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Willson v. Black-Bird Creek Marsh Co

    Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States uses the state’s police power to uphold a Delaware law that restricts federal navigation in a small navigable creek.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A state law is valid if it has a legitimate purpose, that purpose is consistent with the police power to regulate, and it does not violate a federal law on the subject.

    Facts. The state of Delaware authorized Plaintiff, Black-Bird Creek Marsh Company to build a dam in Black-Bird Creek. The dam obstructed navigation of the creek. Defendant, Mr. Wilson, an owner of a sloop licensed under federal navigation laws, “broke and injured” the dam in order to pass through the creek. The state court awarded damages to the Plaintiff. Defendant contends that the law authorizing the dam violates the commerce clause.

    Issue. Whether the state law allowing restriction of federal navigation of Black-Bird Creek violates the commerce clause.

    Held. No. Judgment affirmed. Since, Congress has not passed a specific law to control state legislation over small navigable creeks, Delaware’s law empowering the Plaintiff to dam the creek is not repugnant to the power to regulate commerce in its dormant state and is not in conflict with any law on the subject.

    Discussion. The purpose of the state law was to merely regulate the creek’s passageways which is consistent with the police power. Therefore, the state’s law allowing the dam did not violate the commerce clause.


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