Mackall v. Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company/Opinion of the Court
In the action of ejectment which is the foundation of this case the defendant in error was plaintiff, and produced evidence which made an unquestioned prima facie title to the land, with possession for more than thirty years undisturbed, until the tortious entry of defendant in 1867. On this the canal company recovered judgment; and the only error assigned is, that the court refused to receive evidence of a tax title in the defendant. The tax sale on which this title rested took place in the year 1864.
The statute of Virginia under which the canal company was incorporated contained a provision exempting the canal and its works from taxation; and this was adopted, so far as the company had property in the District of Columbia, by the act of Congress of March 3, 1825, 4 Stat. 101, which authorized the construction of the canal in the District.
As there could be no legal taxes on this property, the sale in 1864 was therefore void, and the offer to prove a tax title was properly rejected.
It is argued in opposition to this view that the canal company had, by non-user of that part of the canal which constituted the locus in quo, forfeited its title and its right of exemption from taxation; and testimony was given to prove this non-user.
But we are of opinion that the question of such forfeiture could only be established by a direct proceeding on the part of the public authorities, and a decision to that effect in a proper tribunal, and cannot be made an issue for the first time in the trial of this question of private right between the present parties.