United States v. County of Clark
96 U.S. 211 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. County of Clark, 96 U.S. 211 (1877)

United States v. County of Clark

96 U.S. 211

Syllabus

A county subscribed for stock of a railroad corporation, and issued bonds in payment therefor, pursuant to a law which authorized a levy of a special tax to pay them, "not to exceed one-twentieth of one percent upon the assessed value of taxable property for each year," but contained no provision that only the fund so derived should be applied to their payment. Held that the bonds are debts of the county as fully as any other of its liabilities, and that for any balance remaining due on account of principal or interest after the application thereto of the proceeds of such tax the holders of them are entitled to payment out of the general funds of the county.

On the fourth day of January, 1876, the United States, on the relation of William A. Johnston, filed in the court below a petition for a mandamus against the County Court of Clark County, Missouri, and the justices thereof.

The case exhibited by the pleadings is this:

On the sixth day of June, 1874, said Johnston recovered a judgment in said circuit court against that county for $8,606.64 and costs. The judgment was for unpaid installments of interest on bonds of the county, each for $500, issued on the first day of June, 1871, by order of the county court in execution of a power conferred by the charter of the Missouri & Mississippi Railroad Company. The whole issue under the order was $200,000, and the judgment was for interest upon one-fourth of the amount. An execution having been issued upon the judgment and a return made that no property could be found, he applied for a mandamus requiring the county court and the justices thereof to direct

Page 96 U. S. 212

the clerk of the county to draw a warrant on the county treasurer for the balance of the judgment remaining unpaid, so that he might be enabled, on its presentation, to have it paid in its order out of the county treasury. His right to such a warrant, and the duty of the county court to direct it to be drawn, are claimed to be founded upon the general statutes of the state. The act respecting the powers and duties of county courts (Wagner, Stat. 414, sec. 28) enacts as follows:

"Each county court shall have power to audit, adjust, and settle all accounts to which the county shall be a party; to order the payment out of the county treasury of any sum of money found due by the county,"

and the thirty-first section provides that, 'when the court shall ascertain any sum of money to be due from the county, they shall order their clerk to issue a warrant therefor,' drawn upon the county treasurer, prescribing the form. The thirty-second section requires every such warrant to be drawn for the whole amount ascertained to be due to the person entitled to the same, and by the eighth section of the act, warrants are required to be paid in the order of their presentation.

Such, in the main, is the case made by the relator. The defendants concede the recovery of the judgment and the lawful issue of the bonds, but aver that the charter of said company expressly provided that the levy of a tax by the county court should not exceed one-twentieth of one percent each year for the payment of the bonds and the interest thereon. They further aver that they have levied that tax; that they have no authority to provide any other revenue fund for the payment of the said bonds or interest, or any judgment thereon; that the relator is not entitled to have his judgment paid out of any other fund; that the fund is to be distributed proportionately among all the holders of the bonds of the $200,000 issue; that there is no fund in the treasury applicable to the bonds; and that they are not authorized to order a warrant for the relator's judgment payable out of any other fund than that derived from the tax of one-twentieth of one percent authorized by that charter.

The provision of the charter mentioned in the pleadings is as follows:

"It shall be lawful for the corporate authorities of any city or town, or the county court of any county, desiring so to

Page 96 U. S. 213

do, to subscribe to the capital stock of said company, and may issue bonds therefor and levy a tax to pay the same not to exceed one-twentieth of one percent upon the assessed value of taxable property for each year."

The statutes of the state make it the duty of the county court to levy taxes for county uses not exceeding the rate of five mills, or one-half percent. The tax of one-twentieth of one percent is an authorized addition to this.

The United States demurred to the defense. The demurrer was sustained and the petition dismissed. This writ of error was then sued out.

Page 96 U. S. 214

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