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U.S. Supreme Court

Armstrong v. Treasurer of Athens County, , 41 U.S. 281 (1842)

Armstrong v. Treasurer of Athens County

41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 281


An act was passed by the legislature in 1840 by which certain lands held under conveyances from the President and Trustees of the Ohio University at Athens were directed to be assessed and taxed for county and state purposes. A bill was filed by the purchasers of the land against the tax collector praying that he should be perpetually enjoined from enforcing the payment of the taxes because the lands had been exempted by a statute of Ohio of 1804, which the bill alleged entered into the conditions of sale under which the complainants held the land. It was insisted that the act of 1840 violates the contract with the purchasers and is void, being contrary to the clause of the Constitution of the United States which prohibits the states from passing any law violating the obligation of contracts. The Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed the bill of the complainants. The ordinance of 1787, by which a large section of country in Ohio was sold to a company, gave two complete townships of land for the purposes of a university. In 1804, an act of the Legislature of Ohio established the university on the foundation of the fund granted by Congress, and vested the land in the corporation of the university. The act directed the manner in which the land was to be leased, reserving rent to the corporation, and the seventeenth section directed that the land appropriated and vested by the act, should be exempted from all state taxes. In 1826, the legislature authorized all the university land not encumbered with leases, or which had not been reentered by the trustees of the university, or to which they had regained their title, to be sold in fee simple for the benefit of the university. The complainants purchased the land held by them under this statute, and took deeds in fee, no exemption from taxes being contained in the statute or in their deeds. Held that, the lands having been purchased under the act of 1826 and not being held under the act of 1804, were subject to taxation. All the purchasers held under the act of 1826 and cannot go behind it, and their lands are subject, like other persons', to be taxed by the state.

The case of State of New Jersey v. Wilson, 7 Cranch 164, cited and affirmed. In that case, the land had for a sufficient consideration been given by the state to a certain Indian tribe, and was declared to be forever exempt from taxes. The Indians, with the consent of the state, sold the land, and the purchaser of the Indian title obtained the land with the exemption from taxes granted by the state.

In order to give this Court jurisdiction under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act of 1784, which authorizes the removal of a case by writ of error or appeal from the highest court of a state to the Supreme Court of the United States in certain cases, it must appear on the record itself to be one of cases enumerated in that section, and nothing out of the record certified to this Court can be taken into consideration. This must be shown

First, either by express averment or by necessary intendment in the pleadings in the case or

Secondly, by the directions given by the court, and stated in the exceptions or

Thirdly, when the proceedings are according to the law of Louisiana, by the statement of facts and of the decision as is usually made in such cases by the court, or chanrobles.com-red

Page 41 U. S. 282

Fourthly, it must be entered on the record of the proceedings of the appellate court, in cases where the record shows that such a point may have arisen and been decided, that it was in fact raised and decided, and this entry must appear to have been made by order of the court or by the presiding judge by order of the court and certified by the clerk as part of the record in the state court, or

Fifthly, in proceedings in equity, it may be stated in the body of the final decree of the state court from which the appeal is taken to this Court, or

Sixthly, it must appear from the record that the question was necessarily involved in the decision and that the state court could not have given the judgment or decree which they passed without deciding it.

A bill was filed in the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Athens, in the State of Ohio, by Thomas Armstrong and others stating that they were seized in fee of certain lands purchased by them from the president and trustees of the Ohio University in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of the Assembly of the State of Ohio entitled "an act authorizing the trustees of the Ohio University to dispose of certain lands," passed February 4, 1826. The lands were situated within the two townships granted by Congress, within the bounds of the Ohio Company's purchase, for the endowment of a university. By the 17th section of the Act of the Assembly of Ohio passed February, 1804, entitled, "an act establishing a University in the town of Athens," it is declared "that the lands in the two townships aforesaid, with the buildings which are or may be erected thereon, shall be forever exempt from all state taxes." The bill asserted that the lands were purchased from the president and trustees of the University in the full faith and confidence that the same would remain forever and exempt from all taxes for state purposes.

The bill further represented that notwithstanding the declaration contained in the Act of February 18, 1804, in pursuance of the provisions of an Act of the Assembly of Ohio passed on 21 March, 1840, entitled "an Act to amend an act authorizing the trustees of the Ohio University to dispose of certain lands, passed February 4, 1826," the several tracts of land belonging to the complainants had been appraised by the Assessor of Athens County and placed on the duplicate for taxation by the auditor of the county, and taxes for state and county purposes had been assessed on the said lands. The tax duplicates had been placed chanrobles.com-red

Page 41 U. S. 283

in the hands of a collector, and they had been called upon to pay the same. The bill prayed for an answer and for a perpetual injunction from further proceedings to collect the said taxes, and for further and other relief.

By the Ordinance of Congress of 1787, under which a large body of land was sold to a company, two townships of land were reserved for the purposes of a university, and in 1804, the Legislature of Ohio established a university at Athens, appropriating to it these two townships of land. By this act, the land was to be leased out for ninety-nine years, the rents to be paid to the University, and the land was declared to be exempted from all state taxes. In 1826, the Legislature of Ohio authorized all the land belonging to the University to be sold in fee simple, and nothing was stated in this act exempting the land to be sold from taxes. The appellants purchased the land from the University sold under the authority of this law.

The Treasurer of Athens County appeared and answered the bill, and admitted all the facts stated in it, and also that he intended to collect the taxes assessed on the land, asserting that he had a right to do so by virtue of an Act of the General Assembly of Ohio passed 21 March, 1840, in connection with other general laws of Ohio defining the duties of treasurer, which said act and other further acts he set up as a defense to the complainant's bill.

At the October term of the court of common pleas, the injunction which had been granted on the filing of this bill was made perpetual. The defendant appealed to the supreme court, and the decree of the court of common pleas was, at the December term 1840, reversed, and the complainants were adjudged to pay costs.

In the record of the proceedings of the Supreme Court of Ohio was the following certificate:

"I do hereby certify that in the above-named case there was drawn in question the validity of the statute of the State of Ohio, passed on 21 March 1840, entitled 'An act to amend the act authorizing the trustees of the Ohio University to dispose of certain lands,' passed July 4, 1826, on the ground that it was repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and

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that the decision of the court was in favor of the validity of said statute."


"Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Ohio"

From the decree of the supreme court of Ohio, the complainants appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.


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