16 Mich. 269 (Mich. 1868), Ryerson v. Utley

Citation:16 Mich. 269
Opinion Judge:Cooley Ch. J.:
Party Name:Martin Ryerson et al. v. William S. Utley
Attorney:G. V. N. Lothrop and D. Darwin Hughes, for complainant: George Gray, for defendant:
Judge Panel:Cooley, Ch. J. Campbell and Christiancy, JJ. concurred. Graves, J. did not sit.
Case Date:January 07, 1868
Court:Supreme Court of Michigan

Page 269

16 Mich. 269 (Mich. 1868)

Martin Ryerson et al.


William S. Utley

Supreme Court of Michigan

January 7, 1868

Heard October 23, 1867

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Appeal in chancery from Muskegon circuit.

The bill in this cause was filed to restrain the collection, by a commissioner, of a special contribution towards the payment of a claim against the state for certain improvements on the Muskegon river.

The facts were admitted by stipulation. A decree was rendered in accordance with the prayer of the bill, and a perpetual injunction granted.

The case involves the constitutionality of the act of 1857 (Sess. L., No. 147), and that of 1867 (Sess. L., No. 56).

Decree affirmed, with costs.

G. V. N. Lothrop and D. Darwin Hughes, for complainant:

1. The act of 1867, p. 82, § 10, is void under the provision of the state constitution, which declares that "the state shall not be a party to, or interested in any work of internal improvement, nor engage in carrying on any such work, except in the expenditure of grants to the state of land or other property:" Const., art. 14, § 9.

This was designed, both to keep the state from running into debt, and also to keep the state free from enterprises which are not well carried on by public officers.

It is true the state, in terms, avoids liability for this debt in this act. Yet this is only colorable. It by law levies a tax, or contribution, collectible by its own officer, payable by him into the state treasury, and thence paid on the warrant of the auditor-general to the extinguishment of the debt. In effect, then, it becomes a party to this work. It is within the clear scope of the provision above cited.

2. The law embraces more than one object, and the matter now in question is not at all indicated by the title of the act.

The title is "An act to provide for the preservation of the Muskegon river improvement, and for other purposes."

In fact, the principal purpose of the act is to provide for the payment of the Beard claim. This is substantially distinct from and having no necessary connection with the care and preservation of the work. It, therefore, is in violation of this clause of the constitution, as expounded by this court: 13 Mich. 494.

The recent decision of the court of appeals in New York on the act transferring the license power to the police commissioners is to same effect. See also 7 Ind. 506, 681; 9 Ind. 363, 380; 11 Id. 199; 14 Id. 239; 2 Minn. 330.

The claim of Beard, if not a debt of the state, is a debt of the internal improvement fund. That fund, and that only, is liable for it. The state can not directly assume payment of it. Nor can it lawfully impose the payment of it on any locality or upon any individuals. Yet the latter is precisely what this act proposes to do.

It imposes the payment of this debt on those who navigate the Muskegon river. And it seizes their property, and without their consent applies it to the payment of this claim.

It is not a toll or tax to maintain the navigable condition of the river. It does not profess to be that: 8 Mich. 279; 4 N. Y., 423.

It is simply a forced contribution from the complainants to pay the debt of the internal improvement fund, if the claim is, in law, any debt at all.

Such a taking is, of course, unlawful. If it were a taking for the public use, it would be an unlawful exercise of the right of eminent domain. But, as a taking to pay a debt due an individual, it is wholly indefensible: 8 Mich. 291; 2 Pet. 657; 39 Penn. St. R., 73; 4 Hill 144.

And, if possible, this objection is strengthened by the statement of the answer, that the internal improvement fund has proper resources of its own.

George Gray, for defendant:

1. The law of 1857, p. 394, making the appropriation for the improvement is not repugnant to section 9, article 14, of the constitution; because it provides only for the expenditure of a grant or grants of land and other property in the state.

The internal improvement fund, from which the appropriation is made, is formed and acquired wholly from grants to the state, and this fund is not, and was not at the time of the passage of said last mentioned act, or at any time since, either exhausted, or without ample means to meet this expenditure.

The appropriation in question made by said act is the expenditure of a grant to the state, and is not, therefore, a violation, in spirit or letter, of section 9...

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