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WOODS V. FREEMAN, 68 U. S. 398 (1863)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Woods v. Freeman, 68 U.S. 1 Wall. 398 398 (1863)

Woods v. Freeman

68 U.S. (1 Wall.) 398




A judgment in Illinois for taxes is fatally defective if it does not in terms or by some mark indicating money, such as $ or cts., show the amount, in money, of the tax for which it was rendered. Numerals merely, that is to say, numerals without some mark indicating that they stand for money, are insufficient.

Freeman sued Woods in ejectment in the Circuit Court for the Northern District of Illinois to recover possession of the southwest quarter of section three (3) of township eight (8) north of range three (3) west of the fourth principal meridian, situated in Warren County in that state. At the trial, Freeman showed title in himself by a regular chain of conveyances from the United States. Woods, to defeat this title, insisted that the tract of land had been regularly sold for the nonpayment of taxes for the year 1852, and the validity of the sale was the main question in the case.

By the statute law of Illinois, the collector of taxes reports to the proper court a list of lands on which the taxes remain due and unpaid, and if no good reason is interposed a judgment is entered on his assessment and return, in the name of the State of Illinois, against the several tracts of land for the sum annexed to each, being the amount of taxes, interest, and costs due thereon, and a precept to sell is ordered.

The following illustration of the collector's assessment and return will show the nature of the document on which judgment is in these cases given, though, in the present case, chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 68 U. S. 399

the reader will observe that neither in the column meant to denote the "total" of the tax nor in others where money is meant to be indicated is the word "dollars" or "cents" given, nor any character, such as $ or cts., or abbreviation representing them. And that while a conjecture or inference may be made that the figures indicate dollars or cents, the conclusion rests finally on conjecture or inference only.


The tract of land in controversy had been sold for taxes, and a deed made to one Harding, through whom Woods claimed. To sustain the deed, Woods offered in evidence the record of the judgment of the County Court of Warren County against the tract of land for the unpaid taxes of 1852, the same being in form as above. On the objection of Freeman, the court excluded the evidence, and Woods excepted. Verdict and judgment having been given for Freeman, the correctness of the refusal to admit the evidence was the chief point on error here.

MR. JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the opinion of the Court, and after stating facts, proceeded thus:

There was no "mark, word, or character" on the record of the judgment to indicate the amount of taxes for which it was rendered against the land, which was undoubtedly the reason why the court rejected the evidence.

In the construction of local statutes affecting the titles to real estate, this Court recognizes the binding force of the interpretation given by the highest judicial tribunal of a state. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 68 U. S. 400

This question has been expressly decided by the Supreme Court of Illinois. That court has held * "that a judgment for taxes is fatally defective which fails to show the amount of tax for which it was rendered, and that the use of numerals, without some mark indicating for what they stand, is insufficient." The judgment was therefore void, and the court was right in excluding the evidence from the jury.

Judgment is affirmed with costs.

* Lawrence v. Fast, 20 Ill. 340; Lane v. Bommelmann, 21 id. 147.

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