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PORT RICHMOND AND BERGEN POINT FERRY COMPANY v. BOARD CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS HUDSON COUNTY

June 8, 1914

PORT RICHMOND AND BERGEN POINT FERRY COMPANY
v.
BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS OF HUDSON COUNTY



ERROR TO THE COURT OF ERRORS AND APPEALS OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney; Lurton took no part in the decision of this case.

Author: Hughes

[ 234 U.S. Page 320]

 MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error, Port Richmond and Bergen Point Ferry Company, was incorporated in 1848 (c. 306) by special act of the legislature of New York for the purpose of maintaining a ferry across the Kill von Kull from Port Richmond, Staten Island, New York, to Bergen Point, Hudson County, New Jersey.*fn1 This act prescribed rates of ferriage as did also the amendatory acts of 1857 (c. 692) and 1868 (c. 778).

The ferry is not operated in connection with any railroad.

In July, 1905, the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Hudson, New Jersey, passed two resolutions

[ 234 U.S. Page 321]

     fixing the rates to be taken at the ferry of this company within the County of Hudson for the transportation of foot passengers for single trips to the New York terminal, and for round trips to that terminal and return, respectively. This action was taken under the authority of an act of the legislature of New Jersey passed in 1799, providing as follows: "That the board of chosen freeholders shall be, and they hereby are empowered and directed to fix the rates to be taken at the several ferries within their respective counties, and the same, from time to time, to revise, alter, amend, or make anew at their discretion." Comp. Stat. (N.J.) p. 2308. On certiorari, the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey sustained the validity of these resolutions against the objection that they were repugnant to the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution (80 N.J. Law, 614) and its judgment was affirmed by the Court of Errors and Appeals. 82 N.J. Law, 536. This writ of error is prosecuted.

The plaintiff in error contends that the action of the board is void for the reason that the transportation is interstate and the fixing of rates therefor is a direct regulation of interstate commerce.

At common law, the right to maintain a public ferry lies in franchise; in England such a ferry could not be set up without the King's license, and, in this country, the right has been made the subject of legislative grant. Blissett v. Hart, Willes, 508; Fay, Petitioner, 15 Pick. 243, 249, 253; Mayor &c. of New York v. Starin, 106 N.Y. 1, 10, 11; 3 Kent's Com. 458; 2 Washburn, Real Prop., 4th ed., 292. The States have been accustomed to grant such franchises not only for ferries wholly intrastate but also for those to be operated from their shores to other States. Cooley, Const. Lim. 740. They have fixed the rates for such ferriage; and this has been done both directly by the legislature and also through designated courts and local boards acting under legislative sanction. The practice

[ 234 U.S. Page 322]

     has had continuous illustration in a great variety of instances from the foundation of the Government to the present day.*fn1a

The Court of Errors and Appeals of New Jersey in the case of Chosen Freeholders of Hudson County v. The State (1853), 4 Zab. 718, sustained the authority of the board to prescribe ferry rates between New Jersey and New York. Speaking through Elmer, J., the court thus described conditions existing at the time of the passage of the above-mentioned act of 1799 and its purpose: "When the act was passed, long before the invention of steamboats, ferries were generally the property of one or two individuals, established for the public convenience and private gain, by the owners of the shore, sometimes by virtue of a grant or law, and sometimes without any public authority. The owner or keeper resided on the one bank or the other of the river over which the ferry passed, and kept his boats and ...


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