230 US 46 Arizona Copper Company v. William Allen Gillespie

230 U.S. 46

33 S.Ct. 1004

57 L.Ed. 1384


No. 106.

Argued January 27 and 28, 1913.

Decided June 16, 1913.

Messrs. John A. Garver and Walter Bennett for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 47-51 intentionally omitted]

Messrs. Ernest W. Lewis and Thomas Armstrong, J., for appellee.

Mr. Justice Lurton delivered the opinion of the court:


This is a bill for an injunction to restrain the appellant from polluting a public stream, whereby the appellee has sustained a special injury as a lower proprietor.


The Arizona Copper Company, Limited, is engaged in mining and reducing copper ore near the town of Clifton, Arizona. Its concentration and reduction works, in which ores are treated, are situated upon or adjacent to small streams tributary to the Gila river. Much of the tailings and waste material from the reduction work is carried by the water used in the reducing process into the streams adjacent, or is deposited nearby and is later carried by the rains into the streams, and thence into the Gila river. The appellee, William Allen Gillespie, is the owner of 276 acres of arid land on the Gila river and some 25 miles below the point where the water polluted above finds its way into the river. He has reclaimed this land and brought it into a high state of cultivation, through irrigation, by means of water drawn from the river into the Montezuma canal, and thence, by ditches, spread upon his cultivated land. In the dry seasons, particularly, this water so used for irrigating purposes deposits upon his land the tailings and waste material so suffered to get into the tributaries of the Gila river from the reduction works of the appellant above.


Gillespie and those preceding him in title began the irrigation and cultivation of this tract of land in or about 1872, and have continuously appropriated a sufficiency of water necessary for irrigating purposes from the river. A large body of like land situated in the same valley has been irrigated in the same way by waters drawn from the Gila river by the Montezuma and other like canals constructed and maintained for irrigating purposes, and a large agricultural community has grown up dependent upon irrigation.


In the mountains through which the streams tributary to the Gila river pass are great deposits of rock containing copperore, and since 1872 many mines have been operated. Later the ore was treated in reduction and concentration works, which have increased in extent of operations from time to time, until at the time this suit was begun the capital engaged aggregated several millions of dollars and 3,000 men were employed in and about the mining and reduction operations. Prior to 1885 the operations carried on by the mining companies do not appear to have polluted the tributaries of the Gila to any serious extent. Later the operations were enlarged and methods adopted which began to more and more seriously pollute the water used for irrigating purpose by the proprietors below. Thus both courts below found,—'That in or about 1885 the first concentrator was erected for the reduction of ores in connection with the mining enterprise herein mentioned; that, . . . some six to eight years before the institution of this action, the waters of the Gila river, at other than flood periods, theretofore clear, became discolored by slimes, slickens, and tailings, and began to deposit such slimes, slickens, and tailings, through the irrigating ditches herein mentioned, in the normal and necessary course of irrigation, upon the lands of the plaintiff and other lands herein mentioned.' [12 Ariz. 196, 100 Pac. 465]. The court below further found that the quantity of such waste material carried by the river and deposited upon the lands of the appellee 'continuously increased until after the institution of this suit.' The harmful and damaging character acter of these deposits was found in most explicit terms by the court below, and the character of the injury elaborately explained. The appellee's bill alleged that the injury to his crops and to his land was continuous, and that his remedy at law was inadequate, and his prayer was that the appellant be perpetually enjoined from polluting the streams to his injury.


Originally there were two other corporate defendants, and like relief was sought against them. One was found to be improperly a party, and the bill was dismissed as to it. The other defendant was the Shannon Copper Company. As to that company the court below found:


'That after the commencement of this action and before the hearing of this cause the Shannon Copper Company, in consideration of the dismissal of this action as to it, agreed to spare no reasonable effort or expense to minimize the amount of said tailings and waste material from its said works which may find their way into said river, and, if possible to do so by any reasonable effort and expense, that it would prevent the flow of any of said tailings and waste material from its said works from flowing into said river, and that said efforts should be made at once, and continued without interruption until the object thereof should be accomplished.'


The district court made a full finding of facts, and enjoined the appellant from 'in any manner depositing or suffering or permitting to be deposited, or suffering or permitting to flow into the waters of the said Gila river, or into the San Francisco river or said Chase creek in such manner that they may be carried into the waters of said Gila river, any slimes, slickens, or tailings.'


This judgment was to go into effect January 1, 1908. But when the record was filed, upon appeal, in the supreme court of the territory, that court, upon a bond being executed, suspended its operation until the case should be determined by it. Upon a final hearing that court confirmed the findings of fact by the court below, but modified its judgment by permitting the appellant, at its own expense, 'to construct settling basins at or near the heads of the canals, or elsewhere along the river, by means of which the tailings and slimes carried by the Gila river from appellant's concentrators may be arrested and prevented from being deposited upon the farming lands.' 'This suggestion,' said the court in its opinion made part of the judgment, 'does not appear to have been presented to the trial court, and its decree is so drawn that such means of relief may not be availed of, since appellant is enjoined from permitting any of the tailings or slimes to reach the waters of Gila river. We think, to enable the mining company to take advantage of any efforts it may make in this direction, it should be left to the discretion of the trial court hereafter, upon a proper showing made to it, temporarily to modify the injunction so as to permit of reasonable experiments being made to ascertain the probability of successfully erecting and maintaining settling basins to effectually dispose of the tailings and slimes without detriment to the lands lying under the canals, and with authority in the district court likewise permanently to enforce or modify the injunction in accordance with the conditions as they shall be found to be.' Thus modified, the judgment was affirmed. Later, it being made to appear that the appellant had designed and put into operation large settling basins, and otherwise attempted to arrest, settle, and dispose of the slimes, slickens, and tailings from its works, and had succeeded in arresting much of the waste material, and was in good faith operating and maintaining such works, the court suspended the operation of the judgment pending an appeal to this court.


In Arizona, by statute, all rivers, streams, and running waters are declared public, and may be used for purposes of milling, mining, and irrigation. The first appropriator is first in right to the extent necessary for his purposes.


Whatever advantage there may be in a first appropriation of water is with the appellee. There is no question about the quantity of water appropriated by the upper user, the objection being that the quality of the water which comes down to the lower proprietor after it is used by the copper company is no longer fit for irrigating purposes. Whatever the relative importance of the great mining and reduction works using the water on the upper reaches of the Gila river and its tributary streams, and of the agriculturists using the same water below, from either a public or private point of view, the right of the lesser interest is not thereby subordinated to the greater. That is sometimes a consideration when a plaintiff seeks relief by injunction rather than by an action at law for damages. The wrong and injury, whether it results from pollution of a stream or otherwise, is not condoned because of the importance of the operations conducted by the defendant to either the public or the wrongdoer, and for that wrong there must be a remedy. Whether upon a bill such as this a court of equity will restrain the acts of the party complained of, or leave the plaintiff to his action at law for damages, must depend upon the nature of the injury alleged, whether it be irremediable in its nature, or whether an action at law will afford an adequate remedy, and upon a variety of circumstances, including the comparative injury by granting or refusing the injunction. Atchison v. Peterson, 20 Wall. 507, 22 L. ed. 414.


The court below found that but one of three concentrators operated by the appellant would be affected by an injunction, and that the extent of the hardship from closing that concentrator had not been shown. On the other hand, the court found that the agricultural interests of a large and prosperous community would suffer great injury and possible ruin, if the pollution should go on.


The Arizona statute places a water user for mining purposes upon no higher plane than a user for irrigation. The suggestion that the right to use for mining and reduction purposes cannot be exercised without polluting the streams with waste material, tailings, etc., and that the lower user cannot, therefore, complain of the necessary consequences of the legal right conferred by statute, is without force. The only subordination of one water user to another is the right of the first appropriator to a sufficiency of water for his necessary uses. That includes the quality as well as the quantity. What deterioration in the quality of the water will constitute an invasion of the rights of the lower appropriator will depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, with reference to the use to which the water is applied. Atchison v. Peterson, supra. In giving a right to use the waters of the public streams for mining purposes, the statute does not provide that such a user may send his waste material or debris down the stream to the destruction or substantial stantial injury of the riparian rights of users of water below, and no such invasion of private property rights should be inferred or implied from the right to use water for mining purposes. Woodruff v. North Bloomfield Gravel Min. Co. 9 Sawy. 441, 18 Fed. 753. The maxim, Sic utere tuo ut alienum non loedas, is as fully recognized in the jurisprudence of Arizona as it is elsewhere, and that was the maxim which governed the decision of this case in the courts of Arizona.


That the contamination of the waters of the Gila river constituted a public nuisance which affected a large community of riparian owners and users of the waters for purposes of irrigation may be true. That as a public nuisance a public prosecution for its abatement might have been maintained may be also conceded for the purposes of this case. But it is equally true that the appellee had and would continue to suffer a special injury not borne by the public.


Here the appellee alleged a special grievance to himself affecting the enjoyment and value of his property rights as a riparian owner, and as an individual user of the water for purposes of irrigation. This gives him a clear right to apply for preventive relief. Georgetown v. Alexandria Canal Co. 12 Pet. 91, 98, 9 L. ed. 1012, 1015; Mississippi & M. R. Co. v. Ward, 2 Black, 485, 17 L. ed. 311.


The modification of the decree of the trial court so as to enable the appellant to complete the construction of the remedial works specified and heretofore mentioned met every reasonable equity which was asserted by it. It is in substantial accord with the decree of this court in a somewhat similar case: Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co. 206 U. S. 230, 51 L. ed. 1038, 27 Sup. Ct. Rep. 618, 11 Ann. Cas. 488.


We find no error in the decree of the court below, and it is accordingly affirmed.