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Opinion of the Court.
Mr. Henry E. Davis and Mr. A. G. Riddle for defendant in error.
MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.
This was an action brought by the District of Columbia in November, 1880, to recover from the Metropolitan Railroad Company the sum of $161,622.52. The alleged cause of action was work done and materials furnished by the plaintiff in paving certain streets and avenues in the city of Washington at various times in the years 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875, upon and in consequence of the neglect of the defendant to do said work and furnish said materials in accordance with its duty as prescribed by its charter.
The defendant was chartered by an act of Congress dated July 1, 1864, 13 Stat. 326, c. 190, and amended March 3, 1865, 13 Stat. 536, c. 119. By these acts it was authorized to construct and operate lines or routes of double track railways in designated streets and avenues in Washington and Georgetown.
The first section of the charter contains the following proviso: "Provided, that the use and maintenance of said road shall be subject to the municipal regulations of the city of Washington within its corporate limits." Of course this provision reserves police control over the road and its operations on the part of the authorities of the city. The fourth section of the charter declares, "that the said corporation hereby created shall be bound to keep said tracks, and for the space of two feet beyond the outer rail thereof, and also the space between the tracks, at all times well paved and in good order, without expense to the United States or to the city of Washington." The fifth section declares "that nothing in this act shall prevent the government at any time, at their option, from altering the grade or otherwise improving all avenues. and streets occupied by said roads, or the city of Washington from so altering or improving such streets and avenues, and the sewerage thereof, as may be under their respective authority and control; and in such event it shall be the duty of said
Opinion of the Court.
company to change their said railroad so as to conform to such grade and pavement.”
It is on these provisions that the claim of the city is based
The amended declaration sets out in great detail the grad ing and paving which were done in various streets and avenues along and adjoining the tracks of the defendant, and which it is averred should have been done by the defendant under the provisions of its charter; but which the defendant neglected and refused to do.
The defendant filed twelve several pleas to the action, the eleventh and twelfth being pleas of the statute of limitations. Issue was taken upon all the pleas except these two, and they were demurred to. The court sustained the demurrer, and the cause was tried on the other issues, and a verdict found for the plaintiff. 4 Mackey, 214.
The case is brought here by writ of error, which brings up for consideration a bill of exceptions taken at the trial, and the ruling upon the demurrer to the pleas of the statute of limitations. It is conceded that if the court below erred in sustaining that demurrer, the judgment must be reversed. That question will, therefore, be first considered.
It is contended by the plaintiff that it (the District of Columbia) is not amenable to the statute of limitations, for three reasons: first, because of its dignity as partaking of the sovereign power of government; secondly, because it is not embraced in the terms of the statute of limitations in force in the District; and, thirdly, because if the general words of the statute are sufficiently broad to include the District, still, municipal corporations, unless specially mentioned, are not subject to the statute.
1. The first question, therefore, will be, whether the District of Columbia is, or is not, a municipal body merely, or whether it has such a sovereign character, or is so identified with or representative of the sovereignty of the United States as to be entitled to the prerogatives and exemptions of sovereignty.
In order to a better understanding of the subject under consideration, it will be proper to take a brief survey of the government of the District and the changes it has undergone since its first organization.
Opinion of the Court.
Prior to 1871, the local government of the District of Columbia, on the east side of the Potomac, had been divided between the corporations of Washington and Georgetown and the Levy Court of the county of Washington. Georgetown had been incorporated by the legislature of Maryland as early as 1789, (Davis's Laws, Dist. Col. 478,) as Alexandria had been by the legislature of Virginia, as early as 1748 and 1779 (Davis's Laws, 533, 541); and those towns or cities were clearly nothing more than ordinary municipal corporations, with the usual powers of such corporations. When the government of the United States took possession of the District in December, 1800, it was divided by Congress into two counties, that of Alexandria on the west side of the Potomac, and that of Washington on the east side; and the laws of Virginia were continued over the former, and the laws of Maryland over the latter; and a court, called the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, was established with general jurisdiction, civil and criminal, to hold sessions alternately in each county; but the corporate rights of the cities of Alexandria and Georgetown, and of all other corporate bodies, were expressly left unimpaired, except as related to judicial powers. See Act of Feb. 27, 1801, 2 Stat. 103, c. 15. A supplementary act, passed a few days later, gave to the Circuit Court certain administrative powers, the same as those vested in the County and Levy Courts of Virginia and Maryland respectively; and it was declared that the magistrates to be appointed should be a board of commissioners within their respective counties, and have the same powers and perform the same duties, as the Levy Courts of Maryland. These powers related to the construction and repair of roads, bridges, ferries, the care of the poor, &c. Act of March 3, 1801, 2 Stat. 115, c. 25. On May 3, 1802, an act was passed to incorporate the city of Washington. 2 Stat. 195, c. 53. It invested the mayor and common council (the latter being elected by the white male inhabitants) with all the usual powers of municipal bodies, such as the power to pass by-laws and ordinances; powers of administration, regulation and taxation; amongst others specially named, the power “to erect and
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repair bridges; to keep in repair all necessary streets, avenues, drains, and sewers, and to pass regulations necessary for the preservation of the same, agreeably to the plan of said city." Various amendments, from time to time, were made to this charter, and additional powers were conferred. A general revision of it was made by act of Congress passed May 15, 1820. 3 Stat. 583, c. 104. A further revision was made and additional powers were given by the act of May 17, 1848, 9 Stat. 223, c. 42; but nothing to change the essential character of the corporation.
The powers of the Levy Court extended more particularly to the country, outside of the cities; but also to some matters in the cities common to the whole county. It was reorganized, and its powers and duties more specifically defined, in the acts of July 1st, 1812, 2 Stat. 771, c. 117, and of March 3d, 1863, 12 Stat. 799. By the last act, the members of the court were to be nine in number, and to be appointed by the President and Senate.
In the first year of the war, August 6th, 1861, 12 Stat. 320, c. 62, an act was passed “ to create a Metropolitan Police District of the District of Columbia, and to establish a Police therefor.” The police had previously been appointed and regulated by the mayor and common council of Washington; but it was now deemed important that it should be under the control of the government. The act provided for the appointment of five commissioners by the President and Senate, who, together with tbe mayors of Washington and George town, were to form the board of police for the District; and this board was invested with extraordinary powers of surveillance and guardianship of the peace.
This general review of the form of government which prevailed in the District of Columbia and city of Washington prior to 1871 is sufficient to show that it was strictly municipal in its character; and that the government of the United States, except so far as the protection of its own public buildings and property was concerned, took no part in the local government, any more than any state government interferes with the municipal administration of its cities. The officers
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of the departments, even the President himself, exercised no local authority in city affairs. It is true, in consequence of the large property interests of the United States in Washington, in the public parks and buildings, the government always made some contribution to the finances of the city ; but the residue was raised by taxing the inhabitants of the city and District, just as the inhabitants of all municipal bodies are taxed.
In 1871 an important modification was made in the form of the District government; a legislature was established, with all the apparatus of a distinct government. By the act of February 21st, of that year, entitled “An Act to provide a Government for the District of Columbia,” 16 Stat. 419, c. 62, it was enacted (S1) that all that part of the territory of the United States included within the limits of the District of Columbia be created into a government by the name of the District of Columbia, by which name it was constituted “a body corporate for municipal purposes,” with power to make contracts, sue and be sued, and “to exercise all other powers of a municipal corporation not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” A governor and legislature were created; also a board of public works; the latter to consist of the governor as its president, and four other persons, to be appointed by the President and Senate. To this board was given the control and repair of the streets, avenues, alleys and sewers of the city of Washington, and all other works which might be intrusted to their charge by the legislative assembly or Congress. They were empowered to disburse the moneys raised for the improvement of streets, avenues, alleys and sewers, and roads and bridges, and to assess upon adjoining property, specially benefited thereby, a reasonable proportion of the cost, not exceeding one-third. The acts of this board were held to be binding on the municipality of the District in Barnes v. District of Columbia, 91 U. S. 540. It was regarded as a mere branch of the District government, though appointed by the President and not subject to the control of the District authorities.
This constitution lasted until June 20th, 1874, when an act