Freeport Water Company v. Freeport/Dissent White
|Freeport Water Company v. Freeport/Dissent Douglass White by
United States Supreme Court
FREEPORT WATER COMPANY v. FREEPORT
Argued: October 31, 1900. --- Decided: March 25, 1901
Mr. Justice White, with whom concurs Mr. Justice Brewer, Mr. Justice Brown, and Mr. Justice Peckham, dissenting:
The far-reaching consequences which must result from the principles upon which this case is decided, and the conflict between those principles and what I conceive to be previous well-settled rules of law, impel me to state the reasons for my dissent.
The legislature of Illinois, in 1872, passed a law entitled 'An Act to Enable Cities and Villages to Contract for a Supply of Water for Public Use, and to Levy and Collect a Tax to Pay for Water Supplied.' The act in full is as follows:
'Sec. 1. Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly, That in all cities and villages where waterworks may hereafter be constructed by an incorporated company, the city or village authorities in such cities and villages may contract with such incorporated company for a supply of water for public use, for a period not exceeding thirty years.
'Sec. 2. Any such city or village, so contracting, may levy and collect a tax on all taxable property within such city or village, to pay for the water so supplied.'
This act was approved on April 9, 1872. Public Laws of Illinois, 1871-1872, p. 271.
At the same session an elaborate law was passed entitled 'An Act to Provide for the Incorporation of Cities and Villages.' Article 10, under the heading '(Miscellaneous Provisions)-Water' in § 1, provided as follows:
'Sec. 1. The city council or board of trustees shall have power to provide for a supply of water by the boring or sinking of artesian wells, or by the construction and regulation of wells, pumps, cisterns, reservoirs, or waterworks, and to borrow money therefor, and to authorize any person or private corporation to construct and maintain the same at such rates as may be fixed by ordinance, and for a period not exceeding thirty years; also to prevent the unnecessary waste of water; to prevent the pollution of the water, and injuries to such wells, pumps, cisterns, reservoirs or waterworks.'
This was followed, in subsections 2 and 3, by the granting of full power to municipal corporations, in the event they determined to construct their own waterworks, to acquire land, etc., to levy taxes, and to provide for the collection of water rates or assessments for the use of the water to be supplied to the inhabitants from the works to be constructed. This act was approved on April 10, 1872. Public Laws of Illinois, 1871-1872, p. 259.
At the same session an act was passed entitled 'An Act Concerning Corporations.' It was in effect a general law regulating the organization of private corporations in the state of Illinois. Section 9 thereof, in part, reads as follows:
'Sec. 9. The general assembly shall at all times have power to prescribe such regulations and provisions as it may deem advisable, which regulations and provisions shall be binding on any and all corporations formed under the provisions of this act. . . .'
This act was approved April 18, 1872. Public Laws of Illinois, 1871-1872, p. 299.
None of the foregoing acts contained an emergency clause; and hence, although approved on different dates, each act went into force on the same day, viz., July 1, 1872. Constitution of 1870, Illinois, Art. 4, § 13; 1 Starr & C. Ann. Stat. 2d ed. p. 125.
The defendant in error, the city of Freeport, a municipal corporation, on June 6, 1882, enacted an ordinance giving Nathan Shelton or his assigns the right of constructing, maintaining, and operating waterworks for the term of thirty years from the 1st day of July, 1882, for the purpose of furnishing fire protection to, and for the supply of, said city of Freeport and the inhabitants thereof with water suitable for domestic and manufacturing purposes. The ordinance consisted of fourteen sections. It provided for a stand pipe, that the pumping machinery should possess a capacity of at least 3,000,000 gallons of water in twenty-four hours, to be increased as the growth of the city and its needs required, and that not less than 8 miles of mains, of specified dimensions and quality, should be laid for the distribution of water. Ample provision was also made for the extension of these mains by the water company, at its cost, upon the direction of the city government. The obligation was further imposed upon Shelton or his assigns to erect double-nozzle fire hydrants at the rate of not less than ten to each mile of main pipe, whenever and wherever the city council should direct. Payment was to be made by the city for fire hydrants by an annual rental for the first 100 of $100 each; for all said hydrants over 100 and up to 150, an annual rental of $80 each; and for all said hydrants over 150, an annual rental of $50 each. It was expressly provided, in § 8 of the ordinance, that the hydrant rentals 'shall continue during the full term specified in this ordinance, unless said city shall sooner become the owner of said waterworks as hereinbefore provided, in which event said rental shall cease.' By § 6 the city reserved to itself the right to acquire the waterworks by purchase at the expiration of thirty years from July 1, 1882, the valuation of the property to be determined as provided in the section.
The ordinance contained provisions for the use of water 'free of charge from the hydrants on streets curbed and guttered, for the purpose of washing and flushing the gutters, and from any hydrant for the purpose of flushing any and all sewers in said city whenever the city council shall deem it necessary for sanitary purposes, upon giving notice to the person in charge of said waterworks.' It was also provided that 'the city shall have water free of charge for the use of the fire department, and for furnishing the city hall and the offices occupied for city purposes, for all public schools of the city, for all churches, and for four public fountains for drinking only, and one fountain in the public square or park should the city erect the same.' Full specifications were contained in the ordinance as to the maximum charge to be made for water to be furnished individual consumers. In other words, the ordinance formulated a complete system, not only for the construction of the works, but for their operation during the time specified therein.
It was provided that the ordinance should become a binding contract upon its acceptance in writing by Shelton within a stated time, and when so accepted its provisions should not be changed, altered, or amended in any way without the consent of both parties thereto or their successors or assigns.
On June 27, 1872, within the time limited, Shelton filed his written acceptance of the contract. In the following August he assigned all his rights to the plaintiff in error, a corporation organized under the provisions of the general statute relating to private corporations, approved April 18, 1872, above referred to. The assignment was recognized by the municipality, and it is unquestioned that the works were constructed in accordance with the contract, and that all obligations which it imposed were discharged by the company to the satisfaction of the municipality.
Up to January 1, 1896, under the contract, 121 hydrants were placed in position, and up to that date the annual rental as provided in the contract was regularly paid by the municipality.
In 1891 an act was passed by the legislature of the state of Illinois entitled, 'An Act to Enable Cities, Towns, and Villages Incorporated under any General or Special Law of this State to Fix the Rates and Charges for the Supply of Water Furnished by Any Individual, Company, or Corporation to any Such City, Town, or Village and the Inhabitants Thereof.' Briefly stated, this act, as its title indicated, empowered municipal corporations to prescribe by ordinance 'maximum rates and charges for the supply of water furnished by such individual, company, or corporation to such city, town, or village and the inhabitants thereof, such rates and charges to be just and reasonable.' The act, moreover, provided that the reasonableness of the rates prescribed by the municipality might be tested by proceedings before a designated court.
Availing itself of the power conferred by this statute, the city of Freeport on February 11, 1896, passed an ordinance reducing the rates stipulated to be paid under the contract of 1882. It is necessary, however, only to consider, for the purposes of this case, the reduction made on the contract price for the public hydrants. At the reduction they were to be paid for annually at the uniform the hydrants, the ordinance in effect retained all the contract obligations for the benefit of the city resting upon the water company, among them being the duty to lay additional mains as directed, and to furnish free water for schools, churches, and other purposes. The city refusing to pay any longer for the hydrants at the original contract price, an action was instituted to recover an amount asserted to be then due under the contract. Without stating the form of pleadings, it suffices to say that on the one hand the right of the water company to recover according to the rates fixed by the original contract was asserted, and on the other the obligation of the city to pay only at the reduced rates was alleged. It was expressly charged in the pleadings on behalf of the water company that the enforcement of the ordinance reducing the rates would be an impairment of the obligations of the contract, and hence a violation of the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States.
The case was ultimately taken to the supreme court of Illinois, and, upon the authority of the analogous case of Danville v. Danville Water Co. 178 Ill. 290, 53 N. E. 118, judgment went in favor of the city and against the water company. 186 Ill. 179, 57 N. E. 862. The opinion of the court in the Danville Case was not unanimous, three of the seven judges dissenting. Without attempting to reproduce in its details the reasoning by which the court reached its conclusion, it seems to me that all the views expressed are embodied in the following propositions:
That the fixing of water rates was a public attribute, which from its nature was incapable of being alienated or restrained by the obligations of a contract, even although express authority to do so was conferred by the legislature on the municipality. That even if this was not the case, to contract for rates to be paid for a definite term required authority of the legislature, and that no such grant to the municipality had been conferred in this case, because, albeit the legislative acts gave power to contract for a definite time for a supply of water, this did not give the right to fix the rates to be paid for the water during the time for which the municipality was authorized to contract; the argument being that the power to contract for a definite time is one thing, and the fixing of the rates for the same time for the water contracted for is another and different thing. That even under the hypothesis that the power to contract for a definite time included the authority to fix the rates for such time, the reservation found in the general private incorporation law operated to confer upon the legislature the right to change the rates, because the contract although originally made by the city with an individual, had been assigned to the defendant, a private corporation organized under the general private incorporation law.
These propositions practically embrace all but one of the contentions urged in the argument at bar, and their consideration will therefore substantially dispose of the controversy, except in the particular above referred to, which we shall separately notice before concluding. Inverting the order in which they have been stated, I come to consider their correctness. In logical sequence the questions which arise are these: Was there power in the legislature to confer upon the municipality authority to contract for water for public use, and fix by contract the rates to be paid by the city for a stated period? If so, was such power conferred upon the municipality, and did it contract under it? If it did so, was the contract to that effect taken out of the protection of the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States by reason of the reservations contained in the general private incorporation law under which the water company was organized?
It is not even intimated in the opinion below that there was any express limitation in the Constitution of the state of Illinois restricting the power of the legislature to authorize a municipality to contract for water for public use for a fixed period, and to agree upon the rates to be paid therefor for such time. That in the absence of such restriction the legislature of a state may contract by statute, or may empower a municipality to contract, for water for public use for a stated period, and fix the rates to be paid during such term for the same, and that such contract if made is protected from impairment by the Constitution of the United States,-is no longer an open question. New Orleans Waterwarks Co. v. Rivers (1885) 115 U.S. 674, 29 L. ed. 525, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 273.
In that case the exclusive right granted was to continue for fifty years, and the act which it was held constituted a contract stipulated for the furnishing of a supply of water for public use during the continuance of the contract, 'in consideration whereof its franchises and property [of the company], used in accordance with its charter, were exempted from taxation, state, municipal, and parochial.' (p. 677, L. ed. p. 526, and Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 275.) After observing that the case before the court was controlled by the decision in New Orleans Gaslight Co. v. Louisiana Light & H. P. & Mfg. Co. 115 U.S. 650, 29 L. ed 516, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 252, the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Harlan, said (p. 680, L. ed. p. 527, and Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 276):
'The two are not to be distinguished upon principle; for if it was competent for the state, before the adoption of her present Constitution, as we have held it was, to provide for supplying the city of New Orleans and its people with illuminating gas by means of pipes, mains, and conduits placed at the cost of a private corporation, in its public ways, it was equally competent for her to make a valid contract with a private corporation for supplying, by the same means, pure and wholesome water for like use in the same city.'
In the Gas Company Case, beginning at page 660, L. ed. p. 520, and Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 257, the court considered and held untenable the contention 'that, as the supplying of New Orleans and its inhabitants with gas has relation to the public comfort, and, in some sense, to the public health and the public safety, and, for that reason, is an object to which the police power extends, it was not competent for one legislature to limit or restrict the power of a subsequent legislature in respect to those subjects.' After reviewing various decisions bearing upon this feature of the case, the court said (p. 664, L. ed. p. 521, and Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 260):
'Numerous other cases could be cited as establishing the doctrine that the state may by contract restrict the exercise of some of its most important powers. We particularly refer to those in which it is held that an exemption from taxation for a valuable consideration at the time advanced, or for services to be thereafter performed, constitutes a contract within the meaning of the Constitution. St. Anna's Asylum v. New Orleans, 105 U.S. 362, 368, 26 L. ed. 1128, 1130; Home of the Friendless v. Rouse, 8 Wall. 430, 19 L. ed. 495; New Jersey v. Wilson, 7 Cranch, 164, 166, 3 L. ed. 303; Piqua Branch of State Bank v. Knoop, 16 How. 369, 376, 14 L. ed. 977, 980; Gordon v. Appeal Tax Court, 3 How. 133, 11 L. ed. 529; Wilmington & W. R. Co. v. Reid, 13 Wall. 264, 266, 20 L. ed. 568, 569; Humphrey v. Peques, 16 Wall. 244, 248, 249, 21 L. ed. 326, 327; Farrington v. Tennessee, 95 U.S. 679, 689, 24 L. ed. 558, 561.'
The doctrine of the cases just cited was applied in St. Tammany Waterworks Co. v. New Orleans Waterworks Co. 120 U.S. 64, 30 L. ed. 563, 7 Sup. Ct. Rep. 405. It was also recognized and applied in Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co. 172 U.S. 7, 9, 43 L. ed. 345, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 77. In that case the court held valid a stipulation contained in a contract with the water company by which the city of Walla Walla bound itself not to erect waterworks during the stipulated life of a contract, viz., twenty-five years. Speaking of the earlier decisions to which we have above referred, the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Brown, said (p. 9, L. ed. p. 345, and Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 81): 'It is true that in these cases the franchise was granted directly by the state legislature, but it is equally clear that such franchises may be bestowed upon corporations by the municipal authorities, provided the right to do so is given by their charters. State legislatures may not only exercise their sovereignty directly, but may delegate such portions of it to inferior legislative bodies as, in their judgment, is desirable for local purposes. As was said by the supreme court of Ohio in State ex rel. Atty. Gen. v. Cincinnati Gaslight & Coke Co. 18 Ohio St. 262, 293: 'And assuming that such a power' (granting franchises to establish gas works) 'may be exercised directly, we are not disposed to doubt that it may also be exercised indirectly, through the agency of a municipal corporation clearly invested, for policy purposes, with the necessary authority.' This case is directly in line with those above cited. See also Wright v. Nagle, 101 U.S. 791, 25 L. ed. 921; Hamilton Gaslight & Coke Co. v. Hamilton, 146 U.S. 258, 266, 36 L. ed. 963, 967, 13 Sup. Ct. Rep. 90; Bacon v. Texas, 163 U.S. 207, 216, 41 L. ed. 132, 136, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 1023; New Orleans Waterworks Co. v. New Orleans, 164 U.S. 471, 41 L. ed. 518, 17 Sup. Ct. Rep. 161.
'Where a contract for a supply of water is innocuous in itself, and is carried out with due regard to the good order of the city and the health of its inhabitants, the aid of the police power cannot be invoked to abrogate or impair it.'
That a city if authorized by the legislature, in the absence of limitations in the state Constitution on the legislative power, could validly stipulate in a contract for a supply of water that the existing rates should not be reduced by the municipality during the contract period, was expressly adjudged in the recent case of Los Angeles v. Los Angeles City Water Co. (1900) 177 U.S. 558, 44 L. ed. 886, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 736. Indeed, in that case, at the time the contract was made, the city was without authority to make it, but, inasmuch as subsequently its action had been ratified by legislative enactment, the effect of such ratification was held to be equivalent to a prior original grant. But I need not further pursue this aspect of the case, since, as I understand the opinion of the court, it does not sanction the theory adopted by the supreme court of Illinois on this subject, and hence does not, therefore, in terms overrule the principle so firmly settled by the previous decisions of this court, that the subject-matter of a water supply may be contracted for a definite time, and that, when so contracted for, the obligations of the contract are protected from impairment by the Constitution of the United States.
That in the present case some authority was delegated by the legislature to the municipality to contract for water is unquestioned, and it is also undisputed that under the right thus conferred the municipality acted in making the contract which is now in controversy. The issue which, then, arises, is simply this, Did the authority conferred by the legislature upon the municipality authorize it to contract, and in doing so to fix the rates to be paid for such supply during the time stated? Of course, an answer to this question involves an analysis of the statutes of Illinois under which the authority to make the asserted contract arises.
Before approaching the text of the statutes it is well to state the scope of the duty which devolves upon this court in determining whether there was a contract, and the principles which must control in doing so. It is elementary, that where a contract is asserted to have been impaired by subsequent state legislation, this court is constrained to form an independent judgment as to the existence of the contract and its terms. It is equally true that where the contract originates from a state statute, if, in the exercise of an independent judgment, the existence or nature of the contract becomes balanced in doubt, such doubt will be resolved in favor of the construction given to the state statute by the court of last resort of the state. But this qualification is not a limitation upon the duty to form an independent judgment, and does not imply that, because the statute has been construed against the contract by the state court, therefore the matter is 'balanced in doubt.' If the rule did so imply, it would follow that in every case where a right arose from a state statute, and the court below held there was no contract, the review of that question in this court would be wholly nugatory, since the decision below would engender the doubt, and where doubt arose the decision of the state court would have to be followed. The rule, then, to be applied when the matter is balanced in doubt, is this, and nothing more, that if in using its independent judgment as it is its duty to do, a serious doubt arises in the mind of the court, then the interpretation by the state court, acting upon a serious doubt created by the exercise of independent judgment, will cause such judgment to preponderate in favor of the construction given by the state court to its own statute. New Orleans Bd. of Liquidation v. Louisiana, 179 U.S. 622, 638, 45 L. ed. --, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 263.
It is unquestioned also that where a right asserted, if enforced, will put a contractual limitation upon the power of the lawmaking authority of a state, presumably to be exercised for the public benefit, doubt is to be resolved in favor of the continued existence of the lawmaking power. In other words, that no contract limitation on the powers of government can be upheld by mere implication, or sustained if there be doubt on the subject. The existence of such a contract limitation must arise clearly and by express intendment.
Bearing these principles in mind, I come to consider the legislative acts by which it is asserted the contract in question arose. Whilst it is quite clear to my mind that the powers conferred by the respective statutes were to be exerted under different circumstances, and that the contract which is here in question came more especially within the scope of the act approved April 10, 1872, I shall not stop to discuss this view, since, whether the statutes be treated separately or together, they fully authorize the contract. Under this view I first approach the consideration of the act of April 9, 187i. Its language is that in all cities and villages where waterworks may hereafter be constructed, the city or village authorities 'may contract . . . for a supply of water for public use for a period not exceeding thirty years.' And the 2d section conferred upon a municipality so contracting power to levy taxes 'to pay for the water so supplied.' Clearly, authority is expressly conferred to contract for a supply for the period stated. The argument is that this right to contract for the water for the period of thirty years did not include the power to agree upon the sum to be paid for it for that period. In other words, the contention is that the right to contract for the purchase existed for the stated period without the power to fix the price, which was an inseparable and necessary concomitant of the right itself. This inevitably follows, since the contract for the supply for a fixed time, and the payment to be made for it, are one and each the correlative of the other. That the statute contemplated that the contract should include the price to be paid is manifestly the result of the 2d section, which confers upon the municipality the right to raise by taxation the money to pay the sum stipulated. Upon the hypothesis that the power to contract for the supply for thirty years did not include the agreement to pay for the supply during the stated period, the 2d section of the act would become wholly superfluous. Indeed, the theory of construction which excludes the rates from the power to contract for the period specified would render the whole act meaningless. Undoubtedly, if waterworks existed and use was made of the streets of the city by the owner of the works, in the absence of contract the power to compel the furnishing of water at just and reasonable rates would exist by operation of law. It follows that the statute should not be construed as merely authorizing the doing of that which could have been done without its passage, but must in reason be held to have empowered the obtaining of a water supply and facilities by way of extension of the water system, free water for certain public purposes and fire protection and all the other incidents to such contract, for the period named and at the rates to be agreed upon for such period. The same view obtains from considering the provisions of the 1st section of article 10 of the act of April 10, 1872. By this section municipal authorities were authorized to provide for a supply of water by constructing municipal waterworks, or to accomplish the same purpose by authorizing 'any person or private corporation to construct and maintain the same at such rates as may be fixed by ordinance and for a period not exceeding thirty years.' There was here an express delegation of authority to municipalities, if they did not wish to assume the burden of constructing their own waterworks, to contract with an individual or private corporation to construct and maintain them at such rates as may be fixed by ordinance and for a period not exceeding thirty years.' My mind fails to perceive how language could more directly and positively confer the authority to contract for the supply and agree as to the rates to be paid therefor for a period of thirty years. Adopting the most technical rules of construction, I do not understand how the words, 'at such rates as may be fixed by ordinance and for a period not exceeding thirty years,' can be construed as relating to the construction and maintenance of the works for that period, and not to the sum to be paid for the supply for the same length of time. The view adopted by the court below was that the words, 'at such rates as may be fixed by ordinance,' can be taken out of the text and be treated as following, and not as preceding, the words, 'and for a period not exceeding thirty years.' But this, as I understand it, instead of construing the statute, would be the equivalent of writing a new one. Obviously, whilst the statute authorized a contract for a supply and the rates to be paid therefor, it contemplated that the rates must in the nature of things be fixed by the passage of an ordinance to be embodied in the contract, and therefore the words, 'may be fixed by ordinance,' were inserted. In other words, in order to insure under the contract the rates to be agreed upon, it provided that by ordinance these rates should be fixed for the designated period. Both laws, as I have stated, went into effect on the same day, but whilst relating to cognate subjects, contemplated the exercise of the power conferred as a result of somewhat different conditions. The one, the law approved April 9, had in view a contract for a water supply to be made where waterworks were established, and conferred the authority to contract for such supply under such circumstances, and to fix the price to be paid for the supply for the contract term specified in the statute. The other, the law approved April 10, 1872, authorized a contract to procure the construction of waterworks, and also, in doing so, to fix the rates for the definite period which that statute likewise enumerated. To construe the words, may be fixed by ordinance and for a period not exceeding thirty years,' as found in the statute as a legislative prohibition on the municipality to fix rates for the period stated in the law, is but to say that the power to contract and fix the rates for the definite time was at one and the same identical moment both given and prohibited.
But the construction adopted below and now maintained by the court, as I understand it, leads yet further. As the words, 'may be fixed by ordinance and for a period not exceeding thirty years,' are not found in the law authorizing a contract for water supply where waterworks were established when the agreement was made, they cannot be applied to such a contract. The following, then, is the inevitable result of the construction given to the statutes: The power to contract and fix rates for a definite time was conferred in the case where such a contract was made with an established water company. This power, however, was not given, but was expressly prohibited, where the purpose of the contract was to procure the building of waterworks and the purchase of a supply of water to be furnished from the works when constructed. This is but to say that where municipalities were legally entitled to secure the water supply without the necessity for a contract, and at reasonable rates, they were unauthorized to contract for a definite time and at rates to be fixed for that period. But in the case where municipalities had no such power (for they could not, of course, compel an individual or corporation to undertake the expense of erecting waterworks), the power to fix rates for a definite period was absolutely prohibited. In other words, the power was conferred to contract for the supply and fix the price for a definite time where it was not at all needed, and it was absolutely forbidden in the case where in the nature of things such a power was essential. Considering the statutes separately, no doubt whatever, then, arises in my mind as to their import. When they are construed in pari materia this conclusion becomes to me an absolute conviction. This must be the result, since it is impossible, in reason, to hold that, if the meaning of each statute is plain when considered separately the significance of each disappears when they are considered together.
The contract as executed, beyond peradventure, expressly fixed the rates for the term for which it was agreed the supply should be furnished. It imposed, moreover, upon the water company duties to construct and extend the works, which could only arise from contract, and which cannot reasonably be assumed to have been entered into but upon the basis of an agreed compensation. The obligations on the water company were not simply to furnish a supply of water in accordance with the capacity of the plant existing at the inception of the contract, or provided for therein, but the company came under the duty of largely extending its plant at the discretion of the municipality during the statutory period covered by the contract. The company, moreover, agreed to furnish a large volume of water during the same period without charge. It is inconceivable that all these obligations would have been assumed upon the hypothesis that they were to be performed during the thirty years without any previous understanding or agreement as to the payment to be made during the same time.
Various authorities are cited in the opinion of the court below, and were referred to in argument, upon the theory that they support the contention that where authority is given to contract for a supply of water for a fixed period, this power to contract does not, as a necessary incident, import authority to also agree upon the rates for the same period. In other words, the authorities cited, it is contended, separate the inseparable.
All the authorities cited are excerpted in the margin. I do not pause to analyze them, contenting myself with the statement that not a single one of them, except the decision of a lower appellate court in Illinois, rendered subsequent to the execution of the contract here considered, has any relation to the proposition which they are cited to maintain. They all proceed upon the theory that where authority is given to a municipality or official board to contract, without any specification of the time, the municipality or board can contract only for a reasonable period, to be determined usually by the tenure of office of the official board. That is, in the absence of a specification of time in the statute, a limit is to be implied resulting from the nature of the functions of the officials by whom the contract is made. I cannot conceive upon what principle these authorities are held to control a case where in the statute conferring authority the time was expressly fixed. Indeed, the decisions in Illinois (among them not only the cases cited below, but others which were referred to in those cases), which are now relied upon to sustain the proposition that a power to contract for a supply of a commodity or the services of an individual does not include the authority to agree upon the compensation to be paid, actually refute the contention which it is alleged they sustain. Thus, in Millikin v. Edgar County, 142 Ill. 528, 18 L. R. A. 447, 32 N. E. 493; Davis v. School Directors, 92 Ill. 294; and Stevenson v. School Directors, 87 Ill. 255, though it was held, from a consideration of co-related statutes, that where authority was conferred upon statutory boards to employ individuals to render public services, but no period was mentioned in the statute for the duration of such hiring, a contract of hiring might only lawfully be made for the current year, it was conceded that the power existed, as a necessary result of the right to contract, to fix the compensation for such period. These cases demonstrate the unsoundness of the contention, here asserted, that the contract under consideration should be dismembered by disassociating the right to fix rates from the authority to contract for the period authorized by statute, and they also, in my opinion, refute the assumption that because the statute gave express power to fix rates by ordinance, thereby there did or could arise a limitation on the authority to contract for the price for the term for which the contract was authorized.
The contract in its entirety being, then, valid, the question which arises is, Did the power to destroy the contract arise from the reservation contained in the general private incorporation law?
In considering this question it must be borne in mind that there was no reservation whatever of the power to repeal, alter, or amend contained in the law regulating public corporations, nor was such a reservation found in the Constitution of the state. The power conferred upon municipalities to contract for a supply of water or for the construction of waterworks authorized them to contract with individuals as well as corporations, and in this particular instance the contract was made with an individual. It is clear, then, that any reservation in the private incorporation act would not have acted upon the contract for the supply of water if that contract had remained in the hands of an individual. To hold, then, that the provision of the 9th section of the law regulating private corporations, which reserved to the general assembly the power to prescribe such regulations and provisions as it might deem advisable as to such corporations, retained the power to abrogate a contract like the one here involved, would import that, although there was no reservation whatever to abrogate or change the contracts as to water supply, made by a municipal corporation, the private incorporation law was intended to deprive private corporations of the power to contract with municipal corporations as to water supply. That is to say, that public corporations were fully authorized to make irrevocable contracts, but such agreements became revocable when a private corporation was the other contracting party. But, aside from these considerations, the views of the contract which I have already expressed, to may mind clearly demonstrate the inapplicability of the reservation relied upon. The reservation, as I have shown, went into effect on the same day as did the laws which expressly and specifically authorized the making, by municipal corporations, of a contract for a supply of water for a designated period with individuals or corporations. The statutes having gone into effect upon the same day, it would be beyond reason to construe the mere reservation of the legislative right to regulate private corporations as abrogating and destroying the express legislative authority to contract for a supply of water for a specified and definite period. To do so would be, by a mere implication, in effect to repeal and set aside the express authority conferred by the statutes, and would amount to holding that the authority had been conferred in the one breath and had been retracted in the other.
Indeed, the statute of 1891 which conferred the power to regulate water rates-under the authority of which the ordinance here complained of reducing the rates was passed-shows on its face that it was not enacted under the authority to regulate private corporations, but upon the supposed existence in the legislature of a common-law right to fix rates, any contract to the contrary notwithstanding. This will become manifest when it is observed that the statute in question authorized municipalities to fix the rates for the supply of water, whether furnished by private individuals or corporations.
Although no reference was made to it in the opinion below, it is suggested in argument that, as there was a provision in the Constitution of the state of Illinois forbidding a grant of exclusive privileges, therefore the contract here considered was void because, it is asserted, such contract expressly conferred an exclusive right and privilege. It is, however, settled that the mere making of a contract for a water supply for a definite time and the fixing of rates for such time, accompanied with an obligation that the municipality itself would not construct waterworks for such period, does not amount to a grant of an exclusive privilege. Walla Walla v. Walla Walla Water Co. 172 U.S. 1, 14, 17, 43 L. ed. 341, 347, 348, 19 Sup. Ct. Rep. 77. This being beyond question, it clearly follows that, even upon the hypothesis that the contract in this case contained an express or implied stipulation that the city would not grant to anyone else the right to use the streets of the city for the purposes of a waterwork system during the life of the contract, the stipulation for such exclusive right, and not the contract, would come within the inhibition of the provision of the Constitution. We say this arguendo only, as the controversy here presented involves the validity of the contract in so far as it affected the supply for public use and fixed the rates of such supply during the period stated.
In my opinion, the contract having been expressly authorized for a definite period, the rates agreed upon could not, during the term of the contract, be changed without violating the contract clause of the Constitution of the United States; and I therefore dissent from the judgment holding otherwise.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).|