Appeal of Cent. Ry. & Elec. Co.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtBALDWIN, J.
Citation67 Conn. 197,35 A. 32
Decision Date06 January 1896
35 A. 32
67 Conn. 197


Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut.

Jan. 6, 1896.

Appeal from district court of Bridgeport.

The Central Railway & Electric Company presented to the mayor and common council of the city of New Britain a plan for extension of its tracks. From an order of conditional approval the company appealed to Fenn, J., a judge of the superior court. He confirmed the order, and the company again appeals. The city moves to erase the

35 A. 33

appeal. Motion denied. Judgment reversed in part.

George E. Terry, Frank L. Hungerford, John W. Ailing, and George D. Watrous, for appellant.

William F. Henney and Henry C. Gussman, for appellee.

BALDWIN, J. The petitioner's appeal to this court is founded upon section 1137 of the General Statutes. This provides that: "When jurisdiction of any matter or proceeding is or shall be vested in a judge of the superior court, or in a judge of any court of common pleas, or of the district court, any party to such matter or proceeding who feels aggrieved by any of the decisions or rulings of such judge upon any questions of law arising therein may appeal from the final judgment of said judge in such matter or proceeding in the manner hereinbefore provided for an appeal from the judgments of said courts respectively, to the supreme court of errors next to be held in the judicial district or county where the parties or any of them reside; but in cases of appeal from the appraisal of damages in laying out any street or in making any improvement or public work in any city, village, or borough, upon paying to the person or persons entitled thereto damages appraised therefor, or upon depositing the same in the manner provided by law; and in cases where no damages shall be appraised, such city, village, or borough, may immediately proceed to lay out and open such street, or make and complete such improvement or public work, in the same manner as if no appeal had been taken; and in proceedings on writs of habeas corpus, the judge may, at his discretion, decline to order a stay of execution." The act of 1803 (Pub. Acts 1893, p. 308), under which the proceedings which came before Judge Fenn were commenced, provides that whenever any street-railway company has or shall be given the right to construct a railway or to lay additional tracks in any city, before it shall proceed to do so it shall present to the mayor and court of common council a plan showing the highways or streets "in and through which it proposes to lay its tracks, the location of the same as to grade and to the center line of said streets or highways, such change or changes, if any, as are proposed to be made in any street or highway, the kind and quality of track to be used and the method of laying the same, the motive power to be used in propelling its cars, and the method and manner of applying the same." Thereupon the mayor and court of common council, after giving public notice, shall hear all persons interested, and may then "accept and adopt such plan, or make such modifications therein, as to them shall seem proper," and no such company shall construct such railway or lay any additional tracks except in accordance with a plan so approved. From any order or decision of a mayor and common council made under the act of 1893, an act passed in 1895 (Pub. Acts 1895, p. 630) gives the company a right of appeal "to the superior court, or any judge thereof"; and it is further provided that "said court or judge shall make such orders in reference to said matters appealed from as may by it or him be deemed equitable in the premises, and the decision of said court or judge shall be final and conclusive upon the parties," and that such appeals "shall have precedence of all other civil actions in respect to the order of trial, except" those brought by or on behalf of the state, respecting matters of a public nature. The city of New Britain has filed in this court a motion to erase the appeal from the docket, mainly on the ground that the act of 1895 expressly made the order of Judge Fenn "final and conclusive upon the parties."

The final judgment of every legal tribunal is conclusive upon the parties, so far as it is within its jurisdiction, and so long as it remains in force and unreversed. No judgment, order, or decision pronounced by one assuming to act under authority of law, but who is in truth acting outside of the jurisdiction which the law has given him, can possess any validity. The government of this state is one of laws, and not of men. This principle is enforced throughout our system of remedial justice by the perpetual establishment by the people, when they framed the constitution, of a supreme court of errors, and by the statutes which give to it appellate jurisdiction as to errors of law over every other court, without regard to the character or amount of the matter in controversy, and extending even to criminal prosecutions where the law has been misapplied in favor of the accused. A judge of the superior court is not a court, and statutes granting appeals from final judgments of courts have no application to his decisions in matters committed to his determination as such judge. However erroneous such decisions might be, there was no direct mode of review prior to 1864, and, to remedy this defect of justice, Gen. St § 1137, was then enacted. Trinity College v. Hartford, 32 Conn. 452, 466, note; Clapp v. Hartford, 35 Conn. 66, 220. Its terms plainly embrace a proceeding like the present, and they must govern it, unless it be regarded as excepted from their operation by the provision in the act of 1895 as to the "final and conclusive" effect of the order of the court or judge. In our opinion, these statutes are not inconsistent with each other. The order of Judge Fenn was final and conclusive upon the parties as respects all matters which the law confided to his determination, and upon which they were duly heard. No injunction, for instance, would lie to forbid, as inequitable, what he, within those limits, had decided to be "equitable in the premises." But if he exceeded his jurisdiction in any particular,

35 A. 34

whatever he thus did beyond the authority given him by law was coram non judice, and the proper subject of review by appeal. Beard's Appeal, 64 Conn. 526, 534,

30 Atl 775; Hopson's Appeal, 65 Conn. 140,

31 Atl. 531; Lawton v. Commissioners, 2 Gaines, 179, 181; People v. Wilson, 119 N. Y. 515, 23 N. E. 1064; Ex parte Bradlaugh, 3 Q. B. Div. 509. Any other construction of the act of 1895 would render possible unseemly conflicts between the different tribunals of the commonwealth. For a defect of jurisdiction in an order made by the superior court or a judge of that court in a proceeding under its provisions, it is clear that there must be some judicial remedy, and that, if any other than by way of appeal exists, the proper place in which to seek it would be the superior court itself. Could an injunction be sought there from one judge against the enforcement of the order of another? Could he be asked as a chancellor to enjoin the execution of an order made by himself, when sitting as an appellate tribunal to revise the proceedings of the authorities of a municipality? We cannot impute to the general assembly an intention to compel or permit a resort to remedies of this description, in the face of a statute giving in plain terms a right of direct appeal to this court, as to which the only claim made by the appellees is that, so far as it affects the case in hand, it has been repealed by implication.

A remedy equivalent to such an appeal is afforded under the practice existing in many of our sister states by the common-law writ of certiorari. It issues to revise the proceedings of municipal corporations, and, when issued, the controversy between the parties in interest becomes one of a judicial nature. 2 Dill. Mun. Corp. §§ 925-928. The fact that this writ has never been used in this state is an additional reason why statutes granting an appeal from such proceedings should not be too narrowly construed. Williams v. Railroad Co., 13 Conn. 110, 118; Grelle v. Pinney, 62 Conn. 478, 488, 26 Atl. 1106. The right of appeal given by Gen. St. § 1137, cannot be treated as repealed by implication, as respects such a proceeding as that now before us, unless the right of appeal for error in law from all judgments of the superior court, given by Gen. St § 1129, has been similarly restricted. To hold this would be to reverse the rule mat repeals by implication are not favored, and will never be presumed, where both the new and the old statute may well stand together.

The appellee also contends that it was not necessary for Judge Fenn to decide any questions of law in coming to the conclusion stated in his order; as that, under the statute, must have been determined by his opinion that the conditions imposed by the mayor and common council were "equitable in the premises." Nothing can be deemed equitable, within the meaning of a statute conferring jurisdiction to grant equitable relief, which does not come within the limits of the jurisdiction granted; and what those limits are is a question of law inherent in the judgment rendered. The motion to erase is therefore denied.

The finding shows that the railway company, prior to June 5, 1895, had constructed, under legislative authority, and agreeably to conditions imposed by the mayor and common council of New Britain (to certain of which, affecting one of its lines, it had agreed in writing, under its corporate seal), a railway in the principal streets of that city, and extending in one direction to Plainville and in another to Berlin, all of which was in operation. On that day, having been given by the general assembly power to lay additional tracks in some 30 other streets, including three known as Chestnut, East, and Jubilee streets, it presented to the mayor and common council a plan showing the...

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31 cases
  • City of Hartford v. Conn. Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 9, 1928
    ...fixed their location and the conditions under which the tracks should be laid and the railway operated (Central Ry. & El. Co.'s Appeal, 67 Conn. 197, 209, 35 A. 32), or it might have delegated the duty of designating the streets, fixing the location of the tracks, and the conditions attache......
  • State v. Smith, 13116
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • April 19, 1988 change the mode in which a subject is dealt with, rather than to change the subject itself." Central Railway & Electric Co.'s Appeal, 67 Conn. 197, 210, 35 A. 32 (1895). The trial court's exercise of its power to "modify" in this case did not change the subject itself, but did change the......
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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 26, 1979
    ...Jennings v. Connecticut Light & Power Co., 140 Conn. 650, 663, 103 A.2d 535, 543 (1954); Central Railway & Electric Co.'s Appeal, 67 Conn. 197, 219, 35 A. 32 (1896); cf. State v. Cederaski, 80 Conn. 478, 480, 69 A. 19 (1908). The courts that have considered the issue have almost uniformly h......
  • Jennings v. Connecticut Light & Power Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • February 9, 1954 the hands of its local governments a large authority in the regulation of their local affairs. Central Ry. & Electric Co.'s Appeal, 67 Conn. 197, 219, 35 A. 32. The erection of a steam electric generating plant to meet a demand for electric energy far beyond the confines of Norwalk is, h......
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