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United States Supreme Court

48 U.S. 738

Smith  v.  Hunter

THIS case was brought up from the Supreme Court of Ohio, by a writ of error issued under the twenty-fifth section of the Judiciary Act.

The facts were these:--

By the fourth section of the act of Congress of the 3d of March, 1803, to enable the State of Ohio to form a State constitution, (2 Statutes at Large, 226,) a township of land, to be laid off in the Cincinnati land district, was granted to the State of Ohio for the purpose of establishing an academy.

On the 17th of February, 1809, the legislature of the State of Ohio passed an act entitled 'An act to establish the Miami University.' (Pamphlet Acts of 1809, page 184.)

That act incorporated the university, provided for its support, government, & c. Section tenth vested the above-mentioned township in the corporation, for the use and support of the university, and authorized the corporation to divide the township into lots, and lease them out for the term of ninety-nine years, renewable for ever, subject to a valuation every fifteen years. The thirteenth section exempts the township from all State taxes. It reads in these words:-'That the lands appropriated and vested in the corporation, with the buildings which may be erected thereon for the accommodation of the president, professors, and other officers, students, and servants of the university, and any buildings appertaining thereto, and also the dwelling-house and other buildings which may be built and erected on the lands, shall be exempt from all State taxes.' Under this act the university lands were divided into lots and leased out, the plaintiff in error being the lessee of a part of them.

On the 16th of March, 1839, the legislature of Ohio passed an act entitled 'An act providing for the levying of a school tax in Oxford township, in Butler county.' Local Laws of Ohio, p. 235 of Pamphlet Acts.

The township here named is the university township. The first section of the act directs the county commissioners of that county to appoint appraisers in the township of Oxford 'to appraise the lands held under permanent leases in said township at their true value in money, considered in their natural state,' taking into view the rent encumbrance upon the same, payable to the university.

The second section of the act is in these words:-'Said commissioners shall, in addition to the levying of a tax on personal property in said township, authorize the levying of a school tax annually upon the ad valorem amount of appraisement in said township, the property of blacks and mulattoes excepted, not exceeding one mill on the dollar, which assessment shall be made by the county auditor, and collected by the county treasurer, in the same manner as other county, township, or State taxes are levied and collected.'

The third section provides, that 'the taxes so levied and collected under the provisions of this act shall be appropriated exclusively for the support of common schools in the respective districts in the township of Oxford; and in the disbursement of the same, the provisions of the act entitled 'An act for the support and better regulation of common schools, and to create permanently the office of superintendent,' passed March 7th, 1838, shall be conformed to, at least so far as it is practicable to carry out the objects of this act, having in view the support of common schools in the said township of Oxford.'

Under this last-named act, a tax for the support of common schools in Butler township was levied on the university lands, and, among others, on the lands of the plaintiff in error. Whereupon he filed his bill in chancery in the Court of Common Pleas for said county of Butler, setting out in substance the facts as above stated, and praying that the treasurer and auditor of the county might be enjoined from collecting said tax, on the ground that it was imposed in contravention of the terms of his lease, and of the act of the 17th of February, 1809, to establish the Miami University.

The defendants demurred to this bill, and on the hearing the demurrer was sustained and the bill dismissed. From this decree of the Common Pleas the plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, where, upon hearing on the demurrer, the bill was again dismissed. From this last decree the plaintiff sued out a writ of error into this court.

It was argued by Mr. Schenck, for the plaintiff in error, and Mr. Vinton, for the defendants in error.

Mr. Schenck contended that the case was drawn into the jurisdiction of this count,--

1st. Because it arises under a law of the United States. It presents, in fact, a question as to the effect and objects of a grant of lands made in pursuance of an act of Congress for the purposes of education, and how far the same may be interfered with and controlled by State legislation.

2d. Because it is claimed that the act of the legislature of Ohio of 1839, taxing these lands, conflicts with a former act of the legislature in 1809, exempting them from taxation, and, being in violation of the rights of lessees (of whom the complainant is one) under that act of 1809, is a law impairing the obligation of contracts.

Mr. Vinton denied the jurisdiction of this court, and contended also that State taxes in Ohio were clearly distinguished from county and road and school and bridge taxes, which were entirely local, and not included in the exemption from State taxes.

Mr. Justice DANIEL delivered the opinion of the court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).