239 U.S. 254 (1915), 35, Houck v. Little River Drainage District

Docket NºNo. 35
Citation239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266
Party NameHouck v. Little River Drainage District
Case DateNovember 29, 1915
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 254

239 U.S. 254 (1915)

36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266



Little River Drainage District

No. 35

United States Supreme Court

November 29, 1915

Argued October 27, 28, 1915




So far as the federal Constitution is concerned, a state may defray the entire expense of creating, developing, and improving a political subdivision from state funds raised by general taxation -- or it may apportion the burden among the municipalities in which the improvements are made -- or it may create tax districts to meet authorized outlays.

The state may, so far as the federal Constitution is concerned, create

Page 255

tax districts for special improvements directly by the legislature, or may delegate their institution through court proceedings, and the propriety of such delegation is a matter for the state alone, not reviewable by this Court.

A state may by statute directly, or by appropriate legal proceeding, fix the basis of taxation or assessment for a proper governmental outlay, and, unless palpably arbitrary, such action does not violate the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The power of taxation is not to be confused with that of eminent domain; it is not necessary to show special benefits in order to lay a tax, which is an enforced contribution for the payment of public expenses.

A state may, in its discretion, lay assessments for public work in proportion either to position, frontage, area, market value, or estimated benefits, and, unless the exaction is a flagrant abuse of power, it does not amount to deprivation of property without due process of law.

An initial fixed tax per acre laid by a statute of Missouri on a tax district properly organized under the state law for preliminary expenses of starting a public work, such as drainage of the district, does not deprive the owners of property therein of their property without due process of law, there being manifestly in this case nothing arbitrary in the prescribed rate, and it not being necessary to base such a tax upon special benefits.

The statute of Missouri authorizing the imposition of the tax being in force prior to the formation of the taxing district, the tax cannot be considered as retrospective and violative of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on that ground.

The state court having held that a charter of a taxing district as a public corporation did not constitute a contract that the laws it was created to administer would not be changed, this Court sees no reason to disturb the decision.

248 Mo 373 affirmed.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Drainage District Act of Missouri, and of a tax levied thereunder, are stated in the opinion.

Page 259

HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The plaintiffs in error, owners of several thousand acres embraced within the Little River Drainage District, of Missouri, brought this suit to restrain the collection of a tax of twenty-five cents per acre levied generally upon the lands within the district for the purpose of paying its preliminary expenses. The district was organized in 1907 under the provisions of Article 3, Chapter 122, Revised Statutes of Missouri, 1899, as amended by the Act of April 8, 1905. Its board of supervisors appointed engineers, who made surveys and recommended a plan of drainage. Upon the adoption of this plan, in November, 1909, commissioners were appointed for the purpose of viewing the tracts within the district and assessing benefits and damages. Pending the proceedings of these commissioners, the tax in question was levied under the Act of June 1, 1909, now § 5538 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, 1909, which provides as follows:

Sec. 5538. Levy of 25 cents per acre may be made for preliminary work. -- As soon as any drainage district shall have been organized under order of the circuit court, and a board of supervisors are elected and qualified, such board of supervisors shall have the power

Page 260

and authority to levy upon each acre of land in the district, not to exceed twenty-five cents per acre, as a level rate, to be used for purpose of paying expenses of organization, for topographical and other surveys, for plans of drainage, for expenses of assessing benefits and damages and other incidental expenses which may be necessary, before entering upon the main work of drainage. Any district which may have proceeded without such levy may, if in the opinion of its board of supervisors it be desirable to do so, make such level assessment for such purpose, and if such items of expense have already been paid in whole or in part from other sources, the surplus shall be paid into the general fund of the district, and such levy may be made although the work proposed may have failed or have been found impractical.

The amended petition averred in substance that, as to the plaintiffs, all the proceedings had been in invitum; that the lands in the district varied in value; that no benefits had accrued or would accrue to the plaintiffs' lands either from the expenditure of the moneys sought to be raised by the tax, or from the carrying out of the proposed plan; that a large portion of the lands in the district, and those of the plaintiffs in large part, were to be condemned for a right of way for ditches and catch basins, and that the tax had been levied against every acre within the district, as a level tax, without regard either to relative value or to benefits, or to the fact that portions of the lands would be damaged and other portions would be taken by condemnation, or that a large extent of territory, if added to the district, as had been proposed, would receive the benefit of the tax without being charged with any part. The levy of the tax, and [36 S.Ct. 60] the act authorizing it, were assailed as being contrary to the Constitution of the State of Missouri, and also to the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibiting deprivation of property without due process of law.

Page 261

Upon demurrer to the petition, the parties stipulated that the sole question to be determined was whether § 5538 (supra) was constitutional. The trial court held it to be valid, and dismissed the petition. After affirmance in the Supreme Court of Missouri, Division One, the cause was transferred (in view of the federal question) to the court in banc, where the judgment was finally affirmed, the opinion of division one being adopted. 248 Mo. 373.

In considering the contention thus presented under the Fourteenth Amendment, it must be taken to be established that the district had been organized validly for a public purpose. It had been incorporated pursuant to the judgment of the circuit court, as in the act provided, and this judgment had been affirmed upon appeal. Little River Drainage District v. Railroad, 236 Mo. 94. In the opinion of the court in that proceeding, the tracts were described as forming

a contiguous body of land from one to eleven miles in width, extending in a...

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265 practice notes
  • 2 F.2d 680 (8th Cir. 1924), 6556, Kansas City Southern Ry. Co. v. May
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • 8 Noviembre 1924
    ...arbitrary,' or if it is palpably discriminatory. ' That such is the test is established by Houck v. Little River Drainage District, 239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266; Phillip Wagner, Incorporated, v. Leser et al., Judges and Tax Collector of Baltimore City, 239 U.S. 207, 36 S.Ct. 66, ......
  • 269 F. 995 (D.Minn. 1921), 86-115, Thome v. Lynch
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 8th Circuit United States District Court of Minnesota
    • 17 Febrero 1921
    ...R.S. A tax has been defined as: 'An enforced contribution for the payment of public expenses. ' Houck v. Little River Drainage District, 239 U.S. 254, 265, 36 Sup.Ct. 58, 61 (60 L.Ed. 266). And again: 'Generally speaking, a tax is a pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property for the......
  • 203 S.W. 33 (Ark. 1918), 259, Dorsey Land & Lumber Co. v. Board of Directors of Garland Levee District
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • 1 Abril 1918
    ...Asphalt Paving Co., 197 U.S. 430, 25 S.Ct. 466, 49 L.Ed. 819; Wagner v. Baltimore, 239 U.S. 207; Houck v. Little River Drainage District, 239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266; Myles Salt Co. v. Board of Commissioners, 239 U.S. 478, 36 S.Ct. 204, 60 L.Ed. 392. The determination of the Leg......
  • 265 S.W. 517 (Ark. 1924), 193, Howard-Sevier Road Improvement District No. 1 v. Hunt
    • United States
    • Arkansas Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • 27 Octubre 1924
    ...cannot be assailed under the Constitution unless it is palpably arbitrary and a plain abuse of power. Houck v. Little River District, 239 U.S. 254, 60 L.Ed. 266, 36 S.Ct. 58. The issue of whether the assessment of benefits made by the Legislature was palpably arbitrary and largely in excess......
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261 cases
  • 208 Cal. 339, L. A. 9622, Irish v. Hahn
    • United States
    • California United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 30 Septiembre 1929
    ...(Emery v. San Francisco Gas Co., 28 Cal. 346 .) Later cases are unvarying on this point. (See, also, Houck v. Little River District, 239 U.S. 254 [60 L.Ed. 266, 36 S.Ct. 58, see, also, Rose's U.S. Notes].) The right to install improvements by special assessment is, like the power of general......
  • 116 So. 449 (Fla. 1928), 644, Martin v. Dade Muck Land Co.
    • United States
    • Florida United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 26 Marzo 1928
    ...859; Valley Farms Co. of Yonkers v. Westchester County, 261 U.S. 155, 43 S.Ct. 261, 67 L.Ed. 585; Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist., 239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. [95 Fla. 579] 58, 60 L.Ed. 266; Embree v. Kansas City & Liberty Boulevard Road Dist., 240 U.S. 242, 36 S.Ct. 317, 60 L.Ed. 624; ......
  • 188 So. 351 (Fla. 1939), State Ex Rel. Clark v. Henderson
    • United States
    • Florida United States State Supreme Court of Florida
    • 21 Abril 1939
    ...99 A.L.R. 1482; Lainhart v. Catts, 73 Fla. 735, 75 So. 47; Richardson v. Hardee, 85 Fla. 510, 96 So. 290; Houck v. Little River District, 239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266. The opinion in Hamrick v. Spec. Tax School Dist., 130 Fla. 453, 178 So. 406, does not conflict with this opinion......
  • 223 P. 531 (Idaho 1923), Nampa & Meridian Irrigation Dist. v. Petrie
    • United States
    • Idaho United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • 3 Marzo 1923
    ...Y. Co. v. Green, 4 Kan. App. 133, 46 P. 200; Bassett v. City of New Haven, 76 Conn. 70, 55 A. 579; Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist., 239 U.S. 254, 36 S.Ct. 58, 60 L.Ed. 266; Wagner v. Leser, 239 U.S. 207, 36 S.Ct. 222, 60 L.Ed. 230; Sears v. Board of Aldermen, 173 Mass. 71, 53 N.E. 138,......
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3 books & journal articles
  • Theoretical tension and doctrinal discord: analyzing development impact fees as takings.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 51 Nbr. 5, April 2010
    • 1 Abril 2010
    ...(165.) County of Mobile v. Kimball, 102 U.S. 691, 703 (1880). (166.) See supra note 119; see also Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist., 239 U.S. 254, 265 (1915) (noting that "there is no requirement of the Federal Constitution that for every payment there must be an equal benefit,"......
  • Mother's baby, father's maybe! Intestate succession: when should a child born out of wedlock have a right to inherit from or through his or her biological father?
    • United States
    • Columbia Journal of Gender and Law Vol. 22 Nbr. 2, January - January 2012
    • 1 Enero 2012
    ...(McKinney 1967)). New York has since amended its statutes. N.Y. Est. Powers Trusts [section] 4-1.2(a)(2) (McKinney 2011). (126.) Lalli, 239 U.S. at 261. (127.) Id. at 272. (128.) Id. at 264. (129.) Id. at 260. (130.) Id. (131.) Id. (132.) Lalli, 439 U.S. at 267. (133.) Satava, supra note 38......
  • Auctioning the Upzone.
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 70 Nbr. 3, March 2020
    • 22 Marzo 2020
    ...Ass'n--Bay Area v. City of Oakland, 289 F. Supp. 3d 1056, 1057 (N.D. Cal. 2018). (204.) See, e.g., Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist., 239 U.S. 254, 265 (205.) See Cal. Bldg. Indus. Ass'n v. City of San Jose, 136 S.Ct. 928, 928-29 (2016) (Thomas, J., concurring in cert, denial). (206.) Se......

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