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BURLINGTON CTY. BRIDGE COMMN. v. MEYNER

June 29, 1955

BURLINGTON COUNTY BRIDGE COMMISSION, a body politic of the State of New Jersey, Plaintiff,
v.
Robert B. MEYNER, Governor of the State of New Jersey, and Grover C. Richman, Jr., Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FORMAN

The plaintiff in this case is the Burlington County Bridge Commission which holds title to two bridges across the Delaware River, namely the Burlington-Bristol Bridge and the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. The defendants were Alfred E. Driscoll and Theodore D. Parsons, formerly respectively Governor and Attorney General of the State of New Jersey. Their successors, Governor Robert B. Meyner and Attorney General Grover C. Richman, Jr., have been substituted as defendants. *fn1"

The plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that Congress has the sole and exclusive jurisdiction in fixing tolls on the bridges and that Congress has exercised that power and has passed legislation which authorizes the plaintiff to charge tolls which include a profit factor.

 The contentions of the plaintiff are briefly, as follows:

 (a) That the enabling statutes provided the means whereby a state or subdivision thereof could acquire the bridges, and also provided that in the event of such acquisition the toll should include 'an adequate return' on the cost.

 (b) That the New Jersey Supreme Court, in failing to interpret these statutes, and in restricting the amounts to be charged by plaintiff as tolls on the bridges, has indulged in interstate ratemaking, which is beyond its jurisdiction, that power being exclusively in the Congress.

 (c) That plaintiff therefore has the right to fix tolls so as to provide for a profit on the cost of the bridges.

 Defendants respond, in essence, with the following:

 (a) That the New Jersey Supreme Court had jurisdiction to grant the equitable relief which it awarded in the case of Driscoll v. Burlington-Bristol Bridge Co., 1953, 8 N.J. 433, 86 A.2d 201.

 (b) That the federal statutes referred to do not grant the plaintiff any power to make a profit through tolls charged on the bridges.

 The parties to the suit agree that there are no disputed questions of fact and each side has moved for judgment on the pleadings as authorized in Rule 12(c) of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 28 U.S.C.

 In the case of Driscoll v. Burlington-Bristol Bridge Co., supra, the New Jersey Supreme Court modified the decision of the New Jersey Superior Court, 10 N.J.Super. 545, 77 A.2d 255, and directed, among other things, that the plaintiff herein should retain title to the Burlington-Bristol Bridge and the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge and operate them under surveillance of the Superior Court of New Jersey. It was also adjudged that the tolls charged on these bridges should not exceed an amount necessary to retire the bonds which underwrote the acquisition of the bridges, and after their liquidation to provide only for repair, maintenance and operation of the bridges. Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court was denied in 1952, 344 U.S. 838, 73 S. Ct. 25, 97 L. Ed. 652 and a petition for a rehearing was also denied in 1952, 344 U.S. 888, 73 S. Ct. 181, 97 L. Ed. 687.

 In authorizing the construction of each of the bridges in question Congress also provided for their eventual acquisition by either of the adjoining states or their political subdivisions in virtually identical terms. In establishing the rates of tolls to be fixed the following language was used:

 'Sec. 5. If such bridge shall be taken over and acquired by the States or political subdivisions thereof under the provisions of section 4 of this Act, the same may thereafter be operated as a toll bridge; in fixing the rates of toll to be charged for the use of such bridge, the same shall be so adjusted as to provide as far as possible a sufficient fund to pay for the cost of maintaining, repairing, and operating the bridge and its approaches, to pay an adequate return on the cost thereof, and to provide a sinking fund sufficient to amortize the amount paid therefor within a period of not to exceed thirty years from the date of acquiring the same. After a sinking fund sufficient to pay the cost of acquiring such bridge and its approaches shall have been provided, the bridge shall thereafter be maintained and operated free of tolls or the rates of toll shall be so adjusted as to provide a fund not to exceed the amount necessary for the proper care, repair, maintenance, and operation of the bridge and its approaches. An accurate record of the amount paid for acquiring the bridge and its approaches, the expenditures for operating, repairing, and maintaining the same, and of the daily tolls collected shall be kept, and shall be available for the information of all persons interested.' 44 Stat. 589 (relating to the Burlington-Bristol Bridge) and 44 Stat. 1025 (relating to the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge).

 The Supreme Court of New Jersey decided that it was unnecessary to interpret that provision in view of its holding that the plaintiff had no power to charge tolls which included a ...


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