3 Paige Ch. 380 (New York Court of Chancery, 1832)
9 Wend. 571 (New York Court for the Correction of Errors, 1832)
The Right to Use a Public Waterway for Navigation is Incompatible with Exclusive Occupation
Hart and Hoyt, merchants in the City of Albany, obtained an injunction restraining the City from removing a floating store-room that the businessmen had installed in the Hudson River basin. The businessmen owned warehouses adjoining the river pier, and the floating store-room, 120 feet by 42 feet, was moored on the river close to the pier and directly across from the warehouses. On a motion to the Court of Chancery, the City sought to have the injunction dissolved.
Chancellor Reuben Walworth presided at the hearing and the businessmen were represented by noted attorney Abraham Van Vechten. The City was represented by attorneys McKown and Lovett who adduced evidence that the City’s easterly boundary extended to the mid-point of the main channel in the Hudson River, and that installation of the floating store-room violated a City ordinance. The Chancellor concluded that the businessmen had ample remedy against the City under the law of trespass for any illegal interference with their property, and he dissolved the injunction.
The merchants appealed to the Court of Errors where Justice Jacob Sutherland wrote the main opinion. He stated that the merchants had been warned by a formal notice from the City, before their floating store-room was completed, that its erection was considered illegal and in direct violation of a City ordinance. In order to be granted a permanent injunction, the merchants were required to establish at least a strong prima facie right to maintain the floating store-room in the Hudson basin and Justice Sutherland concluded that they had utterly failed to do so. All the provisions of the act that provided for the construction of the Hudson basin show that “the common, free and uninterrupted use of every part of the basin was intended to be secured to all the canal boats and vessels that might enter it; and a right permanently and exclusive to occupy any portion of its waters by any individual or association of individuals, was utterly inconsistent with that purpose.” Accordingly, the Court of Errors affirmed Chancellor Walworth’s decision.