ERROR TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF MASSACHUSETTS.
MR. JUSTICE BROWN, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
This case involves the question whether the proceedings taken to enforce this tax deprived the defendant Glidden of his property without due process of law, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The facts of the case are substantially that a resolution for the assessment of taxes for the year 1889 was passed by the municipal council of Lowell, and approved by the may or on March 22 of that year; and it was ordered that a copy of the resolution be furnished to the assessors on or before April 1. Before proceeding to make the assessment, the assessors, in the latter part of April, gave proper notice to the inhabitants of the city, by posting in public places in the several wards of said city, notifications that they were about to assess taxes, and requiring the inhabitants to bring into the assessor's office on or before June 15 of that year true lists of their polls and personal estates not exempt from taxation.
Two members of the board of assessors were appointed a committee "to inquire into telephone matters for taxation." The committee "advised that a suitable person be sent to Albany to look up matters in that direction," which committee was authorized by the board to use its discretion in the matter. The expert employed by the committee to look up foreign corporations reported stock of the Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company held by individuals in Lowell, and mentioned seven trustees, one of whom was the defendant. On July 25, 1889, the board "voted to tax (assess) the directors of the Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company as trustees $160,000 each." There were $1,600,000 held by ten trustees, of which the defendant was one. No list of personal estate held in trust had
been or was submitted by defendant. The tax bill, as trustee, was delivered personally to the defendant about September first. About two months after such assessment, September 10, the warrant for the collection of the taxes was put in the hands of the collector.
On February 24, 1890, defendant filed a statement to the effect that, although he was informed that certain shares of stock stood in his name as trustee, he was not the owner of the shares and not taxable therefor, and thereupon made application as trustee for an abatement, upon which application a number of hearings were had. But before the proceedings were determined this action was brought by a succeeding collector.
Upon the trial in the Superior Court it appeared that the defendant was assessed as trustee upon certain shares of three telephone companies, which the assessors understood were held by him in trust for the Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company. The basis of valuation adopted by the assessors was the market price of the shares of this latter company. Defendant offered evidence tending to show that at the time of the assessment he owned no personal property whatever as trustee; that said shares were owned by the Erie Telegraph and Telephone Company and were in its possession and control, although they stood in his name; and further evidence tending to show that said property was not taxable to him, and was not within the jurisdiction of the assessors or of the State. This evidence was excluded by the court, which ruled that the only questions for the jury were "whether the assessors ascertained as nearly as possible the particulars of the estate held by the defendant as trustee, for the purpose of making this assessment, and whether, having obtained those particulars, they estimated such property at its just value according to their best judgment, information and belief."
The court held the validity of the tax to depend upon the question whether the assessors had jurisdiction to make the assessment. Having found that the defendant was an inhabitant of Lowell and had taxable personal property there, it was thought that he was within the jurisdiction of the assessors,
and that it made no difference whether such property was all held by him individually, or partly as individual and partly as trustee, inasmuch as it was all a personal tax. The court, having held that the proceedings conformed to the state statute, and that defendant's only remedy was the statutory proceeding for abatement, it only remains for us to consider whether these proceedings constitute due process of law within the Fourteenth Amendment.
This was not a special assessment, but the ordinary annual tax upon personal property. The act requires that all personal estate, within or without the Commonwealth, shall be assessed to the owner; that personal property held in trust, the income of which is payable to another person, shall be assessed to the trustee in the city or town in which such other person resides, if within the Commonwealth; and if he resides out of the Commonwealth shall be assessed in the place where the trustee resides. Before making the assessment the assessors shall give notice by posting in some public place or places; that in case the taxpayer shall fail to make return, they shall ascertain, as nearly as possible, the particulars of the estate and estimate its just value, which shall be conclusive upon the owner, unless he can show a reasonable excuse for ...