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Law School Case Brief

State v. Heller - 123 Conn. 492, 196 A. 337 (1937)

Rule:

The police power may regulate any business or the use of any property in the interest of the public health, safety or welfare, provided this be done reasonably. To that extent, the public interest is supreme and the private interest must yield. Eminent domain takes property because it is useful to the public. The police power regulates the use of property or impairs the rights in property, because the free exercise of these rights is detrimental to public interest. The use of property may be regulated as the public welfare demands. Beyond this, private property cannot be interfered with under the police power, but resort must be had to the power of eminent domain and compensation made. The protection of the public safety, health or morals, by the exercise of the police power, is not within the inhibitions of the Constitution. And since all property is held subject to such regulation, there is no obligation upon the State to indemnify the owner of property for the damage done him by the legitimate exercise of the police power. Property so damaged is not taken: its use is regulated in order to promote the public welfare.

Facts:

In 1936, defendant owned in fee simple a tract of land in Easton comprising about 38 acres, upon which was a dwelling-house occupied by defendant and his family. Ball Wall Brook flowed across the land forming a small pond thereon, and run on into the Aspetuck Reservoir about 4,200 feet away, from which by connecting pipe water flowed into the Hemlock Reservoir. These reservoirs were part of the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company's system, from which Bridgeport and other municipalities were supplied with water. Ball Wall Brook was and, ever since before defendant's purchase of his property, has been a stream tributary to both of these reservoirs. On July 11th, 1936, defendant bathed in Ball Wall Brook at a place within the boundaries of the 38 acre tract owned by him, and was arrested and charged with a violation of § 2542 of the General Statutes. Defendant’s demurrer to the information was overruled. On appeal, defendant argued that § 2542 of the General Statutes was invalid in that its unlimited scope constituted an unreasonable exercise of the police power.

Issue:

Was § 2542 of the General Statutes of Connecticut, as applied to defendant in forbidding his bathing pursuant to his property right in a brook flowing through his own land, a valid exercise of the State’s police power?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

According to the Supreme Court of Connecticut, the foundation of the police power of a State is the overruling necessity of the public welfare. It was pursuant to this principle that the State may regulate one’s use of one's own property. The Court held that § 2542 of the General Statutes, as applied to the defendant in forbidding his bathing pursuant to his property right in a brook flowing through his own land, was a valid exercise of the State’s police power. The Court noted that defendant's actions could have polluted the water, even though no actual injury may have occurred. This was a sufficient ground to sustain the legislature's act. Upon the record, bathing in a tributary of a reservoir might have had such a tendency to endanger the health of users of the water that the legislature could reasonably prohibit it. The Court held that the statute bore a rational relation to the protection of the public health. Thus, the Court concluded that it was a reasonable exercise of the police power.

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