Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company v. Ward (1862)
Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company v. Ward (1862) 67 U.S. 485, was brought in the United States District Court for the District of Iowa to abate a bridge across the Mississippi River spanning that river from its Iowa shore to its Illinois shore.
The holding of the United States Supreme Court was to the effect that the District Court of Iowa had no jurisdiction over the portion of the bridge over the Illinois portion of the river bed.
In that case the owner of three steamboats contended that a bridge over the Mississippi River was a public nuisance and specially injurious to him as an owner and navigator of steamboats using the river. He brought suit in a federal court to have the alleged nuisance abated.
The defendant, owner of the bridge, challenged the court's jurisdiction on the ground that the plaintiff had failed to allege any damages.
At page 492 of its opinion, the Supreme Court disposed of the jurisdictional question as follows:
"But the want of a sufficient amount of damage having been sustained to give the Federal Courts jurisdiction, will not defeat the remedy, as the removal of the obstruction is the matter of controversy and the value of the object must govern."
It was decided that jurisdiction is to be tested by the value of the object to be gained by the bill.
The Supreme Court said as follows:
"A bill in equity to abate a public nuisance, filed by one who has sustained special damages, has succeeded to the former mode in England of an information in Chancery, prosecuted on behalf of the Crown, to abate or enjoin the nuisance as a preventive remedy. The private party sues rather as a public prosecutor than on his own account; and unless he shows that he has sustained, and is still sustaining individual damage, he cannot be heard."
"The private party sues rather as a public prosecutor than on his own account; and unless he shows that he has sustained, and is still sustaining, individual damage, he cannot be heard. Then, again, the obstruction to navigation must be plainly a nuisance within this rule before it can be removed by decree. If the proceeding was by indictment, and the jury doubted whether the obstruction was a nuisance or not, they would be instructed to acquit the defendant; and so, if this case was referred to a jury to try the fact, and they doubted, they would be bound to acquit. And the same rule applies in a Court of Chancery where the Court ascertains the fact of nuisance."