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UNITED STATES v. RIO GRANDE DAM AND IRRIGATION COMPANY

March 3, 1902

UNITED STATES
v.
RIO GRANDE DAM AND IRRIGATION COMPANY



APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE TERRITORY OF NEW MEXICO

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, Shiras, Jr., White, Peckham; Mr. Justice Gray and Mr. Justice Mckenna did not sit in this case nor participate in its decision.

Author: Harlan

[ 184 U.S. Page 417]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This suit presents a contest between the United States and the appellee corporations as to the right asserted by the latter to construct over and near the Rio Grande a certain dam and reservoir for the purpose of appropriating the waters of that river in their private business.

By the seventh article of the treaty of February 2, 1848, between the United States and the Republic of Mexico it is provided that "the river Gila and the part of the Rio Bravo del Norte lying below the southern boundary of New Mexico, being, agreeably to the fifth article, divided in the middle between the two Republics, the navigation of the Gila and of the Bravo below said boundary shall be free and common to the vessels and citizens of both countries; and neither shall, without the consent of the other, construct any work that may impede or interrupt, in whole or in part, the exercise of this right; not even for the purpose of favoring new methods of navigation. . . . The stipulation contained in the present article shall not impair the territorial rights of either Republic within its established limits." 9 Stat. 928. And by the fourth article of the treaty of December 30, 1853, between the same countries, it was further provided that "the several provisions, stipulations and restrictions contained in the seventh article of the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo shall remain in force only so far as regards the Rio Bravo del Norte, below the initial of the said boundary provided in the first article of this treaty, that is to say, below the intersection of the 31 degrees 47' 30" parallel of latitude, with the boundary line established by the late treaty dividing said river from its mouth upwards, according to the fifth article of the treaty of Guadalupe." 10 Stat. 1034. Again, by a convention between the United States and Mexico, concluded December 26, 1890, provision was made for an international boundary commission, empowered, upon application by the local authorities, to inquire whether any works were being constructed on the Rio Grande which were forbidden by treaty stipulations. 26 Stat. 1512.

Just before the last named convention, Congress, by the act

[ 184 U.S. Page 418]

     of September 19, 1890, c. 907, provided: "That the creation of any obstruction not affirmatively authorized by law, to the navigable capacity of any waters, in respect of which the United States has jurisdiction, is hereby prohibited. The continuance of any such obstruction, except bridges, piers, docks and wharves, and similar structures erected for business purposes, whether heretofore or hereafter created, shall constitute an offence, and each week's continuance of any such obstruction shall be deemed a separate offence. Every person and every corporation which shall be guilty of creating or continuing any such unlawful obstruction in this act mentioned, or who shall violate the provisions of the last four preceding sections of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment (in the case of a natural person) not exceeding one year, or by both such punishments, in the discretion of the court, the creating or continuing of any unlawful obstruction in this act mentioned may be prevented and such obstruction may be caused to be removed by the injunction of any Circuit Court exercising jurisdiction in any district in which such obstruction may be threatened or may exist; and proper proceedings in equity to this end may be instituted under the direction of the Attorney General of the United States." 26 Stat. 426, 454, ยง 10.

These treaties with the above and other acts of Congress being in force, the present suit was brought, May 24, 1897, in the District Court for the Third Judicial District of New Mexico -- the plaintiff being the United States of America, and the original defendant being the Rio Grande Dam and Irrigation Company, a corporation of that Territory. By an amended bill, the Rio Grande Irrigation and Land Company -- a British corporation doing business in the Territory of New Mexico -- was also made defendant. The latter corporation, it is alleged, was organized as an adjunct and agent of the New Mexico corporation.

The bill and amended bill show that the object of the suit was to obtain a decree enjoining the defendants from commencing or attempting to construct or build a certain dam and reservoir

[ 184 U.S. Page 419]

     or any other dam, breakwater, reservoir or other structure, or obstruction of any character whatsoever, "across the Rio Grande or the waters thereof, or from maintaining such dam or obstruction in the Territory of New Mexico, and especially at Elephant Butte in said Territory, or any other point on said river in said Territory of New Mexico, as shall affect the navigable capacity of said Rio Grande at any point throughout its course, whether in the Territory of New Mexico or elsewhere."

The court of original jurisdiction said it was a fact of which it could take judicial notice, and it adjudged, that the Rio Grande was not navigable within the Territory of New Mexico, and it dissolved the injunction theretofore granted against the defendants, and dismissed the suit. Upon appeal to ...


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