Voigt v. Detroit
United States Supreme Court
VOIGT v. DETROIT
Argued: December 6, 1901. --- Decided: February 24, 1902
This is a bill in equity brought by plaintiff in error in the circuit court for Wayne county, Michigan, to restrain the sale of his lands for an assessment levied by the city of Detroit for city improvements, on the ground that the law under which the assessment was imposed is repugnant to the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, and that the assessment, therefore, puts a cloud upon plaintiff's title. A demurrer was filed to the bill by defendants, which was sustained, and the bill dismissed. That action was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 123 Mich. 547, 82 N. W. 253. A writ of error was then allowed by the chief justice of the state, and the case brought here.
The bill alleged that plaintiff was the owner of certain lots (describing them), which were a part of the subdivision of the 'Voigt Park Farm,' a plat of which had been made and recorded by plaintiff. Upon the plat was designated a street called 'Second avenue,' and to extend that street proceedings were instituted, which resulted in a verdict opening the same as a public necessity. Damages were awarded for the property taken to the amount of $73,732.68.
The verdict was confirmed by the court, and the judgment of confirmation was transmitted to the common council of the city, and was referred to the committee on street openings. The committee reported, recommending that $49,155.12 of the award be assessed on a local assessment district and the balance be paid by the city. A resolution was then adopted by the common council fixing and determining the assessment district, and including therein the property of plaintiff. The resolution recited 'that it is hereby determined that the sum of $49,155.12 is a just proportion of the compensation awarded by the jury for the property taken for said improvement which should be paid by the owners' of the property included in said assessment district; and it was further resolved that said amount be assessed and levied upon the several parcels of said property by the board of assessors of the city. It was also alleged that plaintiff in error 'had no notice of the intention of said common council to impose and have assessed upon a local assessment district a part of the damages awarded by the jury in said condemnation proceedings, and no notice to appear before said council or any committee thereof in relation to the matter of determining the limits of such district and the amount to be assessed thereon, and that he was given no opportunity to appear and be heard before said common council or any committee thereof with reference thereto.'
An assessment roll was subsequently prepared, 'being street assessment roll No. 111,' and confirmed by the common council. By the assessment roll the sums assessed against the property of plaintiff aggregated the sum of $9,957. The roll was placed in the hands of the defendant, Thomas M. Lucking, receiver of taxes of the city, for collection, and plaintiff notified of the assessment against his property, and payment of the amount assessed was demanded. And it is alleged that the receiver will, unless restrained, advertise and sell plaintiff's property for the amount assessed thereon.
The condemnation proceedings were instituted and conducted under the provisions of § 3406 of the Compiled Laws of the state of Michigan, and it is alleged those provisions violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, in that they deprive plaintiff of his property without due process of law, for the following reasons:
'1. Because said law does not provide for giving to the property owners interested any notice of the proceedings of the common council for the determination of the limits of the local assessment district, and the amount or proportion of the award of the jury to be assessed thereon, and does not provide for the giving to the property owners interested notice of any hearing by such common council as to the amount of land to be included in such assessment district and as to the amount or proportion of such award to be assessed thereon.
'2. Because said law does not fix the basis upon which or the standard by which the common council are to determine what is the just proportion of the compensation awarded by the jury to be assessed upon the assessment district.
'3. Because the said law does not require that the amount of the award of the jury which the common council may order to be assessed upon such assessment district shall not exceed the total amount of the benefits derived by the lands in said district from the improvement to pay the expense of which such award was made.
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'That the proceedings of said common council, hereinbefore set forth, in determining said assessment district and the amount to be assessed upon it are invalid for the reasons aforesaid, and for the further reason that it does not appear by the resolution fixing said district and determining the amount to be assessed thereon upon what basis or standard or by what method the council determined the proportion of the award to be assessed upon said district, or that the amount to be assessed did not exceed the total amount of benefits derived by the property to be assessed from the improvement.'
Mr. Hinton E. Spalding for plaintiff in error.
Messrs. C. D. Joslyn and Timothy E. Tarsney for defendants in error.
Mr. Justice McKenna, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court: