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State v. Yuma Irrigation District

Supreme Court of Arizona

March 4, 1940

STATE OF ARIZONA and YUMA COUNTY, Appellants,
v.
YUMA IRRIGATION DISTRICT, Appellee

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of the County of Yuma. Henry C. Kelly, Judge. Judgment reversed and cause remanded with directions to enter judgment for defendants.

Mr. Glenn Copple, County Attorney of Yuma County, and Mr. John B. Wisely, Jr., Deputy County Attorney of Yuma County, for Appellants.

Mr. Clement H. Colman, for Appellee.

OPINION

[55 Ariz. 179] ROSS, C.J.

Yuma Irrigation District, as the owner of the Southeast Quarter of the Northeast quarter (SE1/4NE1/4) of Section 36, Township 8 South, Range 22 West, Gila & Salt River Meridian, in Yuma County, commenced this action against the numerous defendants to quiet its title. Only the State of Arizona and Yuma County have answered. All the other defendants defaulted. The answering defendants, as a defense, claimed a tax lien for county and state taxes for the year 1939. The plaintiff demurred to the answer on the ground that said property is exempt from taxation. The court sustained the demurrer and entered judgment against the state and the county quieting title to the premises in plaintiff. The answering defendants have appealed from this judgment.

The only question to decide is whether under our Constitution the legislature possesses the power to grant such exemption. It has attempted to do so in unmistakable language.

[55 Ariz. 180] The said land and premises are within the plaintiff's irrigation district and were acquired by plaintiff through sale for delinquent taxes. Section 3373, Revised Code of 1928, as amended by chapter 37, Laws of 1933, provides that lands thus acquired by an irrigation district "shall until disposed of be and remain public property." It is this declaration of the legislature as to the character of such land, and the further declaration of such body found in section 3424, Id., as amended by chapter 8, First Special Session, Laws of 1931-1932, that plaintiff claims exempts such property from taxation. Section 3424, as amended, reads:

"Sec. 3424. Districts; Public Corporations. All irrigation districts heretofore or hereafter organized under the laws of the State of Arizona are hereby

Page 705

declared to have been and be public corporations and political subdivisions of the State, and municipal corporations under Section 2, Article IX, Constitution of the State of Arizona. Under all laws of the State of Arizona, affecting or relating to irrigation districts, such districts shall be deemed, held and construed to be public corporations and entitled to all exemptions, rights and privileges of public and municipal corporations in the construction and application of such constitutional and statutory provisions, and all property of such district shall be public property."

These sections are a part of the state's irrigation code and evince an intention on the part of the legislature to bring the property of irrigation districts, so far as exemption from taxation is concerned, into the same class as the property of the federal government, the state, county and municipal corporations. Whether the legislature possesses such power is the question.

We approach the solution of that question realizing that the presumption of law is in favor of the validity of legislative acts and that before we [55 Ariz. 181] should hold these laws invalid we must be well satisfied that the power to extend the exemption is denied the legislature by the Constitution.

That instrument, section 2, article IX, enumerates what property shall be exempt from taxation, and states that

"... All property in the State not exempt under the laws of the United States or under this constitution, or exempt by law under the provisions of this section shall be subject to taxation ...


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