Forsyth v. Hammond
166 U.S. 506 (1897)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Forsyth v. Hammond, 166 U.S. 506 (1897)

Forsyth v. Hammond

No. 615

Argued January 20, 1897

Decided April 19, 1897

166 U.S. 506

Syllabus

Under the Judiciary Act of March 3, 1891, c. 617, the power of this Court in certiorari extends to every case pending in the circuit courts of appeals, and may be exercised at any time during such pendency, provided the case is one which, but for this provision of the statute, would be finally determined in that court.

While this power is coextensive with all possible necessities, and sufficient to secure to this Court a final control over the litigation in all the courts of appeal, it is a power which will be sparingly exercised, and only when the circumstances of the case satisfy this Court that the importance of the question involved, the necessity of avoiding conflict between two or more courts of appeal, or between courts of appeal and the courts of a state, or some matter affecting the interests of the nation in its internal or external relations, demands such exercise.

As, in the contests between the parties to this suit, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana had reached opposite conclusions as to their respective rights, and as all the unfortunate possibilities of conflict and collision which might arise from these adverse decisions were suggested when this application for certiorari was made, it seemed to this Court that although no final decree had been entered, it was its duty to bring the case and the questions here for examination at the earliest possible moment.

The plaintiff in error having voluntarily commenced an action in the supreme court of the state to establish her rights against the City of Hammond, and the questions at issue being judicial in nature and within the undoubted cognizance of the state court, she cannot, after a decision by that court, be heard in any other tribunal to collaterally deny its validity.

Though the form and causes of action be different, a decision by a court of

Page 166 U. S. 507

competent jurisdiction in respect to any essential fact or question in one action is conclusive between the parties in all subsequent actions.

The matter of the territorial boundaries of a municipal corporation is local in its nature, and, as a rule, is to be finally and absolutely determined by the authorities of the state. The construction of the Constitution and laws of a state by its courts is, as a general rule, binding on federal courts.

The case of Burgess v. Seligman,107 U. S. 20, distinguished from this case.

The legislation of Indiana authorizes the annexation of contiguous territory to the limits of a city with or without the consent of the owner. The statutory provisions in respect thereto, found in 1 Horner's An.Ed.Ind.Stat. 1896, are printed in the margin. *

Page 166 U. S. 508

The City of Hammond is situated in the County of Lake, and in 1893 it instituted proceedings to extend its limits over a large tract of contiguous territory, some of which, at least, was not laid off and platted into lots. The application was denied by the Board of County Commissioners of Lake county, whereupon the city appealed to the circuit court of that county, and the case thus appealed was thereafter transferred by change of venue to the Circuit Court of Porter County, Indiana, which court, upon the verdict of a jury, entered a decree in favor of the city for the annexation of the territory.

The present plaintiff was a party to these proceedings. She was the owner of about 725 acres within the area attempted to be annexed. After the decision

Page 166 U. S. 509

by the Circuit Court of Porter County, the city levied taxes on the property to the amount of $3,500, whereupon on April 29, 1895, she filed her bill in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Indiana, praying for an injunction to restrain the collection of those taxes. An amended bill was filed on May 1, 1895, upon which amended bill a hearing was had, resulting in a denial of the motion for an injunction and the dismissal of the suit. 68 F. 774. From such dismissal she appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, by which court, on January 16, 1896, the decree of the circuit court dismissing the bill was reversed, and the case remanded to that court, with directions for further proceedings. 71 F. 443. Whereupon the City of Hammond applied to this Court for a certiorari, directed to the court of appeals, which application was sustained, and on October 19, 1896, a certiorari was ordered.

Before the filing of the bill in the United States circuit court, this plaintiff with others had appealed from the decree of the circuit court of Porter County to the Supreme Court of Indiana, and by that court, on April 11, 1895, the decree had been affirmed. 142 Ind. 505. A petition for rehearing was denied on November 8, 1895. 142 Ind. 516. While this decision of the supreme court, though announced before the disposition of the case in the United States circuit court of appeals, has not been formally incorporated into the record by an amendment of the pleadings or otherwise, it was made a matter of consideration by the court of appeals, and has been discussed and treated by counsel in the arguments before us as a fact in the case, and to be considered in determining the questions that are presented.

The bill alleged that the plaintiff's lands were used solely for pasturage and hay and other agricultural purposes; that the real value did not exceed $100 per acre; that the land had no market value, but only one speculative and prospective, dependent upon the location, not yet secured, of manufacturing establishments whose market and offices would be in Chicago; that no part of the land had ever been mapped or platted with a view to the sale of lots; that, on the entire

Page 166 U. S. 510

tract there were but 21 dwelling houses, 10 of them being in a row and within about a quarter of a mile of the Town of Whiting, in the County of Lake, in which town the tenants of all said houses were engaged in business and work; that the houses on the lands were four and one-half miles distant from any police station, fire engine house, or gas lamp of the City of Hammond, so that in the nature of things, no benefit could be received from the municipal government of that city; that the lands were valued for taxation by the city at the rate of $250 to $500 per acre, and the taxes thereon amounted to about $5 per acre; that the valuation was enormously in excess of the real value, and the taxes exorbitant, oppressive, and extortionate. The bill further alleged that, at the time the annexation proceedings were instituted the City of Hammond did not contain more than 6,000 or 7,000 inhabitants; that it had territory about three miles long by two miles wide; that, on the northern boundary, and within the limits of the city, were about two square miles of lands, no part of which had ever been laid off into lots and blocks, on one of which there was not a single house or road, and on the other but seven houses and one road; that this vacant tract was between the settled parts of the city and the lands of the complaint; that the part of the City of Hammond laid off into lots is much larger than is likely to be required for city purposes for many years to come; that the city's boundaries contained nearly 4,000 acres, and that the territory attempted to be annexed consisted of about five square miles of practically vacant lands, lying directly north of the city limits, and extending all the way from such limits to the shores of Lake Michigan. Other facts were alleged also tending to show the impropriety of the annexation of this comparatively vacant territory to the City of Hammond. It was specifically charged that the City of Hammond had a municipal debt amounting to nearly twice the constitutional limit, and that the purpose of the annexation was, by adding new property at an exaggerated valuation, to so increase the appraised taxables of said city as to lift it out of its constitutional dilemma without regard whatever to the advantages or benefits to the

Page 166 U. S. 511

property so sought to be annexed. The bill further set forth the proceedings before the county commissioners and in the state circuit court, but averred that those proceedings were void because the enlargement of the limits of a city was a matter of legislative, and not of judicial, cognizance, and that it was not competent for the legislature to entrust to the courts the decision of such questions.

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