Johnston v. Board of Commissioners, 67 N.C. 101 (1872)

June 1872 · Supreme Court of North Carolina
67 N.C. 101


Where a mandamus was issued, commanding the Board of Commissioners of a county to levy a tax sufficient to pay the plaintiff’s claim against the county, and a rule was afterwards served upon them to show cause why they should not be attached for disobedience to the order; Held that an answer to the rule, that they had levied a sufficient tax, and placed the lists in the hands of the Sheriff, was responsive and sufficient, and the rule ought to be discharged.

The Justices of a county having failed, for many years, to levy a tax to pay the interest on bonds issued by the county to aid in building a Railroad, the Board of Commissioners should not bo required at the suit of creditors to raise in one year, by taxation, the whole amount of interest in arrear; but in the case of mandamus ordering them to levy a tax and pay the interest, it was a prudent exercise of a discretion to raise part by taxation, and issue county bonds in order to raise the remainder.

Semlile that proceedings by mandamus against the Commissioners of a county should be instituted in the Superior Court of their own county.

Enle to attacli for disobedience to peremptory mandamus, heard before Logan, J., at Spring Term, 1872, of the Superior Court Of MECKLENBURG!.

The proceedings were commenced by summons returnable to Spring Term, 1870, of said Court; when a sworn complaint was filed, alleging that the plaintiff was the holder oí 148 coupons, of S3.50 each, of certain bonds issued by the County of Cleaveland, under the provisions of an act of Assembly, ratified February 2d, 1857, entitled an “Act to alter and amend the Charter of the Wilmiugton, Charlotte & Eutherford Eailroad Company,” that the Justices of the County and their successors, the Board of Commissioners of the County, had hitherto failed to levy a tax, as required by said act, to pay the coupons of the bonds ; and judgment was asked that mandamus issue to the defendants requiring them to levy a tax to pay the interest *102coupons on the bonds issued under said act, and out of the tax collected to pay the plaintiff’s coupons, &c. Notice of application for a mandamus was issued, returnable with the summons.

The case was continued until July Special Term, 1871, when after hearing before Moore, J., a peremptory mandamus was issued, returnable to Fall Term, 1871, commanding the defendants to levy a tax to pay the interest coupons due on the bonds issued under said act, and out of the proceeds to pay the plaintiff’s demand. Upon the return of the writ the defendants filed their answer, stating that they had levied a tax on the persons and property in the county to pay the plaintiff’s coupons and costs, and that in order to discharge the further indebtedness of the county due on account of the coupons for said bonds already matured, they were issuing new coupon bonds of the county, bearing eight per cent, interest, &c. Thereupon, an order was made for notice to issue to the defendants to show cause why they should not be attached for disobedience to the mandamus. Hpon return of the notice the defendants answered, saying that they had done everything in their power to obey the mandamus, that they had laid the tax on the 6th November, 1871, and placed the lists in the hands of the Sheriff, with orders to collect as speedily as possible, to wit, on or before the 10th day of May, 1872, the time by which he ought to collect according to the general law of the land ; and that he had had time to collect, but had failed to do so without their consent or procurement, &c.

His Honor discharged the rule, and the plaintiff appealed.

Jones <& Joli/nsion, for the plaintiffs.

Bynum, for the defendants.

Pearson, C. J.

There is no error in the order by which the rule is discharged. We concur with his Honor in the opinion that the answer to the rule was responsive and sufficient.

*103We are inclined to the ©pinion that the rule was improvidently granted in the first instance. It seems to have proceeded upon the ground that the return to the writ of mandamus was “ frivolous” and not fit to be noticed. Otherwise, the -rule would have been, to show cause why a more lull and perfect-return should 'not be made, the first return being considered insufficient and not tally responsive. Instead of this the rule is, that th-e defendants show cause why they should not be attached tor disobedience oí the mandate, &c., treating the return to the writ of mandamus as a nullity.

We are not required to express an opinion upon this subject, but we are at liberty to say tliat, in our opinion, the -return is both responsive and sufficient, and that the Commissioners seem to hare done «01 that-could have been expected under the circumstances. The Justices of the Peace ot the county had tailed to levy and collect an annual tax, to keep down the interest ot the bonds, as it was their -duty to do. When the defendants, “ the Board of Commissioners,” succeeded to the -office and duties of the Justices of the Peace in this regard, .and found a very large amount of interest in arrear, was it the duty ot the Board ot Commissioners to levy and collect a tax •in one year, sufficient to pay off the accumulated interest for some fifteen years? or did they have a discretion to endeavor to break the force of this burden upon the tax-payers of the county, by issuing county bonds to raise a part of the amount called for, and levying a tax for the residue ? We think the Board of.. Commissioners had this discretion, and it seems to have been exercised in a discreet manner.

Should the plaintiff be under the necessity ef faking other proceedings in order to get his money, it may he well to submit to his counsel this question, Must not a writ of mandamus to the Board of Commissionersof a -County be máde returnable to the Superior Court of that County? The propriety of this, in a general point -oí -v-iow, will occur to every one. Aro the Commissioners-of Oeaveland to he required to make *104return to writs of mandamus in all and every county of the State, wherever a holder of one of the coupons of a county bond happens to reside ? C. C. P., sec. 67, seems to apply. “Against a public officer,” for an act done by him by virtue of his office, the proceeding shall he in the county where the act is done. More particularly should this he so, m the .writs of quo warranto and mandamus, where an official act of usurpation, or a failure to do some act which the duties of the office require, constitutes the charge, and in effect amounts to a criminal action, or an action to subject the party to pains and penalties.

There is no error.

Pee Curiam. 3udgment affirmed.