Harris v. State

Decision Date21 March 1896
Citation34 S.W. 1017,96 Tenn. 496
PartiesHARRIS, Comptroller, et al. v. STATE ex rel. TURNEY, Governor, et al.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

Appeal from circuit court, Davidson county; Claude Waller, Judge.

Proceedings in mandamus by Peter Turney, governor, E. B. Craig treasurer, and W. S. Morgan, secretary of state, against James A. Harris, comptroller, George C. Porter, John C. New and W. C. Fulcher. From a judgment awarding a peremptory writ, defendants appeal. Reversed.

Vertrees & Vertrees, for appellants.

Granbery & Marks, Cordell Hull, and G. W. Pickle, Atty. Gen., for appellees.


In this case a petition was filed in the circuit court of Davidson county by the state, on the relation of Peter Turney governor, E. B. Craig, treasurer, and W. S. Morgan, secretary of state, constituting the board of examiners of assessments of the distributable property of the various railroads in the state, asking that a writ of mandamus might issue, requiring James A. Harris, comptroller of the treasury of the state, to receive from said board all the records of assessments of this property for the year 1895, and to turn over these records to the state board of assessors and equalizers, and that a writ of mandamus also issue to George C. Porter, John C. New, and W. C. Fulcher, constituting this last-named board, resulting them to receive the records from the comptroller, and, having received them, that they take evidence of the character and value of the railroad property in the state, and reassess the same. In accordance with the prayer of this petition, an alternative writ of mandamus was issued, to which the defendants filed a demurrer, and at the same time made a return or answer. By agreement the demurrer and the answer were heard together by the circuit judge, the result being that a judgment was given awarding a peremptory writ. From this judgment the defendants have appealed to this court.

In the petition the relators have set out with great fullness of detail the requirements of the statutes in the assessments of the distributable property of railroads, including the methods to be pursued by the board of assessors in arriving at its character and condition, not only to enable themselves to arrive at a reasonable conclusion as to its value, but also to furnish a basis for the work that the board of examiners have to do, when the records of these assessments reached them for examination. To this end, the relators allege that the board of assessors were required to embrace in this record all the facts essential under the statute in making these assessments, so that when it came to the board of examiners they might find reliable data therein upon which to discharge the duties imposed by law upon them. In failing to ascertain and embody such facts in the record made up and certified to the board of examiners, it is averred that the board of assessors have been guilty of great official dereliction. In their answer or return to the writ, the defendants deny that they have failed in any respect to discharge their statutory duty; and they further deny the right of the examiners to call upon them for additional evidence, and insist that having closed the record, and deposited it with the comptroller for transmission to the examiners, all control over it, or power with regard to the assessment of taxes for the year 1895, has ended. To the proper understanding of the issues in this case, and the respective duties and rights of these two boards, as well as the relation of the comptroller to them, it is necessary to examine the various statutes of this state providing for the assessment and taxation of railroad property.

By chapter 78 of the Acts of 1875 the legislature, for the first time, undertook to formulate a system for this purpose. In section 1 of this act it was provided "that each railroad company, owning and operating a railroad in the state shall on or before the first day of May of each year, make out and file with the comptroller of the treasury, a complete schedule of all its property, real, personal and mixed, setting forth therein the length of miles or fractions thereof of its entire road bed, switches and side tracks *** the total amount of capital stock, the number of engines and their respective values, the gross annual receipts," etc., with the value thereof. Section 2 provided that "when any company has filed the same [the schedule], or neglected and refused so to do, the comptroller shall notify the governor of the fact and thereupon" he shall appoint three citizens to act as railroad tax assessors. By the terms of section 3 these assessors are required, on the first Monday of June after their appointment, having first received the schedules from the comptroller, to proceed at once to ascertain, test, and value the property belonging to said railroad company. "In making such valuation they shall have in view and look to the capital stock, the corporate property, the franchises of each company, as well as the gross receipts, and the individual stock of each shareholder, and to ascertain these facts they shall have power to summon before them any person and to call for the books of the company and administer oaths," etc. Section 4 provides "that if any railroad company fail or refuse to file the schedule required, or having filed the same, the assessors regard the same as not fair and just, said assessors are hereby empowered," etc., "the items and value of any property in such manner as they may deem best," etc.; while section 5 authorizes a personal inspection of the railroads by the assessors, at the expense of the state. When the assessors have discharged the duties imposed by the foregoing sections, then they are required by section 6 to certify to the comptroller the amount to be taxed to each railroad company, "together with all the facts," and he is then to submit the same forthwith to the governor, secretary of state, and treasurer, constituted a board of examiners; and if they, or any two of them, find that the valuation (so reported) of any railroad company is too low, or is not just and fair, it shall be the duty of the governor to appoint another board of assessors, whose duty it becomes to proceed at once to value the property, and their valuation is made final.

Litigation resulted from this act, and this, added to the discovery of real or apparent defects in it, led to the passage of the amendatory act found in chapter 19 of the Acts of 1877. By this the term of office of the assessors was made two years, and they were required to elect a president and secretary, the duty of this latter officer being to "carefully preserve and file away all reports, documents and proof taken or used by said assessors." It was also provided that all proof taken by the assessors should be reduced to writing, and sworn to and signed by the parties giving it. But the most important amendment of the original act is found in section 13, which provides that the action "of the board of examiners constituted by the 6th section of the act of 1875, shall be final and conclusive; and that this board shall examine the questions of assessment and valuation as upon an appeal upon the record made up by the railroad tax assessors, and said board of examiners may, if they think the assessment made by the railroad tax assessors is too high or too low change the same so as to fix the real value of said railroad, which valuation shall be assessed against them and the taxes due thereunder be paid." The legislature, by chapter 104 of the Acts of 1881, again amended the act of 1875, and provided that, in addition to the requirements of section 1 of that act, each railroad company should include in its schedule the cost of construction and equipments, as near as possible; the amount of dividends declared; the amount and value of its stock in the market for the year preceding; a full report of its outstanding indebtedness, together with a statement of the property mortgaged to secure its bonds; and, lastly, the market value of its bonds for the preceding year. The only other amendatory statute bearing on this investigation is found in chapter 16 of the Acts of the 2d Extra Session of 1882, when, for the first time in this state, railroad property is divided into two classes, to wit, distributable and localized, the first of which is to be assessed and valued under the provisions of the act of 1875 and the various amendments thereto, set out above.

Rejecting all the repugnant sections of the original and amendatory acts, and taking this legislation as a consistent whole (Sedg. St. Const. p. 68; Reg. v. Overseers of the Poor, 107 E. C. L. 224), this general summary sufficient for our immediate purpose, may be made: (1) The duty of each of the railroads is, by the 1st of May of each year, to file with the comptroller schedules containing certain distinct statements, in conformity to the directions of these statutes. (2) These schedules are to be turned over by the comptroller to the assessors for their use. If none are furnished, or if furnished, they are unsatisfactory, the assessors may ascertain the facts which the schedules should contain, in such manner as they may deem best. If they see proper to resort to proof, it must be on notice, and the proof must be reduced to writing, signed and sworn to by the parties giving it. (3) They may jointly or singly inspect the property of any or all railroads in the state, for the purpose of gathering facts to aid them in their valuations; but these facts, if used by them, must be preserved in record form. (4) When they have acquired the essential knowledge, and made their valuations, they must certify the amount to be taxed to each company, "with all the facts," to the comptroller, who is...

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