41 1095 Forsyth v. City of Hammond

Decision Date19 April 1897
Docket NumberNo. 615,615
Citation17 S.Ct. 665,166 U.S. 506
Parties` 41 L.Ed. 1095 FORSYTH v. CITY OF HAMMOND et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

The legislation of Indiana authorizes the annexation of contiguous territory to the limits of a city with or without the consent of the owner. The statutory provisions in respect thereto, found in 1 Horner's Rev. St. 1896 (Rev. St. 1894, §§ 3658-3660), are printed in the margin.1

The city of Hammond is situated in the county of Lake, and in 1893 it instituted proceedings to extend its limits over a large tract of contiguous territory, some of which, at least, was not laid off and platted into lots. The application was denied by the board of county commissioners of Lake county, whereupon the city appealed to the circuit court of that county, and the case thus appealed was thereafter transferred by change of venue to the circuit court of Porter county, Ind., which court, upon the verdict of a jury, entered a decree in favor of the city for the annexation of the territory.

The present plaintiff was a party to these proceedings. She was the owner of about 725 acres within the area attempted to be annexed. After the decision by the circuit court of Porter county the city levied taxes on the property to the amount of $3,500, whereupon on April 29, 1895, she filed her bill in the circuit court of the United States for the district of Indiana, praying for an injunction to restrain the collection of those taxes. An amended bill was filed on May 1, 1895, upon which amended bill a hearing was had, resulting in a denial of the motion for an injunction and the dismissal of the suit. 68 Fed. 774. From such dismissal she appealed to the court of appeals for the Seventh circuit, by which court, on January 16, 1896, the decree of the circuit court dismissing the bill was reversed, and the case remanded to that court, with directions for further proceedings. 34 U. S. App. 552, 18 C. C. A. 175, and 71 Fed. 443. Whereupon the city of Hammond applied to this court for a certiorari, directed to the court of appeals, which application was sustained, and on October 19, 1896, a certiorari was ordered.

Before the filing of the bill in the United States circuit court this plaintiff with others had appealed from the decree of the circuit court of Porter county to the supreme court of Indiana, and by that court, on April 11, 1895, the decree had been affirmed. 142 Ind. 505, 40 N. E. 267. A petition for rehearing was denied on November 8, 1895. 142 Ind. 516, 41 N. E. 950. While this decision of the supreme court, though announced before the disposition of the case in the United States circuit court of appeals, has not been formally incorporated into the record by an amendment of the pleadings or otherwise, it was made a matter of consideration by the court of appeals, and has been discussed and treated by counsel in the arguments before us as a fact in the case, and to be considered in determining the questions that are presented.

The bill alleged that the plaintiff's lands were used solely for pasturage and hay and other agricultural purposes; that the real value did not exceed $100 per acre; that the land had no market value, but only one speculative and prospective, dependent upon the location, not yet secured, of manufacturing establishments whose market and offices would be in Chicago; that no part of the land had ever been mapped or platted with a view to the sale of lots; that on the entire tract there were but 21 dwelling houses, 10 of them being in a row and within about a quarter of a mile of the town of Whiting, in the county of Lake, in which town the tenants of all said houses were engaged in business and work; that the houses on the lands were four and one-half miles distant from any police station, fire-engine house, or gas lamp of the city of Hammond, so that in the nature of things no benefit could be received from the municipal government of that city; that the lands were valued for taxation by the city at the rate of $250 to $500 per acre, and the taxes thereon amounted to about $5 per acre; that the valuation was enormously in excess of the real value, and the taxes exorbitant, oppressive, and extortionate. The bill further alleged that at the time the annexation proceedings were instituted the city of Hammond did not contain more than 6,000 or 7,000 inhabitants; that it had territory about three miles long by two miles wide; that on the northern boundary, and within the limits of the city, were about two square miles of lands, no part of which had ever been laid off into lots and blocks, on one of which there was not a single house or road, and on the other but seven houses and one road; that this vacant tract was between the settled parts of the city and the lands of the complaint; that the part of the city of Hammond laid off into lots is much larger than is likely to be required for city purposes for many years to come; that the city's boundaries contained nearly 4,000 acres, and that the territory attempted to be annexed consisted of about five square miles of practically vacant lands, lying directly north of the city limits, and extending all the way from such limits to the shores of Lake Michigan. Other facts were alleged also tending to show the impropriety of the annexation of this comparatively vacant territory to the city of Hammond. It was specifically charged that the city of Hammond had a municipal debt amounting to nearly twice the constitutional limit, and that the purpose of the annexation was, by adding new property at an exaggerated valuation, to so increase the appraised taxables of said city as to lift it out of its constitutional dilemma without regard whatever to the advantages or benefits to the property so sought to be annexed. The bill further set forth the proceedings before the county commissioners and in the state circuit court, but averred that those proceedings were void because the enlargement of the limits of a city was a matter of legislative, and not of judicial, cognizance, and that it was not competent for the legislature to intrust to the courts the decision of such questions.

Benjamin Harrison and W. H. H. Miller, for Mrs. Forsyth.

Chas. H. Aldrich, for the City of Hammond.

Mr. Justice BREWER, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion the court.

The first proposition of counsel for plaintiff is that the writ of certiorari was prematurely issued, and that this court could not at that time rightfully take jurisdiction of the case because there had been no final decree. The court of appeals simply reversed the decree of the circuit court and remanded the case for further proceedings. This contention involves two matters: First, the question of power; and, second, that of propriety. It may be that the question of propriety should be considered as foreclosed by the action of the court in awarding the writ of certiorari, but the question of power, being one of jurisdiction, is always open, and must whenever presented be considered and determined.

This question of power has, indeed, already been decided by this court in prior cases (American Const. Co. v. Jacksonville Ry. Co., 148 U. S. 372, 383, 13 Sup. Ct. 758; U. S. v. The Three Friends, 166 U. S. 1, 17 Sup. Ct. 495); but, as it has again been discussed by counsel, a brief reference to those cases and the reasons therein stated may not be inappropriate. Up to the time of the passage of the act of 1891, creating the circuit courts of appeal, the theory of federal jurisprudence had been a single appellate court, to wit, the supreme court of the United States, by which a final review of all cases of which the lower federal courts had jurisdiction was to be made. It is true there existed certain limitations upon the right of appeal and review, based on the amount in controversy and other considerations; but such limitations did not recognize or provide for the existence of another appellate court, and did not conflict with the thought that this court was to be the single tribunal for reviewing all cases and questions of a federal nature. The rapid growth of the country and the enormous amount of litigation involving questions of a federal character so added to the number of cases brought here for review that it was impossible for this court to keep even pace with the growing docket. The situation had become one of great peril, and many plans for relief were suggested and discussed.

The outcome was the act of March 3, 1891, the thought of which was the creation in beach of the nine circuits of an appellate tribunal composed of three judges, whose decision in certain classes of cases appealable thereto should be final. McLish v. Roff, 141 U. S. 661, 666, 12 Sup. Ct. 118. While this division of appellate power was the means adopted to reduce the accumulation of business in this court, it was foreseen that injurious results might follow if an absolute finality of determination was given to the courts of appeal. Nine separate appellate tribunals might by their differences of opinion, unless held in check by the reviewing power of this court, create an unfortunate confusion in respect to the rules of federal decision. As the courts of appeal would often be constituted of two circuit judges and one district judge, a division of opinion between the former might result in a final judgment where the opinions of two judges of equal rank were on each side of the questions involved. Cases of a class in which finality of decision was given to the circuit courts of appeal might involve questions of such public and national importance as to require that a consideration and determination thereof should be made by the supreme tribunal of the nation. It was obvious that all contingencies in which a decision by this tribunal was of importance could not be foreseen, and so there was placed in the act creating the courts of appeal, in addition to other provisions for review by this court, this enactment:


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