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decided: January 18, 1892.



Author: Harlan

[ 143 U.S. Page 10]

 MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The contention of the water company that it acquired by the act of 1882 an exemption from taxation which could not be withdrawn by subsequent legislation, without its consent, makes it necessary to inquire whether that exemption was in

[ 143 U.S. Page 11]

     fact thus withdrawn; and, if so, whether the statute withdrawing it impaired the obligation of any contract the company had with the State by the act of 1882.

It is clear that the exemption allowed by the act of 1882 was withdrawn by the general revenue statute of 1886. While the former act exempted the water company from taxation of whatever character, state, municipal or special, the latter subjected to taxation all property, real and personal, within the State, unless expressly exempted by its provisions. The act of 1886 not only failed to exempt the property of the water company from taxation, but expressly required, as did the General Statutes in force prior to 1882, (art. 12, ยง 4, c. 92,) that every water company doing business, within the State, should make, annually, a full and complete statement, under oath, of all its property, including its surplus or contingent fund, cash, stocks, bonds and other securities. And that there might be no possible doubt as to the scope of that act, the chapter of the General Statutes relating to taxation, and other statutes specially named by their titles, relating to revenue, and all other acts and parts of acts, "general and special," inconsistent or not in conformity with its provisions, were expressly repealed by the act of 1886. The sweeping character of this repeal is further shown by the specification of certain laws that were excepted from the repeal, which specification did not include the act of 1882. The latter act is special in its exemption of a particular company from taxation. It was, therefore, inconsistent with the revenue act of 1886, which embraced, in terms, all property, real and personal, within the State, not expressly exempted by its provisions from taxation. There is thus a positive repugnancy between the special and general act. This being so, the repealing clause included the special act of 1882, and, therefore, subjected the property of the water company to taxation as provided in the revenue act of 1886. In so holding, we do no violence to the established rule that repeals by implication are not favored, State v. Stoll, 17 Wall. 425, 431; Ex parte Crow Dog, 109 U.S. 556, 570; Chew Heong v. United States, 112 U.S. 536, 549); for, under the repeal of all special acts not in conformity with the general statute, the act of 1882, not being

[ 143 U.S. Page 12]

     expressly excepted from such repeal, cannot stand with that of 1886.

Was the repeal, which was effected by the revenue act of 1886, in violation of any rights acquired by the water company under the act of 1882? We think not.The act of 1882 contained no clause that "plainly expressed" the intention not to exercise the power, reserved by the statute of 1856, to amend or repeal, at the will of the legislature, all charters of or grants to corporations, or amendments thereof, and other statutes. There was no such reservation in the act of 1854, incorporating the water company, and, therefore, that act was subject to the general statute of 1856. Hamilton v. Keith, 5 Bush, 458. But, in respect to all the acts passed after 1856, amending the charter of, or relating to, the water company, including that of 1882, each must be read as if all the provisions of the act of 1856 were incorporated in it, because in no one of them is plainly expressed an intent to waive the right of amendment or repeal at the will of the legislature. In this view, the rights acquired by the water company under the act of 1882 were subject to the reserved power of amendment or repeal; saving, whenever that power was exerted, all rights previously vested. In short, the immunity from taxation, granted by the act of 1882, was accompanied with the condition -- expressed in the act of 1856 and made part of every subsequent statute, when not otherwise expressly declared -- that, by amendment or repeal of the former act, such immunity could be withdrawn. Any other interpretation of the act of 1856 would render it inoperative for the purposes for which, manifestly, it was enacted.

These conclusions are sustained by many adjudications. In Tomlinson v. Jessup, 15 Wall. 454, 457, which involved the liability to taxation of a corporation, an amendment of whose charter exempted it from taxation, this court said: "It is true that the charter of the company when accepted by the corporators constituted a contract between them and the State, and that the amendment, when accepted, formed a part of the contract from that date and was of the same obligatory character. And it may be equally true, as stated by counsel, that the exemption

[ 143 U.S. Page 13]

     from taxation added greatly to the value of the stock of the company, and induced the plaintiff to purchase the shares held by him. But these considerations cannot be allowed any weight in determining the validity of the subsequent taxation. The power reserved to the State by the law of 1841 authorized any change in the contract as it originally existed, or as subsequently modified, or its entire revocation. The original corporators, or subsequent stockholders, took their interests with knowledge of the existence of this power, and of the possibility of its exercise at any time in the discretion of the legislature. The object of the reservation, and of similar reservations in other charters, is to prevent a grant of corporate rights and privileges in a form which will preclude legislative interference with their exercise if the public interest should at any time require such interference. It is a provision intended to preserve to the State control over its contract with the corporators, which, without that provision, would be irrepealable and protected from any measures affecting its obligation. There is no subject over which it is of greater moment for the State to preserve its power than that of taxation. . . . Immunity from taxation, constituting in these cases a part of the contract with the government, is, by the reservation of power such as is contained in the law of 1841, subject to be revoked equally with any other provision of the charter whenever the legislature may deem it expedient for the public interests that the revocation shall be made. The reservation affects the entire relation between the State and the corporation, and places under legislative control all rights, privileges and immunities derived by its charter directly from the State."

So in Railroad Co. v. Maine, 96 U.S. 499, 510, where the question was as to the liability to taxation of a consolidated corporation which came into existence while a general statute was in force, providing that any act of incorporation subsequently passed might be amended, altered or repealed at the pleasure of the legislature, in the same manner as if an express provision to that effect were therein contained, unless there was in the ...

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