BELL'S GAP R. CO. V. PENNSYLVANIA, 134 U. S. 232 (1890)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bell's Gap R. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 134 U.S. 232 (1890)

Bell's Gap Railroad Company v. Pennsylvania

No. 1497

Submitted January 27, 1890

Decided March 3, 1890

134 U.S. 232


The plaintiff in error failed to make a return of its loans to the state authorities as required by law, whereupon the auditor general, under direction of state law, made out an account against it containing the following charge: "Nominal value of scrip, bonds and certificates of indebtedness held by residents of Pennsylvania, $530,000 -- tax three mills -- $1,617.00." The company appealed from this to the Court of Common Pleas, which decided in its favor, and the Commonwealth from thence to the supreme court of the state, which rendered a judgment in favor of the Commonwealth for $666. Among the grounds for the appeal was that the tax was in violation of section one of the Fourteenth Amendment, became the assessment was for the nominal value, and not for the real value of

Page 134 U. S. 233

the bonds; because the owners of the bonds had no notice, and no opportunity to be heard; because the company was taxed for property that it did not own, and because the deduction of the tax from the interest due the bondholders in Pennsylvania took their property without due process of law and denied to them the equal protection of the laws. The case being brought to this Court from the state court by writ of error, a motion was made to dismiss for want of jurisdiction, to which was united a motion to affirm.


(1) That there was clearly a federal question raised, and the writ could not be dismissed for want of jurisdiction.

(2) That although it was doubtful whether, under the rules, there was sufficient color for the motion to dismiss to justify the court in considering the motion to affirm, yet, as the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in its opinion did not seem to have expressly passed upon the federal question, which was clearly in the record, the court could consider that there was color for making that motion.

(3) That the provision for the assessment of the tax upon the nominal or face value of the bonds, instead of upon their actual valve, was a part of the state system of taxation, authorized by its constitution and laws, and violated no provision of the Constitution of the United States.

(4) That the failure to give personal notice to the owners of the bonds involved no violation of due process of law when executed according to customary forms and established usages, or in subordination to the principles which underlie them.

(5) That it was not true in point of fact that the corporation was taxed for property which it did not own.

The Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to compel the states to adopt an iron rule of equal taxation.

Motions (1) to revoke the allocatur and quash the writ of error, (2) to dismiss for want of jurisdiction, (3) to affirm the judgment below. The case is stated in the opinion.

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