Kelly v. Pittsburgh

Decision Date01 October 1881
Citation26 L.Ed. 658,104 U.S. 78
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

ERROR to the Supreme Court of the State of Pennsylvania.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Mr. Daniel Agenw and Mr. Albert N. Sutton for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. George Shiras, Jr., contra.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error, James Kelly, is the owner of eighty acres of land, which, prior to the year 1867, was a part of the township of Collins, in the county of Alleghany and State of Pennsylvania. In that year the legislature passed an act by virtue of which, and the subsequent proceedings under it, this township became a part of the city of Pittsburgh. The authorities of the city assessed the land for the taxes of the year 1874 at a sum which he asserts is enormously beyond its value, and almost destructive of his interest in the property. They are divisible into two classes; namely, those assessed for State and county purposes by the county of Alleghany, within which Pittsburgh is situated, and those assessed by the city for city purposes.

Kelly took an appeal, allowed by the laws of Pennsylvania, from the original assessment of taxes to a board of revision, but with what success does not distinctly appear. The result, however, was unsatisfactory to him, and he brought suit in the Court of Common Pleas to restrain the city from collecting the tax. That court dismissed the bill, and the decree having been affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Court, he sued out this writ of error.

The transcript of the record is accompanied by seven assignments of error. All of them except two have reference to matters of which this court has no jurisdiction. Those two, however, assail the decree on the ground that it violates rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. As the same points were relied on in the Supreme Court of the State, it becomes our duty to inquire whether they are well founded. They are as follows:——

First, The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania erred in sustaining the authority of the city of Pittsburgh to assess and collect taxes from complainant's farm lands for municipal or city purposes, such exercise of the taxing power being a violation of rights guaranteed to him by article 5 of amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

Second, The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania erred in sustaining the authority of the city of Pittsburgh to assess and collect taxes from complainant's farm lands for municipal or city purposes, such exercise of the taxing power being a violation of rights guaranteed to him by art. 14, sect. 1, of the amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

As regards the effect of the fifth amendment of the Constitution, it has always been held to be a restriction upon the powers of the Federal government, and to have no reference to the exercise of such powers by the State governments. See Withers v. Buckley, 20 How. 84; Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U. S. 97. We need, therefore, give the first assignment no further consideration. But this is not material, as the provision of sect. 1, art. 14, of the amendments relied on in the second assignment contains a prohibition on the power of the States in language almost identical with that of the fifth amendment. That language is that 'no State shall . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.'

The main argument of the plaintiff in error—the only one to which we can listen—is that the proceeding in regard to the taxes assessed on his land deprives him of his property without due process of law.

It is not asserted that in the methods by which the value of his land was ascertained for the purpose of this taxation there was any departure from the usual modes of assessment, nor that the manner of apportioning and collecting the tax was unusual or materially different from that in force in all communities where land is subject to taxation. In these respects there is no charge that the method pursued is not due process of law. Taxes have not, as a general rule, in this country since its independence, nor in England before that time, been collected by regular judicial proceedings. The necessities of government, the nature of the duty to be performed, and the customary usages of the people, have established a different procedure, which, in regard to that matter, is, and always has been, due process of law.

The tax in question was assessed, and the proper officers were proceeding to collect it in this way.

The distinct ground on which this provision of the Constitution of the United States is invoked is, that as the land in question is, and always has been, used as farm land, for agricultural use only, subjecting it to taxation for ordinary city purposes deprives the plaintiff in error of his property without due process of law. It is alleged, and probably with truth, that the estimate of the value of the land for taxation is very greatly in excess of its true value. Whether this be true or not we cannot here inquire. We have so often decided that we cannot review and correct the errors and mistakes of the State tribunals on that subject, that it is only necessary to refer to those decisions without a restatement of the argument on which they rest. State Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U. S. 575; Kennard v. Louisiana, id. 480; Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 id. 97; Kirtland v. Hotchkiss,...

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    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • September 25, 1975
    ...161, 178--179 (28 S.Ct. 40, 52 L.Ed. 151); Forsyth v. Hammond, 166 U.S. 506, 518 (17 S.Ct. 665, 41 L.Ed. 1095); Kelly v. City of Pittsburgh, 104 U.S. 78, 80--81, 26 L.Ed. 658.)' Similar observations appear in Weber v. City Council, supra, 9 Cal.3d 950, 957, 109 Cal.Rptr. 553, 557, 513 P.2d ......
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    ...5 N. E. (2d) 720; Beeland Wholesale Co. v. J. L. Kaufman, 174 So. 516; Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Coke Co., 81 L.Ed. 811; Kelly v. Pittsburgh, 104 U.S. 78. unemployment insurance or compensation plan adopted by the Mississippi Legislature is a fair and reasonable method of meeting some o......
  • State v. Kansas City
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • February 9, 1911
    ...taxes for general purposes do not constitute a violation of those constitutional provisions, as was directly decided in Kelly v. Pittsburg, 104 U. S. 78, 26 L. Ed. 658. When the Kelly Case was before the state Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. 85 Pa. 170, 27 Am. Rep. 633, the court quoted with......
  • People ex rel. State Bd. of Equalization v. Pitcher
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • January 12, 1914
    ...v. Anderson, 95 U.S. 37, 41, 24 L.Ed. 335; Hagar v. Reclamation Dist., 111 U.S. 701, 4 S.Ct. 663, 28 L.Ed. 569; Kelly v. Pittsburg, 104 U.S. 78, 79, 26 L.Ed. 658; Railroad Tax Cases, 115 U.S. 321, 6 S.Ct. 57, 29 L.Ed. 414; Carrico v. Crocker (Okl.) 133 P. 181. In State Railroad Tax Cases, s......
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2 books & journal articles
  • Third-Class Citizens: Unequal Protection Within United States Territories.
    • United States
    • Suffolk University Law Review Vol. 55 No. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022 the time provided the opposite--that the Bill of Rights did not apply to state governments. See generally Kelly v. Pittsburgh, 104 U.S. 78 (1881); United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876); Twitchell v. Pennsylvania, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 321 (1868); Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet......
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    • Sage Political Research Quarterly No. 16-1, March 1963
    • March 1, 1963 the annual meeting of the Western States Association of Tax Administrators, Sun Valley, Idaho, October 4, 1961. 1 Kelly v. Pittsburg, 104 U.S. 78, 80 (1881). 2 People v. Central Pacific R.R. Co., 105 Cal. 576, 589, 38 P. 905, 908 (1895). People v. Skinner, 18 Cal.2d 439, 115 P.2d 488 (19......

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