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Bartron v. Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission

decided: November 17, 1954.


Author: Goodrich

Before GOODRICH, KALODNER and HASTIE, Circuit Judges.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

By this suit the plaintiffs, citizens of Pennsylvania, seek to enjoin the defendant, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission (Commission), from closing and demolishing a bridge called the Delaware-Upper Mt. Bethel Township Bridge which crosses from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. This bridge is known locally as the "Delaware" bridge. The district court refused the injunction and entered judgment dismissing plaintiffs' complaint. D.C.D.N.J.1954, 120 F.Supp. 337. Subsequently, the district court denied an application to stay the closing of the old bridge but granted a stay of demolition pending appeal to this court.

The defendant Commission was created by the action of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures.*fn1 Its powers and duties are defined in an interstate compact entered into by the Governors of each state pursuant to this legislation and approved by the Congress of the United States.*fn2 This compact was first entered into in 1934 and it was amended in 1947.

The first question is whether the federal court for the district of New Jersey had jurisdiction. The district court thought it had, basing its conclusion upon our decision in Gavin v. Hudson & Manhattan R. Co., 3 Cir., 1950, 185 F.2d 104, 27 A.L.R.2d 739. The case is obviously in point and was controlling unless a distinction is to be made between the type of corporation here involved and the railroad involved in the Gavin case. We do not see any reason for making such a distinction especially since the Commission "may sue and be sued."*fn3 The court, therefore, had jurisdiction by reason of diversity and we do not need to inquire whether there were other grounds or not. In any event, the decision will turn upon interpretation of local statutes and the interstate compact. There is virtually no case law helpful upon the question and we have to reach our conclusion from examination of the legislation as best we can.*fn4

Jurisdiction being settled, the next question is whether the plaintiffs have legal basis on which to base their argument against the exercising of the Commission's authority to close this bridge. This point was considered in thorough detail by Judge Forman before whom the case was tried in the district court of New Jersey. His opinion, cited above, covers almost every argument which was made in this court. We agree with the conclusion Judge Forman reached and the basis on which he reached it. We could almost stop here for there really is little to add. But the case has been pressed with earnestness and since some points were stressed more strongly here we shall briefly indicate why we think the district judge was right and dispose of these other points.

The plaintiffs, through their counsel, go back into legislation as far as 1912. They treat of the legislation there and again the legislation in 1919 and the late Twenties. They step from there to the acts creating this Commission, already mentioned, and draw certain conclusions. These conclusions are that the policy shown in the earlier statutes continues somehow to pervade what we may call the toll bridge field. Plaintiffs find in these earlier statutes a state declared policy to provide free bridges across the Delaware River. Undoubtedly, at the beginning this was so. The defendant's predecessor did buy privately owned toll bridges and did open them free to the public.

It is equally clear, however, that the legislation which came in the Thirties showed a distinct change of policy by the legislatures of the states which created the Commission and, as we know from common knowledge, throughout the country generally. Times were harder. Traffic was increasing. New facilities were necessary but the legislatures felt that the new facilities would have to be paid for by the people who got the benefit of their use. That is what the 1934 legislation provided for and that is made even clearer by the supplemental compact of 1947*fn5 which in turn was approved by the Congress of the United States.*fn6

We think that the language of the preamble to this supplemental compact plus the amendment of Article X of the original compact show so clearly as to leave no question that the Commission is within its authority in doing what it proposes to do here. Here is the language from the preamble to the supplemental compact:

"'Whereas, Because of the great increase in traffic and loads over said bridges since their construction, many of said bridges are now inadequate or unsafe, and it will be necessary to rehabilitate or replace some or all of said bridges with new bridges at the same or different locations in order to provide safe, adequate and convenient facilities for traffic crossing the Delaware river; and

"'Whereas, It is necessary that the commission have power to issue and sell its bridge revenue bonds, for rehabilitating or replacing existing bridges with new bridges at the same or different locations, for acquiring or constructing additional bridges, and for refunding any bridge revenue bonds of the commission, and that the commission also have power to fix, charge and collect tolls, rates, rents and other charges for the use of any such new bridge or bridges * * *.'"

And here is the language of the amended Article X of the compact:

"(b) The commission may replace any one or more existing bridges across the Delaware river between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the State of New Jersey north of said line with one or more new bridges at such locations as the commission may determine to be adequate and convenient for the traffic to served thereby.

"(e) The commission may demolish and remove any bridge now operated by it, when such bridge has been or is being replaced by a new bridge at the same or a different location, which in the determination of the commission will serve substantially the same traffic as that served by such existing bridge, and the commission may sell or otherwise dispose of any ferry or other property of ...

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