Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

value of adjacent property ; the removal of a county or State capital will often reduce very largely the value of all the real estate of . the place from whence it was removed: but in neither case can the parties, whose interests would be injuriously affected, enjoin the act, or claim compensation from the public. The general laws of the State may be so changed as to transfer, from one town to another, the obligation to support certain individuals, who may become entitled to support as paupers, and the Constitution will present no impediment. The granting of a cliarter to a new corporation may sometimes render valueless the franchise of an existing corporation ; but unless the State by contract has pre

cluded itself from such new grant, the incidental injury [* 385] can constitute no obstacle. But indeed it seems idle to

specify instances, inasmuch as all changes in the laws of the State are liable to inflict incidental injury upon individuals, and, if every citizen was entitled to remuneration for such injury, the most beneficial and necessary changes in the law might be found impracticable of accomplishment.

We have now endeavored to indicate what are and what are not to be regarded as vested rights, and to classify the cases in which individual interests, in possession or expectancy, are protected

See ante, p. 208, and cases cited in note 2. Also, Wilkinson v. Cheatham, 43 Geo. 258.

? Goshen v. Richmond, 4 Allen, 460; Bridgewater v. Plymouth, 97 Mass. 390.

3 The State of Massachusetts granted to a corporation the right to construct a toll-bridge across the Charles River, under a charter which was to continue for forty years, afterwards extended to seventy, at the end of which period the bridge was to become the property of the commonwealth. During the term the corporation was to pay 2001. annually to Harvard College. Forty-two years after the bridge was opened for passengers, the State incorporated a company for the purpose of erecting another bridge over the same river, a short distance only from the first, and which would accommodate the same passengers. The necessary effect would be to decrease greatly the value of the first franchise, if not to render it altogether worthless. But the first charter was not exclusive in its terms; no contract was violated in granting the second; the resulting injury was incidental to the exercise of an undoubted right by the State, and as all the vested rights of the first corporation still remained, though reduced in value by the new grant, the case was one of damage without legal injury. Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 7 Pick. 344, and 11 Pet. 420. See also Turnpike Co. v. State, 3 Wall. 210 ; Piscataqua Bridge v. New Hampshire Bridge, 7 N. H. 35; English v. New Haven, &c., Co. 32 Conn. 240; Binghampton Bridge Case, 27 N. Y. 87, and 3 Wall. 51.

against being devested by the direct interposition of legislative authority. Some other cases may now be considered, in which legislation has endeavored to control parties as to the manner in which they should make use of their property, or has permitted claims to be created against it through the action of other parties against the will of the owners. We do not allude now to the control which the State may possess through an exercise of the police power, - a power which is merely one of regulation with a

a view to the best interests and the most complete enjoyment of rights by all, — but to that which, under a claim of State policy, and without any reference to wrongful act or omission by the owner, would exercise a supervision over his enjoyment of undoubted rights, or which, in some cases, would compel him to recognize and satisfy demands upon his property which have been created without his assent.

In former times sumptuary laws were sometimes passed, and they were eren deemed essential in republics to restrain the luxury so fatal to that species of government.1 But the ideas which suggested such laws are now exploded utterly, and no one would seriously attempt to justify them in the present age. The right of every man to do what he will with his own, not interfering with the reciprocal riglit of others, is accepted among the fundamentals of our law. The instances of attempt to interfere with it have not been numerous since the early colonial days. A notable instance of an attempt to substitute the legislative judgment for that of the proprietor, regarding the manner in which he should use and employ his property, may be mentioned. In the State of Kentucky an act was at one time passed to compel the owners of wild lands to make certain improvements upon them within a specified time, and declared them forfeited to the State in case the statute was not

1 Montesq. Sp. of the Laws, B. 7. Such Laws, though common in some countries, have never been numerous in England. See references to the legislation of this character, 4 BI. Com. 170. Some of these statutes prescribed the number of courses permissable at dinner or other meal, while others were directed to restraining extravagance in dress. See Hallam, Mid. Ages, c. 9, pt. II. ; and as to Roman sumptuary laws, Encyc. Metrop. Vol. X. p. 110. Adam Smith said of such laws, “ It is the highest impertinence and presumption in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense, either by sumptuary laws, or by prohibiting the importation of foreign luxuries." Wealth of Nations, B. 2, c. 3. As tó prohibitory liquor laws, see post, 581-584.

complied with. It would be difficult to frame, consistently with the general principles of free government, a plausible argument in support of such a statute. It was not an exercise of the right of eminent domain, for that appropriates property to some specific public use on making compensation. It was not taxation, for that is simply an apportionment of the burden of supporting the government. It was not a police regulation, for that could not go beyond

preventing an improper use of the land with reference to [* 386] * the due exercise of rights and enjoyment of legal priv

ileges by others. It was purely and simply a law to forfeit a man's property, if he failed to improve it according to a standard which the legislature had prescribed. To such a power, if possessed by the government, there could be no limit but the legislative discretion ; and if defensible on principle, then a law which should authorize the officer to enter a man's dwelling and seize and confiscate his furniture if it fell below, or his food if it exceeded, an established legal standard, would be equally so. But in a free country such laws when mentioned are condemned instinctively. 1

But cases may sometimes present themselves in which improvements actually made by one man upon the land of another, eren though against the will of the owner, ought on grounds of strict equity to constitute a charge upon the land improved. If they have been made in good faith, and under a reasonable expectation on the part of the person making them, that he was to reap the benefit of them, and if the owner has stood by and suffered them to be made, but afterwards has recovered the land and appropriated the improvements, it would seem that there must exist against him at least a strong equitable claim for reimbursement of the expenditures made, and perhaps no sufficient reason why provision should not be made by law for their recovery.

Accordingly in the several States statutes will be found which undertake to provide for these equitable claims. These statutes are commonly known as betterment laws; and as an illustration of the whole class, we give the substance of that adopted in Vermont. It provided that after recovery in ejectment, where he or those through whom he claimed had purchased or taken a lease of the land, sup

| The Kentucky statute referred to was declared unconstitutional in Gaines o. Buford, 1 Dana, 499. See also Violett v. Violett, 2 Dana, 326.

posing at the time that the title purchased was good, or the lease valid to convey and secure the title and interest therein expressed, the defendant should be entitled to recover of the plaintiff the full value of the improvements made by him or by those through whom he claimed, to be assessed by jury, and to be enforced against the land, and not otherwise. The value was ascertained by estimating the increased value of the land in consequence of the improvements but the plaintiff at his election might have the value of the land without the improvements assessed, and the defendant should purchase the same at that price within four years, or lose the benefit of his claim for improvements. But the benefit of the law was not given to one who had entered on land * by (* 387] virtue of a contract with the owner, unless it should appear that the owner had failed to fulfil such contract on his part.

This statute, and similar ones which preceded it, have been adjudged constitutional by the Supreme Court of Vermont, and have frequently been enforced. In an early case the court explained the principle of these statutes as follows: “ The action for betterments, as they are now termed in the statute, is given on the supposition that the legal title is found to be in the plaintiff in ejectment, and is intended to secure to the defendant the fruit of his labor, and to the plaintiff all that he is justly entitled to, which is his land in as good a situation as it would have been had no labor been bestowed thereon. The statute is highly equitable in all its provisions, and would do exact justice if the value either of the improvements or of the land was always correctly estimated. The principles upon which it is founded are taken from the civil law, where ample provision was made for reimbursing the bona fide possessor the expense of his improvements, if he was removed from his possession by the legal owner. It gives to the possessor not the expense which he has laid out on the land, but the amount which he has increased the value of the land by his betterments thereon; or, in other words, the difference between the value of the land as it is when the owner recovers it, and the value if no improvement had been made. If the owner takes the land together with the improvements, at the advanced value which it has from the labor of the possessor, what can be more just than that he should

Revised Statutes of Vermont of 1839, p.



pay the difference? But if he is unwilling to pay this difference, by giving a deed as the statue provides, he receives the value as it would have been if nothing had been done thereon. The only objection which can be made is, that it is sometimes compelling the owner to sell when he may have been content with the property in its natural state. But this, when weighed against the loss to the bona fide possessor, and against the injustice of depriving him of the fruits of his labor, and giving it to another, who, by his negligence in not sooner enforcing his claim, has in some measure contributed to the mistake under which he has labored, is not

entitled to very great consideration." [* 388] * The last circumstance stated in this opinion — the

negligence of the owner in asserting his claim -is evidently deemed important in some States, whose statutes only allow a recovery for improvements by one who has been in possession a certain number of years. But a later Vermont case dismisses it from consideration as a necessary ground on which to base the right of recovery. “The right of the occupant to recover the value of his improvements,” say the court, “ does not depend upon the question whether the real owner has been vigilant or negligent in the assertion of his rights. It stands upon a principle of natural justice and equity ; viz., that the occupant in good faith, believing himself to be the owner, has added to the permanent value of the land by his labor and his money ; is in equity entitled to such added value; and that it would be unjust that the owner of the land should be enriched by acquiring the value of such improvements, without compensation to him who made them. This principle of natural justice has been very widely, we may say universally recognized.”2

1 Brown v. Storm, 4 Vt. 37. This class of legislation was also elaborately examined and defended by Trumbull, J., in Ross v. Irving, 14 Ill. 171, and in some of the other cases referred to in the succeeding note. See also Bright v. Boyd, 1 Story, 478; s. c. 2 Story, 607.

? Whitney v. Richardson, 31 Vt. 306. For other cases in which similar laws have been beld constitutional, see Armstrong v. Jackson, 1 Blackf. 374; Fowler v. Halbert, 4 Bibb, 54; Withington v. Corey, 2 N. H. 115; Bacon v. Callender, 6 Mass. 303; Pacquette v. Pickness, 19 Wis. 219; Childs v. Shower, 18 Iowa, 261; Scott v. Mather, 14 Texas, 235; Saunders v. Wilson, 19 Texas, 194; Brackett v. Norcross, 1 Greenl. 92; Hunt's Lessee v. McMahan, 5 Ohio, 132; Longworth v Worthington, 6 Obio, 10. See further, Jones v. Carter, 12 Mass. 314; Dothage v. Stuart, 35 Mo. 251 ; Fenwick v. Gill, 38 Mo. 510; Howard v.

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »