Walter v. Northeastern Railroad Company
Statement by Mr. Justice BROWN:
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 50 to 60 per cent. 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 60 to 65 per cent. of its actual value; and that the state board of equalization for railroads arbitrarily assessed the property of this company at a much 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 Railroad Co. v. Blake, 49 Fed. Rep. 904. Defendants appealed to this court under the fifth section of the court of appeals act of 1891.
Samuel Lord and Ira B. Jones. for appellants.
W. Hugh Fitz-Simons and Henry A. M. Smith, for appellee.
Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.