Williams v. Kirtland
80 U.S. 306 (1871)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Williams v. Kirtland, 80 U.S. 13 Wall. 306 306 (1871)

Williams v. Kirtland

80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 306

Syllabus

1. A tax deed executed by a county auditor under a statute of Minnesota of 1866 declaring that where lands sold for taxes were not redeemed within the time allowed by law, such deed should be prima facie evidence of a good and valid title in the grantee, his heirs, and assigns, did not dispense with the performance of all the requirements prescribed by law for the sale of the land. It only shifted the burden of proof of such performance from the party claiming under the deed to the party attacking it.

2. The construction of a state law upon a question affecting the titles to real property in the state by its highest court is binding upon the federal courts.

This was an action of ejectment for the possession of certain real property situated in the City of St. Paul in the State of Minnesota. The declaration was in the form usual

Page 80 U. S. 307

in Minnesota. The plea was the general issue, and by consent of parties a jury was waived and the cause tried by the court. The plaintiff claimed the premises under a deed executed in 1864, by the auditor of Ramsey County of that state upon a sale for unpaid taxes.

The statute of Minnesota of March 11, 1862, under which the sale was made, provided that certain lands sold for taxes of the year 1859, and of previous years, and lands upon which delinquent taxes were due on the passage of the act to any city, or to the state, might be redeemed by payment of the amount of the taxes, with interest and costs, on or before November 1, 1862; that if any such lands remained unredeemed, or such delinquent taxes on lands remained unpaid at that time, the lands should become forfeited to the state, and that thereupon it should be the duty of the county auditor to advertise the property for sale, stating that such lands would be sold as forfeited to the state under the provisions of the act, and the time and place of sale, which time should be the second Monday in January, 1863.

The statute also contained provisions requiring publication of notices of the sale, prescribing the manner in which the sale should be conducted, for the issue of certificates of sale to the purchasers, and, upon the return of the certificates, for the execution and delivery to him, or his assignee, of a deed in fee simple for the premises, which should recite the sale and the fact that the property was unredeemed. And the statute declared that the deed thus executed should vest in the grantee an absolute title, both at law and in equity, except where the tax returned delinquent was actually paid, and

"that any person or persons having or claiming any right, title, or interest in or to any land or premises after a sale under the provisions of this act, adverse to the title or claim of the purchaser at any such tax sale, his heirs or assigns shall within one year from the time of the recording of the tax deed for such premises commence an action for the purpose of testing the validity of such sale, or be forever barred in the premises."

A statute of the state passed in 1866 provides that where

Page 80 U. S. 308

lands sold for taxes were not redeemed within the time allowed by law, the deed executed by the county auditor should be prima facie evidence of a good and valid title in the grantee, his heirs, and assigns.

The deed recited that the sale was made on the 11th of February, 1863, and did not recite any cause for disregarding the day designated for the sale in the statute, namely the second Monday in January, 1863. The deed also recited that the sale was

"for the sum of $337.80; being the amount of taxes for the years 1853, 1854, 1855, 1856, 1857, 1859, 1860, 1861, with interests and costs chargeable on said tract of land."

After the deed was received in evidence, the defendant, to maintain the issue on his part, produced as a witness the treasurer of Ramsey County at the time of the sale mentioned in the deed, and offered to prove that the notice of the sale was insufficient, but the plaintiff objected to the proof on the ground that it was incompetent and immaterial, and the objection was sustained by the court. The defendant excepted. The court thereupon found that the plaintiff was entitled to judgment for the possession of the premises in controversy, by virtue of the tax deed, and rendered judgment accordingly, and the defendant brought the case here on writ of error.

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