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U.S. Supreme Court

Turnpike Company v. Illinois, 96 U.S. 63 (1877)

Turnpike Company v. Illinois

96 U.S. 63


1. By analogy to the rule of the common law that a grant to a natural person without words of inheritance creates only an estate for his life, a grant of a franchise without words of perpetuity to a corporation aggregate whose duration is limited creates only an estate for its life.

2. By an Act of the Legislature of Illinois approved Feb. 13, 1847, a turnpike company was created a body corporate, to continue as such for twenty-five years from that date, with power to construct and maintain a certain turnpike, erect toll gates, and collect tolls. The state reserved the right to purchase the road at the expiration of the charter by paying to the corporation the original cost of construction, but the road, with all its appendages, was to remain in the possession of the corporation, to be used and controlled, subject to the rights and restrictions contained in the charter, until such time as the state should refund said cost. By a supplement passed in 1861, the company was authorized to extend its road, and, in consideration of keeping in repair a certain bridge and dike, to use them as a part of the road, erect a toll gate thereon, and collect tolls. The responsibility of the company did not, however, extend to the destruction of the dike by high floods. Held: 1. that the provision whereby, on the failure of the state, at the expiration of twenty-five years, to refund the original cost of the road, the company was authorized to continue in the exercise of its franchises until they should be redeemed by paying such cost, extended only to the charter and not to the supplement of 1861; 2. that the supplement merely granted to the company the use of the bridge and dike, and that the franchise to charge tolls thereon was separate and distinct from that authorizing the collection of them on the original road, and did not extend beyond the term of years for which the corporation had been created; 3. that at the expiration of that term, the state, by resuming the control of the bridge and dike without compensation to the company, did not impair the obligation of her contract with the company.

3. Quaere whether, if the company had been authorized to construct the bridge and dike, and had done so, or to acquire a proprietary interest in the property in fee, and had acquired it, the state could have taken back the property without just compensation.

4. A grant of franchises and special privileges is to be construed most strongly against the donee and in favor of the public. chanrobles.com-red

Page 96 U. S. 64

This was a proceeding by information in the nature of a quo warranto instituted on the 13th of October, 1873, in the St. Clair County Circuit Court, Illinois, by the people of the State of Illinois on the relation of one Bowman against the St. Clair County Turnpike Company, charging it with unlawfully holding and exercising, without warrant therefor, the franchise of maintaining a toll gate near Cahokia Creek, upon a street in the City of East St. Louis called Dyke Avenue, and collecting tolls for passing through the same on said street. The company justified under its charter, or act of incorporation and several supplements thereto. The plaintiff replied that the land occupied by Dyke Avenue had been dedicated by the owners thereof to the City of East St. Louis as a public street, and that the legislature, by an Act passed March 26, 1869, had granted to the said city exclusive power and control over said Dyke Avenue and imposed upon it the sole right and duty of grading, filling up, paving, sewering, and otherwise improving and keeping said street in repair and the right to abate and remove obstructions therefrom. The company demurred and insisted that this last mentioned act of the legislature impaired the obligation of the contract made with itself in and by its said charter and the supplements thereto. The county court and the supreme court of the state on appeal, held the justification of the company to be insufficient and gave judgment of ouster.

The company then sued out this writ of error.

The statutes of Illinois bearing upon the question are set forth in the opinion of the Court. chanrobles.com-red

Page 96 U. S. 65


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