CITIZENS' BANK V. CANNON, 164 U. S. 319 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Citizens' Bank v. Cannon, 164 U.S. 319 (1896)

Citizens' Bank v. Cannon

No. 58

Argued and submitted October 21, 1898

Decided November 30, 1898

164 U.S. 319


Jurisdiction cannot be conferred on a circuit court of the United States, by joining in one bill against distinct defendants claims no one of which reaches the jurisdictional amount.

In proceedings under a bill to enjoin the collection of taxes for a series of years, where the proof only shows the amount of the assessment for one year, which is below the jurisdictional amount, it cannot be assumed in order to confer jurisdiction that the assessment for each of the other years was for a like amount.

Although as a general rule an appeal will not lie in a matter of costs alone, where an appeal is taken on other grounds as well, and not on the sole ground that costs were wrongfully awarded, this Court can determine whether a circuit court, dismissing a suit for want of jurisdiction, can give a decree for costs, including a fee to the defendants' counsel in the nature of a penalty, and it decides that the decree in this case was erroneous in that particular.

When a circuit court dismisses a bill for want of jurisdiction, it is without power to decree the payment of costs and penalties.

In March, 1893, the Citizens' Bank of Louisiana, a banking corporation created by the Legislature of Louisiana, filed a bill of complaint in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western District of Louisiana against several defendants who were sheriffs, respectively, of a number of parishes in that district, seeking to enjoin the defendants from enforcing the payment of taxes alleged to be due from the bank on lands owned by it in the several parishes.

The main allegation of the bill was that the bank was, by the terms of its charter, exempt from taxation of every kind on its capital and property, and that certain specific and subsequent statutes of the State of Louisiana by virtue of whose provisions the defendants were proposing to enforce the payment of taxes would, if carried into effect, operate to impair the contract between the bank and the state contrary to the tenth section of the first article of the Constitution of the

Page 164 U. S. 320

United States. The taxes which it was alleged it was the purpose of the defendants to assess and collect were for state and parish taxation for the years 1889, 1890, 1891, and 1892.

Restraining orders were issued against the several defendants. Afterwards, in May, 1893, an amended bill of complaint was filed by the bank against the same defendants alleging that since the granting of the restraining orders and pending the disposition of the case, certain named assessors of the said several parishes were proceeding to list for assessment and taxation for the year 1893 the property of the bank situated in the said parishes, and praying that the said assessors might be subpoenaed to appear and answer said original and amended bill and to abide the decrees of the court. Restraining orders were likewise issued under this amended bill.

On July 17, 1893, the defendants filed a general demurrer to both bills, and on the same day filed a plea to said bills alleging that the taxes levied on the property of the complainant did not, in any one of the parishes named in the bill, amount to the sum of $2,000, and because such taxes so levied were payable to and levied for the state, the respective parish, and the levee board of the levee district in which such parish was situated, and alleging that the assessors and tax collectors of each of said parishes could not be joined for the purpose of giving the circuit court jurisdiction. The defendants also filed an answer setting up various matters on which they contended that the bank's exemption from taxation was no longer operative.

Page 164 U. S. 321

The demurrer was, after argument, overruled. Replications to the plea and answer were filed. The complainant put in evidence the original charter of the bank and several acts of the legislature amendatory thereof, the revenue act of the legislature for the year 1890, and extracts from the assessment rolls of the several parishes named in the original and amended bill, showing the property owned by the bank and the amount of taxes assessed thereon. The defendants put in evidence certificates from the respective parishes showing the property owned by the bank and the amount of taxes assessed thereon.

On November 22, 1893, after argument, the court entered a decree sustaining the plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing the bill at complainant's costs. The decree further ordered that a fee should be allowed the solicitor of the defendants amounting to ten percent of the taxes sought to be enjoined in the bill, viz., the sum of $317.44, to be paid by complainant as part of the costs in the case. From this decree an appeal was prayed and allowed to this Court. A certificate was duly signed by the judge of the circuit court setting forth that the question decided was solely that raised by the plea to the jurisdiction of the court and directing that copies of the bill, the exhibits showing the taxes involved and the property on which the taxes were levied, and the valuation of said property and of the plea and decree, should be attached to the certificate.

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