Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge

Fact Box

Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge
Petitioner: Charles River Bridge
Respondent: Warren Bridge

Decision: 5 votes for Warren Bridge, 2 votes against
Facts of the Case 

In 1785, the Massachusetts legislature incorporated the Charles River Bridge Company to construct a bridge and collect tolls. In 1828, the legislature established the Warren Bridge Company to build a free bridge nearby. Unsurprisingly, the new bridge deprived the old one of traffic and tolls. The Charles River Bridge Company filed suit, claiming the legislature had defaulted on its initial contract.


Did the legislature enter into an economic contract with the Charles River Bridge Company that was impaired by the second charter in violation of Article I Section 10 of the Constitution?

Decision: 5 votes for Warren Bridge, 2 vote(s) against
Legal provision: US Const. Art 1, Section 10, Clause 1

In a 5-to-2 decision, the Court held that the state had not entered a contract that prohibited the construction of another bridge on the river at a later date. The Court held that the legislature neither gave exclusive control over the waters of the river nor invaded corporate privilege by interfering with the company's profit-making ability. In balancing the rights of private property against the need for economic development, the Court found that the community interest in creating new channels of travel and trade had priority.