Stewart v. Stanley

Decision Date01 December 1941
Docket Number36239.
Citation5 So.2d 531,199 La. 146
CourtLouisiana Supreme Court
PartiesSTEWART et al. v. STANLEY, Atty. Gen., et al.

Rehearing Denied Dec. 22, 1941. [Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Fred A. Middleton and L. H. Perez, both of New Orleans, and Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, of Baton Rouge for appellants.

Eugene Stanley, Atty. Gen., W. C. Perrault, Asst. Atty. Gen., and James J. Morrison, of New Orleans, for appellees.

McCALEB Justice.

The Legislature of 1940, by Act 13 thereof, created a commission known as the 'Crime Commission' to investigate all of the governmental departments, commissions, boards and subdivisions of the State of Louisiana. According to the preamble to the act, this Commission was appointed to investigate astounding and widespread corruption in the administration of the governmetal affairs of the State which had resulted in serious loss and shocked the moral conscience of the thepeople, and the Legislature felt that it was necessary that it be informed as to all of the facts in order for it to intelligently enact appropriate remedial legislation. In the body of the act, the Commission was invested with broad and far-reaching powers and, in addition to conferring upon it all requisite authority to conduct investigations, it, its members and employees were given, among other things, the right:

To inquire into the affairs of all the governmental departments of the State, political subdivisions, State officials and all persons receiving or having received compensation or remuneration from public monies; to institute and prosecute civil proceedings for the recovery, return, settlement and/or compromise of claims; to fix the venue of civil actions brought by it, its agents and representatives; to administer oaths, issue subpoenas for books and papers; to appropriate in favor of and for its use and benefit specified and unspecified monies to pay for its expenses in prosecuting its investigations or suits; to advance monies to any parishes, if needed, and to refund or reimburse any of the parishes for the amounts expended by such parish or parishes in its investigations or trials of suits and to instruct the Attorney General to institute prosecutions of any and all violations of the criminal statutes of the State.

The act also provides that the sum of $500,000 for the biennium 1940-42 be specially appropriated to cover the expenses of the Commission necessary to carry out the purposes of the law, said amount to be paid out of the General Fund of the State Treasury not otherwise appropriated; that no laws relating to prescription of civil proceedings shall apply to proceedings instituted by the Commission; that the Supreme Court, at the request of the Governor who is Chairman of the Commission, be empowered to transfer District Judges from one district to another and to appoint special judges ad hoc with power and jurisdiction as have duly elected District Judges and that such special judges ad hoc shall receive for their services the same salary as the District Judges now receive, payable on their own warrant after approval by any Justice of the Supreme Court, out of any funds appropriated to the Commission.

This law went into full force and effect on July 6, 1940. Two days later, on July 8, 1940, the Board of Liquidation of the State Debt, at a meeting held for that purpose, passed a resolution whereby it transferred and appropriated out of and from the Property Tax Relief Fund (created by Act 54 of 1934) the sum of $500,000 and made that sum available to the Crime Commission. This action, according to the resolution, was taken pursuant to the authority vested in the Board of Liquidation by the provisions of Paragraph 2 of Section 3 of Act 11 of the Extra Session of 1940, which amended and reenacted Section 3 of Act 54 of 1934. It was further provided by said resolution that the State Auditor and the State Treasurer be authorized, empowered and directed to transfer the $500,000 from the Property Tax Relief Fund and set it aside in a special account to the credit of the Crime Commission to be withdrawn from that account by the Commission in accordance with the provisions of Act 13 of 1940 creating said Commission, and that the appropriation of $500,000 authorized by said Act 13 be cancelled and rescinded.

Subsequently, on December 26, 1940, the plaintiffs, eighty-one in number, residents of twelve different parishes of this State, alleging that they are realty taxpayers; that they are homestead owners and, as such, entitled to receive the homestead exemption provided by Paragraph 9, Section 4 of Article X of the Constitution, and that they are also taxpayers who contribute directly to the funds dedicated to the payment of homestead exemptions, brought this suit in the Nineteenth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge. They named as defendants in the action Sam H. Jones, Governor of Louisiana, as a member and Chairman of the Crime Commission; Eugene Stanley, Attorney General, as a member of said Commission; George T. Owen, Jr., Executive Counsel to the Governor, as a member of said Commission; Andrew P. Tugwell, State Treasurer, and Ludlow B. Baynard, State Auditor. Plaintiffs sought to have the defendants enjoined and restrained from receiving or making any payments or expenditures of the $500,000 transferred from the Property Tax Relief Fund under resolutions of the Board of Liquidation of the State Debt or any part thereof, or of any other public funds or money whatsoever placed under the control of the Crime Commission by the Board of Liquidation of the State Debt or secured by said Commission under any provision of Act 13 of 1940, and from doing anything whatsocever under the terms and provisions of Act 13 of 1940.

The grounds advanced by the plaintiffs for the relief prayed for are:

1. That Act 13 of 1940 is unconstitutional in that it violates numerous provisions of the Constitution (which are set forth in detail in the petition); and

2. That the resolution of the Board of Liquidation of the State Debt is invalid, null and void, since Act 11 of the Extra Session of 1940, under the authority of which the resolution was adopted, is unconstitutional, or, in the alternative, that the resolution is ultra vires and violates the terms and the provisions of Act 54 of 1934, as amended by Act 11 of the Extra Session of 1940.

The plaintiffs additionally prayed that the defendants be ordered to show cause why prohibitory and mandatory injunctions should not be granted and also that a temporary order be issued restraining the defendants from taking further action until the trial of the rule for an injunction. The District Judge refused to grant a temporary restraining order but issued a rule nisi ordering the defendants to show cause why the relief prayed for by plaintiffs should not be granted. On the day fixed for the hearing of the rule, the defedants appeared and filed: (1) exceptions of no right or cause of action and (2) an answer in which they denied all the material allegations of plaintiffs' petition setting forth that Act 13 of 1940 is not only constitutional but that the resolution of the Board of Liquidation of the State Debt is legal and valid in every respect.

The District Judge preliminarily reserved his judgment on the exceptions filed by the defendants and heard evidence on the merits of the case which was submitted both orally and in the form of affidavits. However, after the matter had been submitted to him for final decision, the judge maintained the exceptions of the defendants and dismissed the plaintiffs' suit, being of the opinion that mere taxpayers are without a right of action to enjoin the transfer, allocation or expenditure of public funds under an alleged unconstitutional statute unless they are able to demonstrate that they directly contribute to the fund which is to be expended or transferred and that, as a result, they will suffer substantial injury.

The plaintiffs have prosecuted this appeal from the adverse decision.

The first question presented by this appeal is whether the District Judge was incorrect in dismissing plaintiffs' suit on the exceptions filed by the defendants for the reason that taxpayers, as such, are without right to maintain an action to enjoin State officials from expending public funds under color of authority of an alleged unconstitutional statute.

That the ruling complained of is clearly erroneous is not now open to question. It is the firmly established jurisprudence of this State that a taxpayer may resort to judicial authority to restrain public servants from transcending their lawful powers or violating their legal duty in any unauthorized mode which would increase the burden of taxation or otherwise unjustly affect the taxpayer or his property. The fact that the taxpayer's interest might be small and not susceptible of accurate determination is not sufficient to deprive him of the right. The action is regarded as having a public character and as being a proceeding in which the public complains. See Donaldson v. Police Jury, 161 La. 471, 109 So. 34, Borden v. Louisiana Board of Education, 168 La. 1005, 123 So. 655, 67 A.L.R. 1183, and Graham v. Jones, 198 La. 507, 3 So.2d 761.

The District Judge, in expressing an opinion to the contrary, places great reliance upon the decisions of this court in Moss v. Hall, 133 La. 351, 63 So. 45, and Sutton v. Buie, 136 La. 234, 66 So. 956, L.R.A. 1915D, 178, and states that the Court in Borden v. Louisiana Board of Education, supra, did not intend to overrule those authorities. In this he errs. In the recent case of Graham v. Jones, supra [198 La. 507, 3 So.2d 768], we said:

'In the case of Borden v. Louisiana Board of Education, 168 La. 1005 123 So. 655, 67...

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