In Braxton County Court v. West Virginia ex rel. State Tax Comm'rs, 208 U.S. 192 (1908), it is true, we dismissed a challenge by a county court to a state tax law for lack of jurisdiction, broadly stating that "`the interest of a [party seeking relief] in this court should be a personal and not an official interest,'" id., at 198 (quoting Smith v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138, 149 (1903)); accord, Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Comm. v. McGrath, 341 U.S. 123, 151 (1951) (Frankfurter, J., concurring).Summary of this case from Raines v. Byrd
Submitted January 14, 1908. Decided January 27, 1908.
Speaking generally, and subject to the rule that no State can set at naught the provisions of the National Constitution, the regulation of municipal corporations is peculiarly within state control, the legislature determining the taxing body, the taxing districts, and the limits of taxation. Notwithstanding that plaintiff in error's charge of unconstitutionality of a state statute may not be frivolous, in order to give this court jurisdiction to review the action of the state court sustaining the statute the question must be raised in this court by one adversely affected by the decision and whose interest is personal and not of an official nature. Smith, Auditor, v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138. A county court of West Virginia has no personal interest in the amount of tax levy made by it which will give this court jurisdiction to review at its instance the decision of the highest court of that State determining that the levy is excessive, even though the basis of request for review is the ground that the reduction of the assessment leaves the county unable for lack of funds to fulfill the obligations of its contracts. 60 West Virginia, 339, affirmed.
Mr. George E. Price for plaintiffs in error:
This case is not governed by the cases of Clark v. Kansas City, 176 U.S. 114; Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276; Wellington, Petitioner, 16 Pick. 87, 96; Smith, Auditor of Marion County, v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138, holding that the objection made to the constitutionality of an act must be by a party whose rights it does affect, and who has legal interest in defeating it.
The county court of Braxton County has a right to raise the question whether it was bound to obey the act of 1905 in this case. It is interested in this matter as a party to the contracts, the obligations of which are impaired by this statute; it is a corporation. See Code, chap. 36, §§ 1, 4, 16, 17 and 43.
The county court is a party to all contracts, debts and obligations of its county. It stands for the county. When bonds are issued they are made in its name and issued by it. This was the case with the railroad bonds in question. By these bonds the county court expressly agreed to pay certain sums of money at certain times and in a certain way, and it certainly has a deep interest in seeing that it is not deprived of the power to carry out its agreement.
The people of the county, the taxpayers, are certainly parties to the contracts of the county. It is they who pay the county's debts and discharge its obligations. If after they have contracted a debt in their aggregate capacity as a county, a law is passed that impairs its obligations, they have as much right as the creditor to object to it and to test its validity in the courts. This must be done, if at all, in the name and by means of the county court, their representative. Clark v. County Court, 55 W. Va. 278, 285. While one or a few could bring such a suit, the burden should not be placed on one or a few which ought to be borne by all. And see Board of Liquidation v. Louisiana, 179 U.S. 622.
The obligation of a contract consists in its binding force on the party who made it. This depends on the laws in force when it is made. These laws are necessarily referred to in all contracts as forming part of them as the measure of the obligation to perform them and as creating the right acquired by the other parties to compel performance. The obligation does not inhere and subsist in the contract proprio vigore, but in the law applicable to the contract. Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheat. 213, 302; McCracken v. Hayward, 2 How. 608; Goodale v. Fennell, 27 Ohio St. 426; S.C., 22 Am. Rep. 221; United States v. Judges, 32 F. 715; State v. New Orleans, 37 La. Ann. 17; Von Huffman v. City of Quincy, 4 Wall. 535, 549; United States v. Mayor and Administrators of the City of New Orleans, 103 U.S. 358; Butz v. City of Muscatine, 8 Wall. 575; White v. Hart, 13 Wall. 647; Walker v. Whitehead, 16 Wall. 318; City of Galena v. Amy, 5 Wall. 709; Riggs v. Johnson Co., 6 Wall. 194; Mobile v. Watson, 116 U.S. 305; Curran v. State of Arkansas, 15 How. 304; Planters' Bank v. Shark, 6 How. 301; Green v. Biddle, 8 Wheat. 1.
The constitutional provisions and the laws which were in force in West Virginia when the railroad bonds of Braxton County were issued, not only authorized, but required the county court to provide for the collection of a direct annual tax sufficient to pay annually the interest on said bonds, and the principal thereof within and not exceeding thirty-four years. Const. of West Virginia, Article 10, § 8. The law governing the county court in such a case is § 59, c. 54 of the Code.
Mr. W. Mollohan for defendants in error:
The county court of Braxton County under the constitution and statute law of the State of West Virginia, as construed by the highest court of that State, is a mere fiscal or administrative board for the management of county affairs and has no personal or direct interest in claims against the county owned or held by third persons, such as will authorize it to prosecute a writ of error in this case, nor under such constitution, statutes and decisions has it the right to stand in judgment for such third parties and present for decision the question whether or not any given statute violates their contract rights against the county.
Even if this court should be of opinion that it is not bound to accept the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia as to the powers of the county court to stand in judgment for its creditors and present for decision the question of alleged impairment of creditors' contracts, yet under the decisions of this court the county court of Braxton County had no such interest as would enable it to prosecute a writ of error to this court. Henderson v. Tennessee, 10 How. 311; Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276; Giles v. Little, 134 U.S. 635; Smith, Auditor, v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138; Tyler v. Registration Court Judges, 179 U.S. 405; Clark v. Kansas City, 176 U.S. 114; Turpin v. Lemon, 187 U.S. 51; Ludeling v. Chaffee, 143 U.S. 301; Caffrey v. Oklahoma, 177 U.S. 346.
Speaking generally, the regulation of municipal corporations is a matter peculiarly within the domain of state control. The taxing body, the taxing district and the limits of taxation are determinable by the legislature of the State. Kelly v. Pittsburgh, 104 U.S. 78; Forsyth v. Hammond, 166 U.S. 506, and cases cited in the opinion; Williams v. Eggleston, 170 U.S. 304, 310; 1 Dillon on Municipal Corporations (4th ed., p. 52), and following. True, the legislature may sometimes, by restrictive legislation in respect to taxes, seek to prevent the payment by a municipality of its contract obligations, and in such a case the courts will enforce the protective clauses of the Federal Constitution against any state legislation impairing the obligation of a contract. In other words, no State can in respect to any matter set at naught the paramount provisions of the National Constitution.
Again, that the act of the State is charged to be in violation of the National Constitution, and that the charge is not frivolous, does not always give this court jurisdiction to review the judgment of a state court. The party raising the question of constitutionality and invoking our jurisdiction must be interested in and affected adversely by the decision of the state court sustaining the act, and the interest must be of a personal and not of an official nature. Clark v. Kansas City, 176 U.S. 114, 118; Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276, 283; Smith v. Indiana, 191 U.S. 138, 148. In the latter case suit was brought in the state court against a county auditor to test the constitutionality of the exemption law of Indiana, which was claimed to be in conflict with the Federal Constitution. The decision of the state court having been in favor of the act, the auditor brought the case here. Mr. Justice Brown, delivering the opinion of the court, cited the following cases: Tyler v. Registration Court Judges, 179 U.S. 405; Clark v. Kansas City, 176 U.S. 114; Turpin v. Lemon, 187 U.S. 51; Lampasas v. Bell, 180 U.S. 276; Ludeling v. Chaffee, 143 U.S. 301; Giles v. Little, 134 U.S. 645; and said ( 191 U.S. 148):
"These authorities control the present case. It is evident that the auditor had no personal interest in the litigation. He had certain duties as a public officer to perform. The performance of those duties was of no personal benefit to him. Their non-performance was equally so. He neither gained nor lost anything by invoking the advice of the Supreme Court as to the proper action he should take. He was testing the constitutionality of the law purely in the interest of third persons, viz., the taxpayers, and in this particular case the case is analogous to that of Caffrey v. Oklahoma, 177 U.S. 346. We think the interest of an appellant in this court should be a personal and not an official interest, and that the defendant, having sought the advice of the courts of his own State in his official capacity, should be content to abide by their decisions."
These decisions control this case and compel a dismissal of the writ of error, and
It is so ordered,