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U.S. Supreme Court

Washington & Georgetown R. Co. v. District of Columbia, 146 U.S. 227 (1892)

Washington and Georgetown Railroad Company v. District of Columbia

No. 27

Argued and submitted November 10-11, 1892

Decided November 21, 1892

146 U.S. 227


With certain exceptions, within which this case does not fall, the statutes regulating appeals from the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia

Page 146 U. S. 228

only apply to cases where there is a matter in dispute measurable by some sum or value in money.

The appellate jurisdiction of this Court, when dependent upon the sum in dispute between the parties, is to be tested without regard to the collateral effect of the judgment in another suit between the same or other parties, and this rule applies to a bill in equity to restrain the collection of a specific tax levied under a general and continuing law.

In such a suit, the matter in dispute, in its relation to jurisdiction, is the particular tax attacked, and unaccrued or unspecified taxes cannot be included, upon conjecture, to make up the requisite jurisdictional amount.

The Washington & Georgetown Railroad Company filed its bill in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia on October 23, 1884, against the District of Columbia and the commissioners of the District, alleging that it was a corporation duly organized under the act of Congress in that behalf; that under the Act of Congress of February 21, 1871, entitled "An act to provide a government for the District of Columbia," 16 Stat. 419, the legislative assembly of the District passed an act, August 23, 1871, entitled "An act imposing a license on trades, business, and professions practiced or carried on in the District of Columbia," the twenty-sixth paragraph of the twenty-first section of which was in the words and figures following, to-wit:

"The proprietors of hacks, cabs, and omnibuses, and streetcars, and other vehicles for transporting passengers for hire, shall pay annually as follows: hacks and carriages, ten dollars; one-horse cabs, six dollars; omnibuses, ten dollars; streetcars, six dollars; or other vehicles, capable of carrying ten passengers or more at one time, ten dollars."

And the fourth section (omitting a proviso) was as follows:

"That every person liable for license tax who, failing to pay the same within thirty days after the same has become due and payable, for such neglect shall, in addition to the license tax imposed, pay a fine or penalty of not less than five nor more than fifty dollars, and a like fine or penalty for every subsequent offense."

Laws Dist.Col. 1871-73, pp. 87-88, 97.

The bill further averred that in pursuance and execution

Page 146 U. S. 229

of the provisions of said act,

"the municipal authorities of the District of Columbia have at various times harassed and annoyed, and still continue to harass and annoy, the officers and agents of the complainant in the discharge of their duties to the complainant and in their effort to comply with the peremptory requirements of the charter of the company, and unless the said defendants shall be restrained by the injunction of this court, they will probably continue to annoy and harass the said officers and agents."

It was then alleged that at some time prior to August 28, 1877, the commissioners of the District presented to the police court an information alleging violation of the act or ordinance and seeking to have fines imposed upon the company for failure to pay the license tax, and the court adjudged the complainant guilty, and imposed a fine, from which judgment an appeal was taken to the Criminal Court of the District, where the information was dismissed; that the judgment of the criminal court was final, and that no appeal could be taken therefrom; that afterwards, and sometime prior to April, 1882, another information with like charges and allegations was presented to the police court, upon which a like judgment was rendered and a like fine imposed; that from this judgment also an appeal was taken to the criminal court, and on April 4, 1882, the information was dismissed by the District authorities.

The bill also stated that on September 20, 1884, the municipal authorities caused two informations to be presented to the police court, each containing like charges and allegations as before, one of them being intended to cover the period from July 1, 1883, to July 1, 1884, and the other the period from July 1, 1884, to September 20, 1884, each of the informations complaining of the use by complainant of about one hundred streetcars without having paid license therefor; that these two cases are now pending and undecided in the police court,

"but the said municipal authorities threaten to proceed to judgment, and the complainant fears that said court will again render judgment against it, and impose burdensome and harassing fines upon it, and issue harassing and unlawful writs

Page 146 U. S. 230

by way of execution of its judgment."

Copies of the informations accompanied and were made parts of the bill.

The bill charged the invalidity of the license tax in question for various reasons therein set forth, and among others, upon the ground of the repeal of the act of the legislative assembly, so far as stock corporations were concerned, by certain designated acts of Congress.

The bill then alleged

"that the complainant is now and has been during the year 1884 running one hundred and six cars (106), sixty-four (64) of which are two-horse and forty-two (42) of which are one-horse cars. The complainant has always insisted that said tax was unlawful, and has refused to pay it ever since July, 1876, and if it shall be held to be a lawful tax, the amount which would probably be computed and charged against the complainant by the said municipal authorities would reach nearly, if not quite, the sum of fifty-two hundred dollars besides interest, fines, and penalties."

Complainant thereupon averred that unless the defendants were enjoined, irreparable injury to its business would result, that it was without adequate remedy at law, and that inasmuch as the criminal court had decided adversely to the municipal authorities, "complainant ought to be protected from multiplicity of suits and harassing and annoying writs."

The prayers were for process and for an injunction

"from prosecuting the said actions in the said police court, or either of them, and also from instituting any other like actions for like purposes in said court, and also from attempting in any manner, directly or indirectly, to collect said license tax mentioned and described in the said twenty-sixth (26th) paragraph of section twenty-one (21) of the said act of the legislative assembly of the District of Columbia, approved August 23, 1871, and also from charging up or entering upon the books of said municipal corporation against the complainant any sum or sums on account of said license tax,"

and for general relief.

The defendants demurred, and on November 23, 1886, the Supreme Court in special term rendered judgment sustaining the demurrer and dismissing the bill with costs. The demurrer

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was decided by the special term upon the merits, and the validity of the tax sustained. On appeal to the Supreme Court in general term, that court, without considering the merits, affirmed the decree below dismissing the bill upon the ground that it was brought for the purpose of enjoining quasi-criminal proceedings, and hence was beyond the jurisdiction of a court of equity. 6 Mackey 570.

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