Metropolitan Co v. District of Columbia

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBRADLEY
Citation132 U.S. 1,10 S.Ct. 19,33 L.Ed. 231
Decision Date21 October 1889
PartiesMETROPOLITAN R. CO. v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

132 U.S. 1
10 S.Ct. 19
33 L.Ed. 231
METROPOLITAN R. CO.
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
October 21, 1889.

Nathaniel Wilson and Walter D. Davidge, for plaintiff in error.

Page 2

A. G. Riddle and H. E. Davis, for defendant in error.

BRADLEY, J.

This was an action brought by the District of Columbia in November, 1880, to recover from the Metropolitan Railroad Company the sum of $161,622.52. The alleged cause of action was work done and materials furnished by the plaintiff in paving certain streets and avenues in the city of Washington at various times in the years 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875, upon and in consequence of the neglect of the defendant to do said work and furnish said materials in accordance with its duty, as prescribed by its charter. The defendant was chartered by an act of congress dated July 1, 1864, and amended March 3, 1865. By these acts it was authorized to construct and operate lines or routes of doubletrack railways in designated streets and avenues in Washington and Georgetown. The first section of the charter contains the following proviso: 'Provided, that the use and maintenance of the said road shall be subject to the municipal regulations of the city of Washington within its corporate limits.' Of course, this provision reserves police control over the road and its operations on the part of the authorities of the city. The fourth section of the charter declares 'that the said corporation hereby created shall be bound to keep said tracks, and for the space of two feet beyond the outer rail thereof, and also the space between the tracks, at all times well paved and in good order, without expense to the United States or to the city of Washington.' The fifth section declares 'that nothing in this act shall prevent the government at any time, at their option, from altering the grade or other wise improving all avenues and streets occupied by said roads, or the city of Washington from so altering or improving such streets and avenues, and the sewerage thereof, as may be under their respective authority and control; and in such event it shall be the duty of said

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company to change their said railroad so as to conform to such grade and pavement.' It is on these provisions that the claim of the city is based. The amended declaration sets out in great detail the grading and paving which were done in various streets and a venues along and adjoining the tracks of the defendant, and which, it is averred, should have been done by the defendant under the provisions of its charter, but which the defendant neglected and refused to do. The defendant filed 12 several pleas to the action, the eleventh and twelfth being pleas of the statute of limitations. Issue was taken upon all the pleas except these two, and they were demurred to. The court sustained the demurrer, and the cause was tried on the other issues, and a verdict found for the plaintiff. The case is brought here by writ of error, which brings up for consideration a bill of exceptions taken at the trial, and the ruling upon the demurrer to the pleas of the statute of limitations. It is conceded that if the court below erred in sustaining that demurrer, the judgment must be reversed. That question will therefore be first considered.

It is contended by the plaintiff that it (the District of Columbia) is not amenable to the statute of limitations, for three reasons—First, because of its dignity as partaking of the sovereign power of government; secondly, because it is not embraced in the terms of the statute of limitations in force in the District; and, thirdly, because if the general words of the statute are sufficiently broad to include the District, still municipal corporations, unless specially mentioned, are not subject to the statute.

1. The first question, therefore, will be whether the District of Columbia is or is not a municipal body merely, or whether it has such a sovereign character, or is so identified with or representative of the sovereighty of the United States as to be entitled to the prerogatives and exemptions of sovereignity. In order to a better understanding of the subject under consideration it will be proper to take a brief survey of the government of the District and the changes it has undergone since its first organization.

Page 4

Prior to 1871 the local government of the District of Columbia, on the east side of the Potomac, had been divided between the corporations of Washington and Georgetown and the levy court of the county of Washington. Georgetown had been incorporated by the legislature of Maryland as early as 1789, (Davis, Laws D. C. 478,) as Alexandria had been, by the legislature of Virginia, as early as 1748 and 1779, (Id. 533, 541;) and those towns or cities were clearly nothing more than ordinary municipal corporations, with the usual powers of such corporations. When the government of the United States took possession of the District in December, 1800, it was divided by congress into two counties, that of Alexandria on the west side of the Potomac, and that of Washington on the east side; and the laws of Virginia were continued over the former, and the laws of Maryland over the latter, and a court called the 'Circuit Court of the District of Columbia,' was established, with general jurisdiction, civil and criminal, to hold sessions alternately in each county; but the corporate rights of the cities of Alexandria and Georgetown, and of all other corporate bodies, were expressly left unimpaired, except as related to judicial powers. See Act Feb. 27, 1801, (2 St. 103.) A supplementary act, passed a few days later, gave to the circuit court certain administrative powers, the same as those vested in the county and levy courts of Virginia and Maryland, respectively, and it was declared that the magistrates to be appointed should be a board of commissioners within their respective counties, and have the same powers and perform the same duties as the levy courts of Maryland. These powers related to the construction and repair of roads, bridges, ferries, the care of the poor, etc. Act March 3, 1801, (2 St. 115.) On May 3, 1802, an act was passed to incorporate the city of Washington. 2 St. 195. It invested the mayor and common council (the latter being elected by the white male inhabitants) with all the usual powers of municipal bodies, such as the power to pass by-laws and ordinances; powers of administration, regulation, and taxation; among others, specially named, the power 'to erect and

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repair bridges; to keep in repair all necessary streets, avenues, drains, and sewers; and to pass regulations necessary for the preservation of the same, agreeably to the plan of the said city.' Various amendments, from time to time, were made to this charter, and additional powers were conferred. A general revision of it was made by act of congress passed May 15, 1820. 3 St. 583. A further revision was made, and additional powers were given, by the act of May 17, 1848, (9 St. 223,) but nothing to change the essential character of the corporation. The powers of the levy court extended more particularly to the country, outside of the cities, but also to some matters in the cities common to the whole county. It was reorganized and its powers and duties more specifically defined in the acts of July 1, 1812, (2 St. 771,) and of March 3, 1863, (12 St. 799.) By the last act the members of the court were to be nine in number, and to be appointed by the president and senate. In the first year of the war, August 6, 1861, (12 St. 320,) an act was passed 'to create a metropolitan police district of the District of Columbia, and to establish a police therefor.' The police had previously been appointed and regulated by the mayor and common council of Washington; but it was now deemed important that it should be under the control of the government. The act provided for the appointment of five commissioners by the president and senate, who, together with the mayors of Washington and Georgetown, were to form the board of police for the District; and this board was invested with extraordinary powers of surveillance and guardianship of the peace. This general review of the form of government which prevailed in the District of Columbia and city of Washington prior to 1871 is sufficient to show that it was strictly municipal in its character; and that the government of the United States, except so far as the protection of its own public buildings and property was concerned, took no part in the local government any more than any state government interferes with the...

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147 practice notes
  • Bradshaw v. United States, No. 23126
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • February 11, 1971
    ...(1898); Eckloff v. District of Columbia, 135 U.S. 240, 243, 10 S.Ct. 752, 34 L.Ed. 120 (1890); Metropolitan R. R. v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 7, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231 (1889). The District can sue and be sued. Harris v. District of Columbia, 256 U.S. 650, 41 S.Ct. 610, 65 L.Ed. ......
  • Adams v. Harris County, Texas, Civ. A. No. 69-H-215.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 30, 1970
    ...sense in which any city, town, or other municipal corporation may be said to be a part of the state. Metropolitan R. Co. v. Dist. of Col., 132 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231." (133 U.S. 530, 10 S. Ct. 363.) Since the State of Texas is neither a nominal nor a real party in interest, it fo......
  • Muzquiz v. City of San Antonio, No. 74-3177
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 8, 1975
    ...city, town, or other municipal corporation may be said to be a part of the state. Metropolitan Railroad Company v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. The other case cited by Mr. Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Supreme Court in the above footnote, Moor v. County of Al......
  • Palmore v. United States, No. 5831.
    • United States
    • April 28, 1972
    ...applicable only to the District of Columbia, constitute the "Laws of the United States," Metropolitan R. R. Co. v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 9, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231 (1889) (dictum); Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 426, 5 L.Ed. 257 (1821) (dictum), and (b) that the U......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
147 cases
  • Bradshaw v. United States, No. 23126
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • February 11, 1971
    ...(1898); Eckloff v. District of Columbia, 135 U.S. 240, 243, 10 S.Ct. 752, 34 L.Ed. 120 (1890); Metropolitan R. R. v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 7, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231 (1889). The District can sue and be sued. Harris v. District of Columbia, 256 U.S. 650, 41 S.Ct. 610, 65 L.Ed. ......
  • Adams v. Harris County, Texas, Civ. A. No. 69-H-215.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 30, 1970
    ...sense in which any city, town, or other municipal corporation may be said to be a part of the state. Metropolitan R. Co. v. Dist. of Col., 132 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231." (133 U.S. 530, 10 S. Ct. 363.) Since the State of Texas is neither a nominal nor a real party in interest, it fo......
  • Muzquiz v. City of San Antonio, No. 74-3177
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 8, 1975
    ...city, town, or other municipal corporation may be said to be a part of the state. Metropolitan Railroad Company v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. The other case cited by Mr. Justice Rehnquist, writing for the Supreme Court in the above footnote, Moor v. County of Al......
  • Palmore v. United States, No. 5831.
    • United States
    • April 28, 1972
    ...applicable only to the District of Columbia, constitute the "Laws of the United States," Metropolitan R. R. Co. v. District of Columbia, 132 U.S. 1, 9, 10 S.Ct. 19, 33 L.Ed. 231 (1889) (dictum); Cohens v. Virginia, 19 U.S. (6 Wheat.) 264, 426, 5 L.Ed. 257 (1821) (dictum), and (b) that the U......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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