Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[blocks in formation]

cash value, estimated at the price it would bring at a fair voluntary sale,-a provision that is repeated in § 4020, Ky. Stats., which deals with the duties of assessing officers. The averments of the bills of complaint, admitted on this record, are that the Board did not assess the property of plaintiffs at fair cash value, but at 75 per cent. thereof, and that this resulted in unequal taxation only because the county assessments were at a still lower percentage. But, laying this aside, and assuming for the moment that the Board performed its duty strictly in accordance with $ 172, by assessing plaintiffs' properties at fair cash value, what is the effect of that action, in view of the systematic undervaluations by the assessing officers charged with valuing other classes of property? This question cannot be answered without considering the relation of § 172 to 88 171 and 174, which require uniform taxation according to value, and an identical rate as between corporate and individual property: The operation and effect of such a taxing system, both in respect to raising the necessary moneys and in distributing the burden among the taxpayers, depend upon two considerations: first, the rate of taxation, and, secondly, the basis of valuation of the property to be taxed. Plainly, the provision of § 174 that “all corporate property shall pay the same rate of taxation paid by individual property” means that not only the percentage of the rate, but the basis of the valuation shall be the same. "Taxing by a uniform rule requires uniformity not only in the rate of taxation, but also uniformity in the mode of the assessment upon the taxable valuation. Uniformity in taxing implies equality in the burden of taxation, and this equality of burden cannot exist without uniformity in the mode of the assessment, as well as in the rate of taxation.” Exchange Bank of Columbus v. Hines, 3 Ohio St. 1, 15, quoted in Cummings v. National Bank, 101 U. S. 153, 158.

It is equally plain that it makes no difference what basis

[blocks in formation]

of valuation—that is, what percentage of full valuemay be adopted, provided it be applied to all alike. The adoption of full value has no different effect in distributing the burden than would be gained by adopting 75 per cent., or 50 per cent., or even 10 per cent., as the basis-so long as either was applied uniformly. The only difference would be that, supposing the requirements of the treasury remained constant, the rate of taxation would have to be increased as the percentage of valuation was reduced. (Under $ 171 of the constitution, the rate of taxation may be varied by the General Assembly from year to year, according to requirements. Therefore, the principal if not the sole reason for adopting "fair cash value" as the standard for valuations, is as a convenient means to an end—the end being equal taxation. But if the standard be systematically departed from with respect to certain classes of property, while applied as to other property, it does not serve but frustrates the very object it was designed to accomplish. It follows that the duty to assess at full value cannot be supreme in all cases, but must yield where necessary to avoid defeating its own purpose.

A substantially identical question was presented to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Taylor v. Louisville & Nashville R. R. Co., 88 Fed. Rep. 350, where the Constitution of Tennessee declared that all property should be taxed according to its value, to be ascertained as the legislature should direct, "so that taxes shall be equal and uniform throughout the State," and the statutes required that the real value of the property be adopted, and where, as here, railroad property and

1 A few of the States have enacted laws adopting percentages of full value as bases of taxation: Iowa, 25 per cent. (Code Supp. 1907, $ 1305); Illinois, 20 per cent. (Hurd's Stat. 1898, p. 1365, e), afterwards 33} per cent. (Hurd's Stat. 1909, p. 1882, § 312; Hurd's Stat. 1912, p. 1963, § 312); Nebraska, 20 per cent. (Rev. Stats. 1913, 6300); Alabama, 60 per cent. (Gen. Acts 1915, p. 393, 89).

244 U.S.

Opinion of the Court.

some other kinds were valued by one set of officials, and property in general by another, without provision for equalization as between the two classes. The court, by Circuit Judge Taft, said (p. 364): "The sole and manifest purpose of the constitution was to secure uniformity and equality of burden upon all the property in the State. As a means of doing so (conceding that defendant's construction is the correct one), it provided that the assessment should be according to its true value. It emphasized the object of the section by expressly providing that no species of property should be taxed higher than any other species. We have before us a case in which the complaining taxpayer, and other taxpayers owning the same species of property, are taxed at a higher rate than the owners of other species of property. This does not come about by legislative discrimination, but by the intentional and systematic disregard of the law by those charged with the duty of assessing all other species of property than that owned by complainant and its fellows of the same class.

[p. 365] The question presented is, then, whether, when the sole object of an article of the constitution is being flagrantly defeated, to the gross pecuniary injury of a class of litigants, and one of them appeals to a court of equity for relief, it must be withheld because the only mode of granting it will involve an apparent departure from the method marked out by the constitution and the law for attaining its sole object. We say 'apparent' departure from the constitutional method, because that instrument contemplated a system in which all property should be assessed at its real value.

The court is placed in a dilemma, from which it can only escape by taking that path which, while it involves a nominal departure from the letter of the law, does injury to no one, and secures that uniformity of tax burden which was the sole end of the constitution. To hold otherwise is to make the restrictions of the constitu

[blocks in formation]

tion instruments for defeating the very purpose they were intended to subserve. It is to stick in the bark, and to be blind to the substance of things. It is to sacrifice justice to its incident."

After pointing out the similarity of the case to Cummings v. National Bank, supra, and declaring (p. 372): “An intentional undervaluation of a large class of property, when the law enjoins assessment at true value, is necessarily designed to operate unequally upon other classes of property to be assessed by other taxing tribunals, who, it may be presumed, will conform to the law,” the court further said (p. 374): "The various boards whose united action is by law intended to effect a uniform assessment on all classes of property are to be regarded as one tribunal, and the whole assessment on all classes of property is to be regarded as one judgment. If any board which is an essential part of the taxing system intentionally, and therefore fraudulently, violates the law, by uniformly undervaluing certain classes of property, the assessment by other boards of other classes of property at the full value, though a literal compliance with the law, makes the whole assessment, considered as one judgment, a fraud upon the fully-assessed property. And this is true although the particular board assessing the complainant's property may have been wholly free from fault of fraud or intentional discrimination."

The justice of this view has been recognized by the state courts of last resort in many cases. Bureau County v. Chicago &c., R. R. Co., 44 Illinois, 229, 239; Cocheco Co. v. Strafford, 51 N. H. 455, 482; Manchester Mills v. Manchester, 58 N. H. 38; Randell v. City of Bridgeport, 63 Connecticut, 321, 324; C., B. & Q. R. R. Co. v. Comm'rs of Atchison Co., 54 Kansas, 781, 792; Ex parte Fort Smith &c. Bridge Co., 62 Arkansas, 461, 468; Burnham v. Barber, 70 Iowa, 87, 90; Barz v. Board of Equalization, 133 Iowa, 563, 565; Iowa Cent. Ry. Co. v. Board of Review (Iowa,

[blocks in formation]

1916), 157 N. W. Rep. 731; Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Co. v.. Luzerne Co., 225 Pa. St. 267, 271; People v. I. C. R. R. Co., 273 Illinois, 220, 244–250. There are declarations to the contrary (Central R. R. Co. v. State Board of Assessors, 48 N.J. L. 1,7; Lowell v. County Commissioners, 152 Massachusetts, 372, 375), but they take little or no account of the rights of aggrieved taxpayers.

(6) The next question in order is whether the assessments have the effect of denying to plaintiffs the equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is obvious, however, in view of the result reached upon the questions of state law, just discussed, that the disposition of the cases would not be affected by whatever result we might reach upon the federal question; for no other or greater relief is sought under the "equal protection" clause than plaintiffs are entitled to under the provisions of the constitution and laws of the State to which we have referred. Therefore, we find it unnecessary to express any opinion upon the question raised under the Fourteenth Amendment.

(7) It is objected that appellees had an adequate remedy at law, and Singer Sewing Machine Co. v. Benedict, 229 U. S. 481, is cited as a controlling authority. There the suit was brought to enjoin the collection of taxes levied by the City and County of Denver, in the State of Colorado, and because of the Act of Congress (Rev. Stats., § 723) and familiar decisions applying and enforcing it, since it appeared that a local statute required the board of county commissioners to refund taxes paid and thereafter found to be erroneous or illegal,“whether the same be owing to erroneous assessment, to improper or irregular levying of the tax, to clerical or other errors of omission," with a correlative right on the part of the taxpayer to enforce that duty by action at law, and the decisions of the Supreme Court of the State interpreted the statute so as to give an adequate remedy at law, this court affirmed a decree dismissing the bill.

« AnteriorContinuar »