170 | SCOTUS | Feb 25, 1907

204 U.S. 570" court="SCOTUS" date_filed="1907-02-25" href="https://app.midpage.ai/document/mason-city--fort-dodge-railroad-v-boynton-96608?utm_source=webapp" opinion_id="96608">204 U.S. 570 (1907)

MASON CITY AND FORT DODGE RAILROAD COMPANY
v.
BOYNTON.

No. 170.

Supreme Court of United States.

Argued January 22, 23, 1907.
Decided February 25, 1907.
CERTIFICATE FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

*575 Mr. Thomas D. Healy, with whom Mr. A.G. Briggs, Mr. John L. Erdall, Mr. M.F. Healy and Mr. Robert Healy were on the brief, for Mason City and Fort Dodge Railroad Company.

Mr. Benjamin I. Salinger, for Boynton.

*578 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

In Madisonville Traction Co. v. Saint Bernard Mining Co., 196 U.S. 239" court="SCOTUS" date_filed="1905-01-16" href="https://app.midpage.ai/document/madisonville-traction-company-v-saint-bernard-mining-company-96195?utm_source=webapp" opinion_id="96195">196 U.S. 239, it was decided that proceedings of this character could be removed to the United States Circuit Court. The question to be decided now is only whether the removal in this case can be upset on the ground that it was asked by the wrong party. The railroad company relies upon the words of the Iowa Code, § 2009, quoted above, and upon a decision of the Supreme Court of the State in a case like the present, except that the railroad was a foreign company, in which it was held that the railroad had a right to remove. Myers v. Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co., 118 Iowa, 312" court="Iowa" date_filed="1902-10-28" href="https://app.midpage.ai/document/myers-v-chicago--northwestern-railway-co-7110174?utm_source=webapp" opinion_id="7110174">118 Iowa, 312, 324. See *579 also Kirby v. Chicago & Northwestern Ry. Co., 106 Fed. Rep. 551. It is said that this court is bound by the construction given to the state law by the state court. Indeed the above § 2009 does not need construction; it enacts, in terms, that the landowner shall be plaintiff. As the right to remove a suit is given only to the defendants therein, being non-residents of the State, it is argued that the state decision ends the case.

But this court must construe the Act of Congress regarding removal. And it is obvious that the word defendant as there used is directed toward more important matters than the burden of proof or the right to open and close. It is quite conceivable that a state enactment might reverse the names which for the purposes of removal this court might think the proper ones to be applied. In condemnation proceedings the words plaintiff and defendant can be used only in an uncommon and liberal sense. The plaintiff complains of nothing. The defendant denies no past or threatened wrong. Both parties are actors: one to acquire title, the other to get as large pay as he can. It is not necessary in order to decide that the present removal was right to say that the state decision was wrong. We leave the latter question where we find it. But we are of opinion that the removal in this case was right for reasons which it will not take long to state.

It is said the proceedings only become a case, within the meaning of the Act of Congress, after the preliminary assessment and the appeal, and that then the landowner is in the position of one demanding pay for property which he has lost. If we take a general view of the Iowa statutes, this conclusion is not correct. The railroad might have taken the appeal. If it had, the landowner would have been on the defensive in endeavoring at least to uphold the assessment, but he would have been called the plaintiff none the less. Whichever party appeals, it is not true that the landowner is seeking pay for what he has lost. By § 2011 the railroad is free to decline to take the property if it thinks the price too large. Even if, as in this case, it deposits the amount *580 first assessed with the sheriff, the latter is not to pay it over until the determination of the appeal. Sec. 2010. We see no reason to suppose that the deposit impairs the railroad's right to withdraw, although the Supreme Court of Iowa says, ubi supra, that by payment and entry the railroad appropriates the land. See § 2013. Probably, too, the position of the parties under the Act of Congress should be determined upon general considerations without regard to what has happened. Looked at as a whole, the Iowa statutes provide a process by which railroads and others may acquire land for their purposes which the owner refuses to sell. The first step is the valuation. Whether it is part of the case or not, it is a necessary condition to the proceedings in court. Against the will of the owner the title to the land is not acquired until the case is decided and the price paid. The intent of the railroad to get the land is the mainspring of the proceedings from beginning to end, and the persistence of that intent is the condition of their effect. The State is too considerate of the rights of its citizens to take from them their land in exchange for a mere right of action. The land is not lost until the owner is paid. Therefore, in a broad sense, the railroad is the plaintiff, as the institution and continuance of the proceedings depend upon its will. Hudson River Railroad & Terminal Co. v. Day, 54 Fed. Rep. 545.

It is not argued that this is any the less a suit because the railroad is free to decline to take the property. The adjudication fixes the right of the railroad to take the land at the price adjudged, and charges it with costs and attorney's fees taxed by the court, in case it elects not to take. The question is not discussed in Madisonville Traction Co. v. Saint Bernard Mining Co., 196 U.S. 239, where, if there had been anything in it, possibly it might have been raised.

As what we have said is sufficient to dispose of the matter of the certificate, we think it unnecessary to consider other arguments, or to answer any question but the first.

The first question is answered, Yes.