State v. Board of Education of City of Duluth

Decision Date30 June 1916
Docket Number19,795 - (193)
Citation158 N.W. 635,133 Minn. 386
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

In proceedings in the district court for St. Louis county to enforce payment of taxes on real estate remaining delinquent on the first Monday in January, 1915, the Board of Education of the city of Duluth interposed its separate answer with respect to a certain parcel of land occupied by the Lester Park school. The facts were stipulated. The matter was heard before Cant, J., who found that the land was exempt from taxation and from city assessments and ordered judgment in favor of the board of education canceling certain assessments against the property. From the judgment entered pursuant to the order for judgment, the state (county and city) appealed. Affirmed.


School property -- local assessment.

1. Public school property may, by legislative authority, be subjected to assessment for local city improvements.

Taxation -- statutes inapplicable to public property, when.

2. As a general rule tax and assessment laws are understood to apply to private, and not to public, property, and though such laws are general in their terms, they do not apply to public property, unless the intent to so apply them affirmatively appears.

City of Duluth -- public school property exempt from local assessment.

3. Under the Duluth charter the only remedy provided for the enforcement of payment of the assessment is one not applicable to public property. No other remedy can be implied. This fact is strongly indicative of an intent that such property shall not be subject to the assessment, and it is held that under the charter public school property is not subject to assessment.

Charles E. Adams, County Attorney, John E. Samuelson and Leonard McHugh, City Attorneys, for appellant.

Baldwin Baldwin & Holmes, for respondent.



The board of education of the city of Duluth is a separate municipal corporation, and as such constitutes an independent school district of the state. It has the ownership and direction of all of the public schools of the city.

The home rule charter of the city of Duluth provides that the city shall have power to make local improvements and "to provide for the payment * * * of the cost of any such improvement by special assessments upon the property specially benefited thereby." Chapter IX, § 60 Charter of 1912. Pursuant to this provision the city constructed a cement sidewalk on Tioga street in said city in front of lots owned by the board of education, and upon which is situated a school building used for the general purposes of a public school. Thereupon the city proceeded to levy an assessment against the school property to pay the cost of the improvement.

The charter provides that upon nonpayment of an assessment for local improvement the city council shall certify to the county auditor a list of the lands upon which assessments have not been paid, and the amount thereof, and the same "shall be enforced and collected in the manner provided for the enforcement and collection of state and county taxes" (section 70), that is, by application to the district court for judgment that the amount of the tax be "declared a lien upon such parcel of land," and that unless paid said parcel "be sold, as provided by law, to satisfy the amount to which it is liable." G.S. 1913, § 2105.

This assessment was not paid and the amount with penalties was certified to the county auditor and by him included in the published delinquent list, and judgment was asked against the lots for the amount thereof.

1. It is conceded by counsel for the city that the assessment could not be made a lien upon this school property, and that the property could not be sold under judgment of the court. This is an admission that the court could not grant the only relief that is asked, and the case might be disposed of on this ground. We prefer, however, to place this decision on the broader ground, that, under its charter, the city of Duluth has no power to levy an assessment for local improvements upon land of the board of education actually used by it for purposes of a public school.

The Constitution of the state provides that "public school houses * * * and public property used exclusively for any public purpose, shall be exempt from taxation." Const. art. 9, § 1. The statutes of the state contain a like provision. G.S. 1913, § 1970. No claim is made that these provisions exempt this class of property from assessments for local improvements. Nor could such claim be made. Washburn M. O. Asylum v. State, 73 Minn. 343, 76 N.W. 204; State v. Trustees of Macalester College, 87 Minn. 165, 91 N.W. 484. It is conceded that power could be given by charter to render such property subject to local improvement assessments.

2. The sole question in the case is this: Does the general provision of the charter authorizing special assessments for local improvements upon the property benefited thereby in fact authorize such assessment against property used as a public school?

Counsel for the city contends that since taxation is the rule and exemption the exception, the exclusion, not the inclusion, of property must affirmatively appear, and that the general language of the charter permits no exception to be made even in favor of property devoted to public use, and that, since local improvements benefit school property as well as other property, no reason exists for construing the statute so as to exempt school property from assessments to pay for the benefit thus received.

Counsel for the board of education contends that as a general rule tax laws are understood to apply to private, and not to public, property, and that, though such laws are general in their terms, they should be considered as not applying to public property, unless the intent to so apply them affirmatively appears.

There is force to the arguments on each side, as is evidenced by the fact that there are well considered decisions sustaining each contention. The contention of counsel for the city is sustained by the following authorities: City of Chicago v. Chicago, 207 Ill. 37, 69 N.E. 580; City of Sioux City v. Independent School Dist. of Sioux City, 55 Iowa 150 7 N.W. 488; Edwards & Walsh Const. Co. v. Jasper County, 117 Iowa 365, 90 N.W. 1006, 94 Am. St. 301; Board of Commrs. of Franklin County v. City of Ottawa, 49 Kan. 747, 31 P. 788, 33 Am. St. 396; In re Police Jury of Parish of Washington, 126 La. 2, 52 So. 172; City of Kalispell v. School Dist. No. 5, 45 Mont. 221, 122 P. 742, Ann. Cas. 1913D, 1101; Hassan v City of Rochester, 67 N.Y. 528; Whittaker v. Deadwood, 23 S.D. 538, 542, 543, 122 N.W. 590, 139 Am. St. 1076; In re Howard Ave. North, 44 Wash. 62, 86 P. 1117, 120 Am. St. 973, 12 Ann. Cas. 417. The contention of counsel for the board of education is sustained by more numerous authorities as follows: City of Huntsville v. Madison County, 166 Ala. 389, 52 So. 326, 139 Am. St. 45; Board of Improvement v. School Dist. 56 Ark. 354, 19 S.W. 969, 16 L.R.A. 418, 35 Am. St. 108; Witter v. Mission School Dist. 121 Cal. 350, 53 P. 905, 66 Am. St. 33; State v. City of Hartford, 50 Conn. 89, 47 Am. Rep. 622; Edwards v. City of...

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