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U.S. Supreme Court

Detroit United Railway v. Detroit, 255 U.S. 171 (1921)

Detroit United Railway v. City of Detroit

No. 492

Argued January 5, 6, 1921

Decided February 28, 1921

255 U.S. 171


1. Action of a city requiring a street railway company, upon reasonable notice, to remove its tracks and other property from the streets, does not invade the company's contractual and property rights in violation of the Constitution if its franchise to use the streets was granted by the city for a definite period which has expired. P. 255 U. S. 174. Detroit United Railway v. Detroit, 229 U. S. 39. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 255 U. S. 172

2. Certain permits, an ordinance, and a former decision considered and held not to have created any right in the plaintiff street railway, as against the City of Detroit, to continue operating in streets where its franchises had expired. P. 255 U. S. 174.

3. A street car company, after expiration of its franchise, cannot acquire new franchise rights by estoppel against the city and its people through the expenditure with their knowledge of large sums on its railway where the state constitution forbids the city to grant franchises not revocable at its will unless authorized by a popular vote. P. 255 U. S. 175. Denver v. Denver Union Water Co., 24 U. S. 178, and Detroit United Railway v. Detroit, 248 U. S. 429, explained.

4. The City of Detroit, in pursuance of its charter, passed an ordinance for the acquisition, ownership, maintenance and operation by the city of a street railway system embracing, among others, certain streets occupied by plaintiff street railway company on which, however, its franchises had expired, and the proposition was duly submitted to the electors and adopted by the requisite majority.


(a) That a purpose therein to force the plaintiff to sell its tracks, etc. at less than their fair value would not involve any violation of its constitutional rights, since the city was not bound to purchase, or the company to sell, and each might make its own bargain. P. 255 U. S. 176.

(b) Furthermore, under the charter, any contract to purchase such property must be approved at another popular election before it could be effective. P. 255 U. S. 177.

(c) Motives of city officials and of electors in acting on the proposal were not proper subjects for judicial inquiry. P. 255 U. S. 178.

(d) That misinformation alleged to have been publicly given the voters, improperly and fraudulently, by the common council, and to have misled them as to the purpose and effect of the election, but which was not complained of before the election, could not vitiate it. P. 255 U. S. 179.


This was a direct appeal from a decree of the district court, sustaining a motion to dismiss the bill, and dismissing it, for want of equity. The case is stated in the opinion. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 255 U. S. 173

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