200 U.S. 496 (1906), 4, Missouri v. Illinois

Docket Nº:No. 4, Original
Citation:200 U.S. 496, 26 S.Ct. 268, 50 L.Ed. 572
Party Name:Missouri v. Illinois
Case Date:February 19, 1906
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 496

200 U.S. 496 (1906)

26 S.Ct. 268, 50 L.Ed. 572




No. 4, Original

United States Supreme Court

February 19, 1906

Argued January 2-4, 1906


Missouri filed its bill in this Court to enjoin Illinois and the Sanitary District of Chicago from discharging sewage through an artificial channel connecting Lake Michigan with the Desplaines River, a tributary of the Illinois, the latter of which empties into the Mississippi River above St. Louis, claiming that such sewage so polluted the water of the Mississippi as to render it unfit to drink and productive of typhoid fever and other diseases. Illinois denied the jurisdiction of this Court, and the allegations of the bill, and alleged that, if the conditions complained of at St. Louis existed, they resulted from discharge of sewage into the Mississippi by cities of Missouri and from other causes for which Illinois was not responsible. A demurrer was overruled, with leave to answer, 180 U.S. 208; after answer and taking of proof, including much expert testimony as to effect of sewage on water and health, held that:

This Court has jurisdiction and authority to deal with a question of this nature between two states which, if it arose between two independent sovereignties, might lead to war.

In such a case, while this Court cannot take the place of a legislature, it must determine whether there is any principle of law, and if any, what, on which the plaintiff state can recover.

Every matter which would be cognizable in equity if between private citizens in the same jurisdiction would not warrant this Court in interfering if such matter arose between states; this Court should only intervene to enjoin the action of one state at the instance of another when the case is of serious magnitude, clearly and fully proved, and in such a case, only such principles should be applied as this Court is prepared deliberately to maintain.

While a state may have relief in this Court against another state to prevent it from discharging sewage through an artificial channel into, and thereby polluting the waters of, a river flowing through both states and on which the complainant state relies for water supply, if the alleged facts as to such pollution are not fully proved, and it also appears that such pollution might result from the discharge of sewage by cities of the complainant state into the same river the bill should be dismissed, but in this case without prejudice.

The reasons on which prescription for a public nuisance is denied or granted to individuals against the sovereign power to which he is subject have no application to an independent state, but it would be contradicting a fundamental principle of human nature not to allow effect to the lapse of time. The fixing of a definite time, however, is usually for the legislature, and not for the courts.

Page 497

The mere fact that the drainage canal, constructed by authority of Illinois and also under authority of an act of Congress, brought water from the Lake Michigan watershed into the watershed of the Mississippi does not, in the absence of proof of the deleterious effects of such water, render the canal an unlawful structure the use whereof should be enjoined at the instance of another state in the Mississippi watershed.

The facts, which involved the right of the defendants to discharge the sewage of Chicago through an artificial channel into the Desplaines River, which empties into a tributary of the Mississippi River, are stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 517

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought by the State of Missouri to restrain the discharge of the sewage of Chicago through an artificial channel into the Desplaines River, in the State of Illinois. That river empties into the Illinois River, and the latter empties into the Mississippi at a point about forty-three miles above the City of St. Louis. It was alleged in the bill that the result of the threatened discharge would be to send 1,500 tons of poisonous filth daily into the Mississippi, to deposit great quantities of the same upon the part of the bed of the last-named river belonging to the plaintiff, and so to poison the water of that river, upon which various of the plaintiff's cities, towns, and inhabitants depended, as to make it unfit for drinking, agricultural, or manufacturing purposes. It was alleged that the defendant sanitary district was acting in pursuance of a statute of the State of Illinois, and as an agency of that state. The case is stated at length in 180 U.S. 208, where a demurrer to the bill was overruled. A supplemental bill alleges that, since the filing of the original bill, the drainage canal has been opened and put into operation, and has produced and is producing all the evils which were apprehended when the injunction first was asked. The answers deny the plaintiff's case, allege that the new plan sends the water of the Illinois River into the Mississippi much purer than it was before, that many towns and cities of the plaintiff along the Missouri and Mississippi discharge their sewage into those rivers, and that, if there is any trouble, the plaintiff must look nearer home for the cause.

The decision upon the demurrer discussed mainly the jurisdiction of the court, and, as leave to answer was given when the demurrer was overruled, naturally there was no very precise consideration of the principles of law to be applied if the plaintiff should prove its...

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