62 F. 129 (D.Ind. 1894), 8,993, Cairo, V. & C. Ry. Co. v. Brevoort

Docket Nº:8,993.
Citation:62 F. 129
Party Name:CAIRO, V. & C. RY. CO. v. BREVOORT.
Case Date:June 09, 1894
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 129

62 F. 129 (D.Ind. 1894)

CAIRO, V. & C. RY. CO.



No. 8,993.

United States Circuit Court, D. Indiana.

June 9, 1894

C. S. Conger and Elliott & Elliott, for complainant.

Reily & Emison, for defendant.

BAKER, District Judge.

The questions for decision arise upon a demurrer to the bill of complaint. The grounds of demurrer are that the bill of complaint does not state facts entitling the complainant to any equitable relief. The facts stated are that the complainant has constructed, owns, and operates a line of railway along the bank of the Wabash river, in the state of Illinois, opposite to a tract of land owned and occupied by the defendant, which is situated in Knox county, in the state of Indiana; that the complainant is a corporation organized under the laws of the state of Illinois, and is a citizen of that state; that it owns and operates a branch or short line of railroad which crosses the Wabash river from the Illinois side, and extends thence over lands in Knox county, Ind., to the city of Vincennes, in said county; that the branch line of railway is constructed upon and across the lands of defendant, where the railway crosses the Wabash river into Knox county, Ind.; that on the Indiana side, where said railway is constructed from the Indiana side of the river, in times of floods, passes through the trestlework; that the defendant has built a levee on his lands upon and along the banks of the river, on the Indiana

Page 130

side, near to said trestlework, and intends and threatens to continue said levee upon and across the complainant's right of way, and to join the same to the embankment and end of said trestle, where the same unites with an embankment or filling of solid earthwork, upon which the railway is constructed. It is further averred that the complainant has constructed its railway across the river upon a bridge with a sufficient opening on both sides of the river to suffer and permit the water accumulating in times of floods to pass, without material obstruction, through and under said bridge and trestlework; that a part of the plan, in constructing the bridge, was to leave open trestlework on the Indiana side of the river for the passage of flood water; and that, if the defendant shall complete his proposed levee, it will hold the flood water, when the river is high, within so narrow a channel that it will thereby become higher than it otherwise would, and would endanger the bridge, trestlework, and embankments of the railway, as well as the tracks and superstructure erected thereon, and would cause the right of way and other large bodies of land on the Illinois side of the river to be overflowed, subjecting the complainant to many suits by the owners of such lands for damages. The bill further avers that the complainant has been in the undisturbed possession and use of its right of way, as it now exists, and did exist at and before the time when the defendant began to construct his levee, for over 20 years; that it obtained the same by deed from the owner of the land, from whom the defendant long afterwards acquired his title. It is further averred that the complainant owns a right of way, 200 feet in width, over and across the defendant's land, held by a deed conveying all the right and privileges incident thereto, it being the purpose of the grantors in said deed to grant to said company such exclusive interest and estate in said strip of land (and no other interest or estate) as said company would acquire therein, were the same condemned to the use of said railroad by regular proceedings under the statutes of the state in that behalf made and provided.

In support of the demurrer, counsel for the defendant contend that the riparian proprietor may lawfully protect his property from floods by erecting a dike or levee on the bank of a stream, though its necessary effect may be to turn its superabundant waters on the land of his neighbor; that the waters of a stream, when swollen beyond its banks by ordinary and habitually recurring floods, are in the nature of surface water; and that such waters are a common enemy, which such proprietor may fight off as he will. And it is further contended that the complainant, by its deed of conveyance, has acquired only an easement of way, and that the defendant retains the paramount title, and may lawfully erect his levee thereon, doing no unnecessary injury to the complainant. Cases are cited from the supreme court of this state, which, it is claimed, support these contentions. These cases, if of the character claimed, would be authoritative expositions of the law for the control and guidance of the courts of the state in regard to what constitutes surface water; but they would not be binding on the federal courts, unless the question is one of local law. The right of an

Page 131

adjoining landowner to make a new bank for a navigable river which forms the boundary between two states, or, by artificial structures, to turn the waters onto lands on the opposite side of the river, is not a local question, but one depending for its determination upon the general principles of the law. The Wabash river, as the court judicially knows, and as the bill avers, is a navigable stream and public highway, upon which interstate commerce is carried; and, this being so, it must follow that questions relating to the channel and banks of the river are in no just sense...

To continue reading