Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Newingham

Decision Date20 January 1965
Docket NumberNo. 8373,8373
Citation386 S.W.2d 663
PartiesSOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. C. R. NEWINGHAM and Ann Newingham, his Wife, and E. H. Mallett and Mildred Mallett, husband and wife, Robert A. Smith, Trustee, and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, Defendants- Respondents.
CourtMissouri Court of Appeals

John Mohler, Leo Eickhoff, and Donald King, St. Louis, Harry C. Blanton and Bernard C. Rice, Blanton, Blanton & Rice, Sikeston, for plaintiff-appellant.

Harry H. Bock, Bock & Jones, New Madrid, for defendants-respondents.

RUARK, Presiding Justice.

This case involves the question of whether or not a telephone company may condemn for the purpose of laying underground cables. The Southwestern Bell Telephone Company (hereinafter referred to as the Company) filed petition against Newingham and others (hereinafter called Owners) to appropriate an easement one rod in width across Owners' land in order to construct, operate and maintain an underground communications system, consisting of underground cables, wires, conduits, and other necessary appurtenances below the surface, with right to clear and maintain the strip, both surface and sub-surface, of trees, roots, and other obstructions. The petition did not specify or restrict the depth (or shallowness) of the contemplated cables below the surface. Owners filed motion to dismiss based on grounds that the Company had no authority under the laws of the State of Missouri to condemn easements across private property for underground cables or wires. The motion was sustained and the Company appealed.

Company contends it has the power of eminent domain for underground installations under the provisions of Section 523.010 RSMo 1959, V.A.M.S. (the 'general' condemnation statute) and buttresses its contention by the fact that Sections 392.130 and 392.200 (of the chapter regulating telephone and telegraph companies) require the company to furnish sufficient and adequate facilities to meet the communication needs of the public. Owners contend that Section 392.100 of the chapter relating the telephone and telegraph companies limits the right of appropriation therein granted to poles, piers, abutments, wires and other necessary fixtures over or above the ground; that this is demonstrated by the provisions of Section 392.080, which expressly give telephone and telegraph companies the right to put such installations along, across, or under public roads, streets, and waters; and that the appropriation of the sub-surface for wires and cables places a greater burden on private property than is contemplated by Section 392.100.

Subject to constitutional limitations, the discretion to exercise the sovereign power of eminent domain is in the Legislature and those to whom it delegates such function by statute. 1 Since it is not disputed that a telephone company is engaged in a public service and the property taken by it for telephone line communications is for a public use (American Tel. & Tel. Co. of Missouri v. St. Louis & I. M. & S. Ry. Co., 202 Mo. 656, 101 S.W. 576, 583), our sole question is did the Legislature delegate to the telephone company the right to appropriate the sub-surface for such use?

The Respondents contend, and we think correctly, that the exercise of eminent domain is in derogation of the right of the citizen; that a statute delegating that power must be strictly construed, 2 and the person or body claiming the right to exercise such delegated power must be able to point to the statute which either expressly or by necessary implication confers that right. 3 But the rule of 'strict construction' has no definite or precise meaning. It has only relative application. It is not the opposite of liberal construction, and it does not require such a strained or narrow interpretation of the language as to defeat the object. 4 The primary purpose of all statutory construction is to determine the intent of the Legislature; 5 and all such rules are but vassals to the liege sovereign intent. See cases West's Missouri Digest, Statutes, k180, et seq.

The statutes involved have ancestral kinship. As to R.S. 392.100, V.A.M.S.: Chapter 72, page 43, Laws of 1866, dealt with magnetic telegraph companies. Section 6 of such Act authorized them to enter upon land of private persons in order to make surveys and to appropriate 'so much of said lands as may be necessary to erect such poles, piers, abutments, wires and other necessary fixtures' as might from time to time be deemed necessary. The wording of such Act has come substantially unchanged down to 392.100, except that telephone companies were added (see Sections 874 and 886, R.S.1879). Section 5 of the 1866 Act granted to companies the right to set their poles, piers, abutments, wires and other fixtures along, upon, and across any of the public roads, streets, and waters of this state in such manner as not to incommode the public. By Section 2721, R.S.1889, such companies were granted the additional privilege of placing their wires, poles and other fixtures underneath such public roads, streets, and waters, and that, in substance, is the provision of our present R.S. 392.080, V.A.M.S.

In the Laws of 1866, in Chapter 73, page 47, immediately following the chapter dealing with telegraph companies, provision was made for proceedings for 'the appropriation and valuation of lands taken for telegraph, macadamized, graded, plank or railroad purposes.' Section 1 of said Act provided for the determination of damages caused by the erection and maintenance of such utilities over such lands. This Act has been amended several times, and reenacted, until it now appears as R.S. 523.010, V.A.M.S. It continued with the words 'over such lands' until the Amendment of 1919 (Laws of 1919, page 207), when it was put in substantially its present wording insofar as is applicable to our question. In that Act, the words 'over such lands' for the first time disappear from its language. In 1921, Laws 1921, p. 199, the section was repealed and a new section was enacted which broadened the scope of powers granted to electrical corporations but otherwise substantially followed the Act of 1919 and which is, in substance, our present Act. To paraphrase 523.010 (as applicable to the question here), 'In case land * * * is sought to be appropriated by any * * * telephone [and other named public utility companies], * * * or any * * * pipe line * * * engaged in the business of transporting or carrying oil or gas by means of pipes * * * laid underneath the surface of the ground * * * such corporation may apply * * * by petition setting forth the general directions in which it is desired to construct their [utility including telephone line] * * * pipe line or gas line over or underneath the surface of such lands, * * * and praying the appointment of * * * commissioners * * * to assess the damages which such owners may severally sustain in consequence of the establishment, erection, and maintenance of such [named utilities including telephone line], * * *pipe- pipe line, or gas line over or underneath the surface of such lands * * *'

There is no question that, whatever it may have been in its historical origin, Section 523.010 now not only provides a procedure for but confers upon the public utilities therein named the substantive right of eminent domain. Phillips Pipe Line Co. v. Brandstetter, 241 Mo.App. 1138, 263 S.W.2d 880; Union Elec. Co. v. Jones, Mo., 356 S.W.2d 857; see also Shell Pipe Line Corp. v. Woolfolk, 331 Mo. 410, 53 S.W.2d 917.

In the Union Electric Company case the Supreme Court said (356 S.W.2d loc. cit. 859) that Chapter 523 'represents a consolidation of various grants of the power of eminent domain to companies organized for various purposes' and referred to various acts, including Laws of 1866, page 47. In reference to the powers granted electrical corporations it said (loc. cit. 860):

'* * * Insofar as Chapter 236 goes, there is no conflict; it just does not go as far as Chapter 523, and there is absolutely nothing to indicate that when the provisions of Chapter 523 were made applicable to electric companies, the Legislature intended to carve out of that specific grant of the power of eminent domain an exception constituting the limited grant of power in Chapter 236. The contentions of appellants that Union Electric does not have the power of eminent domain in the present factual situation is without merit.'

Returning to the paraphrase of Section 523.010, we interpret the first appearance of the words 'laid underneath the surface of the ground' as applicable only to pipe lines, and the words 'underneath the surface' there used as those which...

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11 cases
  • Duckworth v. U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • February 24, 1970 considered together and harmonized if possible in order that meaning might be given to all provisions. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Newingham, Mo.App., 386 S.W.2d 663, 668(13). This applies even though the statutes are found in different chapters and were enacted at different times......
  • State ex rel. Missouri Cities Water Co. v. Hodge
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    ...417 S.W.2d 1, 3 (Mo. banc 1967). Statutes delegating this right are strictly construed. As noted in Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Newingham, 386 S.W.2d 663, 665 (Mo.App.1965): [T]he exercise of eminent domain is in derogation of the right of the citizen; that a statute delegating that ......
  • Paving Equipment of Carolinas Inc. v. M & N DEV. CO.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
    • May 19, 1995
    ...not require such strained or narrow interpretation of language as to defeat the object of the statute. See Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Newingham, 386 S.W.2d 663, 665 (Mo.App.1965). Furthermore, strict construction is that which confines its operation to cases which are clearly within not ......
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    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • April 21, 1998
    ...point to the statute which either expressly or by necessary implication confers that right. Id. (quoting Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. v. Newingham, 386 S.W.2d 663, 665 (Mo.App.1965)) (footnotes As a fourth class city, the legislature has granted Smithville general statutory authority to ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Coming to terms with strict and liberal construction.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 64 No. 1, September 2000
    • September 22, 2000
    ...such strained or narrow interpretation of language as to defeat object of statute. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co. v. Newingham, Mo. App., 386 S.W.2d 663, 665. Rule of "strict construction" means that criminal statute will not be enlarged by implication or intendment beyond fair meaning of langu......

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