has been only of a general character, such as the establishment of ports and collection districts thereon, it has been held that the erection of bridges, furnished with convenient draws, so as not materially to interfere with navigation, is within the power of the States, and not repugnant to such general regulation. The
former cases on this subject are reviewed in Escanaba Company v. Chicago, ante, p. 678.
It is believed that no case can be found in which State laws, or regulations under State authority, on subjects of a local nature, have been set aside on the ground of repugnance to the power of regulating commerce given to Congress, unless it has appeared that they were contrary to some express provision of the Constitution, or to some act of Congress, or that they amounted to an assumption of power exclusively conferred upon Congress.
In Gibbons v. Ogden it was held, that, as the navigation of all public waters of the United States is subject to the regulation of Congress, a license granted under the laws and by the authority of the United States to a steamboat to carry on the coasting trade entitled such boat to navigate all such waters, notwithstanding the existence of a State law granting to certain individuals the exclusive right to navigate a portion of said waters lying within the State; and that such exclusive grant was void as being repugnant to the regulation made by Congress. Chief Justice Marshall, delivering the opinion of the court in that case, said: "The court will enter upon the inquiry, whether the laws of New York, as expounded by the highest tribunal of that State, have, in their application to this case, come into collision with an act of Congress, and deprived a citizen of a right to which the act entitles him."
Subsequent cases which we have already cited in this opinion are to the same effect. Crandall v. State of Nevada, 6 Wall. 35; Ward v. Maryland, 12 id. 418; Welton v. State of Missouri, 91 U. S. 275; Henderson v. Mayor of New York, 92 id. 259; People v. Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, ante, p. 59.
State of Pennsylvania v. Wheeling, &c. Bridge Co., 13 How. 518, was a peculiar case. The Wheeling bridge, as originally constructed, presented a complete obstacle to the passage of steamboats with high chimneys, such as navigated the Ohio River to and from Pittsburgh; and hence presented a case of interference with navigation analogous to that of the exclusive monopoly granted to Fulton and Livingston by the State of New York, which was the ground of complaint in the case of
Gibbons v. Ogden. But, besides this, it was a case in which this court exercised its original jurisdiction by reason of the character of the parties, a State being the complainant; and having jurisdiction on this ground, it was competent for the court to decide upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the structure in reference, not only to the laws of the United States, but also to the local municipal law, and to the general law relating to the mutual rights of the States. The charter granted to the Wheeling Bridge Company by the State of Virginia had expressly provided, "that if the said bridge shall be so constructed as to injure the navigation of said river, the said bridge shall be treated as a public nuisance, and shall be liable to abatement upon the same principles and in the same manner that other public nuisances are." In addition to this, an act was passed Dec. 18, 1789, by the State of Virginia, consenting to the erection of the State of Kentucky out of its territory on certain conditions, among which was one "that the use and navigation of the river Ohio, so far as the territory of the proposed State, or the territory that shall remain within the limits of this Commonwealth, lies thereon, shall be free and common to the citizens of the United States ;" and to this the assent of Congress was given by the act of Feb. 4, 1791, c. 4. "This compact," the court said, "by the sanction of Congress, has become a law of the Union." Upon all these grounds, it was held that the State of Pennsylvania, having large interests which were affected by the erection of the bridge, was entitled to a decree for its prostration as a nuisance, unless such alterations should be made in its construction as to leave the navigation of the river unimpaired.
This case, therefore, cannot be relied on, any more than the other cases referred to, to show that the courts of the United States have any peculiar jurisdiction as such to vindicate the supposed rights of commerce and navigation against the laws of the States, in matters of a local nature, such as the regulation of wharfage is, where no express provision of the Constitution is violated, and no act of Congress has been passed to regulate the subject. As no act of Congress has been passed for the regulation of wharfage, and as there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent the States from regulating it, so long
as Congress sees fit to abstain from action on the subject, our conclusion is, that it is entirely within the domain, and subject to the operation, of the State laws.
The effect of this conclusion upon the present case is obvious. The gravamen of the bill is really nothing but a complaint against exorbitant rates of wharfage. These rates are established by a municipal body, itself the proprietor of the wharves, and professing to act under the authority of State law. It cannot be supposed that the law authorizes exorbitant charges to be made; but whether the charges exacted are exorbitant or not can only be determined by that law. It is clear, therefore, that the complainant in filing its bill in the United States court on the ground that the wharfage complained of is in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, has totally misconceived its rights, and the proper means of obtaining redress. Unless it has some other ground for coming into the Federal court, it must seek redress in the State courts; and whether the question of reasonableness of wharfage is submitted to the determination of the one forum or the other, it is only determinable by the laws of the State within whose jurisdiction the wharf is situated. Since the parties are all citizens of West Virginia, and since the case cannot be sustained as one "arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States," there was no error in the decree dismissing the bill of complaint. The decree of the Circuit Court is, therefore,
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN dissenting.
The city of Parkersburg - which has been created a port of delivery in conformity with the laws of the United States exacts and collects for the use of its wharf by boats engaged in commerce on the Ohio River certain fees or dues, called wharfage charges, which, pursuant to the ordinance of May 17, 1865, are, in every case, measured by the tonnage or capacity of the boat so using the wharf.
It is conceded by the demurrer to the bill that from these fees the city has long since been reimbursed for the actual cost of constructing the wharf; that the amount annually collected