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U.S. Supreme Court

Union Pacific Railway Co. v. Cheyenne, 113 U.S. 516 (1885)

Union Pacific Railway Company v. Cheyenne

Argued November 18-19, 1884

Decided March 2, 1885

113 U.S. 516


The Act of the Legislature of Wyoming, passed December 13, 1879, which required the state auditor to furnish to the territorial board of equalization a list for assessment and taxation of the roadbed, superstructure, and other enumerated property of every railroad and telegraph company in the territory when any portion of the property of such company was situated in

Page 113 U. S. 517

more than one county, and which required the board to value and assess the property of the corporation for each mile of its road or line, and to certify to the county clerks of the counties in which the property was situated the assessment per mile, specifying the number of miles and amount in each of the counties, and which required the county commissioners to decide and adjust the number of miles and amounts within each precinct, township, or school district within their respective counties and cause such amounts to be entered on the lists of taxable property returned by the assessors, withdrew the duty of assessing fractional parts of such railroad and the property of such companies from all local assessors in the territory, including its incorporated cities.

A statute which provides a general scheme for assessing and taxing the property of railroad and telegraph companies as a whole and for distributing it ratably among the different counties and their several precincts, townships and districts according to the number of miles of line in each repeals, as to such property, a power conferred upon the authorities of a city to make provisions for the assessment of the taxes which they were authorized by other provisions of the city charter to assess and collect.

A bill which charges that the collection of an illegal tax would involve the plaintiff in a multiplicity of suits as to the title of lots being laid out and sold, which would prevent their sale, and which would cloud the title to all his real estate, states a case for relief in equity.

The bill in this case was filed by the Union Pacific Railway Company against the City of Cheyenne and its marshal, Ryan, to enjoin the collection of certain city taxes for the year 1880, which the railway company alleges were unlawfully assessed against it. The bill was demurred to by the defendants, and the District Court for the First Judicial District of Wyoming, in which the suit was brought, overruled the demurrer, and granted the injunction prayed for. The defendants adhered the their demurrer and appealed to the supreme court of the territory, and the decree of the district court was reversed and the bill ordered to be dismissed, and the case is now brought here by appeal.

The main question raised by the bill is whether the Union Pacific Railroad, which passes through the whole length of Wyoming Territory, and in its course passes through the City of Cheyenne, with its accompanying telegraph, appurtenances, and rolling stock, is liable to be assessed and valued for the purposes of taxation in Cheyenne by the city authorities, or only by the territorial board of equalization, consisting of the

Page 113 U. S. 518

governor, treasurer, and auditor of the territory, and this question depends on the further question whether such assessment and valuation are governed by the city charter of the city or by the act entitled "An act in relation to the assessment of railways and telegraph lines," passed December 13, 1879. The city charter, which was last revised on the subject of taxation by an amendment passed on the 26th of November, 1879 -- only seventeen days prior to the railroad assessment act -- gives to the city power

"to levy and collect taxes for general revenue purposes, not exceeding six mills on the dollar in any one year on all real, personal, and mixed property within the limits of said city, taxable under the laws of the territory,"

and it is provided that "the assessment, levy, and collection of all taxes shall be made as may be provided by ordinance." Authority is also given to the city to raise a further tax to pay interest on its bonds and a tax for improvement of streets and alleys. The railroad assessment act, passed on the 13th of December, 1879, is a very carefully prepared statute, providing for a mode of assessing the value of railroad property and distributing it among the counties and districts through which the railroad may run. Although general in its terms, it must have had particularly in view the Union Pacific Railroad, to which alone it would principally apply. This act is so important a factor in the decision of this case that we quote the first section entire. The title has already been quoted. The first section is as follows:

"SECTION 1. The president, secretary, superintendent, or other principal accounting officers of any railroad or telegraph company having property in this territory at the time of the assessment of every railroad and telegraph company, whether incorporated by any law of this territory or not, when any portion of the property of said railroad or telegraph company is situated in more than one county, shall list for assessment and taxation, verified by the oath or affirmation of the person so listing, all the following described property belonging to such corporation within the territory, viz., roadbed, superstructure, right of way, and all structures situated thereon, rolling stock, side track, telegraph lines, furniture, and fixtures,

Page 113 U. S. 519

and personal property belonging to such corporation. Such list shall contain first, the number of miles of such railroad or telegraph line in the Territory of Wyoming and the number of miles of the same in each organized county therein; second, and such return shall be made to the auditor of the territory on or before the first day of July, annually. If the return aforesaid be not received by said auditor by the third day of July, he shall thereupon proceed to obtain the facts and information aforesaid in any manner that may appear most likely to secure the same correctly, and for that purpose may address a written communication to the corporation or to some officer of the corporation who has failed or refused to make the return aforesaid. As soon as practicable after the auditor has received said return or procured the information required to be set forth in said return, a meeting of the territorial board of equalization, consisting of the governor, territorial treasurer, and auditor, shall be held at the office of said auditor, and the said board shall then value and assess the property of said corporation for each mile said road or line, the value of each mile to be determined by dividing the sum of the whole valuation by the number of miles of said road or line. In making up such valuation or assessment, the said board shall examine and consider the return herein required to be made, or the information procured by the auditor in default of such return, together with such other reliable information relative thereto as they may be able to procure. Said board shall not assess the value of any machine shop, or repair shop, or other buildings not situated on said right of way or grounds or other real estate of any corporation or company within this territory, but it shall be the duty of the assessor of the county or district in which said machine or repair shops, or other buildings or grounds or other real estate is situated to assess the same and make return thereof in the manner now provided for the assessment and return of real estate. On or before the first Monday of August, or so soon thereafter as the said board, or any two thereof, shall have made and determined said valuation and assessment, the territorial auditor shall certify to the county clerks of the several counties in which property of the

Page 113 U. S. 520

aforesaid corporation, or any part thereof, may be situated, the assessment per mile so made on the property of such corporation, specifying the number of miles and amount in each of such counties. The county commissioners shall thereupon divide and adjust the number of miles and the amounts falling within each precinct, township, or school district in their respective counties, and cause such amounts to be entered and placed on the lists of taxable property returned by the several assessors. The auditor shall certify whether a return was made to him by such corporation, or proper officer thereof, or whether the information required in and by such returns was procured by himself, and in case the return was not made as required by this act, or, being made, was not sworn to, it shall be the duty of the county commissioners to add any amount not exceeding ten percent to the valuation thus brought before them."

The fifth section of the act declares as follows:

"All acts and parts of acts providing for the assessment of the property of railroad and telegraph companies, and the equalization of assessments, inconsistent with the provisions of this act, are hereby repealed, so far as they provide for the assessment and equalization of the property of said railroad and telegraph companies. "

Page 113 U. S. 521

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