Mason v. Fearson
50 U.S. 248 (1850)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mason v. Fearson, 50 U.S. 9 How. 248 248 (1850)

Mason v. Fearson

50 U.S. (9 How.) 248

Syllabus

Under the earlier charters of the City of Washington, this Court decided ( 21 U. S. 687) that where an individual owned several lots which were put up for sale for taxes, the corporation had no right to sell more than one, provided that one sold for enough to pay the taxes on all.

In 1824, Congress passed an act, providing

"That it shall be lawful for the said corporation, when there shall be a number of lots assessed to the same person or persons, to sell one or more of such lots for the taxes and expenses due on the whole, and also to provide for the sale of any part of a lot for the taxes and expenses due on said lot, or other lots assessed to the same person, as may appear expedient, according to such rules and regulations as the corporation may prescribe. "

Page 50 U. S. 249

This is not in conflict with the previous decision of this Court. The discretion given to the corporation is not unlimited to sell each lot for its own taxes. On the contrary, the words "it shall be lawful" and "may" sell one lot impose an obligation to stop selling if that one lot produces enough to pay the taxes on all.

What a public corporation or officer is empowered to do for others and it is beneficial to them to have done the law holds he ought to do.

This was an action of ejectment brought by John Mason in his lifetime to recover possession of some lots in the City of Washington held under a tax title.

In the trial of the cause in the circuit court, the following statement of facts was agreed upon, subject to the opinion of the court upon it.

"Statement"

"The plaintiff, to support the issue on his part, made out a title in one Benjamin Stoddert in all the lots in the declaration mentioned except lot No. 8 in square No. 44, under the Commissioners of the City of Washington or the Superintendent of the Public Buildings in said city, and proved that lot No. 8 in square No. 44 was allotted to Robert Morris and John Nicholson, original proprietors of the ground on which the said square was laid out, in the distribution of the lots in said square between the public and the proprietors, and then made out a title in the said Benjamin Stoddert, under the said Morris and Nicholson, to the said lot No. 8 in square No. 44. It was thereupon agreed that Benjamin Stoddert was, prior to 18 April in the year 1805, seized in fee of all the lots in the said declaration mentioned. The plaintiff, further to support the issue on his part, offered to read, and read in evidence to the jury, a deed of conveyance of each of the said lots from the said Benjamin Stoddert bearing date 18 April in the year 1805 to David Peter and James S. Morsell and to the survivor of them and the heirs of such survivor, in the words and figures following, to-wit (copied in p. 20); also the printed articles of association mentioned and referred to in the said deed (copied in p. 49). The plaintiff also offered to read, and read in evidence to the jury, the bill of complaint, answers, and decree, in a certain cause on the chancery side of the said circuit court for the county aforesaid, in which Henry Alexander and Mary Air were complainants, and James S. Morsell, and Joseph Forrest, and others, were defendants; also the report of the proceedings of James S. Morsell, the trustee appointed by the decree of said court in the said cause, and of the

Page 50 U. S. 250

sales made by him in virtue of such decree, and the orders of the said court ratifying the said sales, and a deed from the said trustee to the plaintiff's lessor, the said John Mason for the said lots in the said declaration mentioned, bearing date 13 November in the year 1844 (copied in pp. 32 to 57). The plaintiff also read in evidence to the jury two receipts signed W. W. Billing, collector, marked B and C, one for taxes for the years 1826 and 1827, the other for taxes for the year 1832, on sundry lots therein mentioned, assessed to the Washington Tontine Company (copied in pp. 61, 62). The plaintiff there rested."

"Whereupon the defendant, to support the issue on his part, produced, and read in evidence to the jury, the official assessment books of the Corporation of the City of Washington for the years 1836 and 1837, and proved that the lots in the said declaration mentioned, with divers other lots in the said city, amounting to twenty in number, were assessed for the said years to the Washington Tontine Company; 'that the said lots, and many others in the said city, had been so assessed in the books of the said corporation to the Washington Tontine Company' from the years 1808 down to 1840 inclusive. The defendants also produced and read in evidence the tax books of the said corporation for the years 1836 and 1837, and proved thereby that the lots in the said declaration mentioned, and sundry other lots assessed to the Washington Tontine Company, appeared arranged in columns in the established and accustomed forms, exhibiting the manner in which said lots were assessed for those years, the numbers of the lots and squares, the rate of assessment, valuation of the lots severally, the valuation of the improvements, and the amount of tax on each lot; that the lots so assessed to the Washington Tontine Company were entered in the said tax books for the years 1836 and 1837, in the following manner (copied in p. 63)."

"The defendant further proved that the tax on the said lots, so assessed to the Washington Tontine Company for the year 1836, fell due and was payable on 1 January in the year 1837, and the tax on the same lot for the year 1837 fell due and was payable on 1 January, 1838; and that on 1 January in the year 1838, there were two years' taxes due and in arrear on the said lots in the said declaration mentioned and on the others so assessed to the said Washington Tontine Company. It is further proved on the part of the defendant that the collector of taxes imposed by the said corporation, and who was authorized to advertise and sell the property liable to be sold in the said city for taxes on

Page 50 U. S. 251

15 September in the year 1838, the taxes on the said lots for the year 1836 and 1837 being in arrear and unpaid, caused to be inserted in the national Intelligencer, a newspaper published in the said city, the following advertisement (copied in p. 64), and that the said advertisement appeared in the said newspaper once in each week for twelve successive weeks before the day appointed therein for the sale of the said lots; that the said advertisement was erroneous, in that it stated that three years' taxes were in arrear and unpaid on the said lots, the fact being that the tax on the said lots for the year 1835 had been paid to the corporation before the said advertisement appeared; that such error was detected before the sale, and the lots were in fact sold for the taxes due and in arrear for the years 1836 and 1837; that in pursuance of his authority, and according to the tenor of the said advertisement, the said collector, on 8 December in the year 1838, set up at public sale, in the Aldermen's room in the City Hall in said city in the presence of about sixty persons, the said lots so advertised and assessed to the Washington Tontine Company, and the said lots, being all the lots so assessed to said Washington Tontine Company, were severally sold, each for its own tax, and the said sales were reported and entered on the official sales book of the said corporation in manner and form following (copied in p, 65), which shows the number of the lots and squares, to whom the same were assessed, the names of the purchasers, the amount of tax due on each lot, the expenses of sale, and the amount for which each lot sold; it was also proved by the said collector, and is admitted, that the said lots were sold in the order in which they appear set down in the said advertisement and report of sales."

"It was further proved by the defendant that the said defendant paid the taxes and expenses on each lot purchased by him at said sale, and that on 19 May in the year 1841, the said defendant paid the residue of the purchase money for the said lots bought by him, with interest thereon, at the rate of 10 percent from 8 December in the year 1840 to the said 19 May, 1841, and no more, and received a deed for the said lots from the Mayor of the said City of Washington on 1 June in the same year, duly executed and acknowledged, and afterwards recorded, which was given in evidence to the jury, and in the words and figures following, to-wit (copied in p. 66). It was further admitted that the said John Mason, the plaintiff lessor, was one of the original subscribers and members of the said Washington Tontine Company from the commencement of its

Page 50 U. S. 252

organization to its dissolution, and received his share of the assets thereof, and that certificates of stock in said company were issued by said company to the original shareholders in the words and figures following, to-wit (copied in p. 70). And that the said John Mason, the plaintiff lessor, held such certificate for the shares of stock in the said company owned by him."

"Whereupon, the said facts having been so proved and agreed and reduced to writing, it was agreed by the counsel for the plaintiff and the defendant, that a verdict should be entered for the defendant, subject to the opinion of the court on the facts and evidence so proved, agreed, and stated, as well on the part of the plaintiff as of the defendant, and that if the court should be of opinion from the facts and evidence so proved, agreed, and stated on both sides that the sale of the lots mentioned in the declaration so made as aforesaid by the authority of the corporation of Washington City was a legal and valid sale and that the defendant thereby acquired a legal title to the said lots, the said verdict should be entered for the defendant, but if the court should be of opinion that the said sale was not a legal and valid sale and that the legal title to the said lots did not thereby pass to the defendant, that the verdict shall be entered and judgment thereon be recorded for the plaintiff. Either party to have a right of appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States upon the above statement of facts and evidence, so proved and agreed, and the judgment of the court thereon."

"JOHN MARBURY, Plaintiff's Attorney"

"W. REDIN, Defendant's Attorney"

The assessed value of the lots and report of sales, referred to in the above statement, were as follows:

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Page 50 U. S. 253

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Upon the agreed state of facts, the circuit court gave judgment for the defendant. The plaintiff brought the case to this Court by writ of error, and the present plaintiffs in error were his heirs and devisees.

Page 50 U. S. 256

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