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DAVIDSON V. NEW ORLEANS, 96 U. S. 97 (1878)

U.S. Supreme Court

Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97 (1878)

Davidson v. New Orleans

96 U.S. 97


An assessment of certain real estate in New Orleans for draining the swamps of that City was resisted in the State courts, and by writ of error brought here on the ground that the proceeding deprives the owner of his property without due process of law.

1. The origin and history of this provision of the Constitution, as found in Magna Charta and in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States considered.

2. The Court suggests the difficulty and danger of attempting an authoritative definition of what it is for a State to deprive a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, and holds that the annunciation of the principles which govern each case as it arises is the better mode of arriving at a sound definition.

3. This Court has heretofore decided that due process of law does not in all cases require a resort to a court of justice to assert the rights of the public against the individual, or to impose burdens upon his property for the public use. Murray's Lessee et al. v. Hoboken Land and Improvement Company, 18 How. 272, and McMillan v. Anderson, 95 U. S. 37.

4. In the present case, the court holds that it is due process of law within the meaning of the Constitution when the statute requires that such a burden, or the fixing of a tax or assessment before it becomes effectual, must be submitted to a court of justice, with notice to the owners of the property, all of whom have the right to appear and contest the assessment.

5. Neither the corporate agency by which the work is done, the excessive price which the statute allows therefor, nor the relative importance of the work to the value of the land assessed, nor the fact that the assessment is made before the work is done, nor that the assessment is unequal as regards the benefits conferred, nor that personal judgments are rendered for the amount assessed are matters in which the state authorities are controlled by the Federal Constitution.

On the 7th of December, 1871, the petition of the City of New Orleans and the administrators thereof was filed in the Seventh District Court for the Parish of Orleans, setting forth an assessment on certain real estate, made under the statutes of Louisiana, for draining the swamp lands within the parishes of Carroll and Orleans; and asking that the assessment should be homologated by the judgment of the court. The estate of John Davidson was assessed for various parcels in different places for about $50,000. His widow and testamentary executrix appeared in that court and filed exceptions to the assessment, and the court refused the order of homologation,

Page 96 U. S. 98

and set aside the entire assessment, with leave to the plaintiffs to present a new tableau.

On appeal from this decree, the Supreme Court of Louisiana reversed it, and ordered the dismissal of the oppositions, and decreed that the assessment roll presented be approved and homologated, and that the approval and homologation so ordered should operate as a judgment against the property described in the assessment roll, and also against the owner or owners thereof. Mrs. Davidson then sued out the writ of error by which this judgment is now brought here for review.

Page 96 U. S. 99

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