Gibbons v. District of Columbia
116 U.S. 404 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gibbons v. District of Columbia, 116 U.S. 404 (1886)

Gibbons v. District of Columbia

Submitted December 21, 1885

Decided January 18, 1886

116 U.S. 404

Syllabus

If a church building is taken down, and a new church, with a sufficient space around it for air and light, is built on other land within the same enclosure in order to enable a revenue to be derived from the sale or lease of the land on which the old church stood, and it is unnecessary for the enjoyment of the new church that this land should remain vacant, this land is not exempt from taxation for the support of the government of the District of Columbia under § 8 of the Acts of March 3, 1875, ch. 162; July 12, 1876, ch. 180, and March 3, 1877, c. 117.

It is within the constitutional power of Congress, acting as the local legislature of the District of Columbia, to tax different classes of property within the District at different rates.

This is an appeal from a decree dismissing a bill in equity by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Baltimore, of which the District of Columbia is a part, to clear the title of lots numbered 36 to 46, inclusive (being the lots formerly numbered 5, 6, and 7), in square 376, in the City of Washington, from a cloud created by the assessment and sale thereof for taxes amounting, with interest, to more than $5,000.

The case was heard upon the bill, answer, a general replication, and the deposition of the pastor of St. Patrick's Church, from which the facts appeared to be as follows:

The lots in question front south on F Street about 170 feet,

Page 116 U. S. 405

and have a depth varying from about 93 feet to about 114 feet. They were conveyed by Anthony Caffray in 1804 to the Roman Catholic bishop of Baltimore in fee "for the use of the Roman Catholic congregation worshiping in the place called St. Patrick's Church,' in the City of Washington," and thence forward, until 1870, were occupied by the old St. Patrick's Church. During that period, the church enclosure included about one-half of square 376, bounded south by F Street, west by Tenth Street, and north by G Street. In 1870, the old church building was found to be unsafe, and in 1872 it was taken down. Since 1870, and pending the completion of a new church now in process of erection, the congregation has worshiped in Carroll Hall, on G Street, within the same half square, and separated from the lots in question by a 30-foot passageway. The new church fronts on Tenth Street, with a strip of open ground about 35 feet wide on its south side and in the rear for light and ventilation, all to the north of the lots in question. The reason for so placing the church, instead of putting it in the middle of the enclosure, was to enable a revenue to be derived from the sale or lease of these lots to pay off the church debt incurred in building, and it was not necessary for the enjoyment of the church that these lots should remain vacant. In February, 1881, the plaintiff obtained a decree in equity, authorizing him to sell or otherwise dispose of these lots, and to apply the proceeds to the completion of the new church building, and about that time he made leases thereof for twenty-five years to private persons.

From 1804 until June 30, 1875, no taxes were assessed on these lots. Afterwards, until June 30, 1880, they were annually assessed for taxes and sold for nonpayment thereof. The annual taxes since that time have been paid.

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