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WALTER V. NORTHEASTERN R. CO., 147 U. S. 370 (1893)

U.S. Supreme Court

Walter v. Northeastern R. Co., 147 U.S. 370 (1893)

Walter v. Northeastern Railroad Company

No. 1206

Argued and submitted January 11-12, 1893

Decided January 23, 1893

147 U.S. 370


A circuit court of the United States has no jurisdiction over a bill in equity to enjoin the collection of taxes from a railroad company when distinct assessments, in separate counties, no one of which amounts to $2,000, and for which, in case of payment under protest, separate suits must be brought to recover back the amounts paid, are joined in the bill and make an aggregate of over $2,000.

This was a bill in equity filed by the Northeastern Railroad Company of South Carolina against the Treasurer and Sheriff of Charleston, Berkeley, Williamsburg, and Florence Counties, through which the plaintiff's road passes, to enjoin them from issuing executions against or seizing the property of the plaintiff for the purpose of collecting a tax based upon an assessment alleged to be unconstitutional and void.

The substance of the bill was that the constitution of the state provided for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation; that real estate is assessed for tax at on once in five years at a uniform rate of from fifty to sixty percent of its actual value; that personal property is assessed every year at the same rate or less; that this rate has become a uniform rule, and was accepted and acted upon by the assessing officers and boards of the state; that plaintiff returned its property at a valuation of from sixty to sixty-five percent of its actual value, and that the state board of equalization for railroads arbitrarily assessed the property of this company at a much

Page 147 U. S. 371

higher rate, although prior to the year 1891 it had accepted and acted upon a uniform rule of assessment; but that, at its meeting in 1891, it abandoned the rule theretofore accepted and assessed railroad property at a rate exceeding its actual value, and in some cases doubled and trebled the previous rate, with intent to cast upon it a greater proportion of taxation, although no change was made in the assessment of other real and personal property; that the plaintiff, in common with the other railroads of the state, tendered in payment of its taxes the amount due under the levy estimated upon the value of its property as theretofore assessed under the rule prevailing in that state and set forth in its sworn return, and brought this bill to enjoin the taking possession of or selling its property under a tax execution to collect the excess.

Defendants demurred to this bill upon the grounds 1. that the court had no jurisdiction, by reason of the insufficient amount in controversy; 2. that the plaintiff had a complete and adequate remedy at law; 3. for want of equity. The case was heard upon this demurrer, and a decree was rendered overruling the demurrer and enjoining the collection of the taxes. See Richmond &c. Railroad v. Blake, 49 F. 904. Defendants appealed to this Court under the fifth section of the Court of Appeals Act of 1891.

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