McGAHEY v. VIRGINIA Nos. 1057, 1055, 1056, 1058, 1142, 1217, 1216, 23.
135 U.S. 662 (1890)
McGAHEY v. VIRGINIA. BRYAN v. VIRGINIA. COOPER v. VIRGINIA. ELLETT v. VIRGINIA. CUTHBERT v. VIRGINIA. IN RE BROWN. HUCLESS v. CHILDREY. VASHON v. GREENHOW.
Supreme Court of United States.
Decided May 19, 1890.
Mr. R.A. Ayers, Attorney General of the State of Virginia, and Mr. J. Randolph Tucker for defendant in error.
The question is presented to us whether the acts of assembly of the State of Virginia which required the production of the bond in order to establish the genuineness of the coupons and prohibiting expert testimony to prove the said coupons, are or are not repugnant to the Constitution of the United States. On this subject we think there can be little doubt. It is well settled by the adjudications of this court, that the obligation of a contract is impaired, in the sense of the Constitution, by any act which prevents its enforcement it, or which materially abridges the remedy for enforcing it, which existed at the time it was contracted, and does not supply an alternative remedy equally adequate and efficacious. Bronson v. Kinzie, 1 How. 311; Woodruff v. Trapnall, 10 How. 190; Furman v. Nichol, 8 Wall. 44; Walker v. Whitehead, 16 Wall.
We have no hesitation in saying that the duty imposed upon the taxpayer of producing the bond from which the coupons tendered by him were cut, at the time of offering the same in evidence in court, was an unreasonable condition, in many cases impossible to be performed. If enforced it would have the effect of rendering valueless all coupons which have been separated from the bonds to which they were attached, and have been sold in the open market. It would deprive them of their negotiable character. It would make them fixed appendages to the bond itself. It would be directly contrary to the meaning and intent of the act of 1871 and the corresponding act of 1879. It would be so onerous and impracticable as not only to affect, but virtually destroy, the value of the instruments in the hands of the holder who had purchased them. We think that the requirement was unconstitutional.
We also think that the prohibition of expert testimony in establishing the genuineness of coupons was in like manner unconstitutional. In the case of coupons made by impressions from metallic plates, (as these were,) no other mode of proving their genuineness is practicable; and that mode of proof is as satisfactory as the proof of handwriting by a witness acquainted with the writing of the party whose signature it purports to be. One who is expert in the inspection and examination of bank notes, engraved bonds and other instruments of that character, is able to detect almost at a glance whether an instrument is genuine or spurious, provided he has an acquaintance with the class of instruments to which his attention is directed. It is the kind of evidence resorted to in proving the genuineness of bank notes; it is the kind of evidence naturally resorted to to prove the genuineness of coupons and other instruments of that character. To prohibit it is to take from the holder of such instruments the only feasible means he has in his power to establish their validity.
In the case of Bryan v. The State of Virginia, the coupons that were tendered for the payment of the tax sued for purported to have been cut from bonds issued under the act of March 30, 1871, and the same obstacles to the proof of their genuineness were interposed as in the case of McGahey, by requiring the production of the bonds from which the coupons were cut, and by excluding expert testimony. The same also is true of the proceedings in the case of Cooper v. The State of Virginia.
We are of opinion, therefore, that
The judgments in these three cases must be reversed, and the records severally remanded, for the purpose of such proceedings as may be required in due course of law, according to this opinion.
The point made in this case is, that the costs included in the judgment on which the present suit was brought were not a debt due to the State of Virginia in her own right, but were due to the officers in whose favor they were taxed and whose services they were to compensate. We think that this point is untenable. The costs were recovered by the State of Virginia in the original action, to compensate her for the fees which she had to pay to the officers for their services. The demand of the officers for their costs was a demand against the State of Virginia, and not against the defendant; and by reason of this demand against her, she was entitled to recover the amount against the defendant; so that in no legal sense can it be said that the costs included in the judgment belonged to the officers and not to the State. They were recovered by
This judgment must also be reversed, and the record remanded for the purpose of such proceedings as may be required in due course of law, in accordance with this opinion.
It is manifest from the terms of the act of 1871, as well as that of 1879, under which tax-receivable coupons were authorized to be and were issued, that said coupons were intended to circulate from hand to hand, being expressly made payable to bearer, and being made receivable for taxes, debts, dues and demands due to the State. Any undue restraint upon the free negotiability of these instruments, therefore, would be a violation of the clear understanding and agreement of the parties. That the license required by the 65th section of the tax act of March 15, 1884, as amended by the act of May 23, 1887, was a very material interference with such negotiability, is most manifest. If sustained as a valid act of legislation, and carried
The judgment in this case must also be reversed, and the record remanded for the purpose of such proceedings to be had as law and justice may require in accordance with this opinion.
The court in that case held that the period of nine months and seventeen days given to sue upon a cause of action which had already been running nearly four years, was not unconstitutional. The liability in question was that of a stockholder under an act of incorporation for the ultimate redemption of the bills of a bank which had become insolvent by the disaster of the civil war. The legislature of Georgia, on the 16th of March, 1869, passed a statute requiring all actions against stockholders in such cases to be brought by or before the 1st of January, 1870.
It is evident from this statement of the question that no one rule as to the length of time which will be deemed reasonable can be laid down for the government of all cases alike. Different circumstances will often require a different rule. What would be reasonable in one class of cases would be entirely unreasonable in another.
It is necessary, therefore, to look at the nature and circumstances of the case before us, and of the class of cases to which it belongs. The primary obligation of the State with regard to the coupons attached to the bonds issued under the act of 1871 was to pay them when they became due; but if they were not paid at maturity the alternative right was given to the holder of them to use them in the payment of taxes, debts, dues and demands due to the State. The very nature of the case shows that such an application of the coupons could not be made immediately or in any very short period of time. If all the bonds were of the denomination of one thousand dollars each, it would require twenty thousand of them to make up the funded debt of twenty millions of dollars. These twenty thousand bonds would be likely to be scattered and dispersed through many States and countries, and it would be impracticable for the holders of them to use the coupons
We have spoken of the act as limiting, indifferently, the time of tendering the coupons, and the time of commencing proceedings to ascertain their genuineness. Its terms relate only to the latter; and as this proceeding cannot be instituted until the coupons have been tendered, the effect is, to make a tender necessary before the expiration of one year, which can often be done only within a few days, or even hours; since the taxes may become due in that short period, and not become due again until a year afterwards. This puts the unconstitutionality of the act beyond question.
Without further discussion of the subject, we conclude that
The law under which the treasurer justified his action in refusing to receive the coupons tendered by the plaintiff is set forth in the declaration with sufficient accuracy and fulness for the disposal of the case, except that it should be added that the license fee to be deposited with the treasurer was required to be in lawful money of the United States as a condition precedent to the granting of the license.
We are of opinion that the requirement that the license fee shall be paid in lawful money of the United States does not, as contended, impair the obligation of the contract made by the State with the holders of the coupons referred to. Licenses for the sale of intoxicating liquors are not only imposed for the purpose of raising revenue, but also for the purpose of regulating the traffic and consumption of these articles, and hence the State may impose such conditions for conducting said traffic as it may deem most for the public good. Instead of a license fee of $125 it might have imposed a license fee of $250, or any other amount, or it might have prohibited the sale of intoxicating liquors altogether, as is admitted by the counsel for the plaintiff in their brief. They concede that the State might, in her discretion, absolutely abolish the sale of spirituous liquors, or prescribe on what terms they shall be sold. In this view, there does not seem to be any violation of the obligation of the State in requiring the tax which is imposed to be paid in any manner whatever — in gold, in silver, in bank notes or in diamonds. The manner of payment is part of the condition of the license intended as a regulation of the traffic. It would be very different if the business sought to be followed was one of the ordinary pursuits of life, in which all persons are entitled to engage. License taxes imposed upon such pursuits and professions are imposed purely for the purpose of revenue, and not for the purpose of regulating the traffic or the pursuit. For these considerations we are clearly of opinion that
The judgment of the Circuit Court was right, and it is, therefore, affirmed.
The Court of Appeals placed their judgment upon two distinct grounds. In the first place, they reviewed the former judgments of that court which had sustained the act of March 30, 1871, as a valid and constitutional enactment and binding upon the State as a contract with the bond and coupon holders under the same. The court were of opinion that these decisions were based upon a mistaken assumption that the State had received a consideration for the issuing of the bonds created by the act aforesaid. They argued and attempted to show that the State had not received any consideration whatever, but that the issuing of the bonds under the act of 1871 was a mere gratuity on the part of the State, and was not binding upon it so as to prevent the legislature from abrogating the conditions of that act. We have already indicated our views with regard to this position taken by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and have referred to the decisions made by this court sustaining the validity of the act of 1871, which decisions of this court we regard as binding upon us.
"SEC. 7. The General Assembly shall set apart, as a permanent and perpetual literary fund the present literary funds of the State, the proceeds of all public lands donated by Congress for public school purposes, of all escheated property, of all waste and unappropriated lands, of all property accruing to the State by forfeitures, and all fines collected for offences committed against the State, and such other sums as the General Assembly may appropriate.
"SEC. 8. The General Assembly shall apply the annual interest on the literary fund, the capitation tax provided for by this constitution for public free school purposes, and an annual tax upon the property of the State of not less than one mill nor more than five mills on the dollar, for the equal benefit of all the people of the State... ." 2 Constitution and Charters, 1968.
The court, in its opinion, held that in view of these constitutional provisions the legislature had no power to declare or contract, that the moneys due to the literary fund might be paid in coupons attached to the bonds authorized by the act of 1871; and that such a payment would be repugnant to the very nature of the fund. It might well be added, that coupons thus paid into the fund would be of no value whatever to it, for as soon as paid into the treasury they would become valueless as if cancelled and destroyed, unless some provision were made for their reissue, and the putting of them into renewed circulation. This would be opposed to the whole tenor of the act, would be unjust to the coupon holders themselves, and would probably be contrary to the acts of Congress in reference to the creation of paper currency. We think that the position of the Court of Appeals in this case is well taken, that coupons could not be made receivable as a portion of the literary fund; and that, if they could not be received as a part
In Paup v. Drew, 10 How. 218, a decision was made by this court in a case not very different in principle from the one now under consideration. It had been decided in Woodruff v. Trapnall, 10 How. 190, at about the same time, that the law of Arkansas which chartered the Bank of the State of Arkansas, (the whole capital of which belonged to the State,) and provided that the bills and notes of said institution should be received in all payments of debts due to the State, was valid and irrepealable, and that, although this provision was subsequently in terms repealed, the notes of the bank which were in circulation at the time of the repeal were not affected by it; and that the undertaking of the State to receive the notes of the bank constituted a contract between the State and the holders of these notes which the State was not at liberty to break or impair, although notes issued by the bank after the repeal were not within the contract and might be refused. After this decision the case of Paup v. Drew came up, in which it was held that, although the notes of the bank were receivable in payment of all debts due to the State in its own right, and could not be refused, yet where the State sold lands which were held by it in trust for the benefit of a seminary, and the terms of the sale were that the debtor should pay in specie or its equivalent, such debtor was not at liberty to tender the notes of the bank in payment. The question arose in this way: Congress in 1827 had passed an act "Concerning a seminary of learning in the Territory of Arkansas," by which two entire townships of land were directed to be set aside and reserved from sale, out of the public lands within the said territory, for the use and support of a university within the said territory. In 1836, Congress passed another act entitled "An act supplementary to the act entitled `An act for the admission of the State of Arkansas into the Union, and to provide for the due execution of the laws of the United
We think that the principle of this case sustains the decision of the Court of Appeals of Virginia in the case now under consideration, and the judgment of that court is
It may be argued that the principle involved in the last case is equally applicable to all taxes raised for the support of the state government, inasmuch as the funds necessary for that purpose, as well as those raised for the purpose of maintaining public free schools, are required to be paid in cash. But there is this difference, that the tax for school purposes is set apart for that specific use, under the express requirement of the constitution,
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