State ex rel. City of Minneapolis v. St. Paul, M. & M. Ry. Co.

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation108 N.W. 261,98 Minn. 380
PartiesSTATE ex rel. CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS v. ST. PAUL, M. & M. RY. CO. et al.
Decision Date29 June 1906

98 Minn. 380
108 N.W. 261

ST. PAUL, M. & M. RY.
CO. et al.

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

June 29, 1906.

Appeal from District Court, Hennepin County; Andrew Holt, Judge.

Application by the state, on the relation of the city of Minneapolis, for writ of mandamus against the St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company and others. Judgment for defendants, and relator appeals. Reversed, and new trial granted.

Syllabus by the Court

The state may, in the exercise of its police power, impose upon railroad companies whose lines intersect public highways laid out after the construction of the railroad the uncompensated duty of constructing and maintaining at such crossings all such safety devices as are reasonably necessary for the protection of the traveling public.

Such a requirement, being referable to the police power, is not a taking of private property for public use in violation of the Constitution.

A bridge over the railroad tracks, when necessary to make the crossing safe for public use, is a ‘safety device,’ within the meaning of that expression.

Statutes granting franchises to corporations, involving rights of the public, are to be construed liberally in favor of the public and strictly against the corporation.

The charter of the Minnesota & Pacific Railway Company, of which defendants are successors in interest, and subject to all its liabilities, contained the following provision:

‘The said company shall have the right and authority to construct their said railroad and branches upon and along, across, under or over, any public or private highway, road, street, plank road, or railroad, if the same shall be necessary; but the said company shall put such highway, road, street, plank road, or railroad, in such condition and state of repair as not to impair or interfere with its free and proper use.’

Held, that this provision applies to streets and highways laid out over the railroad after its construction.

A railroad company receives its charter and franchise subject to the implied right of the state to establish and open such streets and highways over and across its right of way as public convenience and necessity may from time to time require. That right on the part of the state attaches by implication of law to the franchise of the railroad company, and imposes upon it an obligation to construct and maintain at its own expense, suitable crossings at new streets and highways to the same extent as required by the rules of the common law at streets and highways in existence when the railroad was constructed.

A contract by a city, by which the police power is attempted to be forever abdicated, is ultra vires and void.

Neither the state nor a municipal subdivision thereof, to which that power is delegated, can by affirmative action or by inaction permanently divest itself of the authority and power to exercise it.

[108 N.W. 261]

Frank Healy, for appellant.

Rome G. Brown and Charles S. Albert, for respondents.


Proceedings in mandamus to compel defendants to erect and maintain a bridge over their right of way and railroad tracks as the same extend across University avenue in the city of Minneapolis. The facts, briefly stated, are as follows: The Minnesota & Pacific Railroad Company was incorporated by chapter 1, p. 3, Laws Minn. Terr. Ex. Sess. 1857; and defendants, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad Company and the Great Northern Railroad Company, are successors in interest, entitled to all its rights and subject to all its obligations

[108 N.W. 262]

and liabilities, in so far as involved in this proceeding. The line of railroad was constructed through the city of Minneapolis many years ago upon a right of way acquired by purchase, of which defendants are now the owners. Long after the construction of the railroad, in the year 1892, the council of the city of Minneapolis, pursuant to the provisions of its charter conferring authority to that end, duly laid out and opened the street in question over and across the railroad right of way, and it has since that time been used as one of the public thoroughfares of the city. At the time the street was opened, the city, at its own cost and expense, erected a bridge over the railroad tracks, and thereafter maintained the same until the year 1903, when it was partly burned and practically destroyed; since which time there has been no passage over the tracks at this point. Subsequent to the destruction of the bridge the city council, by resolution duly adopted, ordered and directed defendants to construct a good and suitable bridge over their tracks at the intersection of this new street, at their own cost and expense. Plans and specifications were prepared by the city engineer under the direction of the council. Defendants refused to comply with the order, and thereafter these proceedings were commenced to compel a compliance therewith. The matter came on for hearing before the court below, and was submitted for its determination upon a stipulation of facts, from which it appears, among other things, that the erection of the bridge is necessary to render the street crossing safe for public travel. This must be taken, for present purposes, as conclusive upon the question of the propriety and necessity of the proposed improvement. Of course, if this stipulation was entered into by counsel for defendants on the theory that this was not a grade crossing, and that the necessity for the bridge arises solely from the fact that the street was laid over the tracks, he is not bound by it, and the question of necessity will be open on a new trial. The court below held that, inasmuch as the street was laid out and opened subsequent to the construction of the railroad, the burden of erecting and maintaining the bridge rested upon the city, and not upon the railroad company. Judgment was entered, dismissing the proceedings, from which relator appealed.

The case is an important one, not only to the railway companies of the state, but to the numerous municipalities thereof as well. In a word, the turning point of the controversy is, shall the railway companies, or interested municipalities, bear the burden and expense of constructing crossings at streets and highways intersected by railroads, and maintaining them in a safe and suitable condition for public use, where the street or highway is laid out after the construction of the railroad? The precise question was not involved in any previous case in this court, except in a measure in State ex rel. v. District Court, 42 Minn. 247, 44 N. W. 7,7 L. R. A. 121, which will be referred to hereafter; and whatever may be found in former opinions in analagous cases on the subject, must be treated as mere obiter remarks. Some conflicting views are apparent, but we are not required, in disposing of the present case, to reconcile them. The court is confronted with the principal question for the first time. We have been assisted by exhaustive arguments by able counsel, have considered the subject thoroughly, and the result of our deliberations is, in our opinion, fully in accord with the legislative policy of this state respecting the matter in issue, and in harmony with the law and policy of other states. Several questions are presented by the record which will be considered in their logical order.

1. It is contended on the part of defendants that the proceedings laying out and establishing the street in question did not vest in the city the right to open the same on a grade with the railroad track; that a proper view of such proceedings, taken as a whole, will permit of no conclusion other than that the street was laid out up to the right of way and then over the same by means of a bridge, which was erected by and at the expense of the city. A strict construction of the proceedings might sustain this contention; but we are of opinion that, fairly construed, a street was laid out across the right of way, and the city authorities thereby became vested with power to open the same at grade, or by an overhead crossing, as propriety, necessity, and public safety required. It is unnecessary to go further into this phase of the case, and we pass to other more vital and important questions.

2. We come, then, to the question whether the state, in the exercise of its police power, may require railroad companies to construct, at their own cost and expense, suitable crossings at street and highway intersections, in cases where the street or highway was laid out subsequent to the construction of the railroad; and further, if that power be vested in the state, whether the Legislature has, by any statutory enactment, imposed the obligation upon the respondents, or whether it rests upon them at common law. It is insisted by defendants that there is no such obligation at common law; that the state has no power to cast the burden upon the railroads; and that if any statute exists which may be so construed, it is in violation of both state and federal Constitutions, in that it denies to such companies the equal protection of the law, and operates to take from them their private property for public use, without compensation first paid or secured.

3. The question as to the power of the state, as respects streets and highways existing at the time of the construction of a railroad and over which it passes, to require the latter to construct and maintain suitable

[108 N.W. 263]

crossings, by bridges, viaducts or otherwise, at its own expense, has been before the courts in numerous cases, and the uniform rule, so far as our examination of the authorities has extended, is that the state possesses that power. The obligation of the company in such cases arises from the rule of the common law that, where a new highway is laid out across one already in existence and use, the crossing must not only be made with as little injury as possible to the old way, but whatever structures may be necessary for the convenience...

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