J. W. Perry Co. v. Norfolk
220 U.S. 472 (1911)

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U.S. Supreme Court

J. W. Perry Co. v. Norfolk, 220 U.S. 472 (1911)

J. W. Perry Co. v. City of Norfolk

Nos. 103, 104

Argued March 16, 1911

Decided April 17, 1911

220 U.S. 472

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS

OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA

Syllabus

Whether a municipality may list and tax its own property is a matter of state practice and, except as it may affect a right previously acquired and protected by the federal Constitution, presents no federal question.

This Court, in order to determine whether a contract has been impaired within the meaning of the federal Constitution, has power to decide for itself what the true construction of the contract is.

A contract of exemption may be impaired by wrongful construction as well as by an unconstitutional statute attempting a direct repeal.

A lease of property belonging to a municipality in which the lessees have expressly agreed to pay taxes due the state or federal government is not impaired by an assessment made by the municipality under power to tax acquired subsequent to the making of the lease.

Parties to a lease by a municipality not then possessing taxing powers are chargeable with notice that the power to tax may be subsequently conferred, and the conferring of such power does not impair the contract in the lease if there is no exemption expressly contained therein.

Doubts and ambiguities as to exemptions from taxation are resolved in favor of the public. St. Louis v. United Railways,210 U. S. 273.

108 Va. 28 affirmed.

From the bill in 103, to enjoin the collection of city taxes, it appears that, prior to 1792 the Borough of Norfolk, Virginia, existed as a municipality of limited power. It

Page 220 U. S. 473

had a mayor and council, but no power to tax. The town owned the Fort land, and appointed commissioners to subdivide the tract and let out the lots at public outcry. Thereupon the borough

"demised, leased, and farm-let lot No. 10 to Richard Evers Lee, his executors, administrators, and assigns, from August 26, 1792, for and during the term of ninety-nine years, and after that time renewable for the further term of ninety-nine years, and so on forever,"

he and they to pay yearly the rent of

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