KEEFE V. CLARK

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustia & Oyez
Citation322 U. S. 393
Decision Date22 May 1944

Keefe v. Clark

No. 634

Argued April 27, 28, 1944

Decided May 22, 1944

322 U.S. 393


APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF MICHIGAN

Syllabus

1. Where the contract is between a political subdivision of a State and private individuals, the obligation alleged to have been impaired in violation of the Federal Constitution must be clearly and unequivocally expressed. P. 396.

2. The foregoing rule of construction applies with special force in the present case, since the interpretation of the contract urged by appellants would result in a drastic limitation of the power of the State to remedy a situation obviously inimical to the interests of municipal creditors and the general public. P. 397.

3. The Michigan statute upon which the owners of special assessment drain bonds here rely, dealing with the levy of an additional assessment in the event that the bonds are not paid in full at maturity, did not secure to the bond owners any right which was impaired by later statutes providing for sale by the State, free of all encumbrances, of land for unpaid taxes; and the later statutes did not impair the obligation of their contracts in violation of the Federal Constitution. P. 397.

306 Mich. 503, 11 N.W.2d 220, affirmed.

Page 322 U. S. 394

Appeal from a judgment modifying and affirming a declaratory judgment which, in a suit by special assessment bond owners against county officials, determined the rights of the bond owners, appellants here.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, appellants argue that certain provisions of two Acts passed by the Michigan legislature in 1937 are void in that, contrary to Art. I, sec. 10 of the United States Constitution, they impair the obligation of special assessment drain bonds issued in 1927, some of which are owned by appellants. The case is here on appeal from the Supreme Court of Michigan. 28 U.S.C. § 344(a). [Footnote 1]

So far as here relevant, the two Acts [Footnote 2] said to be unconstitutional provide that parcels of land subject to special assessment for drain projects may be sold for unpaid taxes, and also provide that the purchaser at such a sale shall be

Page 322 U. S. 395

granted a title free of all encumbrances, including all assessments for drain projects already constructed. The proceeds of each tax sale are applied towards payment of the unpaid drain assessment on the particular parcel of land, as well as towards payment of other delinquent taxes. Pursuant to these Acts, the Michigan has sold tax delinquent properties located in the drain district which issued appellants' bonds. The deeds of sale purport to release the properties from all encumbrances, including all assessments on account of the 1927 drain project.

Appellants do not contend that the challenged Acts impair any term of the contract printed on the face of the drain bonds. What they contend is that the Acts impair a right secured to them by a statutory provision which was the law of Michigan at the time their bonds were issued and which, they say, became a part of the bond contract. See Von Hoffman v. City of Quincy, 4 Wall. 535, 71 U. S. 550. The statutory provision upon which they rely reads:

"If there is not sufficient money in the fund in a particular drain at the time of the maturity of the bonds last to mature to pay all outstanding bonds with interest, . . . it shall be the duty of the commissioner to at once levy an additional assessment as hereinbefore provided in such an amount as will make up the deficiency."

Chapter X, § 18, Act 316, Mich.Pub. Acts of 1923, as amended by Act 331, Mich.Pub. Acts of 1927. Appellants' argument is that this statute has given them an indefeasible right to have a deficiency assessment levied on each privately owned parcel of land in the drain district, regardless of whether a particular parcel already has been sold at a tax sale and the proceeds applied toward payment of the drain bonds. In practical effect, they assert that, by this statute, lands subject to assessment for their drain bonds are subject to be sold not...

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25 practice notes
  • Transohio Sav. Bank v. Director, Office of Thrift Supervision, No. 91-5246
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 5, 1993
    ...35 (1986) ("POSSE"); Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130, 148, 102 S.Ct. 894, 907, 71 L.Ed.2d 21 (1982); Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 396-97, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 1073-74, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944); Vicksburg, S. & P. R.R. Co. v. Dennis, 116 U.S. 665, 667-68, 6 S.Ct. 625, 626, 29 L.Ed. 77......
  • Watters v. Bd. of Sch. Dirs. of Scranton, CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:18-CV-2117
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2019
    ...if by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation.’ " Keefe v. Clark , 322 U.S. 393, 397, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 1074, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944) (quoting Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge , 36 (11 Pet.) 420, 548, 9 L.Ed. 773 (1837) ).......
  • Studier v. MPSERB, Docket No. 125765
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • June 28, 2005
    ...if by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation.'" Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 397, [64 S.Ct. 1072, 88 L.Ed. 1346] (1944) (quoting Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 11 Pet. 420, 548 [36 U.S. 420, 9 L.Ed. 773] (1837))......
  • State v. Chamberlain, No. 91,007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 30, 2005
    ...stated: "`Before we can find impairment of a contract we must find an obligation of the contract which has been impaired.' Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 396, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944). Therefore, we begin with an analysis of whether the City, in its 1991 diversion agreement with S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
25 cases
  • Transohio Sav. Bank v. Director, Office of Thrift Supervision, No. 91-5246
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • January 5, 1993
    ...35 (1986) ("POSSE"); Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130, 148, 102 S.Ct. 894, 907, 71 L.Ed.2d 21 (1982); Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 396-97, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 1073-74, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944); Vicksburg, S. & P. R.R. Co. v. Dennis, 116 U.S. 665, 667-68, 6 S.Ct. 625, 626, 29 L.Ed. 77......
  • Watters v. Bd. of Sch. Dirs. of Scranton, CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:18-CV-2117
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Pennsylvania
    • August 22, 2019
    ...if by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation.’ " Keefe v. Clark , 322 U.S. 393, 397, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 1074, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944) (quoting Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge , 36 (11 Pet.) 420, 548, 9 L.Ed. 773 (1837) ).......
  • Studier v. MPSERB, Docket No. 125765
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • June 28, 2005
    ...if by implications and presumptions, it was disarmed of the powers necessary to accomplish the ends of its creation.'" Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 397, [64 S.Ct. 1072, 88 L.Ed. 1346] (1944) (quoting Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 11 Pet. 420, 548 [36 U.S. 420, 9 L.Ed. 773] (1837))......
  • State v. Chamberlain, No. 91,007.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Kansas
    • September 30, 2005
    ...stated: "`Before we can find impairment of a contract we must find an obligation of the contract which has been impaired.' Keefe v. Clark, 322 U.S. 393, 396, 64 S.Ct. 1072, 88 L.Ed. 1346 (1944). Therefore, we begin with an analysis of whether the City, in its 1991 diversion agreement with S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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