206 U.S. 230 (1907), 5, Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Company

Docket Nº:No. 5, Original
Citation:206 U.S. 230, 27 S.Ct. 618, 51 L.Ed. 1038
Party Name:Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Company
Case Date:May 13, 1907
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 230

206 U.S. 230 (1907)

27 S.Ct. 618, 51 L.Ed. 1038



Tennessee Copper Company

No. 5, Original

United States Supreme Court

May 13, 1907

Argued February 25, 26, 1907



When the states by their union made the forcible abatement of outside nuisances impossible to each, they did not thereby agree to submit to whatever might be done. They retained the right to make reasonable demands on the grounds of their still remaining quasi-sovereign interests, and the alternative to force a suit in this Court.

This Court has jurisdiction to, and at the suit of a state will, enjoin a corporation, citizen of another state, from discharging over its territory noxious fumes from works in another state where it appears that those fumes cause and threaten damage on a considerable scale to the forests and vegetable life, if not to health, within the plaintiff's state.

A suit brought by a state to enjoin a corporation having its work in another state from discharging noxious gases over its territory is not the same as one between private parties, and although the elements which would form the basis of relief between private parties are wanting, the state can maintain the suit for injury in a capacity as quasi-sovereign, in which capacity it has an interest independent of and behind its citizens in all the earth and air within its domain, and whether insisting upon bringing such a suit results in more harm than good to its citizen, many of whom may profit through the maintenance of the works causing the nuisance, is for the state itself to determine.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 236

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a bill in equity filed in this Court by the State of Georgia, in pursuance of a resolution of the legislature and by direction of the governor of the state, to enjoin the defendant copper companies from discharging noxious gas from their works in Tennessee over the plaintiff's territory. It alleges that, in consequence of such discharge, a wholesale destruction of forests, orchards, and crops is going on, and other injuries are done and threatened in five counties of the state. It alleges also a vain application to the State of Tennessee for relief. A preliminary injunction was denied; but, as there was ground to fear that great and irreparable damage might be done, an early day was fixed for the final hearing, and the parties were given leave, if so minded, to try the case on affidavits. This has been done without objection, and, although the method would be unsatisfactory if our decision turned on any nice question of fact, in the view that we take we think it unlikely that either party has suffered harm.

Page 237

The case has been argued largely as if it were one between two private parties; but it is not. The very elements that would be relied upon in a suit between fellow-citizens as a ground for equitable relief are wanting here. The state owns very little of the territory alleged to be affected, and the damage to it capable of estimate in money, possibly at least, is small. This is a suit by a state for an injury to it in its capacity of quasi-sovereign. In that capacity, the state has an interest independent of and behind the titles of its citizens, in all the earth and air within its domain. It has the last word as to whether its mountains shall be stripped of their forests and its inhabitants shall breathe pure air. It might have to pay individuals before it could utter that word, but with it remains the final power. The alleged damage to the state as a private owner is merely a makeweight, and we may lay on one side the dispute as to whether the destruction of forests has led to the gullying of its roads.

The caution with...

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