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19086Taxes: Officers May Go Beyond The Powers Conferred

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  • Legalbear
    Dec 31, 2012


      Neither will the constitutionality of the statute, if that be conceded, avail to oust the Federal court of jurisdiction. A valid law may be wrongfully administered by officers of the State, and so as to make such administration an illegal burden and exaction upon the individual. A tax law, as it leaves the legislative hands, may not be obnoxious to any challenge, and yet the officers charged with the administration of that valid tax law may so act under it in the matter of assessment or 391*391 collection as to work an illegal trespass upon the property rights of the individual. They may go beyond the powers thereby conferred, and when they do so the fact that they are assuming to act under a valid law will not oust the courts of jurisdiction to restrain their excessive and illegal acts. In Cunningham v. Macon & Brunswick Railroad, 109 U.S. 446, 452, it was said:


      "Another class of cases is where an individual is sued in tort for some act injurious to another in regard to person or property, to which his defence is that he has acted under the orders of the government.


      "In these cases he is not sued as, or because he is, the officer of the government, but as an individual, and the court is not ousted of jurisdiction because he asserts authority as such officer. To make out his defence he must show that his authority was sufficient in law to protect him. See Mitchell v. Harmony, 13 How. 115; Bates v. Clark, 95 U.S. 204; Meigs v. McClung, 9 Cranch, 11; Wilcox v. Jackson, 13 Pet. 498; Brown v. Huger, 21 How. 305; Grisar v. McDowell, 6 Wall, 363."


      Nor can it be said in such a case that relief is obtainable only in the courts of the State. For it may be laid down as a general proposition that, whenever a citizen of a State can go into the courts of a State to defend his property against the illegal acts of its officers, a citizen of another State may invoke the jurisdiction of the Federal courts to maintain a like defence. A State cannot tie up a citizen of another State, having property rights within its territory invaded by unauthorized acts of its own officers, to suits for redress in its own courts. Given a case where a suit can be maintained in the courts of the State to protect property rights, a citizen of another State may invoke the jurisdiction of the Federal courts. Cowles v. Mercer County, 7 Wall. 118; Lincoln County v. Luning, 133 U.S. 529; Chicot County v. Sherwood, 148 U.S. 529. Reagan v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 154 US 362, 390-1 (1894).



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