Robert Greene v. Louisville Interurban Railroad Company Robert Greene v. Louisville Railway Company

Decision Date11 June 1917
Docket NumberNo. 618,Nos. 617 and 618,No. 617,617,618,s. 617 and 618
Citation61 L.Ed. 1280,37 S.Ct. 673,244 U.S. 499
PartiesROBERT L. GREENE, Auditor, Sherman Goodpaster, Treasurer, and James P. Lewis, Secretary of State, Constituting the Board of Valuation and Assessment for the State of Kentucky, et al., Appts., v. LOUISVILLE & INTERURBAN RAILROAD COMPANY. ROBERT L. GREENE, Auditor, Sherman Goodpaster, Treasurer, and James P. Lewis, Secretary of State, Constituting the Board of Valuation and Assessment for the State of Kentucky, et al., Appts., v. LOUISVILLE RAILWAY COMPANY
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 499-501 intentionally omitted] Mr. Marvel M. Logan, Attorney General of Kentucky, and Messrs. Charles Carroll and John L. Rich, for appellants.

Messrs. Alexander Pope Humphrey and Edward P. Humphrey for appellees.

Mr. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:

These are companion cases, involving similar questions, were argued together, and may be disposed of in a single opinion. Appellees are corporations organized under the laws of the state of Kentucky, one of which (the Louisville & Interurban Railroad Company) operates, as a common carrier, passenger and freight lines of railroad in three of the counties of that state and in various municipalities and taxing districts in those counties; while the other (the Louisville Railway Company) operates, as a common carrier, passenger and freight lines of street railway in the city of Louisville and in Jefferson county, outside of that city. They filed their several bills of complaint in the district court against Henry M. Bosworth and others, then constituting the Board of Valuation and Assessment of the State of Kentucky (Bosworth being also auditor of public accounts), and against the attorney general of the state and his assistants, suing them all, both individually and in their official capacities, for an injunction to restrain steps looking to the certification and enforcement of what are called 'franchise taxes' attempted to be assessed upon the respective complainants for the year 1915 under § 4077 and succeeding sections of the Kentucky Statutes, upon the ground of discrimination in the valuation of the franchises; they having been assessed, as alleged, on the basis of 75 per cent of actual values, while taxable property in general was assessed systematically and intentionally at not more than 52 per cent of actual values. There being no diversity of citizenship, the jurisdiction of the district court was invoked, under the first paragraph of § 24, Judicial Code [36 Stat. at L. 1091, chap. 231, Comp. Stat. 1916, § 991 (1)], upon the ground that the suits arose under the 'due process' and 'equal protection' clauses of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and that the matter in dispute in each case was in excess of the jurisdictional amount. Plaintiffs also relied upon certain provisions of the Constitution of the state that require uniform taxation of property according to value and at the same rate for corporate as for individual property. By supplemental bills the successors in office of the original defendants were made parties, in both their individual and official capacities. In each case there was a motion to dismiss, equivalent to a general demurrer to the bill, upon the following grounds: (1) that there was no Federal question involved, and therefore the court was without jurisdiction; (2) that the bills stated no cause of action under the laws of the state or of the United States; (3) that the plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law; (4) that the bills showed no equity on their face; and (5) that the suits were suits against the state of Kentucky. After a hearing, the court overruled these motions, defendants declined to plead further and made no objection to the submission of the cases for final decrees, the allegations of the bills, not being denied, were taken as true, and final decrees were made granting relief against the enforcement of the disputed assessments, and restraining the imposition of franchise taxes upon plaintiffs for the year 1915, based on assessments to their franchises at greater values than those conceded in the respective bills of complaint, which were 60 per cent of actual values. The court, in reaching this conclusion, followed its own previous decisions in Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Bosworth, 209 Fed. 380, 230 Fed. 191. Defendants appealed directly to this court, under § 238, Judicial Code [36 Stat. at L. 1157, chap. 231, Comp. Stat. 1916, § 1215].

The cases were submitted here at the same time with cognate cases this day decided, viz.: Nos. 778 and 779, Louisville & N. R. Co. v. Greene [244 U. S. 522, 61 L. ed. ——, 37 Sup. Ct. Rep. 683] and Nos. 642-645, Illinois C. R. Co. v. Greene [244 U. S. 555, 61 L. ed. ——, 37 Sup. Ct. Rep. 697].

In the present cases, the assignments of error and the argument for appellants are based upon the refusal to dismiss the bills of complaint, no criticism being made as to the particular relief granted by the final decrees.

The bills are substantially identical in form, and an outline of the one filed by the Louisville & Interurban Railroad Company (No. 617) will suffice. Following a prefatory statement of jurisdictional matters and a de- scription of the parties, it avers in substance that the State Board of Valuation and Assessment, having ascertained by a process not here criticized what, in their judgment, was the fair cash value of plaintiff's 'capital stock,' took 75 per cent of the result, and thus fixed the valuation of the capital stock for the purposes of the assessment for the year 1915 at $2,250,000; deducted therefrom the amount of plaintiff's tangible property assessed for state taxes,—$813,619,—thus fixing the value of the 'franchise' at $1,436,381; and ascertained the state taxes thereon as follows: state tax, generally, at 50 cents, $7,181.90; state road tax, at 5 cents, $718.19; a total of $7,900.09. That plaintiff protested, but to no avail. That the assessment subjects plaintiff to state taxes upon the whole of its capital stock, and to county taxes in the three counties on proportionate parts of it, and to additional taxes in the cities and other municipalities and taxing districts through which its railroad runs. Plaintiff avers that for many years past, including the taxing year 1914-1915, the taxes for which are here in controversy, the local assessors and other assessing officers of the state of Kentucky have habitually, intentionally, systematically, and generally assessed the property of individuals and of corporations within their sphere of duty, comprising 80 per cent of the total taxable property, at not exceeding 52 per cent of its fair cash value, estimated at the price which it would bring at a fair and voluntary sale; that the fact of such systematic assessment upon that basis annually for many years past has been a matter of public notoriety in the state; 'whereas the said Bosworth, Rhea, and Crecilius, acting as the State Board of Valuation and Assessment, after ascertaining what, in their judgment, was the fair cash value of plaintiff's capital stock, reduced said value only to the extent of taking 75 per cent thereof, instead of taking 52 per cent, the average rate applied by assessing officers to the vast body of property in this state.' It is averred that Bosworth, Rhea, and Crecilius have denied to plaintiff the benefit of equalization, and that thereby plaintiff has been deprived of its property without due process of law and denied the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the 14th Amendment and the Constitution and laws of the state; that plaintiff has paid the state and county taxes upon its tangible property for the year in controversy so far as they have been demanded, and also has paid the state taxes upon its franchise as arrived at by taking the value of its capital stock and taking 60 per cent of such valuation and deducting therefrom the valuation of plaintiff's tangible property; that Bosworth, Rhea, and Crecilius, unless enjoined, will certify to the county clerks of the three counties mentioned the amounts claimed to be due to said counties and the taxing districts thereof by reason of the valuation they have assumed to make as above stated; the county clerks will thereupon certify said assessments respectively to the tax collectors for the said counties and the taxing districts therein for collection; and said collecting officers will proceed to make collections and to institute unwarranted, vexations, and multitudinous suits and proceedings at law against plaintiff; that unless enjoined the said Bosworth or his deputy will enter in account with the treasurer of the state the amount of taxes based upon the valuation aforesaid, and the said attorney general and his assistants will institute civil or penal actions or peocure indictments against plaintiff, based upon its supposed delinquency in the payment of taxes; and that the unauthorized and illegal valuation constitutes a cloud and, as claimed by defendants, constitutes a lien upon plaintiff's property in the commonwealth, and unless defendants are enjoined numerous and vexatious suits will be instituted to enforce or foreclose such lien. There is an appropriate prayer for injunction and for general relief.

It does not appear, from any express averment in the bills, that other property owners have been subject to discrimination precisely like that of which plaintiffs complain; but the entire argument for defendants, in these cases and others argued with them, proceeds upon the theory that the Board of Valuation and Assessment treated all taxpayers alike over whom they had jurisdiction; hence, it is fair to assume that plaintiff's franchises were assessed on the same basis of valuation applied by the Board to other property generally that came within the range of their official duty.

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