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U.S. Supreme Court

Alexander v. Alexandria, 9 U.S. 5 Cranch 1 1 (1809)

Alexander v. Alexandria

9 U.S. (5 Cranch) 1


The corporation of Alexandria has power to tax the lots and lands of - nonresidents. It is not necessary that the lots should be half-acre lots.

Those taxes cannot be recovered by motion unless in the case of a person holding land who has no other property in the town.

If in a subsequent clause of the same act provisions are introduced which show the sense in which the legislature employed doubtful phrases previously used, that sense is to be adopted in construing those phrases. Consequently, if a subsequent act on the same subject affords complete demonstration of the legislative sense of its own language, the rule which has been stated, requiring that the subsequent should be incorporated into the foregoing act, is a direction to courts in expounding the provisions of the law.

Error to the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, sitting at Alexandria, to reverse a judgment of that court rendered against the plaintiff in error on motion for taxes due to the defendant in error for paving the streets in Alexandria.

Page 9 U. S. 2

A bill of exceptions stated that the plaintiff below produced and read to the court the following acts of the General Assembly of Virginia, viz., "An act for incorporating the Town of Alexandria in the County of Fairfax, and the Town of Winchester in the County of Frederick," passed October 4, 1779, by which it is enacted that

"The mayor, recorder, aldermen and common councilmen shall have power to erect and repair workhouses, houses of correction, and prisons and other public buildings for the benefit of the said town, and to make bylaws and ordinances for the regulation and good government of the said town not repugnant . . . and to assess the inhabitants for the charge of repairing the streets and highways, to be observed and performed by all manner of persons residing within the same, under reasonable penalties and forfeitures, to be levied by distress and sale of the goods of the offenders for the public benefit of the said town."

Also the act of 1786, "To extend the limits of the Town of Alexandria," by which it is enacted that the limits of that town "shall extend to and include as well the lots formerly composing the said town as those adjoining thereto which have been and are improved."

Also the Act of December 16, 1796, "Concerning the Town of Alexandria," by which it is enacted

"That it shall and may be lawful for the mayor and commonalty of the Town of Alexandria to recover of and from all and every person or persons holding land within the limits of the said town, and who have no other property within the said town on which the taxes or assessments imposed on such property for paving the streets therein can be levied, the amount of such taxes or assessments by motion in the court of the county or corporation where such person or persons reside; provided that such person or persons have ten days' previous notice of such motion, and the amount of the taxes or assessments due from him, her or them. And provided also that nothing herein contained shall be so construed as to empower the court to give judgment against any person or persons residing out of the limits of the corporation

Page 9 U. S. 3

of Alexandria and owning ground therein, having no house on it, where the service (to compensate which the tax or assessment has been or may be imposed) has been or may be performed before the last day of February, 1797, but for the collection of such taxes, the same means may be used which would have been lawful before the passage of this act."

Also the Act of 13 December, 1796, "Adding to the Town of Alexandria certain lots contiguous thereto, and for other purposes therein mentioned," the preamble of which recites that

"Whereas several additions of lots contiguous to the Town of Alexandria have been laid off by the proprietors of the land, in lots of half an acre each, extending to the north, to a range of lots upon the north side of a street called Montgomery; upon the south, to the line of the District of Columbia; upon the west, to a range of lots upon the west side of West Street; and upon the east, to the River Potomac; that many of the lots in these additions have already been built upon, and many more will soon be improved; and whereas it has been represented to the general assembly that the inhabitants, residing on the said lots, are not subject to the regulations made and established for the orderly government of the town, and for the preservation of the health of the inhabitants, by the prevention and removal of nuisances, upon which their prosperity and well being do very much depend,"

"Be it therefore enacted that each and every lot or part of a lot within the limits aforesaid, on which at this time is built a dwelling house of at least sixteen feet square, or equal thereto in size, with a brick or stone chimney, and that each and every lot within said limits which shall hereafter be built upon, shall be incorporated with the said Town of Alexandria and be considered as part thereof."

Also an act "extending the jurisdiction of the mayor and commonalty of the Town of Alexandria, and for other purposes," the preamble whereof recites that

"Whereas by an act of assembly passed in the year 1796, entitled an act adding to the Town of Alexandria certain lots contiguous thereto, and for other purposes therein mentioned,

Page 9 U. S. 4

it is enacted that certain improved lots, and all others as they become so improved, within the bounds in the said act mentioned, be added to and made part of the said Town of Alexandria, thereby leaving out of the jurisdiction of the mayor and commonalty of the said town, the unimproved lots within the limits aforesaid, as long as they shall so remain unimproved, by which means the prosperity of the said town is in a great degree prevented,"

"SEC. 1. Be it therefore enacted that the unimproved lots within the limits aforesaid shall be and are hereby incorporated with and considered as a part of the said Town of Alexandria, and subject to the same regulations as the other parts thereof."

"SEC. 2. The mayor and commonalty of the said town are hereby authorized and empowered, whenever they may deem it proper, to open, extend, regulate, pave and improve the streets of the said town, provided, however, that they shall make to every person or persons injured by the extension of any of the said streets, such compensation, out of the funds of the corporation, as to the said mayor and commonalty shall appear to be just."

The plaintiffs produced also the necessary bylaws and documents to show the regularity and amount of the assessment.

On the part of the defendant, it was proved that he never was an inhabitant of the Town of Alexandria -- that the property assessed was not within the original limits of the town, but lies within the limits described by the act "Adding to the town of Alexandria certain lots contiguous thereto, and for other purposes."

It was not proved that the defendant had ever laid off any part of the property into lots of half an acre each, or in any other manner, or that he had ever built any dwelling house thereon. But it was proved that always after the assessment, the defendant had personal property within the town on which

Page 9 U. S. 5

the assessments could have been levied, but it did not appear that the personal property had been on any of the lots assessed, and that the sergeant of the town informed the mayor and common council that he could make distress on the defendant's personal property in the Town of Alexandria for the assessments.

The property assessed was part of a tract of land which the defendant holds in the neighborhood of the town. The commissioner to the streets of the town had been directed by the mayor to make a plan of the town, and had applied to the defendant to know whether he did not wish to have the plan extended on his land which lay adjoining the town on the north, to which the defendant replied that he wished to have four streets and four ranges of squares laid off through his land, and being requested to name the streets, he called them Pendleton, Wythe, Madison and Montgomery, by which names they were designated on the plan, and the defendant had sold or let lots agreeably to the plan, and designated as bounded by those streets. Some of those streets were actually laid out, and the corners designated by stakes and stones at the request of individuals. On the plan, the defendant did not designate any smaller quantity of ground than regular squares of two acres each, agreeably to the manner in which the town was laid off by the act for establishing the same.

The property assessed laid within the four new ranges of squares above mentioned, and the defendant had by several deeds sold and conveyed several squares and parcels of land less than two acres within those four ranges of squares.

C. Simms, for plaintiff in error, contended 1st that the land was not liable to be taxed until it was laid off into half-acre lots, and that it had never been so laid off, although it had been laid off into two-acre squares.

2d. That the corporation had power to assess inhabitants only, and

Page 9 U. S. 6

3d. That there cannot be a judgment upon motion, because there was always personal property of Mr. Alexander in the town which might have been distrained for the taxes.

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