Charlotte Company v. Gibbes
Suit by the Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta Railroad Company against Wade Hampton Gibbes, treasurer, etc., to determine the validity of a tax. Plaintiff brings error to a judgment of the supreme court of the state of South Carolina affirming a judgment of the court of common pleas for Richland county dismissing its complaint. Affirmed.
STATEMENT BY MR. JUSTICE FIELD.
The plaintiff below and in error, the Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta Railroad Company, is a corporation existing under the laws of the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Its road and other property are situated in the county of Richmond, Ga., and in the counties of Aiken, Edgefield, Lexington, Richland, Fairfield, Chester, and York, S.C.., and in the county of Mecklenberg, N. C.
By the legislature of South Carolina a general railroad law was passed in 1878, prescribing numerous provisions for the regulation and government of railroads in that state. That law, as amended in some partriculars, was incorporated as chapter 40 in the General Statutes of the state in 1882. It provides for the appointment by the governor of three railroad commissioners, charged to see to the enforcement of its various provisions, each of whom is to receive a salary of $2,000 a year, to be paid out of the treasury of the state in the manner provided by law for the salaries of other state officers; and also that 'the entire expenses of the railroad commission, including all salaries and expenses of every kind, shall be borne by the several corporations owning or operating railroads within this state according to their gross income, proportioned to the number of miles in the state, to be proportioned by the comptroller general of the state, who on or before the first day of October in each and every year shall assess upon each and every corporation its just proportion of such expenses in proportion to its said gross income for the current year ending on the 30th day of June next preceding that on which the said assessment is made; and the said assessment shall be charged up against the said corporations, respectively, under the order and direction of the comptroller general, and shall be collected by the several county treasurers in the manner provided by law for the collection of taxes from such corporations, and shall be paid by the said county treasurers as collected into the treasury of the state in like maner as other taxes collected by them for the state.'
For the fiscal year of 1883 the plaintiff was charged on the books of the county treasurer of Richland county, in South Carolina, with the sum of $987.75, being the amount assessed as a tax against that company as its entire proportion of the salaries and expenses of the railroad commissioners of the state, and being its proportion for all the counties.
The plaintiff, deeming the same to be unjust and illegal, paid the same under protest, and instituted the present suit, under a law of the state, to obtain a judicial determination that it was wrongfully and illegally collected, and the certificate of the court that it should be refunded.
In its complaint it alleges that the tax is illegal because assessed in proportion to the gross income of the plaintiff, instead of being in proportion to the value of its property; and because its imposition is in conflict with the constitution of the state in several particulars mentioned; and also in violation of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution of the United States, by which each state is forbidden to deprive any person of property without due process of law, or to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, in this: that the act and amendments authorizing it require railroad companies of the state, exclusively, to pay the salaries and expenses of three state officers, no other persons in the state being required to contribute any portion of the same, and require them to pay a tax of a nature, character, and amount not required of other corporations and persons within the jurisdiction of the state.
The attorney general of the state appeared for the treasurer of Richland county, and admitted that that officer, under the order and direction of the comptroller general of the state, had collected of the plaintiff the sum claimed ($987.75) as the just proportion of the entire expenses of the railroad commissioners of the state, assessed upon that corporation by him, and also the sum of $24.70, being the amount of costs and penalties charged against it by his direction, and that the same were paid under protest; denying, however, that the laws under which the amount was assessed against the plaintiff, and collected, were unconstitutional and void, or that the same was illegally and wrongfully collected.
The constitution of South Carolina declares that 'all property subject to taxation shall be taxed in proportion to its value,' and that its legislature 'shall provide by law for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation, and shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation for taxation of all property,' with certain specified exceptions not affecting the questions presented.
The case was heard by the court of common pleas for Richland county, and by its decree the validity of the assessment and tax was sustained, and the complaint dismissed. On appeal to the supreme court of the state the judgment was affirmed, and to review that judgment the case is brought here on writ of error.
Linden Kent, for plaintiff in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 389-390 intentionally omitted]
Wm. E. Earle and N. L. Jeffries, for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.