Central Pacific R. Co. v. Nevada,
162 U.S. 512 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Central Pacific R. Co. v. Nevada, 162 U.S. 512 (1896)

Central Pacific Railroad Company v. Nevada

Nos. 170, 171

Argued March 20, 1898

Decided April 20, 1896

162 U.S. 512


Since the passage of the Act of July 10, 1886, c. 764, 24 Stat. 143, surveyed but unpatented lands, on which the costs of survey nave not been paid, included within a railroad land grant, are subject to taxation by the state in which they are situated.

The nature of the taxable interest of a railroad company on such lands so subjected to taxation with the assent of Congress does not present a federal question.

The possessory claim of the railroad company to such lands is taxable under the laws of Nevada without reference to the fact that they may be hereafter determined to be mineral lands, and so be excluded from the operation of the grant.

This case (No. 170) was an action originally begun in the District Court of Lander County by the State of Nevada against the Central Pacific Railroad Company and its property within such county, as well as the county's proportion of its rolling stock, to recover a state tax of $5,545.92 and a county tax of $17,870.19 levied upon such road and its property for the year 1883. The petition prayed for judgment against the road for the amount of the tax, and penalties for nonpayment, and attorney's fees, and "for such other judgment as to justice belongs."

The suit was both in rem and in personam, a statute of Nevada providing for bringing a suit against the person to whom the property is alleged to belong, and also against the property itself, and that the judgment rendered shall be against both and be a lien upon the property.

The railroad company answered the complaint, denied that it owned or possessed any land subject to taxation by the state, and disclaimed any interest in the lands described in the complaint other than that derived by and through the

Page 162 U. S. 513

statutes of the United States of 1862 and 1864, granting lands to the Pacific railroads, and by an amendment to its answer alleged that the costs of surveying, selecting, and patenting said lands had never been paid to the United States, and that the same were due and unpaid.

The suit was tried upon a stipulation as to the facts in the following language:

"It is hereby stipulated and agreed that of the land described in the amended complaint on file herein, 131,386 acres are surveyed but unpatented, and the same were assessed for the year 1888 at fifty cents per acre by the assessor of said county."

"That the patented lands embraced in said complaint amounted to 24,123 acres, and the same were assessed at $1.25 per acre for the said year by the said assessor."

"That, of the lands described in said complaint, 195,200 acres are unsurveyed, 2,080 acres were sold and conveyed by defendant, and 960 acres were beyond the limits of the grants to said defendant, and were not its property, and the said lands were assessed for said year by said assessor at 50 cents per acre."

"That the tax levy for said year was $3.80 on each $100."

"That the costs of surveying, selecting, and conveying 122,824 acres of said surveyed unpatented lands above mentioned have not been paid."

"That said defendant has heretofore mortgaged said lands described in said complaint, and has at divers times leased various portions thereof."

"That said defendant has never had any other possession of any part of said lands than such as may be inferred from executing said mortgages and leases, and by virtue of the land grants to it of 1862 and 1864."

The district court held that the state was entitled to recover for the taxes levied upon the patented lands, also, for the taxes levied upon the unpatented but surveyed lands, on which the cost of surveying had not been paid, but that it was not entitled to recover for the taxes levied upon unsurveyed lands.

To that judgment the defendant excepted, stating as one of its reasons for such exception that the decision and judgment

Page 162 U. S. 514

showed that the same were based upon the taxability of 131,386 acres of surveyed but unpatented lands at an assessed valuation of fifty cents per acre; while the evidence, as contained in the agreed statement of facts, showed that said 131,386 acres of surveyed unpatented lands contained and were made up, in part, of 122,824 acres of land, upon which the costs due to the government of the United States for surveying, selecting, and patenting the same had never been paid.

Both parties appealed to the supreme court of the state from the judgment of the district court, upon the hearing of which appeals the judgment was affirmed. 27 Nev. 247. From that judgment of affirmance the railroad company sued out a writ of error from this Court, assigning for error that the supreme court awarded judgment to the plaintiff below for the taxes assessed upon 122,384 acres of surveyed unpatented lands, upon which the costs of surveying, selecting, and conveying had not at the time of such assignment, or since, been paid, and of which the plaintiff in error had never been in possession.

The state, being bound by the decision of its supreme court that the 195,200 acres of unsurveyed lands were not taxable, was not entitled, and did not attempt, to sue out a writ of error.

Another action (No. 171), in all respects similar to the first except in the amounts claimed, was subsequently begun to recover the taxes upon the same property for the year 1889, and was carried to a similar conclusion.

Page 162 U. S. 519

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