281 U.S. 673 (1930), 464, Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co. v. Hill

Docket Nº:No. 464
Citation:281 U.S. 673, 50 S.Ct. 451, 74 L.Ed. 1107
Party Name:Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co. v. Hill
Case Date:June 02, 1930
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 673

281 U.S. 673 (1930)

50 S.Ct. 451, 74 L.Ed. 1107

Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Co.

v.

Hill

No. 464

United States Supreme Court

June 2, 1930

Argued May 1, 1930

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI

1. A federal claim first raised by petition for rehearing in a state court is in time for purposes of review here if it was raised at the first opportunity, even though the petition was denied without opinion. P. 677.

2. Where, under repeated constructions of laws of a state, consistently acted upon in administrative practice, a suit in equity to enjoin collection was the appropriate and the only remedy against a discriminating state tax violative of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the state court, overruling its earlier decisions, denies this remedy not for want of power, but upon the ground that the party seeking it should first have exhausted an administrative remedy, which, under the decisions overruled, was never open to him, and which, under the overruling decision, it is too late for him to invoke, the judgment violates due process of law, in its primary sense of an opportunity to be heard and to defend one's substantive right. P. 678.

3. The federal guaranty of due process extends to state action through its judicial, as well as through its legislative, executive or administrative, branch of government. P. 679.

4. Whether acting through its judiciary or through its legislature, a state may not deprive a person of all existing remedies for the enforcement of a right, which the state has no power to destroy, unless there is, or was, afforded to him some real opportunity to protect it. P. 682.

5. The state court having dismissed the bill upon a ground not sufficient to support the judgment independently, without deciding whether the plaintiff's allegations, presenting a claim under the equal protection clause, were sustained by proof, this Court does not inquire into the merits of that claim, but reverses the judgment and remands the case for further proceedings. Id.

323 Mo. 180 reversed.

Certiorari, 280 U.S. 550, to review a judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri affirming the dismissal of a bill to enjoin the collection of taxes.

Page 674

BRANDEIS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1928, the Brinkerhoff-Faris Trust & Savings Company, acting as trustee for its shareholders, brought this suit in a Missouri court against the treasurer of Henry County, Missouri to enjoin him from collecting or attempting to collect a certain part of the taxes assessed against them for the year 1927 on the shares of its stock, and, pending decision in this suit, to restrain the prosecution of an action already brought by him against the plaintiff for that purpose.

The bill alleged that the township assessor had intentionally and systematically discriminated against the shareholders by assessing bank stock at full value while intentionally and systematically omitting to assess certain classes of property and assessing all other classes of property at 75 percent or less of their value. It asserted that, to the extent of 25 percent, the assessments were void because such discrimination violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And it recited that the plaintiff had tendered, and was continuing to tender, payment of the 75 percent of the taxes assessed, which amount it conceded was due. As grounds for equity jurisdiction, the bill charged that relief could not be had at law, either by way of defense in the pending action brought by the treasurer or by paying the tax in full under protest and suing for a refund of 25 percent thereof, and that no administrative remedy for the relief

Page 675

sought was, or ever had been, provided by law either by appeal or otherwise to or from the county board of equalization or the state board of equalization.

The defendant's answer denied all the allegations of discrimination and further opposed relief in equity on the grounds that the plaintiff had not pursued remedies before the county or state board of equalization pursuant to Articles 3 and 5 of Chapter 119 of the Missouri Revised Statutes of 1919, and that the plaintiff was guilty of laches in not so doing. The trial court refused the injunction and dismissed the bill, without opinion or findings of fact.

The Supreme Court of Missouri held on appeal that relief from the alleged discriminatory assessment could not be had in any suit at law; that his bill in equity was the appropriate and only remedy unless relief could have been had by timely application to some administrative board, and that neither of the boards of equalization was charged with the power and duty to grant such relief. But, without passing definitely upon the question of discrimination, it concluded that, if the plaintiff had,

at any time before the tax books were delivered to the collector, filed complaint with the state tax commission, that body, in the proper exercise of its jurisdiction, would have granted a hearing and would have heard evidence with respect to the valuations complained of, and, if the charges contained in the complaint had been found to be true, the valuations placed on its property would have been lowered, or that, on other property raised, the property omitted from the assessment roll would have been placed thereon, and the discrimination complained of thereby removed. The remedy provided by statute is adequate, certain, and complete.

Compare First National Bank of Greeley v. Weld County, 264 U.S. 450. The court held, therefore, that, because plaintiff had this adequate

Page 676

legal remedy, it was not entitled to equitable relief, and, because plaintiff had not complained to the tax commission, "it was clearly guilty of laches in not so doing." On these grounds, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 323 Mo. 180.

The powers and duties of the state tax commission are prescribed by Article 4 of Chapter 119 of the Revised Statutes of 1919. Six years before this suit was begun, those provisions had been construed by the Supreme Court of Missouri in Laclede Land & Improvement Co. v. State Tax Commission, 295 Mo. 298. There, the court had been required to determine whether the commission had power to grant relief of the character here sought. The commission had refused, on the ground of lack of power, an application for relief from discrimination similar to that here alleged. The Laclede Company petitioned for a mandamus to compel the commission to hear its complaint. The Supreme Court denied the petition, saying that it was "preposterous" and "unthinkable" that the statute conferred such power on the commission, and that, if the statute were thus construed, it would violate section 10 of Article 10 of the Constitution of Missouri. That decision was thereafter consistently acted upon by the commission, and it was followed by the Supreme Court itself in later cases.1

Page 677

[50 S.Ct. 453] No one doubted the authority of the Laclede case until it was expressly overruled in the case at bar.2 While the defendant's answer asserted that the plaintiff had not availed itself of the administrative remedies under Articles 3 and 5 of Chapter 119 by application to the boards of equalization and was guilty of laches in not so doing (contentions which the state court held to be unsound), the answer significantly omitted any contention that there had been a remedy by application to the state tax commission, whose powers are dealt with in the intervening Article 4. The possibility of relief before the tax commission was not suggested by anyone in the entire litigation until the Supreme Court filed its opinion on June 29, 1929. Then it was too late for the plaintiff to avail itself of the newly found remedy. For, under that decision, the application to the tax commission could not be made after the tax books were delivered to the collector, and this had been done about October 1, 1927.

The plaintiff seasonably filed a petition for a rehearing in which it recited...

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