HARRIS v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA(1921)
[256 U.S. 650, 651] Messrs. Rossa F. Downing and George A. Berry, both of Washington, D. C., for plaintiff.
Messrs. F. H. Stephens and Robert L. Williams, both of Washington, D. C., for the District of Columbia.
Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Court of Appeals, District of Columbia, has certified the following question (Judicial Code, 251 [Comp. St. 1228]):
Application of these general principles to the facts of particular cases has occasioned much difficulty. The circumstances being stated, it is not always easy to determine what power a municipal corporation is exercising. But, nothing else appearing, we are of opinion that, when sweeping the streets, a municipality is exercising its discretionary powers to protect public health and comfort and is not performing a special corporate or municipal duty to keep them in repair. This conclusion, we think, accords with common observation, harmonizes with what has been declared heretofore concerning liability of the District of Columbia for torts, and is supported by well-considered cases. Weightman v. Corporation of Washington (1861) 1 Black, 39; Barnes v. District of Columbia (1875) 91 U.S. 540 , 551; District of Columbia v. Woodbury (1890) 136 U.S. 450 , 10 Sup. Ct. 990; Love v. City of Atlanta, 95 Ga. 129, 22 S. E. 29, 51 Am. St. Rep. 64; Conelly v. Nashville, 100 Tenn. 262, 46 S. W. 565; Haley v. City of Boston, 191 Mass. 291, 77 N. E. 888, 5 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1005; Bruhnke v. La Crosse, 155 Wis. 485, 144 N. W. 1100, 50 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1147
In Weightman v. Corporation of Washington, supra, the corporation was held liable for injuries resulting from an insecure bridge placed by the charter under its exclusive control and management. Among other things, through [256 U.S. 650, 653] Mr. Justice Clifford, this was said:
Barnes v. District of Columbia, supra, presented a case of injury arising from a defective street. The District was held liable and, for the court Mr. Justice Hunt said, concerning the point presently important:
District of Columbia v. Woodbury, supra. Woodbury claimed damages for injuries resulting from a sidewalk, negligently permitted to remain out of repair. Held, that the principle of Barnes v. District of Columbia applies, notwithstanding the form of the District government had been changed.
In Roth v. District of Columbia, 16 App. D. C. 323, Brown v. District of Columbia, 29 App. D. C. 273, 25 L. R. A. (N. S.) 98, District of Columbia v. Tyrrell, 41 App. D. C. 463, and Coates v. District of Columbia, 42 App. D. C. 194, freedom of the District of Columbia from liability on account of matters within its governmental powers is recognized.
Workman v. New York City, 179 U.S. 552 , 21 Sup. Ct. 212, is not applicable. The proceeding being in admiralty, rights and liabilities of the parties depended upon the maritime code and not upon local laws of New York. Here common-law principles apply. See Southern Pacific Co. v. Jensen, 244 U.S. 205 , 37 Sup. Ct. 524, L. R. A. 1918C, 451, Ann. Cas. 1917E, 900.
The certified question must be answered in the affirmative.
Mr. Justice HOLMES, Mr. Justice BRANDEIS, and Mr. Justice CLARKE dissent.