This was a suit brought in a state court by Henrietta Snell and Albert J. Stone, administrators of the estate of Amos J. Snell, deceased, and others, to enjoin the city of Chicago and the commissioner of the department of public works thereof from removing a tollgate or interfering with plaintiffs' collection of tolls thereat. The court dismissed the bill, and, plaintiffs having appealed to the supreme court of the state, the decree was there affirmed. 24 N. E. 532. They then sued out this writ of error.
Statement by Mr. Justice BREWER: [152 U.S. 191, 192] This case is before us on error to the supreme court of the state of Illinois. The record discloses these facts: On December 21, 1888, the plaintiffs in error, as plaintiffs, filed in the office of the clerk of the superior court, of Cook county their bill of complaint, seeking to enjoin the defendants, their officers, agents, and servants, from removing, or attempting to remove, a certain tollgate on Milwaukee avenue, in the city of Chicago, and from interfering with the plaintiffs' collection of tolls thereat. The bill sets forth that on February 10, 1849, the general assembly of the state of Illinois passed an act to incorporate the Chicago Northwestern Plank-Road Company, certain sections of which were quoted. It is unnecessary to refer to these sections in detail; it is enough to say that they provided for the incorporation of a company to construct a plank road, and described the various powers and privileges given to such corporation. The bill then refers to an act of the general assembly dated February 12, 1849, entitled 'An act to construct a plank road,' etc., the twenty-first and twenty-second sections of which, quoted in the bill, purport to incorporate the Northwestern Plank-Road Company, the incorporators of which, as appears from section 21, had a license from the county commissioners' court of Cook county to construct a plank road from the city of Chicago to Oak Ridge, and from thence to Wheeling and the north line of said county. It then quotes the act of the general assembly of the state of Illinois of date March 1, 1854, entitled 'An act to incorporate the Northwestern Plank-Road Company.' This act commences with a preamble which, referring to the act of February 12, 1849, says that doubts exist as to whether, by the twenty-first, twenty-second, [152 U.S. 191, 193] and twenty-third sections of said act, the Northwestern Plank-Road Company was duly incorporated, and therefore, in the first section, in terms incorporates the Northwestern Plank-Road Company, and by the second section grants to it the powers and privileges, rights, and duties, contained in the sections quoted from the earlier act of 1849. The allegation is that, by virtue of these several acts, the Northwestern Plank-Road Company became duly incorporated and organized as a corporation, and proceeded to, and did, prosecute and complete the construction of the road under the powers and franchises granted. The bill further sets forth that on February 15, 1865, another act was passed by the general assembly of the state of Illinois, which act is set forth in full, and the material sections of which are as follows:
On August 5, 1870, the Northwestern Plank-Road Company made a deed to Amos J. Snell. This deed, after reciting the [152 U.S. 191, 194] incorporation under the act of March 1, 1854, quoting sections 3 and 5 of the act of February 15, 1865, and reciting a meeting of the stockholders on January 5, 1866, closes with this resolution, passed at such meeting, and this granting clause:
This deed was duly recorded. The bill also alleges that, from that time until his death, Snell continued in the owner- [152 U.S. 191, 195] ship of said property, and in the actual and exclusive possession, control, and enjoyment thereof, and the undisturbed exercise of all the franchises, rights, and powers which were conferred upon the corporation by said enactments. At this time the plank road, or so much thereof as was constructed, was outside of the corporate limits of the city of Chicago, and during such time Snell erected a tollgate and tollhouse on the southeast corner of Milwaukee avenue and Fullerton avenue, at which place the tolls were collected. It is further averred that on February 8, 1888, Snell died; that the present plaintiffs are his personal representatives and heirs; that on December 10, 1888, the defendants commenced proceedings for the purpose of removing such tollgate, the territorial limits of the city having been duly extended so as to include a part at least of the tollroad, and the part on which the tollgate was situated.
To this bill a demurrer was filed, which on February 6, 1890, was sustained, and, the plaintiffs electing to stand by the bill, a decree of dismissal was entered. On appeal to the supreme court of the state the decision of the superior court was, on the 14th day of May, 1890, sustained, and the decree of dismissal affirmed. 133 Ill. 413, 24 N. E. 532.
Framk J. Crawford, for plaintiffs in error.
Edward Roby, for defendants in error.
Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.
By this writ of error we are called upon to review the decision of the supreme court of the state of Illinois; and it is insisted that that decision is in conflict with the clause of the first section of the fourteenth amendment to the national constitution, which declares that 'no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,' and of the tenth section of the first article of that constitution, [152 U.S. 191, 196] which prohibits a state from passing any law impairing the obligations of contracts.
It is the settled law of this court that to give it jurisdiction of a writ of error to a state court it must appear affirmatively, not only that a rederal question was presented to that court for decision, but also that the decision of the question was necessary to the determination of the cause, and that it was actually decided adversely to the party claiming a right under the federal laws or constitution, or that the judgment, as rendered, could not have been given without such decision. Miller's Ex'rs v. Swann, 150 U.S. 132 , 14 Sup. Ct. 52; Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U.S. 361 , 14 Sup. Ct. 131, and cases cited therein.
Guided by the rule thus laid down and long established, we turn to the record, including therein the opinion of the supreme court of the state, to see what in fact was decided. From such inspection it is obvious that there was no decision adverse to the rights vested in the Northwestern Plank-Road Company by its charter. On the contrary, the clear concession in the opinion of the supreme court was that that company had, by its charter, a valid and exclusive franchise in respect to the tollroad, including therein the right to take tolls, and to erect and maintain a tollgate therefor. All the contract rights which it can be claimed passed by the charter to the plank-road company were conceded to have passed to it; and the matter which was determined by that court, and upon which its decision rested, was that the franchises thus vested in the corporation did not pass, by the deed made under the authority of the act of 1865, to Snell and his heirs in perpetuity. It was not denied that those franchises passed to Snell by the deed of August 5, 1870; but the ruling was that such conveyance did not vest in the grantee the franchises as a matter of private property, to pass by inheritance to his heirs.
In order that there may be no misunderstanding of the rulings of the supreme court, we quote at length from its opinion:
There can be no mistake as to the scope of this decision. It is that the franchises vested in the plank-road corporation, though passing to Snell by the deed, passed to him, and not to him and his heirs, and that he took by such deed only a life estate. But in this is presented no question of a federal nature, but only of the extent of an authority to dispose of its franchises given by a statute to a corporation. It is assumed that the charter was a valid and binding contract, and [152 U.S. 191, 199] that by it certain franchises were vested in the Northwestern Plank-Road Company as its absolute property, beyond the power of the state to arbitrarily retake. After the grant of this charter, and after the full investiture of the corporation with these franchises, an act was passed, giving it authority to dispose of them, and the matter which was determined by the supreme court was as to the extent of the authority thus conferred. But in this there is no matter of contract. The state never contracted with the plank-road company that it should have the power to transfer its franchises, nor with these plaintiffs that their intestate and ancestor should acquire an absolute title to these franchises, with an indefeasible estate of inheritance. The mere grant of franchises to a corporation carries with it no power of alienation; on the contrary, the general rule is that, in the absence of express authority, they are incapable of alienation; and many cases have arisen in which an attempted alienation by the corporation has been declared by the courts to be void, as divesting it of the power to discharge the duties imposed by the charter. Thomas v. Railroad Co., 101 U.S. 71 ; Pennsylvania R. Co. v. St. Louis, etc., R. Co., 118 U.S. 290 , 6 Sup. Ct. 1094; Oregon, etc., Nav. Co. v. Oregonian Ry. Co., 130 U.S. 1 , 9 Sup. Ct. 409; Central Transp. Co. v. Pullman's Palace-Car Co., 139 U.S. 24 , 11 Sup. Ct. 478. In the original act of incorporation, no power of alienation was given to the plank-road company. The only authority is found in the act of 1865, and that is a mere grant of a permission to sell. Determining the extent of that permission determines no question of contract, and presents no other matter of a federal nature. If it be true, as decided by the supreme court, that only a life estate passed to Snell, then the plaintiffs have no interest in the franchises, and the demurrer to the bill was properly sustained. This, therefore, is a pivotal question; and having been decided adversely to the plaintiffs, and in it there being no matter of a federal nature, it follows that this court has no jurisdiction, and the case must be dismissed.