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Statement of the Case.
has been sold. Upon a part of one tract a town site had been platted before this land was purchased by the corporation, and a part of the lots are now owned by it.
“This corporation became the owner of a part of the line of the Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company, and as to its line of road succeeded to the rights, franchises and immunities of that company, including its exemption from ordinary taxation. As to this no question is raised; nor that the charter of the Minnesota and Pacific Company is to be referred to as defining the exemption to which the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Company is entitled. By section 1 of this charter (Laws 1857, Ex. Sess. c. 1) corporate powers were granted, including the right to acquire, by purchase or otherwise, and to hold, convey, sell and lease, property and estates, either real or personal or mixed. Section 2 empowered the corporation to locate, construct and operate a railroad. Section 3 authorized the appropriation, by virtue of the right of eminent domain, of a belt of land, not exceeding 200 feet in width, throughout the entire length of the road, and to take property even beyond that limit for certain necessary purposes. Section 16 regranted to the corporation the lands granted to the Territory by act of Congress. Section 18 provided for the annual payment to the State of three per cent of the gross earnings of the railroad, ‘in lieu of all taxes and assessments whatever,' and that, in consideration of such annual payments, the said company shall be forever exempt from all assessments and taxes whatever .. upon all stock in the said Minnesota and Pacific Railroad Company, whether belonging to said company or to individuals, and upon all its franchises or estate, real, personal or mixed, held by said company; and said land granted by said act of Congress
shall be exempt from all taxation till sold and conveyed by said company.' Section 20 declared that the company should be capable, in law, of taking and holding any lands granted by the government of the United States, or of this Territory, or of the future State, or by other parties, which shall be conveyed to it by this act, or by deed, gift or purchase, or by operation of law, and may mortgage, pledge, sell and convey the same.
Opinion of the Court.
Mr. M. D. Grover for plaintiff in error.
Mr. Moses E. Clapp, Attorney General of the State of Minhesota, for defendant in error, submitted on his brief.
Mr. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.
The lands in question were assessed in pursuance of sections 1 and 6, of chapter 11, of the General Statutes of the State of Minnesota, entitled “Taxes,” which are as follows:
"§ 1. All real and personal property in this State, and all personal property of persons residing therein, the property of corporations now existing, or hereafter created, and the property of all banks or banking companies now existing or hereafter created, and of all bankers, except such as is hereinafter expressly excepted, is subject to taxation, and such property, or the value thereof, shall be entered in the list of taxable property for that purpose, in the manner prescribed by this act: provided, that railroad, insurance and telegraph companies shall be taxed in such manner as now is or may be hereafter fixed by law.”
"§ 6. All real property in this State, subject to taxation, shall be listed and assessed every even-numbered year, with reference to its value on the first day of May preceding the assessment; and all real estate becoming taxable any intervening year shall be listed and assessed with reference to its value on the first day of May of that year.” Stats. Minn. 1878, 4th ed. c. 11, SS 1 and 6; Stats. Minn. 1891, SS 1382, 1428 and references.
Sections 1 and 7, c. 12, of the Revised Statutes of the Territory of Minnesota for the year 1851 (p. 94) read :
“Sec. 1. All property, real and personal, within the Territory, not expressly exempted therefrom, shall be subject to taxation in the manner provided by law.”
“Sec. 7. The real estate of incorporated companies, liable to taxation, shall be assessed in the district in which the same shall lie, in the same manner as the real estate of individuals."
Opinion of the Court.
By section 2 of the schedule of the state constitution, adopted in 1857, it was provided : “All laws now in force in the Territory of Minnesota not repugnant to this constitution, shall remain in force until they expire by their own limitation, or be altered or repealed by the legislature.” Stats. Minn. 1878,
We are met on the threshold of the case by the objection that the writ of error cannot be maintained.
It is conceded that the Supreme Court of Minnesota did not put its decision on the ground that there was not a valid contract between the State and the company exempting its property from taxation, but ield that the exemption claimed did not attach to these lands, and it is argued that "if such lands are within the contract of exemption contained in the company's charter, then the obligation of that contract was impaired by the assessment, under chapter 11 of the general laws of the State, and the decision of the Supreme Court holding that the lands were subject to assessment under such laws.” Our jurisdiction cannot be maintained upon that view. As stated by Mr. Justice Gray, speaking for the court, in New Orleans Waterworks Company v. Louisiana Sugar Refining Company, 125 U. S. 18, 30: “In order to come within the provision of the Constitution of the United States which declares that no State shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts, not only must the obligation of a contract have been impaired, but it must have been impaired by a law of the State. The prohibition is aimed at the legislative power of the State, and not at the decisions of its courts, or the acts of administrative or executive boards or officers, or the doings of corporations or individuals.” And the language of Mr. Justice Miller, in exposition of the rule, is quoted from two opinions of the court delivered by him: “It must be the constitution, or some law of the State, which impairs the obligation of the contract, or which is otherwise in conflict with the Constitution of the United States; and the decision of the state court must sustain the law or constitution of the State in the matter in which the conflict is supposed to exist; or the case for this court does not arise.” Railroad Company v. Rock, 4
Opinion of the Court.
Wall. 177, 181. '“We are not authorized by the judiciary act to review the judgments of the state courts because their judgments refuse to give effect to valid contracts, or because those judgments, in their effect, impair the obligation of contract. If we did, every case decided in a state court could be brought here, when the party setting up a contract alleged that the court had taken a different view of its obligation to that which he held.” Knox v. Exchange Bank, 12 Wall. 379, 383.
The position of the State was not that the lands in question were rendered taxable by any law passed subsequent to the company's charter, but that under the terms of the contract itself the lands were taxable. No subsequent law is referred to upon which the opinion of the court proceeded; on the contrary, the law was the same, so far as any question arising here was concerned, as that above quoted from the territorial law of 1851. What the court held was that statutes imposing restrictions upon the taxing power of a State, except so far as they tend to secure uniformity and equality of assessment, are to be strictly construed, Bank v. Tennessee, 104 U. S. 493, and that tested by this rule the exemption in the company's charter was not applicable to large tracts of timber land purchased by the corporation from which to take timber to be converted into ties and lumber for the use of the corporation," and that consequently these lands were subject to taxation. It is impossible therefore for this writ of error to be sustained, and it is accordingly
MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY and MR. JUSTICE LAMAR were not present at the argument and took no part in the decision of this case.
Statement of the Case.
TYLER v. CASS COUNTY.
ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA.
No. 1320. Submitted November 23, 1891. – Decided January 4, 1892.
The Northern Pacific Railroad Company sold to a purchaser a tract included
in the original grant to it which had never been patented, and on which the costs of survey had never been paid. The tract was sold for nonpayment of taxes while Dakota was a territory, and the purchaser paid therefor. The Supreme Court of North Dakota held that the land was not taxable when the tax was levied and assessed, and that nothing passed by the sale. The purchaser brought this action in the state court of North Dakota to recover back the purchase-money paid at the tax sale. A judgment in plaintiff's favor was reversed by the Supreme Court of the State, no question being made as to the regularity of the tax sale and proceedings. Held, that the exemption of the land from taxation having been recognized by the state court, no Federal question was involved, and the writ of error must be dismissed.
Motion to dismiss. The court stated the case as follows:
Plaintiff présented a claim to the board of county commissioners of Cass County, Dakota Territory, to recover moneys paid by him as the purchase price of certain lands sold by the county treasurer for delinquent taxes at a tax sale in 1885. The claim was rejected and plaintiff appealed to the District Court of Cass County, where the cause was tried upon an agreed statement of facts without a jury, and resulted in a judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant preserved proper exceptions to the rulings and action of the court, and carried the case by appeal to the Supreme Court of the Territory.
After the admission of North Dakota as a State, the appeal was heard and decided by the State Supreme Court, which had succeeded to the jurisdiction of the Territorial Supreme Court. The opinion will be found reported, in advance of the official series, in 48 N. W. Rep. 232. The judgment below was reversed with instructions to dismiss the case, and thereupon a writ of error was taken out from this court.