Amdt14.S1.4.15.3 Notice and Hearing in Relation to Assessments

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

But where a tax is levied on property not specifically, but according to its value, to be ascertained by assessors appointed for that purpose upon such evidence as they may obtain, a different principle comes in. The officers in estimating the value act judicially; and in most of the States provision is made for the correction of errors committed by them, through boards of revision or equalization, sitting at designated periods provided by law to hear complaints respecting the justice of the assessments. The law in prescribing the time when such complaints will be heard, gives all the notice required, and the proceedings by which the valuation is determined, though it may be followed, if the tax be not paid, by a sale of the delinquent’s property, is due process of law.1

Nevertheless, it has never been considered necessary to the validity of a tax that the party charged shall have been present, or had an opportunity to be present, in some tribunal when he was assessed. 2 Where a tax board has its time of sitting fixed by law and where its sessions are not secret, no obstacle prevents the appearance of any one before it to assert a right or redress a wrong and in the business of assessing taxes, this is all that can be reasonably asked. 3 Nor is there any constitutional command that notice of an assessment as well as an opportunity to contest it be given in advance of the assessment. It is enough that all available defenses may be presented to a competent tribunal during a suit to collect the tax and before the demand of the state for remittance becomes final. 4

However, when assessments based on the enjoyment of a special benefit are made by a political subdivision, a taxing board or court, the property owner is entitled to be heard as to the amount of his assessments and upon all questions properly entering into that determination. 5 The hearing need not amount to a judicial inquiry, 6 although a mere opportunity to submit objections in writing, without the right of personal appearance, is not sufficient. 7 Generally, if an assessment for a local improvement is made in accordance with a fixed rule prescribed by legislative act, the property owner is not entitled to be heard in advance on the question of benefits. 8 On the other hand, if the area of the assessment district was not determined by the legislature, a landowner does have the right to be heard respecting benefits to his property before it can be included in the improvement district and assessed, but due process is not denied if, in the absence of actual fraud or bad faith, the decision of the agency vested with the initial determination of benefits is made final. 9 The owner has no constitutional right to be heard in opposition to the launching of a project which may end in assessment, and once his land has been duly included within a benefit district, the only privilege which he thereafter enjoys is to a hearing upon the apportionment, that is, the amount of the tax which he has to pay. 10

More specifically, where the mode of assessment resolves itself into a mere mathematical calculation, there is no necessity for a hearing. 11 Statutes and ordinances providing for the paving and grading of streets, the cost thereof to be assessed on the front foot rule, do not, by their failure to provide for a hearing or review of assessments, generally deprive a complaining owner of property without due process of law. 12 In contrast, when an attempt is made to cast upon particular property a certain proportion of the construction cost of a sewer not calculated by any mathematical formula, the taxpayer has a right to be heard. 13

Footnotes

  1.  111 U.S. at 710.
  2.  McMillen v. Anderson, 95 U.S. 37, 42 (1877).
  3.  State Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U.S. 575, 610 (1876).
  4.  Nickey v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 393, 396 (1934). See also Clement Nat’l Bank v. Vermont, 231 U.S. 120 (1913). A hearing before judgment, with full opportunity to submit evidence and arguments being all that can be adjudged vital, it follows that rehearings and new trials are not essential to due process of law. Pittsburgh C.C. & St. L. Ry. v. Backus, 154 U.S. 421 (1894). One hearing is sufficient to constitute due process, Michigan Central R.R. v. Powers, 201 U.S. 245, 302 (1906), and the requirements of due process are also met if a taxpayer, who had no notice of a hearing, does receive notice of the decision reached there and is privileged to appeal it and, on appeal, to present evidence and be heard on the valuation of his property. Pittsburgh C.C. & St. L. Ry. v. Board of Pub. Works, 172 U.S. 32, 45 (1898).
  5.  St. Louis & K.C. Land Co. v. Kansas City, 241 U.S. 419, 430 (1916); Paulsen v. Portland, 149 U.S. 30, 41 (1893); Bauman v. Ross, 167 U.S. 548, 590 (1897).
  6.  Tonawanda v. Lyon, 181 U.S. 389, 391 (1901).
  7.  Londoner v. City of Denver, 210 U.S. 373 (1908).
  8.  Withnell v. Ruecking Constr. Co., 249 U.S. 63, 68 (1919); Browning v. Hooper, 269 U.S. 396, 405 (1926). Likewise, the committing to a board of county supervisors of authority to determine, without notice or hearing, when repairs to an existing drainage system are necessary cannot be said to deny due process of law to landowners in the district, who, by statutory requirement, are assessed for the cost thereof in proportion to the original assessment. Breiholz v. Board of Supervisors, 257 U.S. 118 (1921).
  9.  Fallbrook Irrigation Dist. v. Bradley, 164 U.S. 112, 168, 175 (1896); Browning v. Hooper, 269 U.S. 396, 405 (1926).
  10.  Utley v. Petersburg, 292 U.S. 106, 109 (1934); French v. Barber Asphalt Paving Co., 181 U.S. 324, 341 (1901). See also Soliah v. Heskin, 222 U.S. 522 (1912). Nor can he rightfully complain because the statute renders conclusive, after a hearing, the determination as to apportionment by the same body which levied the assessment. Hibben v. Smith, 191 U.S. 310, 321 (1903).
  11.  Hancock v. Muskogee, 250 U.S. 454, 458 (1919). Likewise, a taxpayer does not have a right to a hearing before a state board of equalization preliminary to issuance by it of an order increasing the valuation of all property in a city by 40 percent. Bi-Metallic Co. v. Colorado, 239 U.S. 441 (1915).
  12.  City of Detroit v. Parker, 181 U.S. 399 (1901).
  13.  Paulsen v. Portland, 149 U.S. 30, 38 (1893).