Newton v. Commissioners

Decision Date01 October 1879
Citation25 L.Ed. 710,100 U.S. 548
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

ERROR to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio.

The controversy relates to the removal of a county seat in Ohio from one town to another.

The case, briefly stated, is this: On Feb. 16, 1846, the General Assembly of that State passed 'An Act to create the county of Mahoning.' The first section creates the county and defines its boundaries, including among other towns Canfield and Youngstown, and declares that it 'shall be known by the name of Mahoning, with the county seat at Canfield.'

The fifth and eighth sections are as follows:——

'SECT. 5. That the Court of Common Pleas and Supreme Court of said county shall be holden at some convenient house in the town of Canfield until suitable county buildings shall be erected.'

'SECT. 8. That before the seat of justice shall be considered permanently established at Canfield, the proprietors or citizens thereof shall given bond with good and sufficient security, payable to the commissioners of said county, hereafter to be elected, for the sum of $5,000, to be applied in erecting public buildings for said county, and that the citizens of Canfield shall also donate a suitable lot of ground on which to erect public buildings.'

To secure the permanent establishment of the county seat at Canfield, numerous citizens of that town,—some of whom are plaintiffs in this suit,—in compliance with the provisions of said sect. 8, duly executed their bond for $5,000, which was accepted by the county commissioners. A suitable lot of ground on which to erect the county buildings was also, by their procurement, conveyed to the county.

Thereupon said citizens erected on the lot a commodious court-house suitable for the transaction of the public business of the county, at a cost of more than $10,000, which, on June 29, 1848, the commissioners accepted in behalf of the county, in full satisfaction of the bond, and as a full compliance with said sect. 8; and thenceforward the court-house was used as a seat of justice, and Canfield continued to be the county seat of the county.

April 9, 1874, the General Assembly of the State of Ohio passed the following act:——

'An Act to provide for the removal of the seat of justice of Mahoning County from the town of Canfield to the city of Youngstown in said county.

'SECT. 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Ohio, that from and after taking effect of this section of this act as hereafter provided, the seat of justice in the county of Mahoning shall be removed from the town of Canfield, and shall be fixed, until otherwise provided by law, at the city of Youngstown, in said county.

'SECT. 2. That the foregoing section of this act shall take effect and be in force when and so soon as the same shall be adopted by a majority of all the electors of said Mahoning County, voting at the next general election after the passage thereof, and when suitable buildings shall have been erected, as hereinafter provided.

'SECT. 3. That the electors of said Mahoning County, at the next general election after the passage of this act, shall indorse or otherwise place on their tickets either the words 'for removal' or 'against removal;' and if a majority of all the electors of said Mahoning County, voting at said election, shall vote for removal, the first section of this act shall thereafter be considered and holden to be adopted by such majority: Provided, that all tickets upon which the words 'for removal' shall not be indorsed or otherwise placed shall be taken and considered as votes 'against removal' as fully as though the words 'against removal' were indorsed or otherwise placed thereon.

'SECT. 4. That judges and clerks of election in the several townships, wards, and voting precincts in said county at the said general election shall cause all votes that may be so given for or against removal to be correctly counted, in doing which, all tickets upon which the words 'for removal' are not indorsed or otherwise placed shall be counted as votes 'against removal,' and shall enter and certify in their respective poll-books of said general election the number of votes so counted for as well as against such removal, which poll-books shall be returned and opened as required by the act regulating said general election and the opening of the returns thereof; and the officers opening the same shall, at the same time they make, certify, and sign the abstracts required by law, also make, certify, and sign a separate abstract of all votes so returned for or against removal, showing the number so given in each township, and the footings or aggregate number given in all the townships, which abstract shall be forthwith deposited in the clerk's office of said county, and be by him forthwith recorded in the journal of the Court of Common Pleas of said county, which record, or a duly certified copy thereof, shall be taken and received as evidence for all purposes as the result of said election.

'SECT. 5. That in case a majority of the electors of said county of Mahoning shall vote 'for removal,' as heretofore provided, the seat of justice and county seat shall be deemed and taken to be removed from Canfield in said county to the city of Youngstown in said county, and to be located at said city of Youngstown: Provided, however, that nothing in the act shall be so construed as to authorize the removal of said seat of justice to the city of Youngstown, until the citizens of the city and township of Youngstown, and of sufficient size and suitably located to accommodate the court-house, jail, and necessary offices for said county, and shall have erected thereon, or shall have caused to have erected thereon, and completed thereon, suitable buildings for court-house, jail, and all offices and rooms necessary for the transaction of all the public business of said county, at a cost for said buildings of not less than $100,000, and to the satisfaction and acceptance of the commissioners of said county, and all such buildings shall be fully completed within two years from the date of the election at which this act shall be ratified, and said commissioner shall not, nor shall any other authority of said county, levy any tax on the taxable property of said county for said land or building: Provided, that the citizens of Youngstown may, within said two years, build said public buildings, and tender the same to said county commissioners.

'SECT. 6. It shall be the duty of the sheriff or coroner, as the case may be, to cause proclamation to be made to the qualified electors of said county of the time of holding said election, in the same manner as by law he is required to do in other elections, notifying said electors to vote as aforesaid on the question by which this act is submitted to them.

'SECT. 7. The sections of this act subsequent to the first section shall take effect and be in force from and after their passage.'- At the next general election a majority of votes cast in the county was in favor of the removal.

Thereupon Newton, and a number of other citizens of the town of Canfield, filed their petition in the Court of Common Pleas for Mahoning County praying for an injunction restraining the board of county commissioners from removing the county seat to Youngstown. The court denied the injunction and dismissed the petition. That decision having been affirmed by the Supreme Court of the State, the petitioners brought the case here.

Mr. James A. Garfield for the plaintiffs in error.

The question for the determination of the court in this case is whether the act of the General Assembly of Ohio of Feb. 16, 1846, worked a contract for the permanent location of the county seat at Canfield. Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Co. v. Debolt, 16 How. 416. The rule that legislative grants and contracts are to be construed most favorably to the State does not tolerate the defeating of the grant or contract by any hypercritical construction. The Binghampton Bridge, 3 Wall. 51. Laws which amount to a proposition on the part of the State become, when accepted by individuals, binding contracts. Cooley, Const. Lim. 284; Woodruff v. Trapnall, 10 How. 190; State Bank of Ohio v. Knoop, 16 id. 369; Furman v. Nichol, 8 Wall. 44; New Jersey v. Yard, 95 U. S. 104.

The strength of the case of the plaintiffs in error lies in the fact that it is an exception to the general policy of the State in relation to the location of county seats,—a privilege, franchise, or property secured to them by a positive stipulation for a specified consideration paid to and appropriated by the State for the public benefit. Such, then, being the nature of the contract,—there being in 1846 no limitation on the power of the legislature to make it except what is claimed to be implied as necessary to the preservation of the government,—it cannot be excluded from the protection afforded by the Constitution of the United States to other contracts made by a State with its citizens. Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518; Farrington v. Tennessee, 95 U. S. 679; New Jersey v. Yard, supra.

That the eighth section of the act, when complied with by the citizens of Canfield, constituted a contract between them and the State for the permanent location or establishment of the county seat at that place, is beyond controversy. The contract arises out of the very words of the enactment, and the inducement held out to the citizens was to make the location permanent, upon the performance by them of the specified conditions. New Jersey v. Yard, supra.

Permanency both in the consideration and in the location of the county seat was contemplated and stipulated for by the parties. Commissioners of Lucas County v. Hunt 5 Ohio St. 496.

The power of the legislature to make the contract on behalf of the State cannot be denied. Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Co. v. Debolt, supra; Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36; Matheny v. Golden, 5 Ohio...

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