Chicago City v. Robbins

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtDAVIS.
Citation67 U.S. 418,17 L.Ed. 298,2 Black 418
Decision Date01 December 1862
PartiesCHICAGO CITY v. ROBBINS

67 U.S. 418
2 Black 418
17 L.Ed. 298
CHICAGO CITY
v.
ROBBINS.
December Term, 1862

This was a writ of error to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois.

Page 419

Mr. Anthony, of Illinois, for Plaintiff in Error.

Mr. Fuller, of Illinois, Contra.

Mr. Justice DAVIS.

This is an action on the case brought by the City of Chicago against Robbins. The suit was originally commenced in the Cook County Court of Common Pleas, one of the State Courts of Illinois. In was transfered, in pursuance of the act of Congress, on the petition of Robbins that he was a citizen of New York, to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Illinois, where there was a trial by jury on the 10th day of April, 1860, on the plea of not guilty, and the issue found for Robbins. There was a motion for a new trial, which was overruled by the Court, and on the 28th day of May, 1860, judgment was entered on the verdict of the jury. The decision of Circuit Courts on motion for new trials is not subject to review, and this case is here on exceptions taken to the charge of the Judge to the jury.

The declaration alleges: That the plaintiff is a corporation by the laws of Illinois, having exclusive control over the public streets, and bound to protect them from incroachment and injury.

Page 420

That Robbins was the owner of a lot on one of the public streets, and wrongfully excavated in the sidewalk next to and adjoining his lot, an area of great length, width, and depth, and wrongfully suffered the same to remain uncovered and unguarded, so that one William H. Woodbury, on the night of the 28th of December, 1856, while exercising reasonable care and prudence in passing along the street, fell into it and was greatly injured. That Woodbury brought suit against the City, in said Cook County Court of Common Pleas, and at the June Term, 1857, of the said Court recovered a judgment for $15,000 and costs, which the City has been forced to pay, and that although the City is primarily liable, yet Robbins is responsible over to it for the amount of judgment, interest and costs so recovered. The case as shown by the bill of exceptions in this: Robbins, owning a lot in Chicago, on the southeast corner of Wells and South Water streets, on the 20th of February, 1856, contracted in writing with Peter Button to erect a building thereon, which included an excavation of the sidewalk next to and adjoining it, so as to furnish light and air to the basement. The contract contained a stipulation that Button was to be liable for any violation of City ordinances in obstructing streets and sidewalks, or accidents resulting from the same. Possession of the ground in order to erect the building, was given to Button, by the terms of the contract, on the 1st day of April, 1856. The area was dug early in the spring and covered up temporarily with joists, which often got displaced, and during the summer and fall it was frequently uncovered and dangerous. The flagging was laid some time in the fall and the iron gratings afterwards, with which Button had nothing to do.

There were seven different contractors on the building, in all, on different parts of the work. Letts had the contract for the iron gratings, and Cook & Co. for the flagging. Robbins was in Chicago, and occasionally at the building during the summer, and was there while excavations were going on, and was spoken to frequently by the City Superintendent upon the dangerous condition of the area. At one time after the flagging was laid, and ice was or had been on the flagging, he called Robbins'

Page 421

attention to the condition of the area, and suggested the mode in which it should be covered up, 'telling him that if it was sleety and people were passing rapidly they might slip in, and that somebody's neck would be broken, if the covering was not attended to,' and he replied 'that he would see to it, but that the matter was in the hands of his contractor, and he would speak to him about it.' Before this, the head clerk in the office of the City Superintendent wrote Robbins a note and put it in the post-office, notifying him of the danger of the whole front of the sidewalk. The area was usually entirely open after flagging was laid, until after the grating was all done, and was open until after the accident. There were lamps at bridges, and a lamp at alley, sixty-four feet from the building. The width of sidewalk including area, was sixteen feet. The area was four feet ten inches wide. The grade of Wells street was changed by the corporation; the sidewalk was raised eight inches higher than it was, to accommodate it to the grade of the street; it was raised in July or August 1856, and Robbins directed Van Osdell, his architect, to raise the sidewalk to the grade. Van Osdell superintended the erection of the building for Robbins, who paid him; his duty as superintendent was to see that the work was done according to contract; to see 'that the work and material were according to specification, and make estimates.' Button was told of the dangerous condition of the area, and spoke several times to his foreman about it. Button was to furnish his work under the contract by the 1st of September, but did not in fact complete it until February, 1857. On the night of the 26th of December, 1856, the area was not sufficiently covered, and Woodbury fell into it and was injured, and sued the City and recovered in manner as stated in the declaration. Marsh was City attorney in 1856, and when the suit was begun, he made preparations for its defence, and ascertaining that Robbins owned the building applied to him to assist him in procuring testimony. Robbins told him of a witness who knew something of the suit, and promised to write to him, and afterwards informed Marsh that he had done so. The evening before the trial he casually met Robbins and told him that the suit would be tried the next

Page 422

day; he did not go expressly to notify him to defend the suit, and never notified him that the City would look to him for indemnity. Evidence was given tending to show that the City authorities knew of the excavation of this area, and of other areas similar to this at different times, and interposed no objection, though no express permission to make this one was given.

The defendant introduced in evidence the following provision of the Ordinances of the City of Chicago, viz.:

'ARTICLE II—OBSTRUCTIONS. CHAPTER LIII., SECTION 1.

'Be it ordained by the Common Council of the City of Chicago, That no porch, galley, stoop, steps, cellar door, stair railing, or platform, erected or to be erected within the city, shall be allowed to extend into or upon any sidewalk where the street is less than seventy feet in width, more than four feet; nor more than five feet, where the street is seventy feet and upwards in width. Any violation hereof shall subject the offender to a penalty of twenty-five dollars, and to the like penalty for every day such violation shall continue, after notice from the Marshal or Street Commissioner of the proper Division to remove the same.'

It also appeared in evidence, that the original ordinance from which the foregoing provision is taken, was passed May 3d, 1855, but, as then passed, did not allow of more than four feet encroachment upon the sidewalk in any case. On the 7th of February, 1856, the ordinance was amended by the City Council to read as above.

Is Robbins, under the law and evidence, answerable over to the city for the judgment recovered by Woodbury?

It is well settled that a municipal corporation having the exclusive care and control of the streets, is obliged to see that they are kept safe for the passage of persons and property, and to abate all nuisances that might prove dangerous; and if this plain duty is neglected, and any one is...

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156 practice notes
  • Privette v. Superior Court, No. S024758
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 19, 1993
    ...similar reasoning in imposing liability[854 P.2d 725] on a landowner. (Chicago v. Robbins (1862) 67 U.S. (2 Black) 418, 426-427, 17 L.Ed. 298.) In that case, a landowner had a contractor construct a building on his land. In the course of the work, the contractor excavated the adjoining city......
  • Black White Taxicab Transfer Co v. Brown Yellow Taxicab Transfer Co 13 16, 1928, No. 174
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...held that the decision of a state court construing a deed is not conclusive on this court. Chicago City v. Robbins, 2 Black, 418, 428, 17 L. Ed. 298, declined to follow the determination of the state court as to what Page 531 constitutes negligence. Yates v. Milwaukee, 10 Wall. 497, 506, 19......
  • Erie Co v. Tompkins, No. 367
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1938
    ...v. St. Louis, K. & N.W. Ry. Co., C.C.S.D.Iowa, 52 F. 903; Fowler v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 2 Cir., 229 F. 373. 13 Chicago v. Robbins, 2 Black 418, 428, 17 L.Ed. 298. Compare Yates v. Milwaukee, 10 Wall. 497, 506, 507, 19 L.Ed. 984; Yeates v. Illinois Cent. Ry. Co., C.C.N.D.Ill., 137 F. 943;......
  • Gatton v. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Ry. Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 28, 1895
    ...law, upon which this court will exercise its own judgment." Myrick v. Railway Co., 107 U.S. 102, 1 S.Ct. 425; Robbins v. City of Chicago, 2 Black 418, 17 L.Ed. 298; Brooklyn City & N. R. Co. v. National Bank of N. Y., 102 U.S. 14; Hough v. Railroad Co., 100 U.S. 213. We incline to the opini......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
134 cases
  • Privette v. Superior Court, No. S024758
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 19, 1993
    ...similar reasoning in imposing liability[854 P.2d 725] on a landowner. (Chicago v. Robbins (1862) 67 U.S. (2 Black) 418, 426-427, 17 L.Ed. 298.) In that case, a landowner had a contractor construct a building on his land. In the course of the work, the contractor excavated the adjoining city......
  • Black White Taxicab Transfer Co v. Brown Yellow Taxicab Transfer Co 13 16, 1928, No. 174
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...held that the decision of a state court construing a deed is not conclusive on this court. Chicago City v. Robbins, 2 Black, 418, 428, 17 L. Ed. 298, declined to follow the determination of the state court as to what Page 531 constitutes negligence. Yates v. Milwaukee, 10 Wall. 497, 506, 19......
  • Erie Co v. Tompkins, No. 367
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 25, 1938
    ...v. St. Louis, K. & N.W. Ry. Co., C.C.S.D.Iowa, 52 F. 903; Fowler v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 2 Cir., 229 F. 373. 13 Chicago v. Robbins, 2 Black 418, 428, 17 L.Ed. 298. Compare Yates v. Milwaukee, 10 Wall. 497, 506, 507, 19 L.Ed. 984; Yeates v. Illinois Cent. Ry. Co., C.C.N.D.Ill., 137 F. 943;......
  • Fiechter v. City of Corbin
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Kentucky
    • May 8, 1934
    ...if this plain duty is neglected, and any one is injured, it is liable for the damages sustained." Chicago v. Robbins, 2 Black, 418, 422, 17 L.Ed. 298; Washington Gaslight Co. v. Dist. of Columbia, 161 U.S. 316, 16 S.Ct. 564, 40 L.Ed. 712. Also the authorities agree the streets belong to the......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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