Edward Bradford v. A.S. Cole
About This Case
In 1859, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of Edward Bradford v. A.S. Cole. This case came to the high court on appeal from the Leon County Circuit Court.
This case involved a petition submitted by A.S. Cole on behalf of 20 or so members of a neighborhood for the construction of a road through land owned by Edward Bradford. The petition read, in part, “whether or not the said Bradford would be damaged more by the road being opened or the community by its being closed.”
Cole, a practicing physician, was primarily interested in using the road for better access to his patients. He complained about having to travel five miles out of the way, a problem that he claimed could be solved by opening to the public the road through Bradford’s land.
In this instance, the road referred to was already in place as a path; the petitioners wanted it improved and maintained as a public or “neighborhood” road. Its current status and route through Bradford’s land meant he could restrict access.
The Commissioners of Leon County sent three individuals out to the property to survey the existing route and determine the potential for improvements. The surveyors found that the road would greatly benefit the residents of the area by providing a more direct route into Tallahassee.
Based on these findings, the lower court ruled in favor of Cole and the other petitioners. Bradford then pursued an appeal before the Florida Supreme Court.
The high court disagreed with the lower court. According to their reading of cases which established precedent for eminent domain, the petitioners did not demonstrate that the road was a matter of necessity, but rather that it would simply be more convenient than the current route. The Supreme Court was not prepared to intervene on behalf of Leon County and exercise eminent domain over Bradford’s lands. To the court, it appeared that Cole’s problem was more of a personal matter than a public concern.
The opinion of the court in this case warrants quoting at length: “…if mere individual benefit, profit, convenience or advantage is to operate in grants of this kind, where is it to end? The merchant, mechanic, millman, planter, will alike have interests to subserve [sic] by having roads to his house, store or workshop, and the whole country be cut up by private roads. Take away the private inconvenience to [Cole] and there is no excuse nor pretence [sic] for the road, and if [Cole] leaves or removes from the neighborhood, there would seem to be no use for the road.”
This case demonstrates the reluctance of the court to take a liberal interpretation of eminent domain. It is not clear whether Bradford’s status as a prominent planter and landowner weighed on the court’s decision. It is easy to imagine that plantation owners would have banded together to oppose any attempts to bisect their large estates with public thoroughfares.