8 D.C. 121 (D.C.D.C. 1873), 2924, Harkness v. The District of Columbia

Docket NºIN EQUITY. 2924.
Citation8 D.C. 121
Opinion JudgeMr. Justice MACARTHUR
Party NameJOHN C. HARKNESS, GEORGE H. PLANT, ET ALS. v. THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AND HENRY D. COOKE, ALEXANDER R. SHEPHERD, JAMES A. MAGRUDER, SAMUEL P. BROWN, AND A. B. MULLETT, MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS OF SAID DISTRICT.
AttorneyJ. J. Coombs, W. S. Cox, Appleby & Edmonston , and W. D. Davidge , for complainants. Samuel Philips, S. R. Bond, A. G. Riddle, Enoch Totten , and N. Wilson for defendants:
CourtSupreme Court of District of Columbia

Page 121

8 D.C. 121 (D.C.D.C. 1873)

JOHN C. HARKNESS, GEORGE H. PLANT, ET ALS.

v.

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, AND HENRY D. COOKE, ALEXANDER R. SHEPHERD, JAMES A. MAGRUDER, SAMUEL P. BROWN, AND A. B. MULLETT, MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS OF SAID DISTRICT.

IN EQUITY. No. 2924.

Supreme Court, District of Columbia.

April Term, 1873

I. It is now a well-settled principle that courts of equity will not interfere by injunction to restrain the enforcement or collection of a tax, upon a mere allegation that the tax is illegal or void. This principle proceeds on the ground that the party asking relief has an adequate remedy at law.

II. The chancery jurisdiction will only interpose when the enforcement of the tax would lead to multiplicity of suits, or produce irreparable injury, or where it would throw a cloud upon the title to real estate.

III. But where an assessment is void upon the record of the proceedings in making it, there can be no cloud upon title within the equity powers of this court, and it is only when the invalidity is to be proved outside of the record, that chancery will interpose its preventive remedies.

IV. The principle of law that a purchaser at a tax-sale must prove the regularity of the proceedings from the beginning to the time of the sale, and that all the requirements of the statute have been complied with, has not been changed by the act of the legislative assembly in regard to the effect of a tax-deed.

V. Individual tax-payers whose property has been separately assessed have no that community of interest which will allow them to unite in a bill of complaint to restrain the collection of taxes alleged to be illegally assessed, on the ground of preventing a multiplicity of suits.

VI. A court of equity will not interfere by injunction when the consequences which might ensue would be little less injurious than those to be prevented by this process.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE.

The justice holding the special term in equity passed a rule for the defendants to show cause why they should not be restrained from proceeding to collect certain assessments upon the property of the complainants, for the cost of improvements upon New York avenue; and the application has been certified to the general term, to be heard in the first instance. The complainants are nine in number, and represent in their bill that they are all owners in severalty of lots of ground fronting upon New York avenue, between Ninth street west and Fifteenth street west, in the city of Washington, and that numerous other persons to them unknown are also owners in like manner of lots fronting upon said avenue, on behalf of all of whom, as well as of themselves, they bring this suit. The bill also alleges that all the defendants, except the District of Columbia, are members of the board of public works of said District; and that on the 30th day of August, 1872, and subsequently thereto, they caused to be served upon each of the complainants a written notice in substance and to the effect following, viz: That his ground fronting upon New York avenue, between the streets aforesaid, has been assessed for special improvements at the rate of $10.24 69/100 per front foot, for " " carriageway and footway," and that if any person so notified as aforesaid shall neglect or refuse to pay the amount so assessed against his or her property as aforesaid after the expiration of thirty days, (from the service of said notice,) the said board of public works will immediately thereafter issue certificates of indebtedness against the property so assessed, which certificates shall bear interest until paid at the rate of ten per cent. per annum; and until paid, the assessment and certificate shall remain, and be, a lien upon the property on or against which they shall have been issued; and if the said assessment shall not be paid within one year the said board shall, upon the application of the holder of the certificate of indebtedness, proceed to sell the property against which the certificate and assessment exists, or so much thereof as may be necessary to pay said assessment: Provided , That the owner of said real estate shall have the right to redeem the property so sold, by paying the amount of the purchase-money, and twenty per centum (per annum) thereon, within two years from the date of sale.

The power of the board of public works with regard to assessments is conferred by the 37th section of the act of Congress approved February 21, 1871, entitled " An act to provide a government for the District of Columbia," which provides that " there shall be in the District of Columbia a board of public works, to consist of the governor, who shall be president of said board; four persons to be appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, one of whom shall be a civil engineer, & c. They shall hold their office for the term of four years. The board of public works shall have entire control of, and make all regulations which they shall deem necessary for keeping in repair, the streets, avenues, alleys, and sewers of the city, and all other works which may be intrusted to their charge by the legislative assembly or Congress. They shall disburse, upon their warrant, all moneys appropriated by the United States for the District of Columbia, or collected from property-holders in pursuance of law, for the improvement of streets, avenues, alleys, sewers, roads, and bridges; and shall assess, in such manner as shall be prescribed by law, upon the property adjoining, and to be specially benefited by the improvements authorized by law and made by them, a reasonable proportion of the cost of the improvement, not exceeding one-third of such cost, which sum shall be collected as all other taxes are collected."

On the 10th of August, 1871, the legislative assembly of the District passed an act prescribing the mode of assessments for special improvements, and providing for the collection of the same. The 3d section of that act is as follows:

" That if any person or persons, notified as aforesaid, shall neglect or refuse to pay the amount assessed against his or their property, as aforesaid, after the expiration of thirty days, the said board of public works shall immediately thereafter issue certificates of indebtedness against the property assessed, as aforesaid, which certificates shall bear interest until paid at the rate of ten per centum per annum; and until paid, the assessment and certificate shall remain and be a lien upon the property on or against which they shall have been issued; and if the said assessment shall not be paid within one year, the said board shall, upon the application of the holder of the certificate of indebtedness, proceed to sell the property against which the assessment and the certificate exists, or so much thereof as may be necessary to pay said assessment, such sales to be first duly advertised daily, for three successive weeks, in the regular issue of some newspaper published in the District of Columbia, and to be made by said board at public auction to the highest bidder; and a deed shall be given by the governor, countersigned by the secretary of the District of Columbia, which deed shall be deemed and held to be a good and perfect title to any property bought at any such sale hereby authorized: Provided , That the owner of such real estate shall have the right to redeem the property so sold, by paying the amount of the purchase-money and twenty per centum (per annum) thereon within two years from the date of sale."

The bill then avers several matters affecting the regularity and validity of said assessment, to wit: That the contracts made by said board of public works were at a cost of more than double the amount appropriated for the improvement of said avenue; that such contracts were not authorized by law, and that the board had no lawful power to assess any portion of such cost on the private property of the complainants, and of others adjoining thereto; and that the cost of improvements in street-crossings and in front of church property and Government reservations have been illegally assessed upon their lots, although the same are properly chargeable to the general fund, and other items of expense are charged in the same illegal manner; that said assessments have been made upon said lots by the front foot and not by the value of the property fronting on said improvement, to the great detriment of the complainants. There are several other matters set up in the bill, but enough has been stated to indicate the nature of the objections upon which complainants rely for relief.

The 13th and 14th paragraphs of the bill are given in full:

" And your orators believe and charge that certificates of indebtedness have already been prepared by said board and will be issued at the expiration of thirty days from the service of the notices aforesaid; that said certificates are on their face negotiable, being payable to order, and that it is the design of the said board to negotiate the same and to collect the proceeds thereof; and they are advised, and charge, that the said board being invested by said act of Congress with general power to make assessments, and by said act of the legislative assembly with general power to issue certificates of indebtedness, and the...

To continue reading

Request your trial