Bradfield v. Roberts

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

175 U.S. 291

Bradfield  v.  Roberts

 Argued: October 27, 1899. --- Decided: December 4, 1899

This is a suit in equity, brought by the appellant to enjoin the defendant from paying any moneys to the directors of Providence Hospital, in the city of Washington, under an agreement entered into between the commissioners of the District of Columbia and the directors of the hospital, by virtue of the authority of an act of Congress, because of the alleged invalidity of the agreement for the reasons stated in the bill of complaint. In that bill complainant represents that he is a citizen and taxpayer of the United States and a resident of the District of Columbia, that the defendant is the Treasurer of the United States, and the object of the suit is to enjoin him from paying to or on account of Providence Hospital, in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, any moneys belonging to the United States, by virtue of a contract between the surgeon general of the army and the directors of that hospital, or by virtue of an agreement between the commissioners of the District of Columbia and such directors, under the authority of an appropriation contained in the sundry civil appropriation bill for the District of Columbia, approved June 4, 1897.

Complainant further alleged in his bill:

'That the said Providence Hospital is a private eleemosynary corporation, and that to the best of complainant's knowledge and belief it is composed of members of a monastic order or sisterhood of the Roman Catholic Church, and is conducted under the auspices of said church; that the title to its property is vested in the 'Sisters of Charity of Emmitsburg, Maryland;' that it was incorporated by a special act of Congress approved April 8, 1864, whereby, in addition to the usual powers of bodies corporate and politic, it was invested specially with 'fully power and all the rights of opening and keeping a hospital in the city of Washington for the care of such sick and invalid persons as may place themselves under the treatment and care of said corporation.'

'That in view of the sectarian character of said Providence Hospital and the specific and limited object of its creation, the said contract between the same and the surgeon general of the army and also the said agreement between the same and the commissioners of the District of Columbia are unauthorized by law, and, moreover, involve a principle and a precedent for the appropriation of the funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment, and also a precedent for giving to religious societies a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty which would, if once established, speedily obliterate the essential distinction between civil and religious functions.

'That the complainant and all other citizens and taxpayers of the United States are injured by reason of the said contract and the said agreement, in virtue whereof the public funds are being used and pledged for the advancement and support of a private and sectarian corporation, and that they will suffer irreparable damage if the same are allowed to be carried into full effect by means of payments made through or by the said defendant out of the Treasury of the United States, contrary to the Constitution and declared policy of the government.'

The agreement above mentioned, between the commissioners of the District of Columbia and the directors of Providence Hospital, is annexed to the bill, and is as follows:

'Articles of agreement entered into this sixteenth day of August, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ninety-seven, by the between the commissioners of the District of Columbia and the directors of Providence Hospital, a body corporate in said District, whereby it is agreed on the part of the commissioners of the District of Columbia—

'That they will erect on the grounds of said hospital an isolating building or ward for the treatment of minor contagious diseases, said building or ward to be erected without expense to said hospital, except such as it may elect, but to be paid out of an appropriation for that purpose contained in the District appropriation bill approved March 3, 1897, on plans to be furnished by the said commissioners, and approved by the health officer of the District of Columbia, and that when the said building or ward is fully completed it shall be truned over to the officers of Providence Hospital, subject to the following provisions:

'First. That two thirds of the entire capacity of said isolating building or ward shall be reserved for the use of such poor patients as shall be sent there by the commissioners of the District from time to time through the proper officers. For each such patient said commissioners and their successors in office are to pay at the rate of two hundred and fifty dollars ($250) per annum, for such a time as such patient may be in the hospital, subject to annual appropriations by Congress.

'Second. That persons able to pay for treatment may make such arrangements for entering the said building or ward as shall be determined by those in charge thereof, and such persons will pay the said Providence Hospital reasonable compensation for such treatment, to be fixed by the hospital authorities, but such persons shall have the privilege of selecting their own physicians and nurses, and in case physicians and nurses are selected other than those assigned by the hospital, it shall be at the expense of the patient making the request.

'And said Providence Hospital agrees to always maintain a neutral zone of forty (40) feet around said isolating building or ward and grounds connected therewith to which patients of said ward have access.

'As witness the signatures and seals of John W. Ross, John B. Wight, and Edward Burr, acting commissioners of the District of Columbia, and the corporate seal of the said The Directors of Providence Hospital and the signature of president thereof, this sixteenth day of August, A. D. 1897.'

The contract, if any, between the directors and the suregeon general of the army is not set forth in the bill, and the contents or conditions thereof do not in any way appear.

The defendant demurred to the bill on the ground that the complainant had not in and by his bill shown any right or title to maintain the same; also upon the further ground that the complainant had not stated such a case as entitled him to the relief thereby prayed or any relief as against the defendant.

Complainant joined issue upon the demurrer, and at a term of the supreme court of the District of Columbia the demurrer was overruled and the injunction granted as prayed for. 26 Wash. Law Rep. 84. Upon appeal to the court of appeals of the District the judgment was reversed, and the case remanded to the supreme court, with directions to dismiss the bill. 12 App. D. C. 453. Whereupon the complainant appealed to this court.

Mr. Joseph Bradfield for appellant

Assistant Attorney General Hoyt and Attorney General Griggs for appellee.

Mr. Justice Peckham, after stating the facts, delivered the opinion of the court:


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).