Heine v. Levee Commissioner
86 U.S. 655 (1873)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Heine v. Levee Commissioner, 86 U.S. 19 Wall. 655 655 (1873)

Heine v. Levee Commissioner

86 U.S. (19 Wall.) 655

Syllabus

1. There can be no jurisdiction in equity to enforce the payment of corporation bonds until the remedy at law has been exhausted.

2. Where the law has provided that a tax shall be levied to pay such bonds, a mandamus after judgment to compel the levy of the tax, in the nature of an execution or process to enforce the judgment, is the only remedy.

3. The fact that this remedy has been shown to be unavailing does not confer upon a court of equity the power to levy and collect taxes to pay the debt.

4. The power to levy and collect taxes is a legislative function in this country, and does not belong to a court of equity, and can only be enforced by a court of law, through the officers authorized by the legislature to levy the tax, if a writ of mandamus is appropriate to that purpose.

5. Taxes are not liens unless declared so by the legislature under whose authority they are assessed. Still less can a lien be created by the mere duty to assess taxes which has not been performed.

This was a suit in chancery brought by Heine and others, holders of bonds issued by what is called the Board of Levee

Page 86 U. S. 656

Commissioners of the Levee District for the Parishes of Carroll and Madison of the State of Louisiana. The board thus described was made a quasi-corporation by the legislature of Louisiana, with authority to issue the bonds and provide for the payment of interest and principal by taxes levied upon the real and personal property within the district. The bill alleged a failure to levy these taxes and to pay the interest on any part of said bonds, that the persons duly appointed levee commissioners had pretended to resign their office for the purpose of evading this duty, and that the complainants had applied in vain to the judge of the district court, who was by statute authorized to levy a tax on the alluvial lands to pay the bonds if the levee commissioners failed to do so. The prayer for relief was that the levee commissioners be required to assess and collect the tax necessary to pay the bonds and interest, and if, after reasonable time, they failed to do so, that the district judge be ordered to do the same, and for such other and further relief as the nature of the case required.

No judgment at law had been recovered on the bonds or any of them, nor any attempt to collect the money due by suit in the common law court.

A demurrer to the bill was sustained in the circuit court, and the plaintiffs appealed from the decree of dismissal rendered on that demurrer.

Page 86 U. S. 657

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