October 22nd, 1877



Samuel Freeman Miller

95 U.S. 37 (____)


Supreme Court of United States.

*39 Mr. J.E. Leonard for the plaintiff in error.

No counsel appeared for the defendant in error.

*40 MR. JUSTICE MILLER delivered the opinion of the court.

The defendant, tax-collector of the State of Louisiana for the parish of Carroll, seized property of the plaintiff, and was about to sell it for the payment of the license tax of one hundred dollars, for which the latter, as a person engaged in business, was liable. In accordance with the laws of Louisiana, plaintiff brought an action in the proper court of the State for the trespass, and in the same action obtained a temporary injunction against the sale of the property seized. Defendant pleaded that the seizure was for taxes due, and that his duty as collector required him to make it. On a full hearing, the court sustained the defence, and gave a judgment under the statute against plaintiff and his sureties on the bond for double the amount of the tax, and for costs.

Plaintiff thereupon took an appeal to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, and in his petition for appeal alleged that the law under which the proceedings of defendant were had is void, because it is in conflict with the Constitutions of Louisiana and of the United States, and, as he now argues, is specifically opposed to the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment of the latter, which declares that no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

*41 The judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, to which the present writ of error is directed, affirming that of the inferior court, must be taken as conclusive on all the questions mooted in the record except this one. It must, therefore, be conceded that plaintiff was liable to the tax; that, if the law which authorized the collector to seize the property is valid, his proceedings under it were regular; and that the judgment of the court was sustained by the facts in the case.

Looking at the Louisiana statute here assailed — the act of March 14, 1873, — we feel bound to say, that, if it is void on the ground assumed, the revenue laws of nearly all the States will be found void for the same reason. The mode of assessing taxes in the States by the Federal government, and by all governments, is necessarily summary, that it may be speedy and effectual. By summary is not meant arbitrary, or unequal, or illegal. It must, under our Constitution, be lawfully done.

But that does not mean, nor does the phrase “due process of law” mean, by a judicial proceeding. The nation from whom we inherit the phrase “due process of law” has never relied upon the courts of justice for the collection of her taxes, though she passed through a successful revolution in resistance to unlawful taxation. We need not here go into the literature of that constitutional provision, because in any view that can be taken of it the statute under consideration does not violate it. It enacts that, when any person shall fail to refuse or pay his license tax, the collector shall give ten days’ written or printed notice to the delinquent requiring its payment; and the manner of giving this notice is fully prescribed. If at the expiration of this time the license “be not fully paid, the tax-collector may, without judicial formality, proceed to seize and sell, after ten days’ advertisement, the property” of the delinquent, or so much as may be necessary to pay the tax and costs.

Another statute declares who is liable to this tax, and fixes the amount of it. The statute here complained of relates only to the manner of its collection.

Here is a notice that the party is assessed, by the proper officer, for a given sum as a tax of a certain kind, and ten days’ time given him to pay it. Is not this a legal mode of proceeding? *42 It seems to be supposed that it is essential to the validity of this tax that the party charged should have been present, or had an opportunity to be present, in some tribunal when he was assessed. But this is not, and never has been, considered necessary to the validity of a tax. And the fact that most of the States now have boards of revisers of tax assessments does not prove that taxes levied without them are void.

Nor is the person charged with such a tax without legal remedy by the laws of Louisiana. It is probable that in that State, as in others, if compelled to pay the tax by a levy upon his property, he can sue the proper party, and recover back the money as paid under duress, if the tax was illegal.

But however that may be, it is quite certain that he can, if he is wrongfully taxed, stay the proceeding for its collection by process of injunction. See Fouqua’s Code of Practice of Louisiana, arts. 296-309, inclusive. The act of 1874 recognizes this right to an injunction, and regulates the proceedings when issued to stay the collection of taxes. It declares that they shall be treated by the courts as preferred cases, and imposes a double tax upon a dissolution of the injunction.

But it is said that this is not due course of law, because the judge granting the injunction is required to take security of the applicant, and that no remedial process can be within the meaning of the Constitution which requires such a bond as a condition precedent to its issue.

It can hardly be necessary to answer an argument which excludes from the definition of due process of law all that numerous class of remedies in which, by the rules of the court or by legislative provisions, a party invoking the powers of a court of justice is required to give that security which is necessary to prevent its process from being used to work gross injustice to another.

Judgment affirmed.