Pelton v. National Bank

Decision Date01 October 1879
PartiesPELTON v. NATIONAL BANK
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

APPEAL from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Ohio.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.

Mr. John C. Grannis and Mr. S. O. Griswold for the appellant.

Mr. R. P. Ranney for the appellee.

MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

The Commercial National Bank of Cleveland, Ohio, organized under the act of Congress of 1864, creating a national banking system, and by virtue thereof entitled to sue in the circuit courts of the United States, brought this bill in equity to enjoin Pelton, the treasurer of the county of Cuyahoga, in which the city of Cleveland is situate, from collecting a tax alleged to be illegal. The chief ground of objection to the tax set out in the bill, and that which is mainly relied on in argument here, is, that the act of the Ohio legislature of April 12, 1877, entitled 'An Act for the equalization of bank shares for taxation,' under which the tax complained of was finally assessed, is in conflict with the Constitution of Ohio on the subject of the uniformity of taxation, and therefore void.

It is also distinctly alleged that the tax, as assessed, is greater than that assessed on other moneyed capital in the hands of individuals, citizens of that State, and is, therefore, in conflict with sect. 5219 of the Revised Statutes of the United States.

The decree below was in favor of the complainant, and Pelton appealed to this court.

It is an appropriate duty, which this court is called upon to perform very often, to protect rights founded on the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States, when those rights are invaded by State authority. But it is a very different thing for this court to declare that an act of a State legislature, passed with the usual forms necessary to its validity, is void because that legislature has violated the Constitution of the State.

It has long been recognized in this court that the highest court of the State is the one to which such a question properly belongs; and though the courts of the United States, when exercising a concurrent jurisdiction, must decide it for themselves, if it has not previously been considered by the State court, it would be indelicate to make such a decision in advance of the State courts, unless the case imperatively demanded it. We will, therefore, inquire first whether the decree of the Circuit Court can be sustained on the other ground.

The bill states very distinctly that the principle on which the valuation of the shares of the bank for taxation is made 'destroys the uniformity of the rule fixed by the Constitution, and violates the obligation thereby imposed to treat all property alike, to the end that all property may bear an equal burden of taxation, and is subversive of the act of Congress allowing such shares to be taxed and intended to protect the owners thereof from greater burdens than were imposed on other moneyed capital at the place where the bank was located.' 'The necessary effect,' it is added, 'of the proceedings had in the assessment and levy of the taxes standing against the shareholders of your orator, and now about to be enforced, has been to deprive such shareholders, both in the matter of valuation and equalization, of all benefit of the Constitution and general laws of the State, by which only uniformity in the burden of taxation upon all descriptions of property could be secured, to take from them the security afforded by the limitation in the act of Congress and to impose upon them such excessive exactions as to make the franchises granted by said act comparatively useless.' The answer, by way of denial, says that 'the taxes mentioned in said complainant's bill, assessed upon the shares of said complainant's banking association, are not taxed at a greater rate than is imposed by the State of Ohio upon other moneyed capital in the hands of individual citizens of said State resident in the city of Cleveland, where said banking association is established and located.'

It is thus very clear that the question, whether the taxation of which the bank complained was a tax on its shares greater than that on other moneyed capital invested in Cleveland, was fairly raised by the pleading.

The argument is advanced here which we considered in People v. Weaver (100 U. S. 539), namely, that if the amount of tax assessed on these bank shares is governed by the same percentage on the valuation as that applied to other moneyed capital, the act of Congress is satisfied, though a principle of valuation is adopted by which inequality and injustice to the owners of them must necessarily result. We do...

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