Seibert v. Lewis - 122 U.S. 284 (1887)


U.S. Supreme Court

Seibert v. Lewis, 122 U.S. 284 (1887)

Seibert v. Lewis

Argued May 10-11, 1887

Decided May 27, 1887

122 U.S. 284

Syllabus

It being the settled doctrine of this Court that "the remedy subsisting in a state when and where a contract is made and is to be performed is a part of its obligation," and that

"any subsequent law of the state which so affects that remedy as substantially to impair and lessen the value of the contract is forbidden by the Constitution, and is therefore void,"

and the Legislature of Missouri having, by the Act of March 23, 1868, to facilitate the construction of railroads, enacted that the county court should from time to time levy and cause to be collected, in the same manner as county taxes, a special tax in order to pay the interest and principal of any bond which might be issued by a municipal corporation in the state on account of a subscription, authorized by the act, to the stock of a railroad company, which tax should be levied on all the real estate within the township making the subscription, in accordance with the valuation then last made by the county assessors for county purposes,

Held:

(1) That it was a material part of this contract that such creditor should always have the right to a special tax to be levied and collected in the same manner as county taxes at the same time might be levied and collected;

(2) That the provisions contained in §§ 6798, 6799, and 6800 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri of 1879 respecting the assessment and collection of such taxes are not a legal equivalent for the provisions contained in the act of 1868, and

(3) That the law of 1868, although repealed by the Legislature of Missouri, is still in force far the purpose of levying and collecting the tax necessary for the payment of a judgment recovered against a municipal corporation in the state upon a debt incurred by subscribing to the stock of a railroad company in accordance with its provisions.

This is a proceeding by mandamus in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Missouri. The alternative writ recites that in 1883, a peremptory writ of mandamus was issued by the court, commanding the County Court of Cape Girardeau County, and the judges thereof, to make a levy on all the real estate and personal property in

Page 122 U. S. 285

Cape Girardeau Township subject to taxation, including statements of merchants and manufacturers doing business in said township, and that thereupon the county court, in obedience to the command of said writ, on the 23d day of May, 1883, during a regular term of said county court, made an order on their records whereby it was ordered that for the purpose of paying the judgments of Elisha Foote, the Ninth National Bank of New York, John T. Hill Valentine Winter, and George W. Harshman, amounting to $14,288.20, and interest and costs, a tax of two percent be levied on all the real estate and personal property in Cape Girardeau Township subject to taxation, including statements of merchants and manufacturers doing business in said township, and the clerk of the county court was ordered to extend said tax in a separate column on the tax book of said county for the year 1883; that in obedience to said order, the special tax ordered to be levied as aforesaid was by the clerk of said court entered upon and extended in a separate column of the regular tax book of Cape Girardeau County for the year 1883, and, upon the completion of said tax book, the same was delivered, in the time and in the manner required by law for the year 1883, to James M. Seibert, collector, who was then and there the collector of taxes, duly elected and qualified as such, and acting therein for the year 1883, and the said collector was then and there ordered by the county court to proceed and collect the said special tax in the same manner as other taxes, state and county, were authorized to be collected for the said year 1883 in said county, and that after the receipt of the said tax book, the said collector, claiming to be prevented from proceeding in the collection of said tax by an injunction issued by the judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, upon a petition therefor, filed in the name of the State of Missouri upon the relation of the prosecuting attorney of that county, announced his determination to abstain from all efforts to demand, sue for, or collect any part of said special tax, and refused to proceed further therein.

The return of the respondent Seibert to the alternative writ admits the facts therein stated and sets out at length

Page 122 U. S. 286

the petition for injunction referred to therein filed on the 29th of December, 1883. The petition, filed in the name of the State of Missouri by the prosecuting attorney of the county, prays for an injunction against the collection of the tax on the ground that it was not a state tax, nor a tax necessary to pay the funded or bonded indebtedness of the state, nor a tax for current county expenses or schools, or either, and

"that said county court, before making the levy and order as aforesaid, did not make or cause to be made an application to the circuit court of said county, nor to the judge thereof in vacation, for an order to have assessed, levied, and collected said two percent tax, nor was any such order in fact made by such court, or the judge thereof in vacation; that, on the contrary, said county court, in violation of the statutes in such cases made and provided and in usurpation of their power, have assessed and levied, and are now trying to have collected, said two percent tax at its assessed valuation of all the taxable property of said township, without said permission or order of said court, in violation of their duties and without authority of law."

And further that the levy of the two percent tax was made for the purpose of paying off a portion of a bonded debt contracted in behalf of Cape Girardeau Township by virtue of the Act of the General Assembly of the State of Missouri approved March 23, 1868, in aid of railroads, and is in violation of that act because levied on the personal property within said township as well as on the real estate therein.

The return further sets out that the injunction as prayed for was granted, and the respondent says that, in obedience to the said writ of injunction, he has ceased to collect or to endeavor to collect said special tax, the said injunction being still in force. The respondent in his return further states

"that he is ready and willing to do and perform every duty devolved upon him as collector as aforesaid so far as he legally may, but submits whether he ought to be required to collect the said special tax so as aforesaid levied by the said County Court

Page 122 U. S. 287

of Cape Girardeau County because, as he is informed by counsel, the same was not levied in the mode and manner required by the laws of the State of Missouri as set forth in §§ 6798 and 6799 of the Revised Statutes concerning the assessment and collection of the revenue, and it is made a criminal offense, punishable by fine of not less than five hundred dollars and forfeiture of office, for any officer in the State of Missouri to collect or attempt to collect any tax or taxes other than those specified and enumerated in § 6798 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri without being ordered so to do by the circuit court of the county, or the judge thereof in vacation, in the manner provided and directed in § 6799 of said Revised Statutes. And respondent submits that the said special tax is not a tax specified and enumerated in § 6798 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, and that no order was made by the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County directing the said county court to have assessed, levied, and collected such special tax as required by § 6799 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, and that he is informed by counsel that the said levy of such special tax so as aforesaid made by said county court is illegal and void, and that respondent cannot collect or attempt to collect the same without violating the criminal laws of the State of Missouri."

To this return the relator demurred generally. The demurrer was sustained, and a peremptory writ ordered to issue, and thereupon the respondent sued out the present writ of error.

Page 122 U. S. 290



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