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U.S. Supreme Court

Carson v. Brockton Sewerage Comm'n, 182 U.S. 398 (1901)

Carson v. Brockton Sewerage Commission

No. 248

Argued April 18, 1901

Decided May 27, 1901

182 U.S. 398


Whether the construction of a public sewer by assessments upon adjoining property entitles the owners of such property to the free use of such sewer, or only to the right to a free entrance to it of their particular sewers, is a question of local policy. Notwithstanding that such sewer was built by assessments upon the property benefited, it is competent for the legislature to require persons making use of it to pay a reasonable sum for such use. Where an ordinance fixes the charges that shall be paid for the use of a common sewer, no notice is required to be given to the property owners of an assessment for that purpose.

This was a petition to the justices of the Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk for a writ of certiorari to the Board of Sewer Commissioners of the City of Brockton directing them to bring up certain proceedings connected with the assessment of taxes upon petitioner's land to the amount of $42.53 for the maintenance and operation of a public sewer, and for an order quashing the proceedings.

The petitioner alleged the assessment to be illegal and void:

1. Because the city ordinance does not provide for notice to or hearing of persons whose estates are affected thereby, in violation of the state constitution;

2. Because the method of computing the sewer charges is unreasonable and disproportionate;

3. Because petitioner, having already paid for the sewers connected with his land, cannot be compelled to pay a special tax for the maintenance and operation of sewers from which he receives no special benefit;

4. Because such tax or sewer rental is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution;

5. Because such tax is permissible only when founded upon peculiar and special benefits to the property so taxed, and then only to the amount of such benefits; chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 182 U. S. 399

6. Because lands assessed for the construction of sewers cannot be said to receive an additional and special and peculiar benefit from the general oversight and operation of the same.

By an Act of the Legislature of Massachusetts passed May 6, 1892, c. 245, "to give greater powers to cities and towns in relation to the construction of sewers," it was enacted as follows:

"SEC. 1. The city council of any city except Boston, or a town in which common sewers are laid under the provisions of sections one, two and three of chapter fifty of the Public Statutes, or a system of sewerage is adopted under the provisions of section 7 of said chapter, may by vote establish just and equitable annual charges or rents for the use of such sewers, to be paid by every person who enters his particular sewer into the common sewer, and may change the same from time to time. Such charges shall constitute a lien upon the real estate using such common sewer, to be collected in the same manner as taxes upon real estate, or in an action of contract in the name of such city or town. Sums of money so received may be applied to the payment of the cost of maintenance and repairs of such sewers or of any debt contracted for sewer purposes."

Pursuant to this authority, the City Council of Brockton, on August 23, 1894, adopted an ordinance, of which the following is the material provision:

"SEC. 4. Every person or owner of an estate who enters his particular sewer into a common sewer shall pay for the use of such sewer an annual rental determined upon the basis of water service, as follows: for unmetered water service, eight dollars; for metered water service, thirty cents cents per 1,000 gallons of sewage delivered to the sewer, the quantity so delivered to be determined by the meter readings taken by the water commissioners, but the annual charge shall in no case be less than eight dollars, it being provided, however, that in cases where said commissioners shall deem the same to be equitable, a discount may be made, such discount to be determined by said commissioners and approved by the mayor and aldermen, and it being further provided that any such person or owner may place at his own expense a water meter, which shall be approved

Page 182 U. S. 400

by the said commissioners, to measure the amount of water which does not enter the sewer."

"Such charges shall be collected quarterly, and shall constitute a lien upon the real estate using the sewer, to be collected in the same manner as taxes upon real estate, or in an action of contract in the name of the City of Brockton."

The petition was denied, and petitioner sued out this writ of error.

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