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GREAT NORTHERN RY. CO. v. STATE OF MINN. EX REL. VILLAGE OF CLARA , 246 U.S. 434 (1918)

U.S. Supreme Court

GREAT NORTHERN RY. CO. v. STATE OF MINN. EX REL. VILLAGE OF CLARA , 246 U.S. 434 (1918)

246 U.S. 434

GREAT NORTHERN RY. CO. et al.
v.
STATE OF MINNESOTA ex rel. VILLAGE OF CLARA CITY.
No. 185.

Submitted March 12, 1918.
Decided April 15, 1918.

[246 U.S. 434, 435]   Messrs. E. C. Lindley, M. L. Countryman, and Thomas R. Benton, all of St. Paul, Minn., for plaintiffs in error.

Mr. C. A. Fosnes, of Montevideo, Minn., for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit was brought to compel the railroad companies to build a sidewalk on the south side of Bunde street in the village of Clara City, Minnesota, where the right of way of the railroad companies crosses that street. The right of way of the companies is of the width of 300 feet at the place where Bunde street crosses the same. At or near the center of this right of way the companies have constructed three railroad tracks. There are business houses upon both sides of the right of way, and it becomes necessary for people to cross the same frequently.

The case was decided in the lower court in Minnesota upon demurrer to the petition in mandamus, and the record contains this statement:

The general laws of Minnesota contain a provision requiring the planking of railroad crossings where the same cross a public street. Section 4256 of the General Statutes of Minnesota. By amendment of 1913 the following provision was added:

The lower court in Minnesota dismissed the petition, which judgment was reversed by the Supreme Court of Minnesota, and the railroad company was required to construct the sidewalk at its own expense. 130 Minn. 480, 153 N. W. 879. The court held that the statute was a reasonable exercise of the police power of the state. The contention here made is that the statute as thus enforced denies to the companies due process of law and the equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution.

It is too well settled by former decisions of this court to require extended discussion here-that railroad com- [246 U.S. 434, 437]   panies may be required by the states in the exercise of the police power to make streets and highways crossed by the tracks of such companies reasonably safe and convenient for public use, and this at their own expense. Such companies accept their franchises from the state subject to their duties to conform to regulations, not of an arbitrary nature, as to the opening and use of the public streets for the purpose of promoting the public safety and convenience. This principle was applied by this court in C., I. & W. R. Co. v. Connersville, 218 U.S. 336 , 31 Sup. Ct. 93, 20 Ann. Cas. 1206, wherein the railroad, because of the extension of a street through an embankment upon which the railroad was built, was required to construct at its own expense a bridge across the street. In Northern Pacific Ry. Co. v. Duluth, 208 U.S. 583 , 28 Sup. Ct. 341, it was held that a municipality of the state of Minnesota might require a railroad company to repair a viaduct constructed by the city after the opening of the railroad notwithstanding a contract relieving the railroad from making repairs thereon for a term of years, that the police power of the state was a continuing one, and could not be contracted away, and that uncompensated obedience to laws, passed in its exercise, did not contravene the federal Constitution. This case was followed with approval in St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba R. Co. v. State of Minnesota, 214 U.S. 497 , 29 Sup. Ct. 698. In Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul R. Co. v. Minneapolis, 232 U.S. 430 , 34 Sup. Ct. 400, this court affirmed a judgment of the Supreme Court of Minnesota requiring a railroad company to build at its own expense a bridge required in order to permit a municipality in that state to construct a canal connecting two lakes within the limits of a public park. In the opinion in that case previous decisions in this court are collected and reviewed.

The Supreme Court of Minnesota in the instant case held that the railroad companies might be required [246 U.S. 434, 438]   construct a sidewalk upon the right of way on both sides of the planked crossing. In the opinion of the court the sidewalk, leading to the crossing, tend d to promote the safety and convenience of the public, and, after discussing the well-established authority of the state to require planking at crossings, as to the additional requirement to build the connecting sidewalk, said:

This court considers a case of this nature in the light of the principle that the state is primarily the judge of regulations required in the interest of the public safety and welfare. Such statutes may only be declared unconstitutional where they are arbitrary or unreasonable attempts to exercise authority vested in the state in the public interest. We are not prepared to say that this statute is of that character, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Minnesota is

Affirmed.

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