1. A judgment of a state supreme court sustaining a state tax
law over the objection that, as applied in the case, it violates
the Constitution, is reviewable by writ of error. P. 659..
2. Railroad property may not be burdened for local improvements
upon a basis so wholly different from that used for ascertaining
the contribution demanded of individual owners as necessarily to
produce manifest inequality. P. 256 U. S.
3. An Arkansas statute authorizing local assessments for a road
denial of the equal protection of the
laws as applied in this case. P. 256 U. S.
139 Ark. 424 reversed. Certiorari denied.
Error to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Arkansas which
affirmed a judgment of a circuit court approving a road improvement
assessment on property of the plaintiffs in error. The facts are
stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Proceeding under Act 338, 1915 Session, Arkansas Legislature,
the county court created and fixed the
Page 256 U. S. 659
boundaries of "road improvement district No. 6 of Little River
County." They include approximately 25,000 acres, and within them
there are 9.7 miles of main track railroad owned and operated by
petitioners, Kansas City Southern Railway Company and Texarkana
& Ft. Smith Railway Company, together with the corresponding
right of way, covering 130 acres, and requisite station
Little River County is distinctly agricultural, has an area of
546 square miles, and 16,000 inhabitants. The improvement district
was created for the purpose of constructing 11.2 miles of gravel
road through taxation upon real property, defined by the statute as
"land, improvements thereon, railroads, railroad right of way and
improvements thereon, including public buildings, side tracks,
etc., and tramroads."
A duly appointed board assessed the benefits to plaintiff in
error's property on account of the proposed road at $7,000 per mile
of main track -- $67,900. They divided the farming lands into five
zones, determined by distance from the highway, and assessed
uniform benefits upon all within the same zone without regard to
improvements or market value -- in the first, $12.00 per acre,
second $10.00, third $8.00, fourth $6.00, and fifth $4.00. Town
lots were likewise assessed without reference to value or
improvements at $10.00, $150.00, $20.00, and $25.00 each, according
to location. A pipeline, telephone line, and telegraph line were
severally assessed at $2,500, $300, and $300 per mile without any
Plaintiffs in error duly maintained that the assessment upon
their property was unequal, arbitrary, unreasonable, and in
violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the
Fourteenth Amendment. The state courts held to the contrary, and in
effect declared the statute providing for the road improvement
district authorized the action taken by the board, and that, so
construed, it was a
Page 256 U. S. 660
valid enactment. 139 Ark. 424. The validity of the statute
having been adequately challenged, the cause is properly here upon
writ of error, and the petition for certiorari will be denied.
The settled general rule is that a state legislature
"may create taxing districts to meet the expense of local
improvements, and may fix the basis of taxation without
encountering the Fourteenth Amendment unless its action is palpably
arbitrary or a plain abuse."
Gast Realty Co. v. Schneider Granite Co., 240 U. S.
; Houck v. Little River Drainage District,
239 U. S. 254
239 U. S. 262
Ordinarily, the levy may be upon lands specially benefited
according to value, position, area, or the front-foot rule.
French v. Barber Asphalt Co., 181 U.
, 181 U. S. 342
Cass Farm Co. v. Detroit, 181 U.
, 181 U. S.
-398; Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Barber
Asphalt Co., 197 U. S. 430
Withnell v. Ruecking Construction Co., 249 U. S.
; Hancock v. City of Muskogee, 250 U.
; Branson v. Bush, 251 U.
If, however, the statute providing for the tax is
"of such a character that there is no reasonable presumption
that substantial justice generally will be done, but the
probability is that the parties will be taxed disproportionately to
each other and to the benefit conferred the law cannot stand
against the complaint of one so taxed in fact."
Gast Realty Co. v. Schneider Granite Co., supra.
The statute under consideration prescribes no definite standard
for determining benefits from proposed improvements. The assessors
made estimates as to farm lands and town lots according to area and
position, and wholly without regard to their value, improvements
thereon, or their present or prospective use. On the other hand,
disregarding both area and position, they undertook to estimate
benefits to the property of plaintiffs in error without disclosing
any basis therefor, but apparently according to some vague
speculation as to present worth and possible future increased
receipts from freight and passengers
Page 256 U. S. 661
which would enhance its value, considered as a component part of
Obviously the railroad companies have not been treated like
individual owners, and we think the discrimination so palpable and
arbitrary as to amount to a denial of the equal protection of the
law. Benefits from local improvements must be estimated upon
contiguous property according to some standard which will probably
produce approximately correct general results. To say that 9.7
miles of railroad in a purely farming section, treated as an
aliquot part of the whole system, will receive benefits amounting
to $67,900 from the construction of 11.2 miles of gravel road seems
wholly improbable, if not impossible. Classification, of course, is
permissible, but we can find no adequate reason for what has been
attempted in the present case. Royster Guano Co. v.
Virginia, 253 U. S. 412
253 U. S. 415
It is doubtful whether any very substantial appreciation in value
of the railroad property within the district will result from the
improvements, and very clearly it cannot be taxed upon some
fanciful view of future earnings and distributed values while all
other property is assessed solely according to area and position.
Railroad property may not be burdened for local improvements upon a
basis so wholly different from that used for ascertaining the
contribution demanded of individual owners as necessarily to
produce manifest inequality. Equal protection of the law must be
extended to all.
The judgment of the court below is reversed, and the cause
remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this