Ford v. Delta & Pine Land Co. - 164 U.S. 662 (1897)
U.S. Supreme Court
Ford v. Delta & Pine Land Co., 164 U.S. 662 (1897)
Ford v. Delta and Pine Land Company
Argued October 16, 19, 1896
Decided January 4, 1897
164 U.S. 662
Exemptions from taxation are to be strictly construed, and no claims for them can be sustained unless within the express letter or the necessary scope of the exempting clause, and a general exemption is to be construed as referring only to the property held for the transaction of the business of the party exempted.
The exemption from taxation conferred by the 19th section of the Act of the Legislature of Mississippi of November 23, 1809, c. 14, upon the railroad company chartered by that act does not extend to property other than that used in the business of the company, acquired under the authority of a subsequent act of the legislature in which there was no exemption clause.
A clause in a statute exempting property from taxation does not release it from liability for assessments for local improvements.
It has been held in Mississippi not only that special assessments for local improvements do not come within the constitutional limitation as to taxation, but also that the construction and repair of levees are to be regarded as local improvements for which the property specially benefited may be assessed, and this rule is in harmony with that recognized generally elsewhere, to the effect that special assessments for local improvements are not within the purview of either constitutional limitations in respect of taxation or general exemptions from taxation.
Under authority granted by the Act of March 16, 1872, c. 75, of the Legislature of Mississippi, the auditor conveyed to the Selma, Marion, and Memphis Railroad Company the lands in question here, by deeds which recited that they had been "sold to the Mississippi for taxes due to the said state," and that the company had paid into the state treasury two cents per acre "in full of all state and county taxes due thereon to present date." No reference was made in those deeds to levy taxes or assessments. Held that those deeds were no evidence of the prior payment and discharge of such levy taxes and assessments.
It is well settled that the punctuation of a statute is not decisive of its meaning.
The decision of the Supreme Court of Mississippi in Green v. Gibbs, 151 Miss. 592, followed as it was by subsequent decisions of that court, is not only binding on this Court, but also commends itself to the judgment of this Court as a just recognition of the force of legislative contracts.
This was a bill in equity filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Mississippi on February 27, 1889, by the appellants, as complainants, to quiet their title to certain lands therein described. Upon final hearing, on August 15, 1890, a decree was entered dismissing the bill, 43 F. 181, from which decree the complainants have appealed to this Court.
Complainants' chain of title is as follows: 1st, a patent on March 13, 1853, from the United States to the State of Mississippi, under the Act of September 4, 1841, c. 16, 5 Stat. 453, and September 28, 1850, c. 84, 9 Stat. 519; 2d, conveyance from the State or Mississippi made during the years 1853 to 1856, inclusive, to E. F. Potts and others, these grantees having entered the lands with scrip issued by the Secretary of State under the acts of March 15 and March 16, 1852, providing for the construction of levees upon the Mississippi River, Laws Miss. 1852, pp. 33, 41; 3d, deeds from the grantees of the state and their privies in interest, in the years 1871 and 1872, to the Selma, Marion & Memphis Railroad Company, made under the authority of an act of the legislature of the state approved July 21, 1870, authorizing the conveyance of lands to such company in payment of subscription to its capital stock, Laws Miss. 1870, c. 220, p. 566; 4th, deeds from the State of Mississippi
to the railroad company of date March 18, 1873, executed under authority of an act of the legislature approved March 16, 1872, Laws Miss. 1872, c. 75, p. 313, providing that all lands which had been sold to the railroad company, and which had become forfeited to the state for nonpayment of taxes might be bought by that company from the state at two cents per acre upon satisfactory proof that not less than twenty-five miles of the company's road had been built, and also that in all cases in which the lands had been forfeited to or purchased by the levee boards in any of the levee districts in the state, and were held and claimed by them for the nonpayment of levee taxes, the said boards were required to arrange for the payment of such taxes, by receiving therefor the bonds of the said districts; 5th, deeds from the United States marshals for the Northern and Southern Districts of Mississippi to the complainants, executed August 1, 1887, and February 5, 1889, under sales made pursuant to a judgment and decree rendered on July 6, 1886, by the Circuit Court of the United States for the Northern District of Mississippi in the case of Timpson v. Selma, Marion & Memphis Railroad Company.
The title of the defendants was based upon various statutes of the State of Mississippi providing for repairing and perfecting the levees of the Mississippi River in certain counties and making assessments upon all the lands within certain boundaries for the cost of such improvements, and originated in tax sales made for the nonpayment of such assessments.