Caroline Dobbins v. City of Los Angeles

Citation195 U.S. 223,25 S.Ct. 18,49 L.Ed. 169
Decision Date14 November 1904
Docket NumberNo. 107,107
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

This is a writ of error to the supreme court of the state of California, seeking a reversal of the judgment of that court, affirming the judgment of the superior court, dismissing the complaint of the plaintiff in error against the city of Los Angeles.

Plaintiff in error filed a bill of complaint against the city of Los Angeles, seeking an injunction to restrain the enforcement of certain ordinances prohibiting the erection or maintenance of gasworks except within prescribed limits in said city.

The case was decided upon demurrer to the bill. The complaint sets forth, in substance: That on August 26, 1901, the city council of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance making it unlawful to erect and maintain gasworks outside of a certain district described in the ordinance, and fixing penalties for the violation thereof. While this ordinance was in force the plaintiff in error made a contract with the Valley Gas & Fuel Company for the erection of certain gasworks upon territory to be thereafter designated by her, and on September 28, 1901, purchased lands within the limits of the privileged district as fixed by the ordinance. That on the 22d of November, 1901, upon application to the board of fire commissioners of the city of Los Angeles, that body granted to the plaintiff in error the privilege to erect the gasworks upon the territory aforesaid. Thereupon the plaintiff in error directed the Valley Gas & Fuel Company to proceed with the erection of the works upon the premises so purchased. That the foundations were constructed at a cost of upwards of $2,500. After the foundations had been nearly completed the city council, on November 25 1901, passed a second ordinance, amending the first ordinance, and thereby so limiting the boundaries of the territory within which the erection of gasworks was permitted in said city as to include the premises of the plaintiff in error within the prohibited territory. The work of constructing the works was continuously prosecuted until the latter part of February, 1902, when the plaintiff in error alleges that the city of Los Angeles, combining and confederating with one James R. C. Burton and other persons unknown, caused certain employees of the company engaged in the erection of said works to be arrested, charged with the violation of the said city ordinance. Other arrests were made on the 1st and 3d of March, 1902. On the 3d of March, 1902, the city council passed a third ordinance, amending the ordinance of November 25, 1901, in respect to the description of the district within which gasworks could be erected. On March 6, 1902, the city caused the arrest of certain persons employed by the company in charge of the erection of the works, charged with the violation of the amended city ordinance.

It is averred that the adoption by the city council of the ordinances aforesaid, and the attempted enforcement thereof, were instigated by officers and agents of the Los Angeles Lighting Company, a corporation engaged in manufacturing and supplying gas in said city, and having a monopoly of said business therein. It is further averred that the action of the municipal authorities complained of was taken for the purpose of protecting the said Los Angeles Lighting Company in the enjoyment of its monopoly. It is also claimed that the territory surrounding the premises of the plaintiff in error, and within which, under the ordinance of August 26, in force when the complainant made her purchase and located and began the erection of the gasworks, it was lawful so to do, and which, by the amending ordinances, was added to the prohibited territory, was and is a district devoted almost exclusively to manufacturing enterprises. Within its boundaries there is a large amount of vacant and unoccupied land which is and will continue to be useless except for the erection of manufacturing establishments; within which were located at that time a soap factory, a wool-pulling factory, three wineries, numerous oil wells in operation, iron foundry, brass foundry, oil refinery; immediately east of said tract, railroads and an extensive tannery; immediately north, the oil tanks and refinery of the Standard Oil Company. That the works being constructed for the plaintiff in error are to be built upon concrete foundations with a superstructure of noncombustible material, so that there can be no danger from explosion, bursting, or leaking. The machinery is to be of the most approved pattern; and that there can be no leakage or escape of odors or any interference with the health, comfort, or safety of the inhabitants of the city.

The plaintiff in error, relying upon the protection of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prays that the permit granted by the borad of fire commissioners be declared to be a valid and subsisting contract between the city of Los Angeles and herself, and that all ordinances passed by the city council in contravention thereof be declared void; that the defendant be enjoined from enforcing said ordinances against the plaintiff, from delaying or interfering with the action of the plaintiff in erecting the said works, from interfering with the maintenance and operation of the same, and for general relief.

Messrs. Lynn Helm, Edward C. Bailey, Henry T. Lee, J. R. Scott, and Charles W. Chase for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 226-232 intentionally omitted] Messrs. W. B. Mathews and Herbert J. Goudge for defendant in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Day:

[Argument of Counsel from pages 232-234 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

As this case was decided upon demurrer to the complaint, the allegations thereof must be taken as true. The question presented involves the right of the plaintiff in error to invoke the protection of the 14th Amendment against alleged infraction of her rights by the action of the city council in passing and enforcing the ordinances which prevent the carrying on of the business of making and selling gas to the people of the city.

Before entering upon a consideration of the case it is essential to examine briefly the extent to which constitutional and legislative control have been exercised by authority of the state of California in reference to the erection and maintenance of gasworks in cities. The Constitution of the state, § 19, article 11, provides that 'in any city where there are no public works owned and controlled by the municipality for supplying the same with water or artificial light, any individual, or any company duly incorporated for such purpose under and by authority of the laws of this state, shall, under the direction of the superintendent of streets, or other officer in control thereof, and under such general regulations as the municipality may prescribe for damages and indemnity for damages, have the privilege of using the public streets and thoroughfares thereof, and of laying down pipes and conduits therein, and connections therewith, so far as may be necessary for introducing into and supplying such city and its inhabitants either with gaslight or other illuminating light, or with fresh water for domestic and all other purposes, upon the condition that the municipal government shall have the right to regulate the charges thereof.' By the act of the state legislature of April 4, 1870 (Stat. 1869-70, p. 815), it was provided that cities may control the location and construction of works so that they may be erected in suitable localities to give the least discomfiture or annoyance to the public. By the Constitution of the state of California it is provided (art. 12 § 11) that any county, city, town, or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local, police, sanitary, or other regulations as are not in conflict with the general laws. In these provisions may be found a grant of power to the city of Los Angeles to control the location and erection of gasworks within the city limits. In the grant of such control the fact is recognized that while the erection and maintenance of such works is a lawful business pursuit, and one essential to the welfare and comfort of the community, its prosecution requires the use of materials of such a character, and such construction and maintenance of the works, as not to be dangerous or offensive when carried on within thickly populated parts of the city; and such rights are consequently justly subject to regulation in such manner as to protect the public health and safety. The supreme court of California, as may be gathered from its opinion in this case, based its decision upon the proposition that, as the exercise of the right to control the location and construction of gasworks is within the power conferred by the legislature upon the city, the act of the municipality in question cannot be reviewed, because so to do would be a substitution of the judgment of the court for that of the council upon a matter left within the exclusive control of the legislative body. To support this conclusion a citation is made from the opinion of this court in the case of Munn v. Illinois, 94 U. S. 113, 24 L. ed. 77, to the effect that the legislature is the exclusive judge of the propriety of police regulation when the matter is within the scope of its power. The observations of Mr. Chief Justice Waite in that connection had reference to the facts of the particular...

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