Weyerhaueser v. Minnesota - 176 U.S. 550 (1900)


U.S. Supreme Court

Weyerhaueser v. Minnesota, 176 U.S. 550 (1900)

Weyerhaueser v. Minnesota

No. 128

Argued and submitted January 30, 1900

Decided February 26, 1900

176 U.S. 550

Syllabus

The provision in the statute of Minnesota for 1893, c. 151, authorizing the governor of the state when it is made to appear that there has been a gross undervaluation of taxable property by the assessors for any county in the state, to appoint a board to revalue and reassess it, which board shall, after due examination, prepare a list of all such undervalued property, of the year or years in which it was so underassessed, the amount of the assessment, and the actual and true value thereof for which it should have been so assessed, does no violation to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and does not deprive the owner of lands, so reassessed at an advanced value, of his lands without due process of law.

This writ of error brings up for review a judgment of the Supreme Court of Minnesota affirming the judgment of the District Court of Itasca County assessing certain taxes for the years 1888 to 1893, inclusive, on the lands of the plaintiff in error.

The law upon which the proceedings in taxation were based, omitting parts not material to the pending controversy, is as follows:

"Whenever it shall be made to appear to the governor of this state by a complaint in writing and under oath, or by the finding of any court, the legislature or any committee thereof, that for any reason, any considerable amount of property in any county in this state . . . , if assessed . . . has been grossly undervalued by the assessor or other county officials, whether such valuation and assessment has or has not been reviewed or acted upon by the county board of equalization

Page 176 U. S. 551

of any such county, he shall forthwith appoint in writing some competent citizen of this state, not a resident of such county, to ascertain the character, location, value, and ownership of the real and personal property of any such county so . . . underassessed or undervalued, who shall forthwith proceed to examine and report upon the subject, and prepare a list or lists thereof in duplicate, showing therein the character, location, ownership, and valuation of all such property, with the year or years for which the same or any part thereof has been . . . undervalued; said list shall also show therein opposite each tract, piece, or parcel of land or personal property . . . underassessed for any year or years thereupon, in which the same was undervalued or underassessed, with the amount of such assessment, the actual and true value thereof at the time and for which the same was subject to and should have been assessed, together with the difference between the assessed and actual value thereof as so found. One of which duplicate reports or lists shall be by him filed with the county auditor of such county on or before the first day of January in the year in which any such assessment is to be made, and the other of said lists shall be by him filed within the same time with the state auditor."

It is provided in other sections of the law that the county auditor shall enter the lists on the assessment books, and that the assessor shall assess the property at its true value corresponding with the lists, and the auditor shall proceed as under the general law.

The taxes which are in controversy were assessed under this law, and proceedings were instituted for their recovery in accordance with the usual practice in collecting taxes against lands in Minnesota.

The plaintiffs in error claimed in their answer that the law of the state and the proceedings under it were repugnant to the Constitution of the United States in that they impaired the obligation of the contracts made by plaintiffs in error with their grantors, deprived them of their property without due process of law, and denied them the equal protection of the laws.

Page 176 U. S. 552

The facts were stipulated as follows:

"It is hereby stipulated between the parties to the above-entitled action that the following are, and may be considered by the court as, facts in said matter:"

"That the defendants above named are the owners of the lands described in their answer in this proceeding; that the defendants became the owners of such lands on September 18, 1893; that in each of the years 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892, 1893, and 1894, taxes were assessed upon all said lands by the proper officials pursuant to the provisions of chapter 11, General Statutes of 1878, and the amendments thereto, and that such taxes for each of said years were, before the same became delinquent, paid by the defendants and their predecessors in estate; that the taxes sought to be recovered against said lands in this proceeding are claimed to be due by reason of an assessment made pursuant to the provisions of chapter 151, General Laws 1893, upon the ground that said lands in said prior assessment proceedings had been grossly undervalued."

"That, prior to January 1, A.D. 1894, it was made to appear to the governor of this state, by duly verified complaint, that a considerable amount of property in said County of Itasca had been grossly undervalued in the tax proceedings for the years from 1888 to 1893, inclusive; that thereupon and forthwith the said governor did, in writing, appoint a competent citizen of this state, not a resident of said county, to ascertain the character, location, value, and ownership of the real and personal property in said county so omitted, underassessed, or undervalued, to-wit, one J. S. Dedon; that thereupon the said Dedon did forthwith proceed to examine and report upon the subject, and did prepare a duplicate list of such lands as he determined had been so underassessed or undervalued, in the manner and form as prescribed in section 1 of said chapter 151, General Laws 1893; that thereafter, and prior to January 1, A.D. 1894, the said duplicate lists were filed with the state auditor and with the county auditor of said Itasca County; that thereafter the county auditor and county assessor of said Itasca County took the proceedings in regard to said lands described in said lists, which are prescribed in section 2 of said chapter 151. "

Page 176 U. S. 553

"That the said lands so owned by these defendants were returned as undervalued lands for each of said years from 1888 to 1893, inclusive, and were entered by the county auditor upon the real estate assessment books for the year 1894, and were assessed by the assessor of said Itasca County at the respective values shown by said lists, and were also entered by the county auditor upon the assessment and tax books for each of said years from 1888 to 1893, inclusive, and were assessed by him at the valuation and amounts as shown by said lists to have been omitted or undervalued, and arrearages of taxes by reason of said increased valuation were extended upon said assessment books, and the taxes claimed in this proceeding are the proper amount of taxes claimed in this proceeding, which would be due against said lands on account of said increased valuation if such tax were legal and valid and could be collected in this proceeding."

"That no notice of any of said proceedings by any of said persons in making said reassessment or revaluation of said lands, or in extending said taxes against said lands, was ever given, by publication or otherwise, to these defendants."

The trial court found in accordance with the stipulation, and further found, as a conclusion of law, that the proceedings for levying and assessing the taxes were in accordance with the provisions of chapter 151, General Laws of 1893, but that the said law and the proceedings therein provided were unconstitutional, and the taxes therefore not a legal charge against the lands.

The judgment was reversed by the supreme court, and the taxes sustained. 68 Minn. 353.

The court, in its opinion, confined its consideration to the validity of the law under the constitution of the state, and did not pass upon the claim that it was also in violation of the Constitution of the United States. After the judgment was entered in compliance with its mandate by the district court the case was again certified to the supreme court in accordance with the practice of the state.

The certificate recited the facts which have already been set out, and

"that the points raised by the defendants [plaintiffs

Page 176 U. S. 554

in error] herein are as follows, to-wit: 1. Is chapter 151, General Laws of 1893, of the State Minnesota, and the assessment of taxes attempted to be made thereunder in this proceeding, constitutional and legal? 2. In particular, is said chapter 151 and the assessment of taxes attempted to be made in pursuance thereof in this proceeding, in violation of article fourteen of the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, providing that no state shall deprive any person of his property without due process of law or deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws?"

The supreme court affirmed the judgment. 72 Minn. 519.



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