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U.S. Supreme Court

Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Richmond, 224 U.S. 160 (1912)

Western Union Telegraph Company v. City of Richmond

No. 195

Argued March 6, 7, 1912

Decided April 1, 1912

224 U.S. 160


A municipal ordinance will not be held unconstitutional as an unreasonable grant of power because it permits the use of streets by a public service corporation only in such manner as is satisfactory to the municipal officers in charge of such streets, and so held that an ordinance of the City of Richmond, Virginia, in regard to location and construction of telegraph wires and conduits did not deprive telegraph companies of their property without due process of law. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 224 U. S. 161

The Act of July 24, 1866, 14 Stat. 221, c. 230, permitting telegraph companies to occupy post roads is permissive only, and not a source of positive rights; it conveys no title in streets or roads, and does not found one by delegating the power to take by eminent domain. West. Un. Tel. Co. v. Penna. R. Co., 195 U. S. 540.

Prima facie, a telegraph company, not having the right of eminent domain, must submit to the terms of the owners of property which it desires to occupy, including those imposed by municipalities for use of streets.

Quaere whether, by reason of such rights as are given by the Act of July 24, 1866, a municipality is restricted to only imposing reasonable terms for the use of its streets by telegraph companies.

It is not unreasonable for a municipality to require as compensation for the use of its streets by telegraph companies a money charge, in this case of two dollars for each pole and also the right to string a limited number of wires on its poles or to use one of the pipes in the conduit for municipal service, or to require space to be left in conduits for use of third parties on compensation and permission by the city.

The court must assume that a municipality acts within its powers if it can be authorized to do what it has done.

Charges for use of streets acquiesced in and paid for many years without complaint will not be declared unreasonable on mere protest.

Where, as in this case, the provisions imposing penalties for noncompliance are separable from the ordinance, it is time enough to file a bill when the attempt is made to apply the penalties oppressively; they cannot be made the basis of a bill until then.

In this case, held that a provision of a municipal ordinance limiting the use of streets for conduits under the terms imposed for fifteen years with the right of the city to then order the conduits removed does not deprive the telegraph company of its rights under the Act of July 24, 1866, the ordinance itself providing that whatever rights the company has under that act shall not be affected.

178 F.3d 0 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of an ordinance of the City of Richmond in regard to telegraph and telephone wires, are stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 224 U. S. 165

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