284 U.S. 23 (1931), 7, Cumberland Oil Co. v. Board of Revision of

Docket Nº:No. 7
Citation:284 U.S. 23, 52 S.Ct. 48, 76 L.Ed. 146
Party Name:Cumberland Oil Co. v. Board of Revision of
Case Date:November 23, 1931
Court:United States Supreme Court

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284 U.S. 23 (1931)

52 S.Ct. 48, 76 L.Ed. 146

Cumberland Oil Co.


Board of Revision of

No. 7

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 23, 1931

Tax Assessments in Greene County, Pennsylvania

Argued October 16, 19, 1931



1. A federal question which was entertained by a state supreme court and decided on a petition for reargument is reviewable here. Jud.Code, § 237(b). P. 24.

2. Discrimination in state ad valorem taxation, resulting from intentional, systematic undervaluation of some property as compared with the valuation of other property of the same class in other ownership, violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, even though the property so discriminated against be not assessed higher than its fair market value, or higher than a percentage of fair market value adopted as a uniform basis in making the assessments. Pp. 25, 28.

The property considered was virgin coal, of uniform quality and thickness, underlying the taxing district. The taxing authorities assigned a uniform value per acre to all of it, notwithstanding that those lands which were near to a river were, because of access to transportation, etc., several times more valuable than those that were farther away. The assessment was made on the uniform basis of 50% of the values assigned.

302 Pa. 179, 152 A. 755, reversed.

Certiorari 283 U.S. 81813, to review judgments which affirmed the dismissal, by the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania, of appeals from tax assessments.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

These seven cases were heard together in the state court and decided in a single opinion, as they were deemed to present but one question. They relate to assessments for taxation of the coal lands of the petitioners, for the year 1928, in several townships of Greene county, Pennsylvania. Taking as typical the assessment of coal lands in the township of Cumberland, it appears that petitioners, on appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Greene county, assailed the plan of assessment adopted by the Commissioners of the county sitting as a board of appeal for the revision and equalization of assessments. Petitioners alleged that the valuation placed upon their coal was unjust and discriminatory, as the Commissioners had

assessed all coal in the same township (except what is termed "active coal") at the same valuation, regardless of the [52 S.Ct. 49] remoteness or accessibility of the said coal to market cost of operation, or means of transportation and regardless of the difference in value and without due regard to the valuation and assessment of other coal and other classes of real estate in the County of Greene.

The court of common pleas, on findings of fact and conclusions of law, dismissed the appeals, and the decrees were affirmed by the supreme court of the state. Greene County Coal Tax Appeals, 302 Pa. 179, 152 A. 755. The specific contention that the plan of assessment violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was presented by petition for reargument and was considered and was explicitly overruled by the supreme court. As the state court entertained and decided the federal question, this Court has jurisdiction. Jud.Code, § 237(b), U.S.C. Tit. 28,

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§ 344; Leigh v. Green, 193 U.S. 79, 85; Sullivan v. Texas, 207 U.S. 416, 422; Illinois Central R. Co. v. Kentucky, 218 U.S. 551, 556; Fleming v. Fleming, 264 U.S. 29, 31.

There is no question that the assessments under review were made pursuant to a deliberately adopted system. The case is not one of mere errors in judgment in following a proper method (Sunday Lake Iron Co. v. Wakefield, 247 U.S. 350, 352-353; Southern R. Co. v. Watts, 260 U.S. 519, 526), but one where the challenged discrimination resulted from a plan of assessment which was nonetheless systematic and intentional because of belief in its validity (Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co., 207 U.S. 20, 35-37; Sioux City Bridge Co. v. Dakota County, 260 U.S. 441, 445; Chicago Great Western R. Co. v. Kendall, 266 U.S. 94, 98-99).

From the facts as found by the court of common pleas, it appears that the petitioners' property in question is virgin coal (as distinguished from "active coal," that is, coal which "is opened and mined"1 ) and is part of the Pittsburgh or river vein. That is a continuous vein of bituminous coal underlying the whole of Greene County, and is "practically of the same character, quality and thickness." Greene County is bounded on the east by the Monongahela River, and the Pittsburgh or river vein extends westerly for several miles through a number of townships. The coal immediately along the river front, by reason of proximity to rail and river transportation, is more valuable than the "back coal," and the value of the coal decreases with the distance from the river. Within a distance of about three miles westerly from the river,

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mining operations are being conducted. In making the triennial assessments for the taxation of property ad valorem, the Commissioners adopted as a uniform basis for all property fifty percent of the amount taken as actual value. The Commissioners then assigned different values for the coal in the different townships of the county, but assessed the coal within the same township at the same value an acre notwithstanding differences in actual or market value due to distances from transportation facilities and to other factors.

Cumberland township adjoins the Monongahela River and extends westerly about nine miles. All the...

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