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FORD v. DELTA AND PINE LAND COMPANY.

decided: January 4, 1897.

FORD
v.
DELTA AND PINE LAND COMPANY.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI.

Author: Brewer

[ 164 U.S. Page 664]

 MR. JUSTICE BREWER delivered the opinion of the court.

We premise by saying that this case involves over 200 different tracts of land in nine separate counties, and amounting to 112,160 acres; that the titles to these various tracts as claimed

[ 164 U.S. Page 665]

     by complainants are not all deraigned by the same conveyances or subject to the same conditions; that in consequence the many questions discussed so elaborately by counsel in their brief and in oral arguments do not affect alike all the tracts. We shall not attempt to consider all the questions presented, but have endeavored to select those which are necessary for a final determination of the case. We believe that the title to every tract falls within the scope of those we shall discuss, and that the propositions laid down are decisive of the rights of the parties hereto.

It is insisted that the lands, while held by the railroad company were, by virtue of certain clauses in its charter, exempt from the levee assessments, and we understood counsel, in their argument at the bar, to state that this question stands in the forefront of the case, and that upon its decision in favor of the complainants their rights depend. The lands were, in the years 1871 and 1872, conveyed by their former owners to the railroad company in payment of stock subscriptions. The company, originally known as the Memphis, Holly Springs and Mobile Railroad Company, was chartered by an act of the legislature of the State, of date November 23, 1859. Laws Miss. 1859, c. 14, p. 51. Sections 19 and 21 of that act are as follows:

"SEC. 19. That the capital stock, and all the property and effects of said company shall be exempt from taxation until said road is completed: Provided, said road is commenced within two years and completed within ten years from and after the passage of this act.

"SEC. 21. That said road shall be commenced in three years and completed in twelve years after the passage of this act."

The civil war interfering with the construction of the road, on February 20, 1867, Laws Miss. 1867, c. 464, p. 635, an act was passed reviving the corporation. Section 2 reads: "That said company shall have sixteen years in which to construct the said road, and shall commence the same in three years from and after the passage of this act." Section 3 provides: "That it shall and may be lawful for the said corporators to

[ 164 U.S. Page 666]

     receive subscriptions in land to the capital stock of the company: Provided, The lands shall be within five miles of the line of said road." On July 21, 1870, Laws Miss. 1870, c. 220, p. 566, a further act was passed, the second section of which is: "That said Selma, Marion and Memphis Railroad Company are hereby authorized to receive, in the way of subscription to the capital stock of said company, lands lying anywhere within the limits of the State of Mississippi." Under the authority of this statute these lands, being all more than five miles from the line of the road, were conveyed to the company. Now, the contention is that section 19 of the original statute was operative to exempt these lands from any charge for levee assessments. It is contended that the general language, "the capital stock and all the property and effects of said company," includes all the property belonging to the railroad company, whether used for railroad purposes or not; that it includes not only all the property which it acquired under the authority of its original charter, but also all property which it acquired under the authority of the amendment of July 21, 1870; and, finally, that the exemption from taxation means not merely exemption from all taxes levied for ordinary purposes by State, county or city, but also all assessments for local improvements. These propositions are denied by the defendant, and certainly present the most important if not the vital questions in the case.

It is abundantly established by the decisions of this as of other courts that exemptions from taxation are to be strictly construed, and that no claim of exemption can be sustained unless within the express letter or the necessary scope of the exempting clause. Vicksburg &c. Railroad v. Dennis, 116 U.S. 665, 668; Chicago &c. Railroad v. Guffey, 120 U.S. 569; Yazoo &c. Railroad v. Thomas, 132 U.S. 174; Yazoo &c. Railroad v. Delta Commissioners, 132 U.S. 190; N.O. & Lake Railroad v. New Orleans, 143 U.S. 192; Schurz v. Cook, 148 U.S. 397, 409; Keokuk &c. Railroad v. Missouri, 152 U.S. 301, 306; Winona &c. Land Company v. Minnesota, 159 U.S. 526.

Indeed, there has been strong judicial dissent from the doctrine of the power of the state legislature to create a permanent

[ 164 U.S. Page 667]

     exemption from taxation. Washington University v. ...


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