An unequal tax assessment cannot be held in violation of the
equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment where a purpose
of the assessing board to discriminate is not clearly established
and where the discrimination may be attributed to an honest mistake
of judgment and lack of time and evidence for making general
revaluations when objection was made.
The good faith of tax assessor and the validity of their acts
are presumed; when assailed, the burden of proof is upon the
186 Mich. 626 affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
Page 247 U. S. 352
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a writ of error to a state court, and the only matter
for our consideration is the claim that, contrary to the Fourteenth
Amendment, plaintiff in error was denied equal protection of the
laws by the State Board of Tax Assessors, which assessed its
property for 1911 at full value, whereas other lands throughout the
county were generally assessed at not exceeding one-third of their
actual worth. Proceeding in entire good faith, an inexperienced
local assessor adopted the valuation which his predecessor had
placed upon the company's property-sixty-five thousand dollars; the
County Board of Review approved his action. Reviewing this in the
light of a subsequent detailed report by experts appointed under a
special act of the legislature passed in April, 1911, to appraise
all mining properties, the state board raised the assessment to
$1,071,000, but, because of alleged lack of time and inadequate
information, it declined to order a new and general survey of
values or generally to increase other assessments, notwithstanding
plaintiff in error represented and offered to present evidence
showing that they amounted to no more than one-third of true market
The purpose of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment is to secure every person within the state's jurisdiction
against intentional and arbitrary discrimination, whether
occasioned by express terms of a statute or by its improper
execution through duly constituted agents. And it must be regarded
as settled that intentional systematic undervaluation by state
Page 247 U. S. 353
other taxable property in the same class contravenes the
constitutional right of one taxed upon the full value of his
property. Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co.,
207 U. S. 20
207 U. S. 35
It is also clear that mere errors of judgment by officials will not
support a claim of discrimination. There must be something more --
something which in effect amounts to an intentional violation of
the essential principle of practical uniformity. The good faith of
such officers and the validity of their actions are presumed; when
assailed, the burden of proof is upon the complaining party.
Head Money Cases, 112 U. S. 580
112 U. S. 595
Pittsburgh, etc., Ry. Co. v. Backus, 154 U.
, 154 U. S. 435
Maish v. Arizona, 164 U. S. 599
164 U. S. 611
Adams Express Co. v. Ohio, 165 U.
, 165 U. S. 229
New York v. Barker, 179 U. S. 279
179 U. S.
-285; Coulter v. Louisville & Nashville R.
Co., 196 U. S. 599
196 U. S. 608
Chicago, B. & Q. Ry. Co. v. Babcock, 204 U.
, 204 U. S.
The record discloses facts which render it more than probable
that plaintiff in error's mines were assessed for the year 1911
(but not before or afterwards) relatively higher than other lands
within the county, although the statute enjoined the same rule for
all. But we are unable to conclude that the evidence suffices
clearly to establish that the State Board entertained or is
chargeable with any purpose or design to discriminate. Its action
is not incompatible with an honest effort in new and difficult
circumstances to adopt valuations not relatively unjust or unequal.
When plaintiff in error first challenged the values placed upon the
property of others, no adequate time remained for detailed
consideration, nor was there sufficient evidence before the Board
to justify immediate and general revaluations. The very next year,
a diligent and, so far as appears, successful effort was made to
rectify any inequality. The judgment of the court below must be