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GEORGIA RAILROAD & BANKING CO. v. REDWINE

decided: January 28, 1952.

GEORGIA RAILROAD & BANKING CO
v.
REDWINE, STATE REVENUE COMMISSIONER



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton

Author: VINSON

[ 342 U.S. Page 300]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant was incorporated in 1833 by a Special Act of the Georgia General Assembly that included a provision for exemption from taxation.*fn1 In 1945, the Georgia Constitution was amended to provide that "All exemptions from taxation heretofore granted in corporate charters are declared to be henceforth null and void."*fn2 According to appellant's complaint, appellee, who is State Revenue Commissioner, is threatening to act pursuant to this amendment by proceeding against appellant for the

[ 342 U.S. Page 301]

     collection of ad valorem taxes for the year 1939, and all subsequent years, on behalf of the State and every county, school district and municipality through which appellant's lines run.*fn3 Appellant claims that this threatened taxation would be contrary to its legislative charter and would impair the obligation of contract between appellant and the State of Georgia, contrary to Article I, Section 10 of the Federal Constitution.*fn4

This latest phase*fn5 of appellant's frequent litigation over the tax exemption provision of its 1833 charter began when appellant filed suit against appellee's predecessor in a Georgia state court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Relief was denied without reaching the merits of appellant's claim when the Georgia Supreme Court held that the action was, in effect, an unconsented suit against the State which could not be maintained in the state courts. Musgrove v. Georgia Railroad & Banking Co., 204 Ga. 139, 49 S. E. 2d 26 (1948). We dismissed an appeal from that judgment because it was based upon a nonfederal ground adequate to support it. 335 U.S. 900 (1949).

Thereafter, appellant filed this action in the District Court to enjoin appellee from assessing or collecting ad valorem taxes contrary to its legislative charter. Appellant also asked that appellee's threatened acts be adjudged in violation of a prior decree also entered by the court below and affirmed by this Court. Wright v.

[ 342 U.S. Page 302]

     U. S. C. (Supp. IV) § 1341.*fn8 The remedies now suggested are: (1) suit for injunction in the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia; (2) arresting tax execution by affidavits of illegality; and (3) suing the State for refund after payment of taxes. The first route was tried by appellant without success in the Musgrove litigation, supra. The second remedy, the present availability of which was doubted by the three Justices of the Georgia Supreme Court that considered the matter in the appeal case,*fn9 would require the filing of over three hundred separate claims in fourteen different counties to protect the single federal claim asserted by appellant.*fn10 The third remedy, suit for refund after payment, is applicable only to taxes payable directly to the State and amounting to less than 15% of the total taxes in controversy.*fn11 We cannot say that the remedies suggested by the Attorney General afford appellant the "plain, speedy and efficient remedy" necessary to deprive the District Court of jurisdiction under 28 U. S. C. (Supp. IV) § 1341.

Second. Passing to the jurisdictional ground upon which the District Court rested its decision, we note that

[ 342 U.S. Page 304]

     the State of Georgia was not named as a party in the District Court. But, since appellee is a state officer, the court below properly considered whether the relief sought against the officer is not, in substance, sought against the sovereign.*fn12 If this action is, ...


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