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1.4: The Door Opens under the Due Process Clause

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    169992
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    Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Co. v. City of Chicago (1897)

    166 U.S. 226 (1897)

    Vote: 7-1
    Opinion: J. Harlan
    Decision: Affirmed
    Majority: J. Harlan, joined by J. Field, J. Gray, J. Brown, J. Shiras, J. White, J. Peckham
    Dissent: J. Brewer

    MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

    The constitution of Illinois provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Art. 2, § 2. It also provides: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation. Such compensation, when not made by the State, shall be ascertained by a jury, as shall be prescribed by law. The fee of land taken for railroad tracks, without consent of the owners thereof, shall remain in such owners, subject to the use for which it is taken.” …

    By the fifth article of the general statute, of Illinois, approved April 10, 1872, and relating to the incorporation of cities and villages, it was provided that “the city council shall have power, by condemnation or otherwise, to extend any street, alley or highway over or across, or to construct any sewer under or through any railroad track, right of way or land of any railroad company (within the corporate limits); but where no compensation is made to such railroad company, the city shall restore such railroad track, right of way or land to its former state, or in a sufficient manner not to have impaired its usefulness.” …

    The ninth article of the same statute declared that when the corporate authorities of a city or village provided by ordinance for the making of any local improvement authorized to be made, the making of which would require that private property be taken or damaged for public use, the city or village should file in its name a petition in some court of record of the county praying “that the just compensation to be made for private property to be taken or damaged” for the improvement or purpose specified in the ordinance be ascertained by a jury …

    By an ordinance of the city council of Chicago approved October 9, 1880, it was ordained that Rockwell Street in that city be opened and widened from West 18th Street to West 19th Street by condemning therefor, in accordance with the above act of April 10, 1872, certain parcels of land owned by individuals, and also certain parts of the right of way in that city of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, a corporation of Illinois …

    In execution of that ordinance a petition was filed by the city, November 12, 1890, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, for the condemnation of the lots, pieces or parcels of land and property proposed to be taken or damaged for the proposed improvement, and praying that the just compensation required for private property taken or damaged be ascertained by a jury …

    The parties interested in the property described in the petition, including the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Company, were admitted as defendants in the proceeding. In their verdict the jury fixed the just compensation to be paid to the respective individual owners of the lots, pieces and parcels of land and property sought to be taken or damaged by the proposed improvements, and fixed one dollar as just compensation to the railroad company in respect of those parts of its right of way described in the city’s petition as necessary to be used for the purposes of the proposed street …

    It is not contended, as it could not be, that the constitution of Illinois deprives the railroad company of any right secured by the Fourteenth Amendment. For the state constitution not only declares that no person shall be deprived of his property without due process of law, but that private property shall not be taken or damaged for public use without just compensation. But it must be observed that the prohibitions of the amendment refer to all the instrumentalities of the State, to its legislative, executive and judicial authorities, and, therefore, whoever by virtue of public position under a state government deprives another of any right protected by that amendment against deprivation by the State, “violates the constitutional inhibition; and as he acts in the name and for the State, and is clothed with the State’s power, his act is that of the State.” This must be so, or, as we have often said, the constitutional prohibition has no meaning, and “the State has clothed one of its agents with power to annul or evade it.” …

    When the government, through its’ established agencies, interferes with the title to one’s property, or with his independent enjoyment of it, and its action is called in question as not in accordance with the law of the land, we are to test its validity by those principles of civil liberty and constitutional protection which have become established in our system of laws, and not generally by rules that pertain to forms of procedure merely. In judicial proceedings the law of the land requires a hearing before condemnation, and judgment before dispossession; but when property is appropriated by the government to public uses, or the legislature interferes to give direction to its title through remedial statutes, different considerations from those which regard the controversies between man and man must prevail, different proceedings are required, and we have only to see whether the interference can be justified by the established rules applicable to the special case. Due process of law in each particular case means such an exertion of the powers of government as the settled maxims of law permit and sanction, and under such safeguards for the protection of individual rights as those maxims prescribe for the class of cases to which the one in question belongs …

    In every government there is inherent authority to appropriate the property of the citizen for the necessities of the State, and constitutional provisions do not confer the power, though they generally surround it with safeguards to prevent abuse. The restraints are, that when specific property is taken, a pecuniary compensation, agreed upon or determined by judicial inquiry, must be paid.” …

    In our opinion, a judgment of a state court, even if it be authorized by statute, whereby private property is taken for the State or under its direction for public use, without compensation made or secured to the owner, is, upon principle and authority, wanting in the due process of law required by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and the affirmance of such judgment by the highest court of the State is a denial by that State of a right secured to the owner by that instrument …

    It is further contended that the railroad company was denied the equal protection of the laws in that by the final judgment individual property owners were awarded, as compensation for contiguous property appropriated to the public use by the same proceeding, the value of their land taken, while only nominal compensation was given to the company-the value of its land, simply as land, across which the street was opened, not being taken into account. This contention is without merit. Compensation was awarded to individual owners upon the basis of the value of the property actually taken, having regard to the uses for which it was best adapted and the purposes for which it was held and used and was likely always to be used. Compensation was awarded to the railroad company upon the basis of the value of the thing actually appropriated by the public … In the case of individual owners, they were deprived of the entire use and enjoyment of their property, while the railroad company was left in the possession and use of its property for the purposes for which it was being used and for which it was best adapted, subject only to the right of the public to have a street across it. In this there was no denial of the equal protection of the laws …

    We have examined all the questions of law arising on the record of which this court may take cognizance, and which, in our opinion, are of sufficient importance to require notice at our hands, and finding no error, the judgment is Affirmed.



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