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MEMPHIS V. UNITED STATES, 97 U. S. 293 (1887)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Memphis v. United States, 97 U.S. 293 (1887)

Memphis v. United States

97 U.S. 293


1. Vested rights acquired by a creditor under and by virtue of a statute of a state granting new remedies or enlarging those which existed when the debt was contracted are beyond the reach of the legislature, and the repeal of the statute will not affect them.

2. Sec. 49 of the Code of Tennessee, declaratory of the law of that state respecting the effect of repealing statutes, is in accord with this doctrine.

3. On March 10, 1875, A. obtained a decree against Memphis for the payment to him of $202,133.47, for materials furnished and work done under contracts entered into with that city in 1807 for paving certain streets. Execution having been issued and returned unsatisfied, the court, on the 22d of that month, awarded an alternative writ of mandamus to compel the city to exercise the power conferred by an Act of the legislature passed March 18, 1873, and levy "a tax, in addition to all taxes allowed by law," sufficient to pay the decree. The city answered that said act had been repealed by one passed March 20, 1875, and that the tax which, by the Act of Feb. 13, 1854, it was authorized to levy for all purposes had been levied, and its powers were therefore exhausted. A. demurred to the answer; the demurrer was sustained, and the writ made peremptory March 30, 1875. The act passed March 20, 1875, was approved by the governor of the state on the twenty-third day of that month.


1. That the repealing act did not become a law until its approval by the governor.

2. That prior thereto, A., by his decree and the alternative mandamus, which was a proceeding commenced by virtue of the Act of March 18, 1873, had acquired a vested right, which was not defeated by the repealing act, to have a tax, payable in lawful money, levied sufficient to pay him, although it required the levy of a tax beyond the rate mentioned in the Act of 1854. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 97 U. S. 294

The facts involved in this case are the same as those in United states v. Memphis, supra, p. 97 U. S. 284.

The City of Memphis, by whom this writ was sued out, assigns the following errors:

The court below erred:

1. In holding that the City of Memphis had the power or was under the duty of levying the tax, as adjudged.

2. In holding that the legislature had no power to repeal the Act of March 18, 1873.

3. In adjudging that the tax to be levied should be payable only in lawful money of the United states, as the Act of March 18, 1873, required the City of Memphis to receive, in payment of the tax therein authorized,

"any sum or sums, with interest, paid by persons in satisfaction, or part satisfaction, of said special assessments, illegally levied and collected as aforesaid."

4. In holding that a new and further tax be laid, sufficient to pay the entire decree, for $292,133.47, the return to the alternative writ disclosing that under a former mandate of the court the city had made a special levy of $302,742.69, for the purpose of paying the decree; that of said levy $132,742.69 had been collected and paid over, and the remainder, $170,000, was being collected and paid over as rapidly as possible.

5. In awarding the writ of mandamus commanding the levy of a tax sufficient in amount, after making due allowances for all delinquencies, insolvencies, and defaults, to pay the decree.

6. In awarding the peremptory writ of mandamus.

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