NORWOOD V. BAKER, 172 U. S. 269 (1898)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Norwood v. Baker, 172 U.S. 269 (1898)

Norwood v. Baker

No. 84

Submitted May 8, 1898

Decided December 12, 1898

172 U.S. 269


The principle underlying special assessments upon private property to meet the cost of public improvements is that the property upon which they are imposed is peculiarly benefited, and therefore that the owners do not in fact pay anything in excess of what they receive by reason of such improvement.

The exaction from the owner of private property of the cost of a public improvement in substantial excess of the special benefits accruing to him is, to the extent of such excess, a taking, under the guise of taxation, of private property for public use without compensation; but unless such excess of cost over special benefits be of a material character, it ought not to be regarded by a court of equity, when its aid is invoked to restrain the enforcement of a special assessment.

Page 172 U. S. 270

The Constitution of Ohio authorizes the taking of private property for the purpose of making public roads, but requires a compensation to be made therefor to the owner, to be assessed by a jury, without deduction for benefits. The statutes of the state, quoted or referred to in the opinion of the Court, make provisions for the manner in which this power is to be exercised. In the case of the opening of a new road, they authorize a special assessment upon bounding and abutting property by the front foot for this entire cost and expense of the improvement, without taking special benefits into account. The alleged improvement in this case was the construction through property of the appellee of a street 300 feet in length and 50 feet in width, to connect two streets of that width running from each end in opposite directions. In the proceedings in this case, the corporation of Norwood manifestly went upon the theory that the .abutting property could be made to bear the whole cost of the new road, whether it was benefited or not to the extent of such cost, and the assessment was made accordingly. This suit was brought to obtain a decree restraining the corporation from enforcing the assessment against the plaintiff's abutting property, which decree was granted. Held that the assessment was in itself an illegal one because it rested upon a basis that excluded any consideration of benefits; that therefore a decree enjoining the whole assessment was the only appropriate decree; that it was not necessary to tender, as a condition of relief being granted to the plaintiff, any sum as representing what she supposed, or might guess, or was willing to concede was the excess of costs over any benefits accruing to the property, and that the legal effect of the decree was only to prevent the enforcement of the particular assessment in question, leaving the corporation free to take such steps as might be within its power to make a new assessment upon the plaintiff's abutting property for so much of the expense of opening the street as might be found equal to the special benefits accruing to the property.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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