Wheless v. St. Louis - 180 U.S. 379 (1901)


U.S. Supreme Court

Wheless v. St. Louis, 180 U.S. 379 (1901)

Wheless v. St. Louis

No. 161

Argued and submitted January 31, February 1, 1901

Decided February 25, 1901

180 U.S. 379

Syllabus

When owners of lots in a city file a bill to restrain the assessment against them of the costs and expenses of improving a public street on which the lots abut, the matter in dispute is the amount of the assessment levied, or which may be levied, against the lot or lots of each of the complainants respectively.

And in such circumstances, no distinction can be recognized between a case where the assessment has not in fact been made and a case where it has already been made.

As neither one of these complainants will be required to pay two thousand dollars in respect of lots involved, the decree of the circuit court dismissing the bill for want of jurisdiction is affirmed.

In this case, the jurisdiction of the circuit court was in issue, and the question of jurisdiction was certified.

The question was whether the matter in dispute exceeded, exclusive of interest and costs, the sum of $2,000. The circuit court held that jurisdiction did not exist, and dismissed the bill. 96 F. 865.

The suit was brought by Joseph Wheless and others against the City of St. Louis, the president of the Board of Public Improvements

Page 180 U. S. 380

of that city, and the Gilsonite Roofing & Paving Company, to restrain the city and the board from levying or assessing the costs and expenses of improving a public street whereon complainants' property abutted, against the property, and to enjoin the paving company from demanding or receiving from the city any special tax bills issued therefor. The certificate of the circuit court states the facts thus:

"That the above-entitled cause came on to be heard by the court at, to-wit, the September, 1899, term of the court, upon the application for a temporary injunction, as prayed in the bill, it being alleged in said bill that complainants are severally the owners of certain and nearly all the lots of land abutting on Whittier Street, between Washington Boulevard and Finney Avenue, in the City of St. Louis; that the defendant city, acting under the provisions of its charter and ordinances, had entered into a contract with the defendant paving company to improve said street in front of complainants' property, and said company was engaged in doing the work, which was a public improvement; that the cost of making said improvement is, according to the terms of said charter, ordinance, and contract, a charge upon complainants' abutting property, and is about to be levied and assessed against it as a special tax, according to the frontage of said lots on said street, and special tax bills are about to be issued separately against each lot of complainants, which would be liens upon their said property and subject the same to being sold to satisfy said special assessment; which assessment and levy, it is averred, are in violation of complainants' rights under the federal Constitution. Wherefore an injunction was prayed to restrain said city from levying and assessing the cost of said public improvement against complainants' property and from issuing special tax bills against them for the same, and for a decree declaring said charter, ordinance, and contract provisions void; that the cost of said improvement which was about to be assessed and levied against all the abutting property is largely in excess of the sum of $10,000."

"Defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court, supported by an affidavit showing that the amount of special tax which would be assessed and levied against the property of any

Page 180 U. S. 381

one of the complainants severally would not exceed $1,400, and would not be an amount equal to $2,000, and that hence the matter in dispute between the parties was not of the sum or value necessary to give jurisdiction to the circuit court of the United States, and that the bill should be dismissed for want of jurisdiction."

"Complainants demurred to the said plea and submitted the question of jurisdiction thus raised to the determination of the court, and thereupon the court, after due hearing and consideration, did overrule said demurrer, the court being of the opinion, as set out in the written opinion filed in said cause and accompanying this appeal, that the court was without jurisdiction of said cause in respect of the sum or value in dispute, and upon complainants confessing the matter of the plea in point of fact and refusing to plead further, their said bill was by the court dismissed for want of jurisdiction."



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