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JONES v. CITY OF PORTLAND , 245 U.S. 217 (1917)

U.S. Supreme Court

JONES v. CITY OF PORTLAND , 245 U.S. 217 (1917)

245 U.S. 217

JONES et al.
No. 77.

Argued Nov. 22, 1917.
Decided Dec. 10, 1917.

Mr. Eben Winthrop Freeman, of Portland, Me., for plaintiffs in error.

[245 U.S. 217, 218]   Messrs. Carroll S. Chaplin, Guy H. Sturgis, and Henry P. Frank, all of Portland, Me., for defendant in error.

[245 U.S. 217, 220]  

Mr. Justice DAY delivered the opinion of the Court.

By an act of the Legislature of the state of Maine approved March 19, 1903, P. L. 1903, c. 122; section 87, chapter 4, Revised Statutes of Maine, 1903, it was provided:

The city of Portland, Me., voted to establish and maintain within its limits a permanent coal and fuel yard for the purposes of selling at cost wood, coal, and fuel to its inhabitants, and that the money necessary for such purposes be raised by taxation, and that the term 'at cost' as used in said vote should be construed as meaning without financial profit. On February 3, 1913, the common council of the city at a legal meeting passed the vote, and on the same date it was passed by the board of aldermen of the city, and on February 4, 1913, the mayor of the city approved it, whereupon it became the vote of the city of Portland. The city voted to appropriate the sum of $1,000 to be devoted to carrying out the purposes of the vote, and the appropriation was passed by the common council, the board of aldermen, and approved by the mayor of the city.

This suit was brought by citizens and taxpayers of Portland in the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine in equity to enjoin the establishment of the yard. The Supreme Judicial Court sustained a demurrer to the bill, and dismissed it. 113 Me. 123, 93 Atl. 41. A writ of error brings the case here because of alleged violation of rights se- [245 U.S. 217, 221]   cured to the plaintiffs in error by the Fourteenth Amendment. The contention is that the establishment of the municipal wood yard is not a public purpose; that taxation to accomplish that end amounts to the taking of the property of the plaintiffs in error without due process of law.

The decision of the case turns upon the answer to the question whether the taxation is for a public purpose. It is well settled that moneys for other than public purposes cannot be raised by taxation, and that exertion of the taxing power for merely private purposes is beyond the authority of the State. Citizens' Saving & Loan Ass'n v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655.

The act in question has the sanction of the legislative branch of the state government, the body primarily invested with authority to determine what laws are required in the public interest. That the purpose is a public one has been determined upon full consideration by the Supreme Judicial Court of the state upon the authority of a previous decision of that court. Laughlin v. City of Portland, 111 Me. 486, 90 Atl. 318, 51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1143, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 734.

The attitude of this court towards state legislation purporting to be passed in the public interest, and so declared to be by the decision of the court of last resort of the state passing the act, has often been declared. While the ultimate authority to determine the validity of legislation under the Fourteenth Amendment is rested in this court, local conditions are of such varying character that what is or is not a public use in a particular state is manifestly a matter respecting which local authority, legislative and judicial, has peculiar facilities for securing accurate information. In that view the judgment of the highest court of the state upon what should be deemed a public use in a particular state is entitled to the highest respect. Hairston v. Danville & Western Ry. Co., 208 U.S. 598, 607 , 28 S. Sup. Ct. 331, 13 Ann. Cas. 1008. In Union Lime Co. [245 U.S. 217, 222]   v. Chicago & N. W. Ry. Co., 233 U.S. 211 , 34 Sup. Ct. 522, this court declared that a decision of the highest court of the state declaring a use to be public in its nature would be accepted unless clearly not well founded, citing Fallbrook Irrigation District v. Bradley, 164 U.S. 112, 160 , 17 S. Sup. Ct. 56; Clark v. Nash, 198 U.S. 361, 369 , 25 S. Sup. Ct. 676, 4 Ann. Cas. 1171; Strickley v. Highland Boy Mining Co., 200 U.S. 527, 531 , 26 S. Sup. Ct. 301, 4 Ann. Cas. 1174; Offield v. N. Y., N. H. & H. R. R. CO., 203 U.S. 372, 377 , 27 S. Sup. Ct. 72; Hairston v. Danville & Western Ry. Co., 208 U.S. 598, 607 , 28 S. Sup. Ct. 331, 13 Ann. Cas. 1008. This doctrine was reiterated in O'Neill v. Leamer, 239 U.S. 244, 253 , 36 S. Sup. Ct. 54.

In the case of Laughin v. City of Portland, 111 Me., supra, the matter was fully considered by the Supreme Judicial Court of that state. After reviewing the cases which establish the general authority of municipalities in the interest of the public health, convenience, and welfare to make provisions for supplying the inhabitants of such communities with water, light, and heat by means adequate for that purpose, the court came to consider the distinction sought to be made between the cases which sustain the authority of the state to authorize municipal action for the purposes stated, and the one under consideration, because of the fact that in the instances in which municipal authority had been sustained the use of the public streets and highways for mains, poles, and wires in the distribution of water, light, and heat had been required under public authority, whereas in supplying fuel to consumers, under the terms of the law in question, no such permission was essential, the court said (111 Me. 486, 496, 90 Atl. 318, 322 [51 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1143, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 734]):

Answering the objection that sustaining the act in question opens the door to the exercise of municipal authority to conduct other lines of business and commercial activity to the destruction of private business, the court said (111 Me. 500, 90 Atl. 324, 51 L. R. A. [N. S.] 1143, Ann. Cas. 1916C, 734):

Bearing in mind that it is not the function of this court under the authority of the Fourteenth Amendment to supervise the legislation of the states in the exercise of the police power beyond protecting against exertions of such authority in the enactment and enforcement of laws of an arbitrary character, having no reasonable relation to the execution of lawful purposes, we are unable to say that the statute now under consideration violates rights of the taxpayer by taking his property for uses which are private.

The authority to furnish light and water by means of municipally owned plants has long been sanctioned as the accomplishment of a public purpose justifying taxation with a view to making provision for their establishment and operation. The right of a municipality to promote the health, comfort, and convenience of its inhabitants by the establishment of a plant for the distribution of natural gas for heating purposes was sustained, and we think properly so, in State of Ohio v. Toledo, 48 [245 U.S. 217, 225]   Ohio St. 112, 26 N. E. 1061, 11 L. R. A. 729. We see no reason why the state may not, if it sees fit to do so, authorize a municipality to furnish heat by such means as are necessary and such systems as are proper for its distribution. Heat is as indispensable to the health and comfort of the people as is light or water. In any event we are not prepared to say that when a state authorizes a municipality to tax with a view to providing heat at cost to the inhabitants of the city, and that purpose is declared by the highest court of the state to be a public one, that the property of a citizen who is taxed to effect such purpose is taken in violation of rights secured by the Constitution of the United States. As this view decides the questions open to consideration, it follows that the judgment of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine must be affirmed.


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