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Hudson County Water Co. v. McCarter

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued March 18, 19, 1908 ; April 6, 1908

No. 184


 [*353]   [**530]  MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

This is an information, alleging that the defendant (the plaintiff in error), under a contract with the City of Bayonne in New Jersey, has laid mains in that city for the purpose of carrying water to Staten Island in the State of New York. By [***9]  other contracts it is to get the water from the Passaic River, at Little Falls, where the East Jersey Water Company has a large plant by which the water is withdrawn. ] On May 11, 1905, the State of New Jersey, reciting the need of preserving the fresh water of the State for the health and prosperity of the citizens, enacted that "It shall be unlawful for any person or corporation to transport or carry, through pipes, conduits, ditches or canals, the waters of any fresh water lake, pond, brook, creek, river or stream of this State into any other State, for use therein." By a second section a proceeding like the present was authorized, in order to enforce the act. Laws of 1905, c. 238, p. 461.  After the passage of this statute the defendant made a contract with the City of New York to furnish a supply of water adequate for the Borough of Richmond, and of not less than three million gallons a day. Thereupon this information was brought, praying that, pursuant to the above act and otherwise, the defendant might be enjoined from carrying the waters of the Passaic River out of the State. There are allegations as to the amount of water and the probable  [*354]  future demand upon which [***10]  the parties are not wholly agreed, but the essential facts are not denied. The defendant sets up that the statute, if applicable to it, is contrary to the Constitution of the United States, that it impairs the obligation of contracts, takes property without due process of law, interferes with commerce between New Jersey and New York, denies the privileges of citizens of New Jersey to citizens of other States, and denies to them the equal protection of the laws. An injunction was issued by the Chancellor, 70 N. J. Eq. 525, the decree was affirmed by the Court of Errors and Appeals, 70 N. J. Eq. 695, and the case then was brought here.

The courts below assumed or decided and we shall assume that the defendant represents the rights of a riparian proprietor, and on the other hand, that it represents no special chartered powers that give it greater rights than those. On these assumptions the Court of Errors and Appeals pointed out that a riparian proprietor has no right to divert waters for more than a reasonable distance from the body of the stream or for other than the well-known ordinary uses, and that for any purpose anywhere he is narrowly limited in amount. It went on to infer [***11]  that his only right in the body of the stream is to have the flow continue, and that there is a residuum of public ownership in the State. It reinforced the State's rights by the State's title to the bed of the stream where flowed by the tide, and concluded from the foregoing and other considerations that, as against the rights of riparian owners merely as such, the State was warranted in prohibiting the acquisition of the title to water on a larger scale.

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209 U.S. 349 *; 28 S. Ct. 529 **; 1908 U.S. LEXIS 1709 ***; 52 L. Ed. 828




rights, river, riparian, stream, public interest, police power

Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Property, Water Rights, Boundaries, Local Governments, Police Power, Police Powers, Constitutional Law, Congressional Duties & Powers, Contracts Clause, General Overview