Dewey v. Des Moines
173 U.S. 193 (1899)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Dewey v. Des Moines, 173 U.S. 193 (1899)

Dewey v. Des Moines

No. 122

Argued January 11-12, 1899

Decided February 27, 1899

173 U.S. 193

Syllabus

A resident in and citizen of Chicago, in Illinois, was the owner of certain lots in Des Moines, in Iowa, which were assessed by the municipal authorities in that place to an amount beyond their value for the purpose of paving the street upon which they abutted. The statutes of Iowa authorized a personal judgment against the owner in such cases.

Page 173 U. S. 194

He filed a petition to have the assessment set aside, to obtain an injunction against further proceedings for the sale of the property, and to obtain a judgment that there was no personal liability against him for the excess. This petition contained no allegation attacking the validity of the assessment by reason of any violation of the federal Constitution, and there was nothing in the record to raise such federal right or claim beyond the mere allegation in the petition that

"the amount of said tax is greater than the reasonable market value of said lots, whether considered singly or together, the assessment against each particular lot being greater in amount than the value of such particular lot and the aggregate assessment being greater in amount than the reasonable market value of all of said lots taken together, and that said defendants are seeking to enforce as against plaintiff not merely a sale of said lots, but also to compel plaintiff to pay the full amount of said tax regardless of whatever sum said lots may be sold for and regardless of the actual value of the same."

The contractor for the pavement set up his right to a judgment on certificates given him for the work which had been done, which were made a lien upon the abutting lots. The trial court dismissed the petition and gave judgment in favor of the contract. In the supreme court of the state, it was assigned as error that

"the court erred in holding and deciding that plaintiff was personally liable to said Des Moines Brick Manufacturing Company for so much of said special tax or assessment as could not or would not be realized by a sale of the sixty lots in question on special execution, and in ordering and adjudging that a general execution should issue against plaintiff and in favor of said Des Moines Brick Manufacturing Company for the balance of such tax or assessment, and further that, as plaintiff was at all times a nonresident of the Iowa and had no personal notice or knowledge of the assessment proceedings, that the imposition of a personal liability against him, in excess of the value of all the lots, was not due process of law and was in contravention of the provisions on that subject of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Iowa on the same subject."

Held that this Court was confined to the consideration of the question as to the validity of the personal judgment against the plaintiff in error, and that, without deciding what the effect of the proceedings would have been if the plaintiff had been a resident in Iowa, the state had no power to enact a statute authorizing an assessment upon real estate for a local improvement and imposing upon its owner, a nonresident of the state, a personal liability to pay such assessment.

The petition in this case was filed by the plaintiff in error to set aside certain assessments upon his lots in Des Moines, in the State of Iowa, which had been imposed thereon for the purpose of paying for the paving of the street upon which the lots abutted, and to obtain a judgment enjoining proceedings

Page 173 U. S. 195

towards their sale and adjudging that there was no personal liability to pay the excess of the assessment above the amount realized upon the sale of the lots.

The petition alleged that the petitioner was at all times during the proceedings mentioned a resident of Chicago, in the State of Illinois, and that he had no actual notice of any of the proceedings looking towards the paving of the street upon which his lots abutted; that the street was paved under the direction of the common council, which decided upon its necessity, and the expense was, by the provisions of the Iowa statute, assessed upon the abutting property, and the lot owner made personally liable for its payment; that the expense of the improvement was greater than the value of the lots assessed, and the common council knew it would be greater when the paving was ordered.

Various other facts were set up touching the invalidity of the assessment upon the lots, but no allegation was made attacking its validity by reason of any violation of the federal Constitution. Under stipulation of the parties, various allegations of fraud upon the part of the members of the common council, which had been included in the petition, were withdrawn, and the allegations of the petition as thus amended were not denied.

The contractor who did the work of paving the street was made a party to this proceeding, and he set up a counterclaim asking that the certificates given him by the city in payment for his services, and which by statute were made a lien upon the lots abutting upon the street, might be foreclosed, and the lots sold, and a personal judgment pursuant to the same statute rendered against the plaintiff in error.

By stipulation, certain motions, which were made to strike out allegations in the petition, were treated as demurrers to the petition, and the case was thus placed at issue.

Upon the trial, the District Court of Polk County gave judgment dismissing the petition, with costs ,and in favor of the contractor on his counterclaim, foreclosing the lien of the latter and ordering the sale of the lots, and the judgment also provided for the issue of a personal or general execution

Page 173 U. S. 196

against the plaintiff in error to collect any balance remaining unpaid after sale of the lots.

Plaintiff took the case to the state supreme court, and there made an assignment of errors, one of which is as follows:

"The court erred in holding and deciding that plaintiff was personally liable to said Des Moines Brick Manufacturing Company for so much of said special tax or assessment as could not or would not be realized by a sale of the sixty lots in question on special execution, and in ordering and adjudging that a general execution should issue against plaintiff and in favor of said Des Moines Brick Manufacturing Company for the balance of such tax or assessment, and further that as plaintiff was at all times a nonresident of the State of Iowa, and had no personal notice or knowledge of the assessment proceedings, that the imposition of a personal liability against him, in excess of the value of all the lots, was not due process of law, and was in contravention of the provisions on that subject of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as in contravention of the provisions of the Constitution of the State of Iowa on the same subject."

The supreme court affirmed the judgment of the district court, and plaintiff brought the case here by writ of error.

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