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U.S. Supreme Court

Florida Central & Peninsular R. Co. v. Reynolds, 183 U.S. 471 (1902)

Florida Central and Peninsular Railroad Company v. Reynolds

No. 183

Argued November 5-6, 1901

Decided January 6, 1902

183 U.S. 471


There is nothing in the federal Constitution which forbids a state to reach backward and collect taxes from certain kinds of property which were not at the time collected through lack of statutory provision therefor, or in consequence of a misunderstanding as to the law, or from neglect of administrative officials, without also making provision for collecting the taxes, for the same years, on other property.

The Constitution of Florida of 1868, art. 16, sec. 24, as amended by art. 11 of the amendments of 1875, is as follows:

"The property of all corporations, whether heretofore or hereafter incorporated, shall be subject to taxation, unless such property be held and used exclusively for religious, educational, or charitable purposes."

Sec. 26, c. 3413, of the Laws of Florida, 1883, reads:

"If any assessor, when making his assessments, shall discover that any land in his county was omitted in the assessment roll of either or all of the three previous years, and was then liable to taxation, he shall, in addition to the assessment of such land for that year, assess the same separately for such year or years that may have been so omitted at the just value thereof in such year, noting distinctly the year when such omission occurred, and such assessment shall have the same force and effect as it would have had if made in the year the same was omitted, and taxes shall be levied and collected thereon in like manner and together with the taxes of the year in which the assessment is made; but no lands shall be assessed for more than three years' arrears of taxes, and all lands shall be subject to such taxes omitted to be assessed, into whosesoever hands they may come."

In 1885, this statute was passed: chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 183 U. S. 472

"SEC. 1. That in all cases in which any railroad or the properties thereto belonging or appertaining in this state, in the tax years commencing March 1, 1879, 1880, and 1881, or any of such years, were not assessed for taxes for such years, it shall be the duty of the comptroller to cause the same, or so much thereof, as were not assessed, to be assessed for state and county taxes, and twenty percentum of the taxes so assessed for said years and now unpaid shall be collected at the same time the taxes for the year 1885 shall be assessed and collected, and each year thereafter an additional twenty percentum of said taxes shall be collected at the same time and in the same manner as the taxes for such year are collected, until the whole amount of said unpaid taxes for the years 1879, 1880, and 1881 are paid."

"The taxes to be assessed under this act shall be the same in amount as they would have been had they been assessed in such years or any of them as to which there was a failure to assess."

Laws of Florida 1885, c. 3558.

This statute was followed in 1891 by one in these words:

"SEC. 1. That the state and county taxes assessed by the comptroller of the State of Florida upon any railroads and the properties thereof in said state for the years 1879, 1880, and 1881, under and in pursuance of 'An Act to Provide for the Assessment and Collection of Taxes on Railroads and the Properties Thereof for the Years 1879, 1880, and 1881, as to Which There Was no Assessment,' but which have not been collected, shall be collected, and the payment thereof enforced at the same times and in the same manner as is now or may hereafter be provided by law for the collection and the enforcement of the payment of taxes assessed upon the railroads and the properties thereof in the State of Florida."

Laws of Florida, 1891, c. 4073.

The assessment of railroad property in Florida was not made by the county assessors, but by the comptroller of the state. Acts Florida, 1879, c. 3099, secs. 45-46.

The plaintiff is a corporation organized under the laws of Florida on November 17, 1888, and was the owner of several lines of railway which, on May 1, 1889, it acquired from the chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 183 U. S. 473

Florida Railway & Navigation Company under foreclosure proceedings. The Florida Railway & Navigation Company was organized on February 29, 1884, by the consolidation of several companies, and on July 1 of that year, it placed upon its properties a trust deed to secure the payment of $10,000,000 bonds.

This bill was filed November 2, 1892, in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit of Florida, in and for the County of Leon. Its purpose was to restrain the collection of certain taxes and to recover other taxes paid under protest. After three appeals to the supreme court of the state (35 Fla. 625, 39 Fla. 243, 28 So. 861), the final outcome of the litigation was a decree dismissing the plaintiff's bill in toto.

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