Darling v. City of Newport News

Decision Date28 April 1919
Docket NumberNo. 600,600
Citation63 L.Ed. 759,249 U.S. 540,39 S.Ct. 371
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Maryus Jones and J. Winston Read, both of Newport News, Va., for plaintiff in error.

Mr. J. A. Massie, of Newport News, Va., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The plaintiff in error brought this bill in equity to prevent the City of Newport News from discharging its sewage in such a way as to pollute and ruin the plaintiff's oysters upon his beds under the tidal waters of Hampton Roads. A demurrer was sustained by the Court of first instance and on appeal by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and the bill was dismissed. 96 S. E. 307. The material facts are few. The plaintiff holds leases of the beds from the State. The original ones were made in 1884 and 1885 for twenty years. In 1903, 1905 and 1912 they were what is called reassigned to the plaintiff by what we understand to have been new leases, by statute to be deemed continuations of the original leases. In 1896 the City of Newport News was incorporated with the grant of the right to build sewers, which the City built in the manner complained of. The grant, coupled with Acts of 1908, c. 349, pp. 623, 624, authorizes the present discharge through Salter's Creek into the tide waters of Hampton Roads, with the effect alleged. By section 2137 of the Code of Virginia it is provided that so long as a lessee of oyster beds continues to pay the rent reserved 'he shall have the exclusive right to occupy said land for a period of twenty years, subject to such rights, if any, as any other person or persons may previously have acquired.' By section 2137a, originally Act of March 5, 1894, c. 743, § 2, Acts 1893-94, pp. 840, 847, while he pays rent as required 'the State will guarantee the absolute right to the renter to continue to use and occupy the same for the period of twenty years the renter acquired.' The bill alleges that if the statutes purport to authorize the destruction of the plaintiff's oysters they are contrary to the Constitution of the United States and specifically to the Fourteenth Amendment. In the assignment of errors to the Supreme Court of Appeals the statutes are said also to violate the contract clause. Article 1, § 10. The jurisdiction of this Court is clear.

The fundamental question as to the rights of holders of land under tide waters does not present the conflict of two vitally important interests that exists with regard to fresh water streams. There the needs of water supply and of drainage compete. Missouri v. Illinois, 200 U. S. 496, 521, 522, 26 Sup. Ct. 268, 50 L. Ed. 572. The ocean hitherto has been treated as open to the discharge of sewage from the cities upon its shores. Whatever science may accomplish in the future we are not aware that it yet has discovered any generally accepted way of avoiding the practical necessity of so using the great natural purifying basin. Unless precluded by some right of a neighboring State, such as is not in question here, or by some act of its own, or of the United States, clearly a State may authorize a city to empty its drains into the sea. Such at least would be its power unless it should create a nuisance that so seriously interfered with private property as to infringe Constitutional rights. And we apprehend that the mere ownership of a tract of land under the salt water would not be enough of itself to give a right to prevent the fouling of the water as supposed. The ownership of such land, as distinguished from the shore, would be subject to the natural uses of the water. So much may be accepted from the decisions in Virginia and elsewhere as established law. Hampton v. Watson, 119 Va. 95, 89 S. E. 81, L. R. A. 1916F, 189; Haskell v. New Bedford, 108 Mass. 208, 214; Marcus Sayre Co. v....

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28 cases
  • Bostick v. Smoot Sand and Gravel Corporation
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • August 21, 1957
    ...123 Va. 14, 18, 96 S.E. 307, 3 A.L.R. 748, certiorari denied 1918, 248 U.S. 567, 39 S.Ct. 9, 63 L.Ed. 424, affirmed 1919, 249 U.S. 540, 39 S.Ct. 371, 63 L.Ed. 759; Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. State of New York, 1926, 271 U.S. 65, 46 S.Ct. 357, 70 L.Ed. 838. A state may grant to its cit......
  • Moore v. Hampton Roads Sanitation Dist. Com'n
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • July 13, 1977
    ...1939. Hampton v. Watson, 119 Va. 95, 89 S.E. 81 (1916); Darling v. Newport News, 123 Va. 14, 96 S.E. 307 (1918), aff'd, 249 U.S. 540, 39 S.Ct. 371, 63 L.Ed. 759 (1919); Commonwealth ex rel. Atty. Gen. v. Newport News, 158 Va. 521, 164 S.E. 689 (1932); DuPont Rayon Co., Inc. v. Richmond Indu......
  • Arizona Center For Law In Public Interest v. Hassell
    • United States
    • Arizona Court of Appeals
    • September 10, 1991
    ...931, 110 S.Ct. 2171, 109 L.Ed.2d 501 (1990); Darling v. City of Newport News, 123 Va. 14, 96 S.E. 307 (1918), aff'd, 249 U.S. 540, 39 S.Ct. 371, 63 L.Ed. 759 (1919); Caminiti v. Boyle, 107 Wash.2d 662, 732 P.2d 989 (1987), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1008, 108 S.Ct. 703, 98 L.Ed.2d 654 (1988); C......
  • Colberg, Inc. v. State ex rel. Dept. of Public Works
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • October 3, 1967
    ...219 Miss. 284, 293--296, 68 So.2d 468; Darling v. City of Newport News (1918) 123 Va. 14, 96 S.E. 307, 3 A.L.R. 748, aff'd 249 U.S. 540, 39 S.Ct. 371, 63 L.Ed. 759; Milwaukee-Western Fuel Co. v. Milwaukee (1913) 152 Wis. 247, 139 N.W. 540.) We are of the opinion that this view is supported ......
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