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decided: April 7, 1924.



Author: Sutherland

[ 264 U.S. Page 450]

 MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action to recover the amount of certain taxes levied for the fiscal years 1913 and 1914 and paid under protest. The court below sustained a demurrer to the amended complaint, and, plaintiff electing to stand thereon, entered judgment of dismissal.

[ 264 U.S. Page 451]

     Reversal of the judgment is sought here on the ground that the taxes were assessed and collected in contravention of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and of § 5219, U.S. Rev. Stats.

Under the Colorado statute, R.S. Colo. 1908, c. 122, a bank is required to make a list of its shares, stating their market value, and of its shareholders for the information of the county assessor, who is thereupon directed to assess such shares for taxation in all respects the same as similar property belonging to other corporations and individuals. §§ 5754, 5756. If any taxpayer is of the opinion that his property has been assessed too high, or otherwise illegally assessed, he may appear before the assessor and have the same corrected. § 5639. The County Commissioners of each county are constituted a Board of Equalization, with power to adjust and equalize the assessment among the several taxpayers; with reference to which any dissatisfied taxpayer may be heard. § 5761.

The State Tax Commission, created in 1911, is authorized to supervise the administration of and enforce the tax laws, and exercise supervision over county assessors and boards of equalization, to the end that all assessments be made relatively just and uniform and at their true and full cash value. Comp. L. Colo. 1921, c. 155, § 7334, par. 1. The Commission may raise or lower the assessed value of any property, first giving notice to the owner thereof and fixing a time and place for hearing. Id. par. 7. Authority is conferred upon the Commission to receive complaints and examine into all cases where it is alleged that property has been fraudulently, or improperly or unfairly assessed. § 7336. It shall, on or before the first day of October of each year, increase or decrease the valuation of the property in any county by such rate per cent. or such amount as will place the same on the assessment roll at its full and true cash value, § 7352; and must thereupon transmit to the State Board of

[ 264 U.S. Page 452]

     Equalization a statement of the amount to be added or deducted. § 7353. It then becomes the duty of the State Board of Equalization to examine the abstracts of assessment submitted by the Commission, and certify to the county assessor of each county a record of its action thereon. § 7354. The Commission is required to be in session every day except Sundays, and may hold sessions anywhere in the State. § 7330.

The essential averments of the complaint may be shortly stated: Plaintiff made and delivered to the County Assessor of Weld County the statement required by law. The Assessor thereupon fixed the value of its shares, as well as that of the shares of other banks within the county, at their full cash and market value; but fixed the assessed value of the property of the remaining taxpayers in the county at 61%, for 1913, and 80%, for 1914, of such cash and market value. The County Board of Equalization accepted this assessment without change. The Assessor thereupon transmitted to the Tax Commission the abstracts required by law. The Tax Commission determined that the property of the county as a whole had been underassessed, and recommended a horizontal increase of 63% in 1913 and 25% in 1914, as necessary to bring it to the full cash value. This determination was approved by the State Board of Equalization and the County Assessor was directed to make the increase, with the result, as alleged, that plaintiff's assets, and those of all other banks in the county, were in fact assessed at an amount 63% in excess of their value for the year 1913 and 25% in excess thereof for the year 1914. In other counties of the State, either no increase of valuation was made or the increase was comparatively small. The result was that the banks of Weld county were assessed and compelled to pay upon a valuation grossly in excess of that put upon other property in the same county and likewise in excess of that put upon other banks in other

[ 264 U.S. Page 453]

     counties of the State. It does not appear from the complaint that plaintiff applied to any of the taxing authorities to reduce the assessment of its property or correct the alleged inequalities, prior to the final levy of the tax; but sometime after such levy had been completed, it made application for abatement and rebate, which application was approved by the County Board but disallowed by the State Tax Commission.

We are met at the threshold of our consideration of the case with the contention that the plaintiff did not exhaust its remedies before the administrative boards and consequently cannot be heard by a judicial tribunal to assert the invalidity of ...

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