In the assessment, apportionment and collection of taxes upon property within their jurisdiction the Constitution of the United States imposes few restrictions upon the states. In the enforcement of such restrictions as the U.S. Constitution does impose courts have regarded substance and not form. But before the tax becomes irrevocably fixed, the taxpayer shall have an opportunity to be heard, of which he must have notice, either personal, by publication, or by a law fixing the time and place of a hearing.
Taxpayers sought to relieve lands they owned from an assessment of tax for the cost of paving a street upon which the lands abutted.The city charter allowed the special assessment of such taxes when (1) the board of public works informed the city council that a petition asking for the improvement had been signed by a majority of the land owners to be assessed; (2) the city council, which was given the authority to determine whether the action of the board was duly taken, passed an ordinance authorizing the work; and (3) the assessment of the cost upon the landowners was made after notice and an opportunity to be heard. The taxpayers filed a petition for a writ of error to the Supreme Court of Colorado, which found that a special tax assessed against the taxpayers was in conformity with the state constitution and laws and that its decision was conclusive.
Was the special tax assessment proper?
The Court found that the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution required that, before an assessment was fixed, the taxpayers must have had notice and an opportunity to be heard. The publication of the proposed assessment in a newspaper of general delivery satisfied the notice requirement. However, the Court found that the taxpayers were not given an opportunity to be heard because the assessment was fixed at a special city council meeting of which the time and date were not published and at which the taxpayers were not present to give argument.