Jones v. Williams, No. 6051.

CourtSupreme Court of Texas
Writing for the CourtCureton
Citation45 S.W.2d 130
Docket NumberNo. 6051.
Decision Date23 December 1931
PartiesJONES v. WILLIAMS, Tax Collector.

Page 130

45 S.W.2d 130
JONES
v.
WILLIAMS, Tax Collector.
No. 6051.
Supreme Court of Texas.
December 23, 1931.

Certified Questions from Court of Civil Appeals of Third Supreme Judicial District.

Action by Moses Jones against J. R. Williams, Tax Collector of Travis County, in which judgment was rendered for defendant, and plaintiff appealed to Court of Civil Appeals for Third District, which certified question to Supreme Court.

Question answered.

Elbert M. Barron, of Sherman, Thomas B. Love, of Dallas, Ocie Speer, Dan Moody, and A. E. Wood, all of Austin, Vernon Lemens, of Glen Rose, Ben G. O'Neal, of Wichita Falls, Charles S. Gainer, of Bryan, and Connie C.

Page 131

Renfro and Roy C. Ledbetter, both of Dallas, for appellant.

Chas. S. McCombs, of Dallas, in pro. per.

James V. Allred, Atty. Gen., and Bruce W. Bryant, R. W. Yarborough, and Scott Gaines, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.

R. C. Walker, of Austin, amicus curiæ.

CURETON, C. J.


This case is pending in the Supreme Court on certified question from the Court of Civil Appeals for the Third district. The only question involved is the constitutionality of chapter 18, Acts of the Second Called Session of the Forty-Second Legislature.

For many years the Attorney General's department has ruled that there was no constitutional basis for the enactment of measures of this character, except section 10 of article 8, authorizing the release of taxes in cases of great public calamity, and the present Attorney General, in keeping with the established policy of the department, has followed that rule. However, when a controversy finally reaches the courts for determination, the opinions of the Attorney Generals, rendered in due course, while entitled to careful consideration by the courts, and quite generally regarded as highly persuasive, are not binding on the judiciary, and it is our duty now to enter upon an independent inquiry as to the validity of the act before us.

In the preamble to the act here involved, the Legislature, after referring to the condition brought about by the present "worldwide economic crisis," declares that "such condition constitutes a calamity as the same is defined in the Constitution," that it was "the legislative intent that such condition does constitute a public calamity." Section 1 of the act (Vernon's Ann. Civ. St. art. 7336 note) reads:

"Section 1. That all interest and penalties accrued and as now fixed by law, on all State, County, Special School, School District, Road District, Levee Improvement District, and Irrigation District taxes and taxes of other defined subdivisions of the State, other than incorporated cities and towns, delinquent up to and including October 20, 1931, shall be, and the same are hereby released, provided said taxes are paid on or before January 31, 1932."

We will first discuss the question as to whether or not this law may be sustained under section 10, article 8, of the Constitution, which reads:

"The legislature shall have no power to release the inhabitants of, or property in, any county, city or town, from the payment of taxes levied for state or county purposes, unless in case of great public calamity in any such county, city or town, when such release may be made by a vote of two-thirds of each house of the legislature."

This section was incorporated in the Constitution of 1876, and remains in the organic law unamended. It is the section which the Legislature was of the opinion warranted the enactment of the measure before us, and authorizes the release of taxes "levied for state or county purposes", "in case of great public calamity in any such county, city or town."

Exemptions from taxation are regarded not only as in derogation of sovereign authority, but of common right as well. They must be strictly construed, and not extended beyond the express requirements of the language used, not only as to the meaning of statutes granting exemptions, but as to the power of the Legislature to enact them. Cooley on Taxation (4th Ed.) vol. 2, § 672; Yazoo & M. V. R. Co. v. Thomas, 132 U. S. 174, 10 S. Ct. 68, 33 L. Ed. 302; Berryman v. Board of Trustees, 222 U. S. 334, 350, 32 S. Ct. 147, 56 L. Ed. 225; City of Dallas v. Cochran (Tex. Civ. App.) 166 S. W. 32.

As stated, the Legislature was of the opinion that the present industrial depression was a "great public calamity" within the meaning of section 10, article 8, of the Constitution. With that interpretation of the Constitution we cannot agree. The word "calamity" indicates or supposes a somewhat continuous state, produced not usually by the direct agency of man, "but by natural causes, such as fire, flood, tempest, disease," etc. Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, by G. and C. Merriman Co., edited by Dr. Noah Porter, of Yale University.

Crabb's English Synonymes in part says:

"The devastation of a country by hurricanes or earthquakes, and the desolation of its inhabitants by famine or plague, are great calamities. * * * A calamity seldom arises from the direct agency of man; the elements or the natural course of things are mostly concerned in producing this source of misery to men."

It is to be noted that the constitutional provision does not authorize the release of taxes over the state at large, even for public calamities. The power of relinquishment is to be exercised only with reference to certain subdivisions of the state by reason of public calamities which may afflict the inhabitants of such subdivisions. We are therefore constrained to believe that the calamities contemplated by the Constitution are those brought about by natural causes which involve the destruction of property, or property and life, such as "fire, flood, tempest, disease," etc., usually local and not state wide in their destructive effects. We do not mean to say, however, that an area larger or smaller than counties, cities, and towns might not come within the purview of the constitutional

Page 132

provision. What we do say is that, from an interpretation of the language used in section 10 of article 8, in the light of the definitions of "calamity" quoted, and the rule of construction stated above, it is clear that the type of public calamity within the meaning of the language employed is one due to natural causes, and which ordinarily confines its destructive effect to subdivisions of the state; and that the section has no reference to world-wide, nation-wide, and state-wide cycles of industrial and business depression. The latter are due to the well-recognized rythmic movements in modern business, and are in no sense related to natural causes which bring about the destruction of property, or property and life, in local communities. Seligman's Principles of Economics (3d Ed.) p. 583; Hadley's Economics (1st Ed.) §§ 328 to 334, 240, 277, 278, 281, 289, 376, 377. The history of the constitutional provision supports this interpretation.

Under all Constitutions previous to 1876, the Legislature had plenary power to exempt property and persons from taxation, and very generally exercised it. State Constitution of 1845, art. 7, § 27; of 1861, art. 7, § 27; of 1866, art. 7, § 27; of 1869, art. 12, § 19; Gammel's Laws: Volume 1, pp. 44, 291, 331, 1428; volume 2, pp. 11, 491, 560, 929, 942; volume 3, pp. 503, 971, 1474; volume 4, pp. 461, 1127; volume 5, pp. 159, 905, 943; volume 6, pp. 39, 42, 578, 524, 639, 611, 659, 921, 1586; volume 7, pp. 32, 42, 328, 511, 1351; volume 8, pp. 173, 628.

From 1852 to 1858 all state taxes, except the school tax, were relinquished to the counties. Miller's Financial History of Texas, p. 87; Comptroller's Report (1876) pp. 17 to 21.

According to Raines' Index to Gammel's Laws, from 1836 to 1876 eleven hundred and ninety laws were enacted granting relief, many of which related to taxes.

The provisions of sections 51 and 55, of article 3, and section 10 of article 8, as well as others, were no doubt placed in the Constitution of 1876 in an effort to prevent the abuses and financial deficiencies which had characterized the administration of the government from the days of the Republic.

Recurring now directly to the history of section 10, article 8, the journal of the convention shows that the subject of tax exemption, or tax relief, was before that body in various forms, ranging from the form of the section in previous Constitutions, to that proposed by Judge Stayton that "the Legislature shall have no power to release the inhabitants or property of any county, city, or town from the payment of taxes levied for State purposes." Out of this conflict of opinion came the exemption sections of the Constitution, including the one before us. Journal of the Constitutional Convention of 1875, pp. 423, 451, 485, 531, 536.

An ordinance introduced in the convention recited that "the late disastrous storm on the coast of the State of Texas ruined and placed in a condition of want and distress the people residing in the counties" of Chambers, Brazoria, Matagorda, and Calhoun, and proposed a remission of taxes therein for the year 1875. Journal of the Constitutional Convention, p. 240. This resolution became the subject of extensive debate, in the course of which reference was made to storms and tornadoes, to the exemption granted Orange county because of a tornado in 1865, and to the terrible conditions existing at Indianola, Velasco, and other towns, and the utter destruction of property there existing. McKay's Debates of the Texas Constitutional Convention, pp. 250, 253, 254, 255. The resolution, however, was lost, and the section before us was placed in the Constitution instead.

The historian Wharton, one of the ablest writers on the history of Texas now living, and one of the profound lawyers of the state, attributes the incorporation of the section into the organic law to the storm which destroyed the city of Indianola. Wharton's History of Texas, vol. 2, pp. 394, 395.

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74 practice notes
  • Henderson By and Through Hartsfield v. Alabama Power Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 25, 1993
    ...or private law does not prohibit the legislature from enacting a general act, to remit a fine. Cf. Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 45 S.W.2d 130 (1931). Furthermore, if "punitive damages" are, in fact, a "fine," as they obviously are, then Amendment 38 to the Constitution, although generall......
  • T. L. v. Cook Children's Med. Ctr., No. 02-20-00002-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 24, 2020
    ...duty to determine the constitutional validity of the challenged statute. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 402.010(b)-(c); Jones v. Williams, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (Tex. 1931). 17. These amici included the Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Texans for Life Coalition, Coali......
  • Shore v. Howard, Civ. A. No. CA 4-75-84.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • May 20, 1976
    ...County Comm'rs Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 87 n. 10, 95 S.Ct. 870, 877, 43 L.Ed.2d 32, 41 (1975); Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 98, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (1931); City of Houston v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 504 S.W.2d 554, 557 (Tex.Civ. App. — Dallas 1973, writ ref'd n. r. The qu......
  • 43 32 v. Moore 8212 1475, No. 73
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 18, 1975
    ...are 'entitled to careful consideration by courts, and quite generally regarded as highly persuasive,' Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 98, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (1931). The 1974 opinion, however, may be given close scrutiny by the state courts, as it appears to be in direct conflict with severa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
74 cases
  • Henderson By and Through Hartsfield v. Alabama Power Co.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Alabama
    • June 25, 1993
    ...or private law does not prohibit the legislature from enacting a general act, to remit a fine. Cf. Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 45 S.W.2d 130 (1931). Furthermore, if "punitive damages" are, in fact, a "fine," as they obviously are, then Amendment 38 to the Constitution, although generall......
  • T. L. v. Cook Children's Med. Ctr., No. 02-20-00002-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Texas
    • July 24, 2020
    ...duty to determine the constitutional validity of the challenged statute. See Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 402.010(b)-(c); Jones v. Williams, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (Tex. 1931). 17. These amici included the Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, Texans for Life Coalition, Coali......
  • Shore v. Howard, Civ. A. No. CA 4-75-84.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • May 20, 1976
    ...County Comm'rs Court v. Moore, 420 U.S. 77, 87 n. 10, 95 S.Ct. 870, 877, 43 L.Ed.2d 32, 41 (1975); Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 98, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (1931); City of Houston v. Southern Pacific Transportation Co., 504 S.W.2d 554, 557 (Tex.Civ. App. — Dallas 1973, writ ref'd n. r. The qu......
  • 43 32 v. Moore 8212 1475, No. 73
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 18, 1975
    ...are 'entitled to careful consideration by courts, and quite generally regarded as highly persuasive,' Jones v. Williams, 121 Tex. 94, 98, 45 S.W.2d 130, 131 (1931). The 1974 opinion, however, may be given close scrutiny by the state courts, as it appears to be in direct conflict with severa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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