93 U.S. 595 (1876), West Wisconsin R. Co. v. Board Of Sup'rs Trempealeau County

Citation:93 U.S. 595, 23 L.Ed. 814
Case Date:October 30, 1876
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 595

93 U.S. 595 (1876)

23 L.Ed. 814




United States Supreme Court.

October 30, 1876


ERROR to the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin.


Argued by Mr. P. L. Spooner and Mr. Matt. H. Carpenter for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. S. U. Pinney for the defendants in error.

MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the court.

The facts of this case are substantially the same with those of Tucker v.Ferguson, 22 Wall. 527, and the question presented for our determination does not vary materially from the one there decided.

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The United States granted certain lands to the State of Wisconsin to aid in the construction of railroads in that State. The State transferred a portion of the lands to the plaintiff in error for the purpose and upon the terms and conditions specified by Congress.

Patents for designated quantities of the land were to issue to the company as successive sections of the road of twenty miles each were completed. In the mean time, the title of the company was inchoate. On the 2d of April, 1864, the legislature of Wisconsin passed an act, whereby, in the first section, it was declared that all the lands in question the title whereto should become vested in the company should be exempt from taxation for ten years from the passage of the act. The second section declared that such lands should become subject to taxation as soon as they were sold, leased, or conveyed by the company. The last clause of this section is as follows: 'Provided that said lands may be mortgaged for the purpose of raising funds to build said railroad without being subject to taxation for the time aforesaid.'

In August, 1868, the company executed a mortgage of its roadway and rolling-stock, and of all the lands it might thereafter acquire, as security for its bonds, to the amount of $4,000,000, maturing at different times. By another act, of the 16th of March, 1870, the exemption from taxation was further extended for ten years. But it was declared: 'And it is further provided, and this act is upon the express condition that if said railroad company shall not have built their said road within two years from the passage of this act, then, and in that case, this act shall be null and void: provided, that this act shall not apply to Pierce County.'

The bonds secured by the deed of trust were issued in successive series, in the years 1868, 1870, 1871, and 1872. The company realized from the four millions of bonds about $3,200,000, and applied the amount received to the construction of their road. A part of the road was completed in 1868, forty-five miles in 1870, and the entire line during the month of November, 1871. By an act of the legislature of March 15, 1871, it was enacted that the lands in Trempealeau County belonging to any railroad company 'not used for road-bed or dépºt purposes shall

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be liable to taxation the same as other real estate.' By an act of March 24, 1871, the exemption act of March 16, 1870, was amended so that it should not apply to Trempealeau County. The tax in question was levied in 1871, and the sale for its non-payment complained of was made in 1872. The exemption created by the act of 1864 was to terminate in 1874. That specified in the act of 1870 was then to commence.

The plaintiff in error insists that these acts--the lands...

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