Van Brocklin v. Tennessee
117 U.S. 151 (1886)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Van Brocklin v. Tennessee, 117 U.S. 151 (1886)

Van Brocklin v. Tennessee

Submitted November 17, 1885

Decided March 1, 1886

117 U.S. 151

Syllabus

Property of the United States is exempt by the Constitution of the United States from taxation under the authority of a state.

Land in a state which, pursuant to acts of Congress for the laying and collecting of direct taxes, is sold, struck off and purchased by the United States for the amount of the tax thereon and is afterwards sold by the United States for a larger sum or redeemed by the former owner is exempt from taxation by the state, while so owned by the United States, and, for nonpayment of taxes assessed by the state during that time, cannot be sold afterwards.

The amended bill in this case was filed in the Chancery Court of Shelby county, in the State of Tennessee, by the state and its proper officers and municipalities, against Van Brocklin, Stacy, and others, to enforce by sale a lien for state, county, and city taxes, assessed for the years from 1864 to 1877, inclusive, on lot 21, in block 6, and for the years from 1864 to 1878, inclusive, on lots 13 and 14, in block 13, in Fort Pickering, a suburb of the City of Memphis.

Van Brocklin and Stacy answered that at the times of the assessments of these taxes the lands were the property of the United States, and therefore not subject to taxation under state authority. The case was heard upon pleadings and proofs, by which it appeared to be as follows:

In June, 1864, these three lots, then owned by one Glenn, with other lots, were old by auction and struck off and conveyed to the United States under the Act of Congress of June 7, 1862, c. 98, § 7, 12 Stat. 423, for nonpayment of direct taxes assessed thereon, with a penalty of fifty percent and interest. The amount so bid for lot 21 was $2.75, and the amount bid for lots 13 and 14, together with other lots not now in question, was $14. In or before 1870, Glenn conveyed the three lots to Van Brocklin, who thereupon

Page 117 U. S. 152

took possession of them, and kept possession of lot 21 ever since, and of lots 13 and 14 until March 30, 1877. The United States, in 1872, brought actions of ejectment against Van Brocklin, and therein, on March 30, 1877, obtained judgments and writs of possession for the three lots, and were put in possession of lots 13 and 14. The execution of the writ of possession for lot 21 was suspended until February 3, 1878, and meanwhile, in June, 1877, this lot was redeemed by Van Brocklin in the name of Glenn from the sale for taxes by paying $2.75, the amount of the tax, penalty, and interest, and was released by the United States. In May, 1878, lots 13 and 14 were sold by the United States and bought by Stacy for the price of $54, and in July, 1878, were conveyed to him by the United States, under the Acts of Congress of June 8, 1872, c. 337, § 4, 17 Stat. 331, and February 8, 1875, c. 36, § 26, 18 Stat. 313.

The chancery court held that the taxes assessed under authority of the State of Tennessee on lot 21 were valid, and that those assessed on lots 13 and 14 were invalid, and entered a decree accordingly. Both parties appealed to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, which held that all the taxes assessed under the authority of the state were valid, and entered a decree for the sale of the three lots to pay them. Thereupon Van Brocklin and Stacy sued out this writ of error.

The provisions of the Constitution and laws of Tennessee referred to in the opinion of that court, and in force at the time of the assessment of these taxes, were as follow:

By the Constitution of 1870, art. 2 § 28,

"All property, real, personal, or mixed, shall be taxed, but the legislature may except such as may be held by the state, by counties, cities, or towns, and used exclusively for public or corporation purposes, and such as may be held and used for purposes purely religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational, and shall except one thousand dollars' worth of personal property in the hands of each taxpayer, and the direct products of the soil in the hands of the producer and his immediate vendee."

By the Statutes of 1866-1867, c. 40, and 1867-1868, c. 28, lands of which the exclusive jurisdiction is ceded by the state to the United States for cemeteries or for public buildings shall be "exonerated and free from any

Page 117 U. S. 153

taxation or assessment under the authority of this state or of any municipality therein" while so used. Compiled Laws of 1871, pp. 92, 245, et seq. The statute of 1875, c. 108, entitled

"An act to define what property is by the Constitution exempt from taxation, and what the legislature under the power conferred upon it does exempt, and what is taxable"

enacts that "all property, real, personal, and mixed, shall be assessed and taxed," with certain exceptions, among which are the following:

"All property belonging to the United States or the State of Tennessee; . . . all property belonging to any county, city, or town, and used exclusively for public or corporation purposes."

Acts of 1875, p. 177.

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