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The St. Louis Bridge Co., which owns and operates a bridge over the Mississippi River between said cities of St. Louis and East St. Louis, which has been in active competition with defendant ever since said bridge was opened for use in July, 1874, is required to pay no license fee whatever to the city of East St. Louis. On June 1, 1868, the city council of the city of East St. Louis duly passed and published "Ordinance No. 70," parts of which are as follows:
"SECT. 1. No person, firm, company, or corporation shall be engaged in, prosecute, or carry on any trade, business, calling, or profession hereinafter mentioned without first having obtained a license therefor.
"SECT. 10. Keepers of ferries shall pay fifty dollars license for each boat plying between this city and the opposite bank of the river for one year, or twenty-five dollars for each boat for six months."
In compliance with the above ordinance defendant paid said city a license fee of fifty dollars per annum on each of its ferryboats, its last license thereunder being from May 1, 1874, to May 1, 1875.
On Oct. 7, 1878, said city council passed ordinance No. 317, which is substantially the same as ordinance No. 70, except that it fixes the license fee at $100 per annum for each boat. On May 1, 1875, and from thence hitherto, the defendant, in the operation of its ferry between said cities of St. Louis and East St. Louis, has employed eight ferry-boats (including two tugs and one transfer-boat), and since said May 1, 1875, has not taken out any license nor paid any license fee to said city of East St. Louis. Upon the facts here stated, and the laws applicable thereto, the court shall determine the right of plaintiff to demand and the liability of defendant to pay the license fee, fixed by said ordinance, or either of them, and render judgment accordingly, and this without regard to the pleadings in the case. The acts of the legislature, and the laws, rules, and regulations of the United States, and the enrolments, inspections, and licenses herein mentioned or referred to, and the charter and ordinances of said city of East St.
Louis, or copies thereof, may be used and referred to as a part of the record in this case.
So much of the act of 1819, referred to in the agreed statement of facts, entitled "An Act to authorize Samuel Wiggins to establish a ferry upon the waters of the Mississippi River," as is pertinent to this case, is as follows:
"SECT. 1. That Samuel Wiggins, his heirs and assigns, be, and they are hereby, authorized to establish a ferry on the waters of the Mississippi near the town of Illinois, in this State, and to run the same from lands at the said place that may belong to him."
"SECT. 4. That the ferry established shall be subject to the same taxes as are now, or hereafter may be, imposed on other ferries within this State and under the same regulations and forfeitures."
So much of the act of Feb. 11, 1853, "to incorporate the Wiggins Ferry Company," as is material to this case, is as follows:
After a preamble, which recited the above-mentioned act of 1819 and acts amendatory thereof, it was enacted:
"SECT. 1. That (certain persons, naming them), and their associates, successors, and assigns, are hereby created a body corporate and politic by the name and style of the Wiggins Ferry Company,' .. and the said company shall have full power. . . to purchase, hold, use, and enjoy the ferry franchise granted to Samuel Wiggins, his heirs and assigns, by the act referred to in the preamble of this act, . . to keep a ferry or ferries at and from any point or points on said land, across the Mississippi River to St. Louis, in the State of Missouri, and use and enjoy all the rights, privileges, franchises, and emoluments recited in the preamble of this act as having been heretofore granted to the said Samuel Wiggins, his heirs and assigns."
"SECT. 7. . . . Provided, that nothing in this act contained shall be construed to create any private right so as to interfere with the powers of any existing municipal corporation, or with the right of the legislature, at any time hereafter, to create municipal corporations within the limits herein specified, and to confer upon said corporations all such powers of police. as may be usually or properly confided to a city corporation under the Constitution of Illinois."
The authority to pass the ordinance under which the plaintiff claimed license money from the defendant was its charter, passed in 1869, which empowered it "to regulate, tax, and license ferry-boats." Private Laws of Illinois, 1869, vol. i. p. 893.
Upon these facts the court found the issues for the plaintiff, and assessed its damages at $1,600, for which sum it rendered judgment against the defendant.
The case was taken by the appeal of the defendant to the Appellate Court of the Fourth District of Illinois, and the judgment of the City Court of East St. Louis was affirmed. The defendant then carried the case, by appeal, to the Supreme Court of Illinois, which affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court.
To obtain a reversal of this judgment of the Supreme Court, the defendant brought this writ of error.
Mr. H. P. Buxton for the appellant.
Mr. M. Millard, Mr. J. M. Freels, and Mr. B. H. Canby for the appellee.
MR. JUSTICE WOODS delivered the opinion of the court.
The first contention of the plaintiff in error is that the fourth section of the act of 1819, which declared that the Wiggins Ferry should be subject to the same taxes as were then or might thereafter be imposed on other ferries within the State, and under the same regulations and forfeitures, and the charter of the Wiggins Ferry Company, which authorized said company to use and enjoy the ferry franchise granted to Samuel Wiggins, and to use and enjoy all the rights, privileges, and emoluments recited in the preamble of the act as having been granted to Wiggins and his heirs and assigns, constituted a contract between the ferry company and the State, by which the power to tax the ferry company was limited to the imposition of the same taxes as were then or might thereafter be imposed on other ferries within the State; and that the charter of the city of East St. Louis, which authorized the city to regulate, tax, and license ferry-boats, and the ordinance of the city imposing a license tax on the ferry-boats of the company, impaired the obligation of the contract, and was therefore unconstitutional and void.
We are of opinion that the charter of the company cannot be so construed as to exempt it from any taxation which the State might itself see fit to impose or authorize to be imposed by the city of East St. Louis.
It is a rule of interpretation that every grant from the sovereign authority is, in case of ambiguity, to be construed strictly against the grantee and in favor of the government. Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 11 Pet. 420; Mills v. St. Clair County, 8 How. 569; Attorney-General v. Boston, 123 Mass. 460.
This rule has been frequently applied by tnis court in cases where exemption from taxation was set up by corporations under the provisions of their charters. In Philadelphia & Wilmington Railroad Co. v. Maryland, 10 How. 376, it was declared that "the taxing power of a State is never presumed to be relinquished unless the intention to relinquish is declared in clear and unambiguous terms; " and in Jefferson Branch Bank v. Skelly, 1 Black, 436, it was said that "the language of this court has always been cautious and affirmative of the right of the State to imposes taxes, unless it has been relinquished by unmistakable words, clearly indicating the intention of the State to do so."
So in Railroad Company v. Commissioners, 103 U. S. 1, the Chief Justice, speaking for the court, declared: "Grants of immunity from taxation are never to be presumed. On the contrary, all presumptions are the other way, and, unless an exemption is clearly established, all property must bear its just share of the burdens of taxation. These principles are elementary and should never be lost sight of in cases of this kind." To the same effect see Railroad Companies v. Gaines, 97 id. 697.
So in Bank v. Tennessee, 104 id. 493, this court declared, speaking by Mr. Justice Field: "That statutes imposing restrictions upon the taxing power of a State, except so far as they tend to secure uniformity and equality of assessment, are to be strictly construed is a familiar rule. Against the power nothing is to be taken by inference and presumption. When a doubt arises as to the existence of the restriction, it is to be decided in favor of the State."
If any serious doubt could arise concerning the interpretation of sect. 4 of the act of 1819, which the plaintiff in error contends was incorporated as a provision of its charter, the authorities cited would settle that doubt in favor of the right of the city of East St. Louis to impose the license tax com plained of.
But we are of opinion that the meaning of the section is not doubtful. The ferry of Wiggins had only one of its landings in the State of Illinois; the other was in the State of Missouri. The evident purpose of the section was to prevent the ferry, by reason of that circumstance, from escaping the same burdens of taxation as were imposed on ferries entirely within the State and not to limit the taxing power of the legislature. It declares that the ferry of Wiggins shall be subject to the same taxes which were then or might thereafter be imposed on other ferries within the State, and under the same regulations and forfeitures, but it does not intimate that the State shall not impose on it such other taxes within its constitutional power as to it may seem fit.
The most favorable construction for the plaintiff in error that could be placed upon its charter is that it provided for equality of taxation, that is to say, that the property of the ferry company should be valued and taxed by the same rule as other like property, and that the same exactions and forfeitures only as were imposed on like property, similarly situated, should be imposed on it. It certainly cannot be contended that its ferry on one of the great arteries of commerce, crossing the Mississippi River, and baving each of its landings in a city, should only pay the same identical taxes and license fees as a country ferry over an inconsiderable stream. All that could be reasonably claimed under its charter is that it should be subjected to no higher State and municipal taxation and no greater license fees than other like property similarly situated. Giving the charter this construction, the plaintiff in error has no ground of complaint. It is not shown that the State and county taxation bears unequally on the ferry company. The ordinance of the city of East St. Louis makes no discrimination in favor of any other ferry similarly situated which it is authorized to regulate, tax, and license. The same license fee is