New Orleans City Company v. New Orleans/Opinion of the Court
Exemption from taxation is never to be presumed. The legislature itself cannot be held to have intended to surrender the taxing power, unless its intention to do so has been declared in clear and unmistakable words. Railroad v. Dennis, 116 U.S. 665, 668, 6 Sup. Ct. Rep. 625, and cases cited. Assuming, without deciding, that the city of New Orleans was authorized to exempt the New Orleans City Railroad Company from taxation under general laws of the state, the contract between them affords no evidence of an intention to do so. The franchise to build and run a street railway was as much subject to taxation as any other property.
In Gordon v. Appeal Tax Court, 3 How. 133, upon which the plaintiff in error much relied, the only point decided was that an act of the legislature, containing the charter of a bank upon condition that the corporation should pay certain sums annually for public purposes, and declaring that, upon its accepting and complying with the provisions of the act, the faith of the state was pleaded not to impose any further tax or burden upon the corporation during the continuance of the charter, exempted the stockholders from taxation on their stock; and so much of the opinion as might, taken by itself, seem to support this writ of error, has been often explained or disapproved. Bank v. Knoop, 16 How. 369, 386, 401, 402; People v. Commissioners, 4 Wall, 244, 259; Bank v. Skelly, 1 Black, 436, 446; Farrington v. Tennessee, 95 U.S. 679, 690, 694; Stone v. Trust Co., 116 U.S. 307, 328, 6 Sup. St. Rep. 334, 388, 1191.
The case at bar cannot be distinguished from that of Gas-Light Co. v. Shelby Co., in which this court upheld a license tax upon a corporation, which had acquired by its charter the privilege of erecting gasworks, and making and selling gas for 50 years; and, speaking by Mr. Justice MILLER, said: 'The argument of counsel is that, if no express contract against taxation can be found here, it must be implied, because to permit the state to tax this company by a license tax for the privilege granted by its charter is to destroy that privilege. But the answer is that the company took their charter subject to the same right of taxation in the state that applies to all other privileges and to all other property. If they wished or intended to have an exemption of any kind from taxation, or felt that it was necessary to the profitable working of their business, they should have required a provision to that effect in their charter. The constitution of the United States does not profess in all cases to protect property from unjust and oppressive taxation by the states. That is left to the state constitution and state laws.' 109 U.S. 398, 400, 3 Sup. Ct. Rep. 205.
The New Orleans City Railroad Company having had no right of exemption from the tax im question, it is unnecessary to consider whether such a right, had it existed, would have passed by the conveyance to the plaintiff in error. See Railway v. Miller, 114 U.S. 176, 184, 5 Sup. Ct. Rep. 813, and cases cited; Picard v. Railroad, 130 U.S. 637, 9 Sup. Ct. Rep. 640.