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    HENDRICKSON v. APPERSON , 245 U.S. 105 (1917)

    U.S. Supreme Court

    HENDRICKSON v. APPERSON , 245 U.S. 105 (1917)

    245 U.S. 105

    HENDRICKSON, County Judge,
    No. 427.

    Argued Oct. 11, 1917.
    Decided Nov. 5, 1917.

    [245 U.S. 105, 106]   Mr. Helm Bruce, of Louisville, Ky., for petitioner.

    [245 U.S. 105, 107]   Mr. L. A. Faurest, of Elizabethtown, Ky., for respondent. [245 U.S. 105, 108]  

    Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

    Seeking to enforce a long-standing judgment against Taylor county, respondent instituted this proceeding (May, 1916) in the United States District Court at Louisville against County Judge Hendrickson and justices of the peace constituting the fiscal court. The judgment was based on bonds authorized by a special act of the Kentucky Legislature approved in 1878 and entitled, 'An act for the benefit of Taylor county, empowering it to compromise its debts, issue bonds, and levy and collect taxes to pay the same' (1 Acts 1877-78, p. 554); they had been used to compromise and take up others issued under an act of 1869, entitled 'An act to incorporate the Cumberland & Ohio Railroad Company' (1 Acts 1869, p. 463).

    He asked a--

    Answering, defendants set up:

    Having heard the cause on demurrer to the answer, the trial court directed that appropriate levies be made during 1916, 1917, and 1918, to raise funds to satisfy respondent's judgment at the same time and by the same order which should provide for other county taxes; and further:

    The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the action of the District Court, but upon a different view, following Tucker et al. v. Hubbert, 196 Fed. 849, 117 C. C. A. 365, and Graham v. Quinlan, 207 Fed. 268, 124 C. C. A. 654.

    Petitioners maintain that section 4131, Kentucky Statutes, as amended in 1906 and construed by the Court of Appeals (Commonwealth, etc., v. Moody, 150 Ky. 571, 150 S. W. 680), empowers the Taylor county court to appoint one collector of all county taxes, or, if so advised, to designate more than one and direct each to collect certain taxes, under a bond covering only those specified, and that such discretion cannot be interfered with by mandamus.

    Respondent maintains that, properly construed, section 4131 permits appointment of only one such collector, and that [245 U.S. 105, 111]   if the 1906 amendment (Acts 1906, c. 22, art. 8, 3) means what petitioners assert, it impairs his contract with the county, contrary to the federal Constitution. Article 1, 10.

    It is stated, without contradiction, that prior to 1906 section 4131 embodied the applicable statutory provision concerning a collector in effect when the refunding bonds were issued. See Kentucky General Statutes ( 1873) c. 92, art. 8, 2; Kentucky Statutes of 1894, 4131

    The original section follows:

    The amendment of 1906 added these words:

    In Commonwealth, etc., v. Wade's Adm'r, etc. (Oct. 1907) 126 Ky. 791, 104 S. W. 965, the Court of Appeals held, that, under the original section, where there was no sheriff only one person could be appointed to collect all county taxes. [245 U.S. 105, 112]   In Commonwealth, etc., v. Moody (Nov. 1912) 150 Ky. 571, 150 S. W. 680, the same court construed the amendment, and held, we are constrained to conclude, notwithstanding some grave doubts, that it authorized appointment of special collectors, each charged with the duty of collecting only some designated part of assessed county taxes. And, of course, this construction by the state's highest court must be accepted.

    But, so construed, we are of opinion that the amendment would impair the contract under which the bonds were issued, and upon which respondent has a right to rely. It cannot, therefore, be permitted to defeat the remedy theretofore available to him.

    The doctrine of this court here to be applied has long been established.

    In Von Hoffman v. City of Quincy, 4 Wall. 535, 550, 552, 553 (18 L. Ed. 403), through Mr. Justice Swayne, we said:

    Considered in the light of Taylor county's notable and repeated successful efforts to avoid payment of adjudicated indebtedness and also in connection with the present controversy, we think it clear that the right to have any tax levied to discharge respondent's claim collected along with taxes for general county purposes was a substantial and valuable one. The circumstances indicate a deliberate design upon the part of county officials to deprive its creditors of an efficacious remedy provided by law and incorporated into its contracts. To give the amendment the effect claimed would render easier of accomplishment well-defined plans obviously designed to defeat proper judicial process and in notorious operation long before its passage. There is here something more than provision for the ordinary and orderly readjustment of administrative matters evidently intended to facilitate public business. Actual conditions cannot be ignored, and [245 U.S. 105, 114]   certainly we ought not, through assumptions out of harmony with patent facts and overnice refinements, to facilitate the practical destruction of admitted legal obligations.

    The declarations of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky in Commonwealth, etc., v. Wade's Adm'r, etc., 126 Ky. 801, 802, 104 S. W. 965, 967, are illuminating. Referring to the appointment of a separate collector charged with the sole duty of collecting a special tax ostensibly levied to satisfy a judgment against Taylor county, it said:

    The argument for petitioner, that the Refunding Act [245 U.S. 105, 115]   of 1878 provided an exclusive remedy through application to the circuit court in case the county court should fail in its duty, is not well founded. The decisions of the Court of Appeals in Muhlenburg County v. Morehead, 46 S. W. 484, 20 Ky. Law Rep. 376, and Pennington v. Woolfolk, 79 Ky. 13, make it quite plain that an 'attempt to impose on the circuit court or judge thereof the duty of levying and collecting taxes is unconstitutional and void' under the jurisprudence of Kentucky.

    The judgment of the court below is


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