[281 U.S. 121, 122] Messrs. Willis Smith and Murray Allen, both of Raleigh, N. C., for petitioner.
Mr. Clyde R. Hoey, of Shelby, N. C., for respondent.
Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Henrietta Mills, a corporation of North Carolina, brought this suit in the District Court of the United States to enjoin Rutherford county, in that state, from collecting a tax upon the property of the corporation for the year 1927, or for any subsequent year, based upon any valuation in excess of sixty per cent. of the actual and fair market value. It was alleged that the enforcement of such a tax would deprive the corporation of its property without due process of law and deny the equal protection of the laws, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution.
The bill of complaint charged that the actual value, in the sense of the applicable statutory provision of the state, of the property of the corporation in Rutherford [281 U.S. 121, 123] county on May 1, 1927, did not exceed $1,887,352, but that the property was actually assessed at $2,637,819. The corporation complained to the county commissioners, as the constituted board of equalization and review, but the board declined to pass upon the questions presented. The corporation then appealed to the state board of assessment which, after hearing, reduced the assessment by the sum of $275,000 and fixed the value of the property at $2,362,819. The bill alleged that the tax officials of the county and of the state had intentionally and arbitrarily valued the complainant's property greatly in excess of its true value, while at the same time they had fixed the value of all other assessable property within the county at only sixty per cent. of its true value; that the assessment of complainant's property should have been reduced in like proportion, that is, to $1,132,411.20; and that the complainant had paid to the county a sum which would be equal to the tax if laid upon such a valuation.
The answer denied that there had been any arbitrary and intentional overvaluation, or any unlawful discrimination against the complainant, and alleged that the complainant had an adequate remedy at law.
The District Court decided against the complainant upon both these grounds and dismissed the bill of complaint. The decree was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. 32 F.(2d) 570.
Section 16 of the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 82) provided 'That suits in equity shall not be sustained in either of the courts of the United States, in any case where plain, adequate and complete remedy may be had at law.' This explicit prohibition, continued in section 723 of the Revised Statutes and section 267 of the Judicial Code (U. S. C. tit. 28, 384 (28 USCA 384)), has clear application to proceedings to enjoin the collection of taxes upon the ground that they are illegal or unconstitutional. It must [281 U.S. 121, 124] appear that the enforcement of the tax would cause irreparable injury, or that there are other special circumstances bringing the case under some recognized head of equity jurisdiction, before the aid of a federal court of equity can be invoked. The mere fact that the validity of the tax may be tested more conveniently by a bill in equity than by an action at law does not justify resort to the former.