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LENT v. TILLSON.

decided: May 11, 1891.

LENT
v.
TILLSON.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA.

Author: Harlan

[ 140 U.S. Page 324]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after making the above statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of California, under its order, made his certificate to the effect that in this suit and

[ 140 U.S. Page 325]

     appeal there was drawn in question the validity of the above act of March 23, 1876, and the authority exercised and the proceedings taken under it, on the ground that the statute and said authority and proceedings were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and that the decision of that court was in favor of their validity.

The provisions of the statute, to which we have referred, sufficiently indicate its scope and effect, and enable us (without referring to others that relate to matters of mere detail) to determine whether or not the act, upon its face or by its necessary operation, is repugnant to that clause of the Constitution declaring that no State shall deprive any person of property without due process of law.

We have seen that the statute defined the district benefited by the widening of Dupont Street, and upon which the assessment to meet the cost of the work was to be imposed; made it a condition precedent to the proposed improvement that it should be declared by resolution or order of the Board of Supervisors of the city and county to be expedient; directed that, after the passage of such a resolution or order, the Dupont Street Commissioners should publish, for not less than ten days, in two daily papers in San Francisco, a notice informing property owners along the line of the street of its organization, and inviting all persons interested in property sought to be taken, or that would be injured by the widening of that street, to present descriptions of their respective lots, and a statement in writing of their interest in them; allowed the majority in value of owners of property within the district embracing the lands of the plaintiffs, at any time within thirty days after the last publication of the above notice, by written protest filed with the Board of Commissioners, to defeat altogether the proposed widening of Dupont Street; required the board to prepare a written report showing the description and actual cash value of the several lots and subdivisions of land and buildings included in the land proposed to be taken for the widening of the street, the value and damage determined upon for the same respectively and the amount in which,

[ 140 U.S. Page 326]

     according to its judgment, each lot had been or would be benefited by reason of the widening of the street, relatively to the benefits accruing to other lots of land within the designated district; and directed such report, as soon as completed, to be left at the office of the board daily, during ordinary business hours, for the free inspection of all persons interested, and notice of the same being open for inspection at such time and place published by the board daily, for twenty days, in two daily newspapers printed and published in the city and county.

But this was not all. For any person interested, and who felt himself aggrieved by the action or determination of the board, as indicated by its report, was permitted, at any time within the above thirty days, to apply by petition to the county court of the city and county, showing his interest in the proceedings of the Board of Commissioners, and his objections thereto, for an order that would bring before that court the report of the board, together with such pertinent documents or data as were in its custody, and were used in preparing its report. It was made the duty of the party filing the petition to serve, on the same day, a copy thereof on at least one of the members of the Board of Commissioners, who were at liberty to appear by counsel, or otherwise, and make answer to it. The court was also empowered to hear the petition, and set it down for hearing within ten days from its being filed. Provision was made for the taking of testimony upon the hearing, and the court was authorized to use its process to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books, papers or maps in the custody of the board, or otherwise. The discretion given to the court, after hearing and considering the application, to allow or to deny the order prayed for was, of course, to be exercised judicially, according to the showing made by the petitioners. And that complete justice might be done, the court was invested with power, not simply to approve and confirm the report of the board, but to refer it back with directions to alter or modify the same in the particulars specified by the court. Until such alterations and modifications were made, the court was under no duty to

[ 140 U.S. Page 327]

     approve or confirm the report; and until it was approved and confirmed, the board was without authority to proceed at all in the work committed to it by the statute.

Were not these provisions in substantial conformity with the requirements of "due process of law" as recognized in the decisions of this court? In Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97, 104, it was said that "whenever, by the laws of a State, or by state authority, a tax, assessment, servitude or other burden is imposed upon property for the public use, whether it be for the whole State or of some more limited portion of the community, and those laws provide for a mode of confirming or contesting the charge thus imposed, in the ordinary courts of justice, with such notice to the person or such proceeding in regard to the property as is appropriate to the nature of the case, the judgment in such proceedings cannot be said to deprive the owner of his property without due process of law, however obnoxious it may be to other objections." So in Hagar v. Reclamation District, 111 U.S. 701, 708: "Undoubtedly, where life and liberty are involved, due process requires that there be a regular course of judicial proceedings, which imply that the party to be affected shall have notice and an opportunity to be heard; so, also, where title or possession of property is involved. But, where the taking of property is in the enforcement of a tax, the proceeding is necessarily less formal, and whether notice to him is at all necessary may depend upon the character of the tax and the manner in which its amount is determinable. . . . As stated by Mr. Justice Bradley in his concurring opinion in Davidson v. New Orleans, 'in judging what is due process of law, respect must be had to the cause and object of the taking, whether the taxing power, the power of eminent domain or the power of ...


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