Baltimore & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Fifth Baptist Church

In Baltimore & Potomac R.R. Co. v. Fifth Baptist Church, 108 U.S. 317 (1883), the court, while recognizing (p. 331) that the legislative authority for operating a railway carried with it an immunity to private action based upon those incidental inconveniences that are unavoidably attendant upon the operation of a railroad, nevertheless sustained the right of action in a case where a building for housing and repairing locomotive engines was unnecessarily established in close proximity to a place of public worship and so used that the noises of the shop and the rumbling of the locomotive engines passing in and out, the blowing off of steam, the ringing of bells, the sound of whistles, and the smoke from the chimneys, created a constant disturbance of the religious exercises. The court (speaking by Mr. Justice Field) held that the authority of the company to construct such works as it might deem necessary and expedient for the completion and maintenance of its road did not authorize it to place them wherever it might think proper in the city, without reference to the property and rights of others; and that whatever the extent of the authority conferred, it was accompanied with the implied qualification that the works should not be so placed as by their use to unreasonably interfere with and disturb the peaceful and comfortable enjoyment of others in their property. In the language of the opinion: "Grants of privileges or powers to corporate bodies, like those in question, confer no license to use them in disregard of the private rights of others, and with immunity for their invasion." The reasoning proceeded upon the ground (p. 332) that no authority conferred by Congress would justify an invasion of private property to an extent amounting to an entire deprivation of its use and enjoyment, without compensation to the owner; "nor could such authority be invoked to justify acts, creating physical discomfort and annoyance to others in the use and enjoyment of their property, to a less extent than entire deprivation, if different places from those occupied could be used by the corporation for its purposes, without causing such discomfort and annoyance"; and hence that the legislative authorization conferred exemption only from suit or prosecution for the public nuisance, and did not affect "any claim of a private citizen for damages for any special inconvenience and discomfort not experienced by the public at large."