Supervisors v. United States
85 U.S. 71

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supervisors v. United States, 85 U.S. 18 Wall. 71 71 (1873)

Supervisors v. United States

85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 71

Syllabus

Section 3275 of the Code of Iowa, which says:

"In case no property is found upon which to levy which is not exempted by the last section (section 3274), or if the judgment creditor elect not to issue execution against such corporation (a municipal one), he is entitled to the amount of his judgment and costs in the ordinary evidences of indebtedness issued by that corporation. And if the debtor corporation issues no scrip or evidences of debt, a tax must be levied as early as practicable sufficient to pay off the judgment with interest and costs"

confers no independent power to levy a specific tax in order to pay a judgment recovered against a municipal corporation on warrants for ordinary county expenditures issued by such corporation since 1863, in which year (as repeatedly since) the Supreme Court of Iowa decided this to be the true interpretation of the section, and that where the power bad not otherwise been conferred it was not given by that section.

Page 85 U. S. 72

Butz v. City of Muscatine, where some language tending perhaps to a different conclusion was used, distinguished from this case, in that here the judgment was obtained after 1863, when the meaning of the section had been passed on by the Supreme Court of Iowa, and that there the bonds sued on were issued prior to 1863, and when no decision as to the meaning of the section had been made by the Supreme Court of Iowa, and when this Court

"felt at liberty to adopt its own construction and apply it to the case of the holder of the bonds, though it was adverse to that announced by the state court years after the bonds had been issued."

In error to the Circuit Court for the District of Iowa, the case being thus:

On the 13th of May, A.D. 1869, one Reynolds obtained in the court just named a judgment against Carroll County, Iowa, for the sum of $19,946. The judgment was for the amount due upon sundry county warrants issued for the ordinary expenditures of the county, all issued after January 1, 1865. An execution having been awarded upon the judgment and returned "nulla bona," Reynolds sued out a writ of mandamus to compel the board of supervisors of the county to levy a specific tax sufficient to pay the debt, interest, and costs, and to apply the same, when collected, to the payment. To this writ the supervisors returned, in substance (after averring that the judgment had been obtained upon ordinary county warrants issued for the ordinary expenditures of the county), that they had levied a county tax for the current year of four mills on the dollar of the taxable property of the county, and that they proposed to levy a similar tax for each succeeding year until the judgment should be paid. They further returned that they had no power to levy a tax at any higher rate. A general demurrer to this return was then interposed, and the circuit court sustained it. Hence this writ of error.

The question was whether, under the laws of Iowa, the board of supervisors had power to levy a special tax, beyond four mills on the dollar of the county assessment, in order to pay the relator's judgment.

The solution of this question and the consequent correctness of the action of the circuit court depended upon the

Page 85 U. S. 73

fact whether that court had rightly interpreted certain sections in the Revised Code of Iowa.

Section 710 of the revision of 1860 is as follows:

"The board of supervisors of each county in this state shall annually, as hereinafter provided, levy the following taxes upon the assessed value of the taxable property in the county:"

"1st. For state revenue, one and one-half mills on a dollar, when no rate is directed by the census board, but in no case shall the census board direct a levy to be made exceeding two mills on the dollar."

"2d. For ordinary county revenue, including the support of the poor, not more than four mills on a dollar, and a poll tax of fifty cents."

"3d. For support of schools, not less than one nor more than two mills on a dollar."

"4th. For making and repairing bridges, not more than one mill on the dollar, whenever the board of supervisors shall deem it necessary."

By an Act of April 2, 1860, which took effect on the 1st of January, 1861, the board of supervisors became the financial agents in place of the county judge.

Section 250 [Footnote 1] is this:

"The county judge [or as in consequence of the above-mentioned act, it now was the board of supervisors] may submit to the people of his county at any regular election, or a special one called for that purpose, the question whether the money may be borrowed to aid in the erection of public buildings; whether the county will construct or aid to construct any road or bridge which may call for an extraordinary expenditure; whether stock shall be permitted to run at large, or at what time it shall be prohibited, and the question of any other local or police regulation not inconsistent with the laws of the state. And when the warrants of the county are at a depreciated value, he may in like manner submit the question whether a tax of a higher rate than that provided by law shall be levied, and in all cases when an additional tax is laid in pursuance of a vote

Page 85 U. S. 74

of the people of any county, for the special purpose of repaying borrowed money or of constructing or aiding to construct any road or bridge, such tax shall be paid in money and in no other manner."

The sections following, to 260, contain the details for the submission of questions, and provide for carrying into effect the propositions mentioned in section 250, which may be adopted by a vote.

Section 252 declares:

"When a question so submitted involves the borrowing or the expenditure of money, the proposition of the question must be accompanied by a provision to lay a tax for the payment thereof in addition to the usual taxes, as directed in the following section, and no vote adopting the question proposed will be of effect unless it adopt the tax also."

Sections 3274 and 3275, in a chapter entitled "EXECUTION," are as follows:

"SECTION 3274. Public buildings owned by the state, or any county, city, school district, or other civil corporation, and any other public property which is necessary and proper for carrying out the general purposes for which any such corporation is organized, are exempt from execution. The property of a private citizen can in no case be levied upon to pay the debt of a civil corporation."

"SECTION 3275. In case no property is found on which to levy which is not exempted by the last section, or if the judgment creditor elect not to issue execution against such corporation, he is entitled to the amount of his judgment and costs in the ordinary evidences of indebtedness issued by that corporation. And if the debtor corporation issues no scrip or evidences of debt, a tax must be levied as early as practicable sufficient to pay off the judgment with interest and costs."

The circuit court, in overruling the demurrer, considered of course that the provision in italic letters in the above-quoted section 3275 authorized a levy sufficient to pay the judgment.

Page 85 U. S. 77

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