Township of Hillsborough v. Cromwell - 326 U.S. 620 (1946)


U.S. Supreme Court

Township of Hillsborough v. Cromwell, 326 U.S. 620 (1946)

Township of Hillsborough v. Cromwell

No. 305

Argued December 13, 14, 1945

Decided January 28, 1946

326 U.S. 620

Syllabus

1. Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, Judicial Code § 274(d), a federal district court has jurisdiction to entertain a suit for the purpose of determining the validity of a state tax assessment under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment where the constitutional rights of the complainant cannot be protected adequately by proceedings in the state courts. Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. v. Huffman, 319 U. S. 293, differentiated. Pp. 326 U. S. 622-624.

2. Where a taxpayer who has been singled out for discriminatory taxation may not obtain equalization under the state law by reduction of his own assessment, but is restricted to proceedings against other members of his class for the purpose of having their taxes increased, the state remedy is not adequate to protect his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 326 U. S. 623.

3. A taxpayer brought suit in a federal district court for a declaratory judgment to determine the validity of a state tax assessment under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. There was uncertainty concerning the meaning of the local law. He could have appealed originally to the state board of tax appeals, but that board had no right to pass on constitutional questions. Its judgments could be reviewed by the state supreme court by certiorari, but the allowance of such a writ was discretionary. The refusal of a writ of certiorari by the state supreme court could not be judicially reviewed by the state court of errors and appeals. When the district court ruled on a motion to dismiss, the time for appeal to the state board of tax appeals had expired. When the district court rendered judgment, there had been a recent authoritative interpretation of the local law by the state court.

Held:

(a) There was such uncertainty surrounding the adequacy of the state remedy as to justify the federal district court in retaining jurisdiction of the cause. P. 326 U. S. 625.

(b) It was proper for the federal district court to proceed to decide the case on its merits, even though the decision was not on federal grounds, but on the ground that the assessment was not in

Page 326 U. S. 621

conformity with the state statute. Spector Motor Co. v. McLaughlin, 323 U. S. 101, differentiated. Pp. 326 U. S. 626-629.

4. This Court is unable to say that the district court and the circuit court of appeals erred in applying to this case the rule of Duke Power Co. v. State Board, 129 N.J.L. 449, 131 N.J.L. 275, which involved closely analogous facts. P. 326 U. S. 629.

149 F.2d 617 affirmed.

Certiorari, post, p. 704, to review affirmance of a judgment of a district court, 56 F.Supp. 41, denying a motion to dismiss and declaring certain state tax assessments to be null and void.



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