St Louis Kansas City Land Company v. Kansas City, 261

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation241 U.S. 419,36 S.Ct. 647,60 L.Ed. 1072
Docket NumberNo. 261,261
PartiesST. LOUIS & KANSAS CITY LAND COMPANY, Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad Company, et al., Plffs. in Err., v. KANSAS CITY
Decision Date05 June 1916

241 U.S. 419
36 S.Ct. 647
60 L.Ed. 1072
ST. LOUIS & KANSAS CITY LAND COMPANY, Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad Company, et al., Plffs. in Err.,



No. 261.
Argued March 7, 1916.
Decided June 5, 1916.

Page 420

Messrs. I. N. Watson, H. M. Langworthy, Kenneth MaC. De Weese, Edward White, and Elliott M. Jones for plaintiffs in error.

Messrs. Jesse C. Petherbridge, Arthur F. Smith, and Andrew F. Evans for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Hughes delivered the opinion of the court:

This was a supplemental proceeding to assess certain parcels of land in Kansas City, Missouri, for benefits. The assessments were for the purpose of meeting an unpaid portion of damages which had been awarded for property condemned in widening Sixth street. Judgment for the assessments was entered on the verdict of a jury and was affirmed by the supreme court of Missouri, in banc. 260 Mo. 395, 169 S. W. 62. This writ of error is prosecuted by owners of property thus assessed.

In October, 1909, the common council of Kansas City passed an ordinance providing for the condemnation of property within specified limits, and for the raising of the amount of the award by special assessments against property within a described benefit district, in accordance with article 6 of the city's charter. Proceedings ac-

Page 421

cordingly were then brought in the municipal court of Kansas City, resulting in an award of $166,299.57 for property taken and in the making of assessments of like amount for benefits. There were over 13,000 different tracts within the benefit district. No appeal was taken from the judgment. The city collected on the assessments about $89,000. It was discovered that the publication of the required notice of the proceeding was defective, and in an appropriate suit in equity, brought by the Union Pacific Railroad Company, a decree was obtained in favor of that company, and of certain interveners, annulling the assessments against their properties; and no appeal was taken from that decree.

Thereupon, Kansas City attempted to repeal the original ordinance, presumably—as the state court suggests—for the purpose of abandoning the proceeding and returning the assessments paid. At the suit of owners of the land condemned—who were entitled to the awards—decree was entered enjoining the city from abandoning the condemnation proceedings. The city then enacted a 'supplemental or curative ordinance,' basing its action on the authority of § 231 of article 6 of the city's charter.

Page 422

'The object of said sensible charter provision,' it is said by the state court, 'was to afford a remedy when by any error, defect, or omission in condemnation proceedings, assessments made against private property cannot be enforced or collected, or where property in the benefit district is omitted, etc. In such case it was provided that the city may, by ordinance, institute and carry on supplemental proceedings to make a proper assessment against any parcel of property in the benefit district erroneously omitted or erroneously made in the first proceeding, etc.' 260 Mo. p. 406.

Under this ordinance the supplemental proceeding was instituted in the municipal court. The notice required by the charter was given and the plaintiffs in error (with the exception of the Union Depot Bridge & Terminal Railroad Company) appeared. The jury returned a verdict which was 'the same as to the amount of benefits as the verdict returned in the original proceeding.' State ex rel. Graham v. Seehorn, 246 Mo. 541, 552, 151 S. W. 716; see 260 Mo. p. 406. An appeal was taken from the judgment to the circuit court of Jackson county. While

Page 423

the case was pending in that court, the presiding judge, having announced that he purposed to 'try out the question of the amount of damages awarded to property owners whose property was taken or damaged under the original proceeding as well as the question of assessing benefits over nonpaying properties within the benefit district,' two prohibition suits were brought in the supreme court of the state. The one was brought by owners of property in the benefit district who contended that the municipal court had no jurisdiction of either the original or the supplemental proceedings, and hence that the circuit court had no jurisdiction on appeal. This contention was overruled and the writ denied. State ex rel. Graham v. Seehorn, supra; see 260 Mo. p. 407. The other prohibition suit was brought by the owners of property which was sought to be taken for public use. They urged that there was no provision for an appeal in a supplemental proceeding begun in the municipal court, and that, in any event, the circuit court had no jurisdiction to award damages. The court sustained the right of appeal, but it was held that the verdict and judgment in the original proceedings were valid 'as to those who appeared and accepted them;' that the original proceedings, unappealed from, became res judicata. The jury were not to include in their verdict 'assessments of benefits and damages upon property properly included in the first verdict.' In answer to the contention that property owners in the benefit district were entitled to be heard on the question of the amount to be paid for the property taken in condemnation, the court ruled that, while it was entirely proper as a matter of grace to permit such owners to aid the city in preventing an unduly high valuation of the property condemned, they were not necessary parties in the determination of that issue, and that this question was not open to retrial in the supplemental proceedings where the owners of the property condemned

Page 424

had acquiesced in the awards. Accordingly, a writ issued prohibiting the circuit court from retrying the question of the amount of damages awarded to the owners of property condemned. State ex rel. Tuller v. Seehorn, 246 Mo. 568, 151 S. W. 724; see 260 Mo. 407-409.

The circuit court then resumed the trial of the appeal in the supplemental proceeding. The plaintiffs in error appearing (with the exception of the Union Depot Bridge Company) challenged the validity of the proceedings under the state law, and each company also claimed protection under the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment from any assessment of benefits until it had 'opportunity to be heard upon the amount of damages that shall be awarded to property owners and the benefits assessed against it, as provided by the charter of Kansas City in the original proceedings,' and that it was entitled to notice of those proceedings. The right to retry the amount of the award in condemnation was frequently reiterated during the progress of the cause and denied. It was also unsuccessfully contended that the decree in favor of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and interveners, annulling the former assessments as to them, was a bar. The court further ruled, over exceptions, that under the decision of the supreme court the jury was concluded from changing the assessment on the property of those owners who had paid under the original proceedings; and a general offer of testimony assailing such assessments was rejected. It appeared that, after deducting from the total awards of damages for property condemned the amount which had already been paid by property owners, there remained a balance of $76,981.98. Among the instructions given to the jury (and to each of which a general exception was taken) were the following:

'This balance you may assess against the city generally, including any benefit to any property of the city

Page 425

within the benefit district, and against such of the remaining private property, lots, tracts, and parcels of land, exclusive of the improvements thereon, in the benefit district, as you may deem is benefited, if any, and in the proportion which you may deem the same benefited, by the opening and widening of Sixth street, and upon which no assessments have been paid under the original proceedings.'

'If the jury find and believe from the evidence that the benefits to the city at large and the special benefits to all the property within the benefit district does not equal the damages heretofore awarded for the proposed taking of property for widening Sixth street from Broadway to...

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