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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Supervisors of Albany, 122 U.S. 154 (1887)

Williams v. Supervisors of Albany

Argued March 18, 1887

Decided May 23, 1887

122 U.S. 154


Stanley v. Supervisors of Albany, 121 U. S. 535, affirmed to the point that a party who feels himself aggrieved by overvaluation of his property for purposes of taxation, and does not resort to the tribunal created by the state for correction of errors in assessments before levy of the tax, cannot maintain an action at law to recover the excess of taxes paid beyond what should have been levied on a just valuation. His remedy is in equity to enjoin the collection of the illegal excess upon payment or tender of the amount due upon what is admitted to be a just valuation.

The mode in which property shall be appraised, by whom and when that shall be done, what certificate of their action shall be furnished by the board which does it, and when parties may be heard for the correction of errors are all matters within legislative discretion, and it is within the power of a state legislature to cure an omission or a defective performance of such of the acts required by law to be performed by local boards in the assessment of taxes as could have been in the first place omitted from the requirements of the statute or which might have been required to be done at another time than that named in it, provided always that intervening rights are not impaired.

The statute passed by the Legislature of New York April 30, 1883, to legalize and confirm the assessments in Albany for the years 1876, 1877, and chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 122 U. S. 155

1878 was not in conflict with the acts of Congress respecting the taxation of shares of stock in national banks, and was a valid exercise of the power of the legislature to cure irregularities in assessments.

This was an action to recover the amount of certain taxes alleged to have been illegally collected from the plaintiff and others on sundry shares of stock held by them in the National Albany Exchange Bank, in the City of Albany, New York and paid into the treasury of the county. The stockholders other than the plaintiff assigned to him their respective claims before its commencement. Their demands were originally embraced in an action brought by one Edward N. Stanley against the Board of Supervisors, he being at the time assignee of their claims. In that action, judgment was recovered by him. The case being brought to this Court, the judgment was reversed, and the cause remanded with leave to the court below, in its discretion, to hear evidence upon the point whether the shares were habitually and intentionally assessed higher in proportion to their actual value than other money ed capital generally, and if necessary to allow an amendment of the pleadings that the point might be properly presented. Supervisors v. Stanley, 105 U. S. 305. When the case was remanded, on application to the court below, all the counts of the complaint, except the fourth, were amended. Subsequently, however, Stanley discontinued the action as to the claim for the taxes assessed and collected for the years 1876, 1877, and 1878. The plaintiff then took an assignment of the claim for those taxes from Stanley and commenced the present action. He contended that the assessment for those years upon the shares of the stock of the bank was illegal on these grounds:

1st. Because it was not made within the period required by law, which was before the first of September of each year, but after that date.

2d. Because it was not accompanied by the oath of the assessors that it had been made at the full and true value of the shares, subject only to certain specified deductions allowed by law.

3d. Because it was higher, in proportion to the actual value chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 122 U. S. 156

of the shares, than the assessment of other moneyed capital in the hands of individual citizens of the state was to its actual value.

The defendant answered these grounds by a general denial and by setting up an act of the Legislature of New York, passed April 30, 1883, legalizing and confirming the assessment. * chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 122 U. S. 157

The issues were tried by the court without the intervention of a jury by consent of parties. The court found the facts as admitted by the pleadings and by stipulation of the parties, from which it appeared, among other things, that no entry of any assessment of the shares of the stockholders of the bank was made upon the assessment roll of 1876, 1877, and 1878 until after the 1st day of September of those years, and after the time provided by law for revising and correcting the assessment; that the oath of the assessors, annexed to the assessment of each year, was defective in its averment respecting the estimated value of the real estate assessed, but was correct in its averment of the estimated value of the personal property; that there were several banks, state and national, located in the City of Albany, and that the actual value of their shares during those years, with one exception, was above par, varying in that respect from ten to over one hundred percent, and yet the value of all of them was assessed at par; that the actual value of shares in the National Albany Exchange Bank was from twenty-five to thirty percent above par; that the assessment of the shares of some of the other banks was higher and of some of them lower than this figure, and that the assessment at par was not made by the assessors with the intent of discriminating against the holders of national bank chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 122 U. S. 158

shares, or in favor of the holders of state bank shares, or other moneyed capital. As a conclusion of law, the court found that the assessments were illegal because not made in conformity with the laws of the state, but that they were legalized and confirmed by the act of its legislature of April 30, 1883, and that they were not in violation of any law of the United States. 22 Blatchford 302. Judgment was accordingly rendered for the defendant, and the plaintiff brought the case here for review. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 122 U. S. 162