Washington Market Co v. District of Columbia

Decision Date03 January 1899
Docket NumberNo. 83,83
Citation172 U.S. 361,19 S.Ct. 218,43 L.Ed. 478
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The Washington Market Company was incorporated by act of congress approved May 20, 1870 (16 Stat. 124). Authority was conferred upon the company to construct suitable buildings and operate a public market on the site of the 'Center Market Space,' situated in the northwest section of the city of Washington, between Seventh and Ninth streets and B street and Pennsylvania and Louisiana avenues. With the exception of the sixteenth section, the provisions of the statute related solely to the public market thus authorized, and the operation and duration of the franchise.

The sixteenth section is as follows:

'Sec. 16. And be it further enacted, that the city government of Washington shall have the right to hold and use, under such rules and regulations as the said corporation may prescribe, the open space at the intersection of Ohio and Louisiana avenues with Tenth and Twelfth streets as a market for the purchase and sale of the following articles, to wit, hay, straw, oats, corn, corn meal, seed of all kinds, wood for sale from the wagon, cattle on the hoof, swine on the hoof, country produce sold in quantities from the wagon, and such other bulky and coarse articles as the said corporation may designate. And from and after sixty days from the passage of this act marketing of the products named herein shall be excluded from Pennsylvania and Louisiana avenues and the sidewalks and pavements thereon.'

The present litigation was begun on January 17, 1892, by the filing on behalf of the Washington Market Company of a bill in the supreme court of the District; the defendant named therein being the District of Columbia. The bill averred that the complainant was vested by the section above quoted with authority to establish the rules and regulations therein referred to for the government of the wholesale market authorized to be established, It was also averred that, under authority of what was claimed to be a contract arising from correspondence had with the District, complainant in 1871 entered into possession of a part of the open market space referred to in said section 16, and in 1886 of the entire space. The correspondence relied on is set out in the margin.1 It was alleged that the complainant graded the grounds, and made valuable structures thereon; that it had operated, and was still operating, a wholesale market thereon; and that it had received and was receiving the sources of revenue mentioned in the alleged contract, except as to certain charges which it was averred defendant had wrongfully abolished.

It was charged that not only by the abolition of tolls referred to, but by other acts of interference by the District, and also by recent public assertions of an exclusive right to possess and regulate said market, the receipts from the operation of the same had been greatly diminished, so that the expenses of maintaining the market had been largley in excess of the sum received from its operation. It was prayed that an account might be taken, and the District decreed to pay the losses occasioned by it; that the District might also be restrained from prescribing or attempting to prescribe rules and regulations for said market, from interfering with the sources of revenue mentiond in the contract, and from forcibly ousting, or resorting to legal proceedings to obtain possession of the premises. General relief was also prayed.

The answer of the District asserted the invalidity of the alleged contract; averred that the District alone was entitled to occupy said market space, and to establis rules and regulations respecting the conduct of the market; and further averred the legality of any action taken by or on its behalf respecting said market space, and the tolls imposed in the operation of the market.

The court entered a decree dismissing the bill, and on appeal its action was affirmed by the court of appeals of the District. 6 App. D. C. 34. An appeal was then taken to this court.

William Birney, for appellant.

S. T. Thomas, for appellee.

Mr. Justice WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

It is difficult to determine precisely the theory upon which appellant predicates its right to relief at the hands of a court of equity. In the bill, what is termed a 'title to possession' of the market grounds is asserted to be in complainant, and its right not only to prescribe rules and regulations with respect to the market is averred, but also a right to the sources of revenue mentioned in the alleged contract. Despite, however, the position thus taken in the pleadings, and the fact that the complainant demanded that the District be compelled to account for the losses which it is alleged the complainant had sustained by claimed wrongful interferences of the District, counsel, in the argument at bar, bases the right to relief solely upon the prayer for general relief contained in the bill. In consequence of this abandonment of the specific grounds stated in the bill, the argument at bar is that while the market company, under the section above referred to, had not obtained a general power to regulate and control the market, it was by said section vested with the power to locate and assign stands therein, and that the facts averred and shown by the proofs established an implied contract by which the District constituted the company an agent to manage and control the market, and collect and disburse the revenues therefrom. And it is then argued that from these facts such a situation resulted as that it would be inequitable to permit the District to interfere in any wise with the possession, control, and management of the market, without antecedently 'reimbursing appellant for moneys expended as its agent in the administration of the wholesale market of Washington City.'

Disregarding the fact that the claims asserted in the pleadings on the one hand, and at bar on the other, are divergent, we shall examine the contentions urged in the order in which they have been made.

As to the claim that the market company is the corporation empowered by section 16 of the charter to establish rules and regulations with respect to the market therein authorized:

We do not find in the text of the statute anything justifying a construction of the words 'rules and regulations,' as employed in section 16, which would attach to them a less broad signification than is given to the word 'regulations' in the second section, in which section, with reference to the public market authorized to be constructed and maintained by the Washington Market Company, it was provided that 'the municipal government of said city shall at all times have the power to make and enforce such regulations with regard to said market and the management thereof as in their judgment the convenience, health and safety of the community may require.' The fact that the power to establish and enforce regulations with respect to the market to be erected by the market company was vested in the municipality, and the further fact that a voice in the establishment of the amount of rent to be paid for stalls in the market of the company was expressly conferred upon the District authorities, prevent the inference that, with reference to the market which the city itself was 'to hold and use,' the city was deprived of the power to make rules and regulations, or that a broad and comprehensive authority to establish such rules and regulations was vested in the market company. The grammatical structure of the sentence also aupports the view that the corporation referred to n the sixteenth section was the city government, for the nearest antecedent to the word 'corporation' is the city government of Washington; the market company not being named at all in the section.

As respects the alleged contract stated in the bill to have been initiated in 1871 and perfected in 1874:

By the written proposal concerning the use and occupancy of the open market space, bearing date November 8, 1871, addressed to the governor of the District, the Washington Market Company stated: 'This company proposes, with your permission, properly to grade the grounds, and to place thereon suitable platforms, of inexpensive construction, which will enable the marketmen to do business on the open space as contemplated by the act; charging them for the use of their stands such sums as you and the District authorities may prescribe, not to exceed the interest on the actual outlay, and the actual expenditures for keeping the market in order.' And it was added: 'There can be no possible objection to this course.' Upon this letter was placed the following indorsement: 'Approved, subject to such regulations as the legislative...

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9 cases
  • Van Sickle v. Keck, 4359.
    • United States
    • New Mexico Supreme Court
    • July 15, 1938
    ...is in another; but will leave the parties to the remedies, if any, that a court of law provides. Washington Market Co. v. District of Columbia, 172 U.S. 361, 19 S.Ct. 218, 43 L.Ed. 478; Spencer v. Williams, 113 W.Va. 687, 170 S.E. 179, 89 A.L.R. 1451; Perry v. Neel, supra; Thorbahn v. Walke......
  • Barriffe v. Estate of Nelson
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • October 2, 2014
    ...the land in favor of one who makes improvements thereon knowing that the title is in another....”) (citing Wash. Mkt. Co. v. D.C., 172 U.S. 361, 19 S.Ct. 218, 43 L.Ed. 478 (1899) ; Spencer v. Williams, 113 W.Va. 687, 170 S.E. 179 (1933) ; 113 W.Va. 687, 170 S.E. 179, 89 A.L.R. 1451 ; Perry ......
  • Barriffe v. Estate of Lawson
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • October 12, 2011
    ...land in favor of one who makes improvements thereon knowing that the title is in another . . . .") (citing Wash. Mkt. Co. v. D.C., 172 U.S. 361, 19 S. Ct. 218, 43 L. Ed. 478 (1899); Spencer v. Williams, 170 S.E. 179 (W. Va. 1933); 89 A.L.R. 1451; Perry v. Neel, 252 N.W. 812 (Neb. 1934); Tho......
  • Spencer v. Williams
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • May 30, 1933
    ...under consideration the question of equitable lien in the case of Porter v. Shaffer, 147 Va. 921, 133 S.E. 614, followed the Washington Market Case, supra. The held that the complainants, who had partially constructed a building on land of another and claimed under parol agreement for a twe......
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