Weber v. the Board of Harbor Commissioners

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation21 L.Ed. 798,18 Wall. 57,85 U.S. 57
Decision Date01 October 1873

85 U.S. 57
21 L.Ed. 798
18 Wall. 57
October Term, 1873

[Syllabus from pages 57-59 intentionally omitted]

Page 59

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the District of California; in which court one Weber filed a bill against the board of State harbor commissioners of California, to make them abate and remove certain erections made by them on the water front of San Francisco, which he alleged interfered with a wharf rightfully put there by him. The case was thus:

The State of California was admitted into the Union on the 9th of September, 1850. At the first session of its legislature afterwards, namely, on the 26th of March, 1851, an act was passed entitled 'An act to provide for the disposition of certain property of the State of California,' which granted to the city of San Francisco the use and occupation, for ninety-nine years, of certain lands lying in front of the eity covered by the tidewaters of the bay of San Francisco. This act is generally designated in California as 'The Beach and Water-Lot Act of 1851.' It describes the outer boundary line of the lands according to the survey of the city, and a map or plat of the same on record in the office of the recorder of the county of San Francisco, and in its fourth section declares that this line——

'Shall be and remain a permanent water front of said city, the authorities of which shall keep clear and free from all obstructions whatever the space beyond said line to the distance of five hundred yards therefrom.'

And the sixth section provides that——

'Nothing in the act shall be construed as a surrender by the

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State of its right to regulate the construction of wharves or other improvements, so that they shall not interfere with the shipping and commercial interests of the bay and harbor of San Francisco.'

The permanent water-front thus established is in many places at a great distance from the line of the shore of the bay as that existed at the time California was admitted into the Union. Ships of the largest size then floated at the lowest tide at many points along this line. Such was the case at the point where the wharf of the complainant hereafter mentioned was constructed.

The act abovenamed was followed, on the 1st of May, 1851, by another act, as follows:

'SECTION 1. The city of San Francisco is hereby authorized and empowered to construct wharves at the end of all the streets, commencing with the bay of San Francisco; the wharves to be made by the extension of said streets into the bay, in their present direction, not exceeding two hundred yards beyond the present outside line of the beach and water lots, and the city is authorized to prescribe the rates of wharfage that shall be collected on said wharves, when constructed. The space between said wharves, when they are extended, which is situated outside of the outer line of beach and water-lot property, as defined by the legislature, shall remain free from obstructions and be used as public slips for the accommodation and benefit of the general commerce of the city and State.'

In 1853 the predecessors of the complainant acquired the title of the city to certain lots lying along its water front, and being about one hundred and twenty feet in extent. In 1854 they built a platform along and adjoining this front the whole length of the lots, and then constructed a wharf projecting from the centre of the platform into the bay, eightyfour feet long and forty feet wide, leaving a space on each side for the approach and dockage of vessels. From that time until the interference by the defendants, in 1867, the then owners and their successors continued in the uninterrupted possession of the wharf and collected tolls and wharfage for its use.

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On the 24th of April, 1863, the legislature of California passed an act entitled 'An act to provide for the improvement and protection of the wharves, docks, and water front, in the city and county of San Francisco.' It created a board of State harbor commissioners, and by its second section required that they should

'Take possession of and hold all that portion of the bay of San Francisco lying along the water front of said city and county of San Francisco, and adjacent thereto, to the distance of six hundred feet into the waters of said bay, from the line of the water front, as defined by an act of the legislature, approved March 26th, 1851, together with all the improvements, rights, privileges, franchises, easements, and appurtenances connected therewith, or in anywise appertaining thereto, excepting such portions of said water front as may be held by parties under valid leases; and the commissioners shall also take possession and have control of any and all such portions of said water front, with the improvements, rights, privileges, franchises, easements, and appurtenances, as are held under valid leases, as soon as said leases shall respectively expire and become void.'

They were also

'Authorized and empowered to institute actions at law or in equity for the possession of any wharf or wharves, or other rights, privileges, franchises, & c., named in this section, or for the recovery of the tolls, dockage, rents, and wharfage thereof; also, for the removal of obstructions, and abatement of any and all nuisances on the water front mentioned in this act, and to prosecute the same to final judgment.'

The third section proceeded:

'SECTION 3. The commissioners shall have and hold possession and control of the said water front, with the improvements, rights, privileges, franchises, easements, and appurtenances connected therewith, or in anywise appertaining thereto, for the following purposes and uses:

'First. To keep in good repair all the sea-walls, embankments, wharves, piers, landings, and thoroughfares, for the accommodation and benefit of commerce.

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'Second. To dredge such number of the docks as the commerce of the harbor may require, to a depth that will admit of the easy ingress and egress of the vessels which load and unload at said wharves and piers.

'Third. To construct such new wharves, piers, landings, and thoroughfares, at the foot of the streets, as the wants of commerce may require.

'Fourth. To construct all works necessary for the protection of wharves, piers, docks, landings, and thoroughfares, and for the safety and convenience of shipping.

'Fifth. To provide for the construction, out of the surplus funds growing out of the revenues arising from said wharves, such sea-wall or other structure along the water front of said city and county of San Francisco, as shall, upon accurate surveys made for that purpose, be found to be necessary for the protection of the harbor and water front of said city and county. . .

'Sixth. To collect such rents, tolls, wharfage, craneage, and dockage, as may, from time to time, be fixed under the authority of this act, and to disburse and dispose of the revenues arising therefrom as in this act provided.'

The twentieth section provided that no person or company should, after the commissioners were qualified, 'collect any tolls, wharfage, and dockage, upon any portion of the water front of the city and county of San Francisco,' nor 'land or ship any goods, wares, or merchandise, or other thing, upon or from any portion of the said water front of said city and county of San Francisco, unless authorized so to do by the said commissioners, excepting such persons or companies as might hold possession of some portion of the property described in this act by valid leases.' And it provided that any person violating or offending against the prohibition should be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof be punished by fine or imprisonment.

The defendants, the harbor commissioners, in 1867 proceeded, under this act, and an act amendatory of and supplementary to it, passed on the 6th of March, 1864, to make improvements in the harbor of San Francisco, intended for its protection and the convenience of shipping, and in the

Page 63

execution of their works caused piling to be had, and capping and planking on both sides of the complainant's wharf, so as to prevent any approach to it by vessels. To obtain a decree of the court that the erections thus caused were a nuisance, and to compel the defendants to abate and remove them,...

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