Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist. - 239 U.S. 254 (1915)
U.S. Supreme Court
Houck v. Little River Drainage Dist., 239 U.S. 254 (1915)
Houck v. Little River Drainage District
Argued October 27, 28, 1915
Decided November 29, 1915
239 U.S. 254
So far as the federal Constitution is concerned, a state may defray the entire expense of creating, developing, and improving a political subdivision from state funds raised by general taxation -- or it may apportion the burden among the municipalities in which the improvements are made -- or it may create tax districts to meet authorized outlays.
The state may, so far as the federal Constitution is concerned, create
tax districts for special improvements directly by the legislature, or may delegate their institution through court proceedings, and the propriety of such delegation is a matter for the state alone, not reviewable by this Court.
A state may by statute directly, or by appropriate legal proceeding, fix the basis of taxation or assessment for a proper governmental outlay, and, unless palpably arbitrary, such action does not violate the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The power of taxation is not to be confused with that of eminent domain; it is not necessary to show special benefits in order to lay a tax, which is an enforced contribution for the payment of public expenses.
A state may, in its discretion, lay assessments for public work in proportion either to position, frontage, area, market value, or estimated benefits, and, unless the exaction is a flagrant abuse of power, it does not amount to deprivation of property without due process of law.
An initial fixed tax per acre laid by a statute of Missouri on a tax district properly organized under the state law for preliminary expenses of starting a public work, such as drainage of the district, does not deprive the owners of property therein of their property without due process of law, there being manifestly in this case nothing arbitrary in the prescribed rate, and it not being necessary to base such a tax upon special benefits.
The statute of Missouri authorizing the imposition of the tax being in force prior to the formation of the taxing district, the tax cannot be considered as retrospective and violative of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on that ground.
The state court having held that a charter of a taxing district as a public corporation did not constitute a contract that the laws it was created to administer would not be changed, this Court sees no reason to disturb the decision.
248 Mo 373 affirmed.
The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Drainage District Act of Missouri, and of a tax levied thereunder, are stated in the opinion.