290 U.S. 158 (1933), Johnson Oil Refining Co. v. Oklahoma ex Rel. Mitchell

Citation:290 U.S. 158, 54 S.Ct. 152, 78 L.Ed. 238
Party Name:Johnson Oil Refining Co. v. Oklahoma ex Rel. Mitchell
Case Date:December 04, 1933
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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290 U.S. 158 (1933)

54 S.Ct. 152, 78 L.Ed. 238

Johnson Oil Refining Co.

v.

Oklahoma ex Rel. Mitchell

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 4, 1933

[54 S.Ct. 152] APPEALS FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF OKLAHOMA

Syllabus

An Illinois corporation owned a fleet of tank cars used mainly in transporting oil from its refinery in Oklahoma for delivery in other states. Upon making such deliveries, the cars usually would be returned to this refinery pursuant to directions accompanying them on their outward trips. The refinery had trackage for a small part of all the cars and facilities for making minor repairs upon them, but the cars were almost continuously in movement, and each, on the average, was out of Oklahoma from twenty to twenty-nine days each month.

Held:

1. That while the cars had acquired a situs outside of Illinois, the domicile of their owner, for the purpose of state taxation, the mere fact that the refinery where they were loaded and reloaded was in Oklahoma did not fix the situs of the entire fleet in that state. P. 161.

2. Jurisdiction of Oklahoma to tax such property must be determined on a basis consistent with the like jurisdiction of the other states in which the property was habitually employed. P. 162.

3. Oklahoma's share for taxation could be determined by taking the number of cars which on the average were found to be physically present there. P. 163.

162 Okla. 185, 19 P.2d 168, reversed

Appeals from judgments of the Supreme Court of Oklahoma sustaining property taxes on railway tank cars. The proceedings were by appeal, through intermediate courts, from the action of the taxing authorities.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases present the question of the validity of property taxes laid in Pawnee County, Oklahoma, under the state statute, upon the entire fleet of appellant's tank cars. The challenge in each case was under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution upon the ground that the cars did not have their situs within the state, and hence that the state had no jurisdiction to tax them. The taxes in Nos. 22 and 23 were on 380 cars for the years 1925 to 1928; in No. 24, on 381 cars for the year 1931. The assessments in Nos. 22 and 23 were made by the county treasurer and upheld by the county court. In No. 24, the assessment was made by the local board of equalization and was reduced by the district court of the county to an assessment [54 S.Ct. 153] on 64 cars, which that court held to be the average number present in the county on any one day during the year. The three cases (with a fourth, which is not before us, from another county) were consolidated for hearing on appeal in the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. That court sustained the assessments on the entire fleet of cars, thus affirming the judgment of the county court and reversing the judgment of the district court. 162 Okl. 185, 19 P.2d 168. The cases come here on appeal.

Appellant, Johnson Oil Refining Company, is an Illinois corporation having its principal office in Chicago, and its refinery at Cleveland in Pawnee County, Oklahoma. The Supreme Court of the state reached the conclusion that all the cars had their "taxable situs" at the latter place. As the asserted federal right turns upon the determination of the question of situs, it is our province to analyze

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the facts in order to apply the law, and thus to ascertain whether the conclusion of the state court has adequate support in the evidence. Beidler v. South Carolina Tax Comm'n, 282 U.S. 1, 8. *

The essential facts are not in dispute. The tank cars are operated in transporting refined products from appellant's factory at Cleveland, Oklahoma, to various points of delivery throughout a large part of the United states. They are almost exclusively engaged in interstate commerce. They are very infrequently used in connection with an oil plant appellant owns in Illinois. They are sometimes loaded at refineries located in states other than Oklahoma. The cars are stenciled "When empty return to Johnson Oil Refining Company, Cleveland, Oklahoma," or "Johnson Refining Company, Cleveland, Oklahoma," and with each shipment go instructions to return the car to Cleveland. The cars are thus billed back to Cleveland unless ordered to another point. At that place,...

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