Inhabitants of Worcester County v. Mayor and Aldermen of Worcester

Decision Date28 October 1874
Citation116 Mass. 193
PartiesInhabitants of Worcester County v. Mayor and Aldermen of Worcester
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Writ of certiorari to issue.

T. L Nelson, for the petitioners.

W. A Williams, for the respondents.

Devens J. Colt & Morton, JJ., absent.


Devens J.

This is a petition for a writ of certiorari to quash the proceedings of the respondents in laying an assessment, under the St. of 1867, c. 106, upon the property of the inhabitants of the county of Worcester, consisting of the court-house estate used for holding the courts in said county, and the offices of the clerks thereof, the sheriff and other county officers, and of the jail estate, used for a jail and house of correction. These estates are situated upon the line of streets in which the city council of Worcester has caused to be constructed sewers, by virtue of the statute; and if they come within the class which can properly be subjected to assessments of this character, the assessment thereon is valid. The immunity of these estates from taxation depends, however, in our opinion, upon other grounds than that of a statute exemption, and extends to taxation not only for general public purposes, but for local improvements of a public nature. Without regard to the statute exemption, property appropriated to public uses, as by the railroads, has been repeatedly held not to be subject to taxation in this Commonwealth. Worcester v. Western Railroad, 4 Met. 564, 567. Boston & Maine Railroad v. Cambridge, 8 Cush. 237. Wayland v. County Commissioners, 4 Gray 500. Charlestown v. County Commissioners, 1 Allen 199.

Although taxation in the cases referred to was for general public purposes, and we find no case where the exemption has been extended to assessments like the present, yet the property treated in them as appropriated to public use was not so essentially public in its character, nor so strictly appropriated to public use, as the real estate of these petitioners. The works constructed by a railroad corporation, for instance, and held under its charter, are to a certain extent public works, intended for public use, and under the control of the public, but their management, subject to such control, is in the hands of a private corporation, the property is that of such corporation, and the private rights therein are of great importance. The property held by the petitioners is strictly public, paid for from the public funds, managed by the public authorities, devoted to public purposes, and no private person has any rights or authority therein.

The property of the Commonwealth is exempt from taxation because as the sovereign power, it receives the taxation through its officers or through the municipalities it creates, that it may from the means thus furnished, discharge the...

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