MAISH V. ARIZONA, 164 U. S. 599 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Maish v. Arizona, 164 U.S. 599 (1896)

Maish v. Arizona

No. 89

Submitted October 29, 1896

Decided December 21, 1898

164 U.S. 599


In proceedings in Arizona to enforce the collection of taxes assessed upon real estate, a printed copy of the delinquent list, instead of the original filed in the office of the county treasurer, was offered in evidence. To the introduction of this, objection was made, but not upon the ground that the original was the best evidence or that the copy offered was not an exact copy. In this Court it was for the first time objected that the list, as filed in this case, was not a copy of the original. Held that this Court would not disturb the judgment of the court below on such technical grounds, apparently an afterthought.

For the hearing of the objections of the appellants against the assessment of the tax, the court convened on the 14th of March. The notice published by the tax collector was that the sale would begin on the 20th of March. On March 15, a judgment was entered directing the sale on the 20th of all the property, to which no objection had been filed. As to those parties making objections (and included among them were the present appellants), the case was set down for hearing at a subsequent day, and a trial then had, but the judgment was not entered until the 7th day of May, 1892, and the order was to sell on the 13th day of June. Held that the purpose and intention of the act being the collection of taxes, but only of such taxes as ought to be collected, and judicial determination having been invoked to determine what taxes were justly due, the fact that the court took time for the examination and consideration of this question did not oust it of jurisdiction.

In Arizona, the delinquent tax list is made by law prima facie evidence that the taxes charged therein are due against the property, as well the unpaid taxes for past years as those for the current year.

It was the intention of the Legislature of Arizona, and a just intention, that no property should escape its proper share of the burden of taxation by means of any defect in the tax proceedings, and that if there should happen to be such defect preventing for the time being the collection of the taxes, steps might be taken in a subsequent year to place them again upon the tax roll and collect them.

The testimony does not sustain the contention that the board of equalization raised the value of appellants' property arbitrarily and without notice or evidence.

A party in possession under a perfect Mexican grant -- that is, a grant absolute and unconditional in form, specific in description of the land, passing a certain, definite, and unconditional title from the Mexican government

Page 164 U. S. 600

to the grantee, has a possessory and equitable right sufficient to sustain taxation, although the grant may not have been confirmed.

A court cannot strike down a levy of taxes said to be for the payment of interest on bonds illegally issued in violation of statutory law without a full disclosure of all the indebtedness, the time when it arose, and the circumstances under which it was created.

To warrant the setting aside of an assessment as unfair and partial, something more than an error of judgment must be shown, something indicating fraud or misconduct, as matters of that kind are left largely to the discretion and judgment of the assessing and equalizing board, and if it has acted in good faith, its judgment cannot be overthrown.

This was a suit commenced in the District Court of the First Judicial District of the Territory of Arizona, sitting in and for the County of Pima, to recover delinquent taxes. Several parties were included as defendants. A decree was rendered May 7, 1892, establishing the taxes and foreclosing the tax liens. The appellants, after a motion for a new trial, carried the case to the supreme court of the territory, by which, on January 17, 1894, the decree was affirmed, 37 P. 370, and thereupon an appeal was taken to this Court.

These judicial proceedings to collect delinquent taxes were authorized by statute. Rev.Stats.Arizona 1887, §§ 2684-2688. The first of these sections provides that the tax collector, on the third Monday of December in each year, shall prepare and file in the office of the county treasurer a list of delinquent taxes. Section 2685 requires him, on or before the first Monday in February thereafter, to publish such delinquent tax list, with a notice that he will apply to the district court of the country at the next ensuing term thereof for judgment. Section 2686 directs the district attorney, upon the completion of the publication, to file a complaint in the district court setting forth the fact of the delinquent list, its publication and the notice, and praying for judgment and decree against the property described in said list for the taxes assessed thereon. It further provides:

"The delinquent list shall be prima facie evidence that the taxes therein are due against the property described in said list. Upon said publication and advertisement's being made and the filing of said complaint, the said district court shall

Page 164 U. S. 601

acquire full and complete jurisdiction over the lands, real estate, and property described and contained in said delinquent list for all purposes whatever necessary to enable the said court to carry out the purposes and intention of this act."

Section 2687 contains certain general provisions in reference to the proceedings. Section 2688 is as follows:

"The court shall examine said list, and if defense (specifying in writing, the particular cause of objection) be offered by any person interested in any of said property, to the entry of judgment against the same, the court shall hear and determine the matter in a summary manner, without pleadings, and shall pronounce judgment as the right of the case may be. The court shall give judgment for such taxes and special assessments, interests, penalties, and costs as shall appear to be due, and such judgment shall be considered as a several judgment against each parcel of property, or part of the same, for each kind of tax or special assessment included therein, and the court shall direct the clerk to make out and enter an other for the sale of such property against which judgment is given, which shall be substantially in the following form."

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