U.S. Supreme Court Common Council of Alexandria v. Preston, 12 U.S. 8 Cranch 53 53 (1814)
Common Council of Alexandria v. Preston
12 U.S. (8 Cranch) 53
ERROR TO THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AT ALEXANDRIA
In this case it was decided that a purchaser of real estate in Alexandria is not personally liable for arrears of taxes assessed before his purchase.
This was a motion in the court below for judgment, and execution against Preston, under the 11th section of the Act of Congress of 25 February, 1804, "to amend the charter of Alexandria," vol. 7, p. 48, for taxes due to the corporation for the years 1804-1806 on a lot of ground in Alexandria which Preston purchased of Scott in the year 1807, after the taxes were due. The assessors' books were returned on 1 May in every year to the office of the clerk of the common council, where they remained subject to public inspection.
The court below, being of opinion that the summary remedy by motion, judgment, and execution, was given only against the person who was proprietor at the time of the assessment of the taxes, dismissed the motion, and the common council brought their writ of error.
The 11th section of the act to amend the charter of Alexandria is as follows:
"Be it further enacted that whenever taxes upon real property or other claims charged upon real property within the town shall be due and owing to the common council and the proprietor shall fail to discharge the same, the said common council, after giving the party reasonable notice when he resides in town, sixty days' notice when he resides out of the town and in the United States, and after six months' publication in the newspapers when he resides out of the United States, shall be empowered to recover the said taxes or debts by motion in the court of Alexandria, and, provided it shall appear to the satisfaction
of the court that such taxes or claims are justly due, judgment shall be granted and an execution shall issue thereupon, with the costs of suit, against the goods and chattels of the defaulter, if any can be found within the town; if not, that the whole property upon which the tax or claim is due shall, by order of the court, be leased out at public auction for the shortest term of years that may be offered, on condition that the lessee pay the arrearages and also the future taxes accruing during the term, and be at liberty to remove all his improvements at the expiration of the lease, provided always that the common council may prosecute any other remedy by action, for the recovery of the said taxes and claims which is now possessed or allowed. "
The Court affirmed the judgment, without assigning its reasons.