292 U.S. 263 (1934), 731, Healy v. Ratta

Docket NºNo. 731
Citation292 U.S. 263, 54 S.Ct. 700, 78 L.Ed. 1248
Party NameHealy v. Ratta
Case DateApril 30, 1934
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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292 U.S. 263 (1934)

54 S.Ct. 700, 78 L.Ed. 1248




No. 731

United States Supreme Court

April 30, 1934

Argued April 4, 1934




1. A merchant whose business had been conducted through salesmen in a city and elsewhere in the state, alleging that a state law imposing a statewide license tax on each salesman or graduated local tax in cities was in denial of equal protection of the laws, brought suit in a federal court to enjoin the enforcement of the law, naming as sole defendant a city officer whose authority to enforce it was confined to his particular city.


(1) That the matter in controversy did not embrace the right to restrain enforcement of the law by other officers in other places in the state, and that the collateral effect of the decree, by virtue of stare decisis, upon other and distinct controversies with other officers could not be considered in ascertaining whether the jurisdictional amount was involved, even though their decision might turn on the same question of law. P. 266.

(2) Evidence of injury to the plaintiff's business outside of the city, and of the cost of licenses for doing it, must therefore be disregarded in determining the amount in controversy. P. 267.

2. In an injunction suit in a federal court challenging the constitutionality of a state law which imposes license taxes on plaintiff's salesmen and subjects them to arrest and fine for nonpayment, the issue being confined to the right of the state to collect the taxes and not extending to the method of enforcement, the amount in controversy is the amount of the taxes due from plaintiff or demanded of him, and does not include the penalty or loss of business which payment of the tax would avoid. P. 267.

3. The inability of a taxpayer to litigate the validity of a tax without risk of irreparable injury to his business, which is ground for invoking the equitable jurisdiction of a federal court, affords no measure of the value of the matter in controversy. P. 269.

4. The policy of Congress to narrow the jurisdiction of federal courts in suits between citizens of different States or based on federal questions calls for strict construction of the statute in determining the value of the matter in controversy. P. 270.

5. The power reserved to the states, under the Constitution, to provide for the determination of controversies in their courts may be

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restricted only by the action of Congress in conformity with the judiciary sections of the Constitution. P. 270.

6. Due regard for the rightful independence of state government, which should actuate federal courts, requires that they scrupulously confine their own jurisdiction to the precise limits which the statute has defined. P. 270.

7. In suits to enjoin the collection of a tax payable annually or the imposition of penalties in case it is not paid, the sum due or demanded is the matter in controversy, and the amount of the tax, not its capitalized value, is the measure of the jurisdictional amount. P. 270.

67 F.2d 554 reversed.

Appeal from the affirmance of a decree against Healy, a police officer, perpetually enjoining him from making arrests, prosecuting, or otherwise interfering with the plaintiff or his dealers in the City of Manchester for failure to pay license taxes imposed by a New Hampshire "Hawkers & Peddlers" law.

STONE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes here on appeal from a decree of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, affirming a decree of the District Court for New Hampshire, which enjoined appellant, the chief of police for the City of Manchester, from enforcing the Hawkers' and Peddlers' Act, Chapter 102, New Hampshire Laws of 1931, as an infringement of the Fourteenth Amendment. An appeal taken directly to this Court from the District Court, three judges sitting, was dismissed for want of jurisdiction here, since, in the lower court, appellee had waived his prayer for temporary relief. 289 U.S. 701; see Smith v. Wilson, 273 U.S. 388, 391.

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The Act, effective April 14, 1931, requires payment of an annual license tax or fee for every hawker or peddler, defined to be

any person, either principal or agent, who goes from town to town or from place to place in the same town selling or bartering, or carrying for sale or barter or exposing therefor, any goods, wares or merchandise.

The tax is $50 for a statewide license. Local licenses are obtainable at a rate graduated according to population. That for Manchester is stated to be $85 for each license. Violation of the act is punishable by a fine of not more than $200. Appellee's chief ground of attach upon the statute, sustained by both the courts below, is that it denies the equal protection of the laws by excepting from its operation certain classes of hawkers and peddlers in which appellee and his agents are not included.

The bill of complaint alleges that, until the effective date of the Act, appellee, a resident of Massachusetts, was engaged in Manchester and elsewhere in New Hampshire in the distribution of vacuum cleaners through their sale and delivery to purchasers by traveling salesmen; that the business was conducted in such a manner as to subject the salesmen to the tax, which they were unwilling or unable to pay, and that their arrest and prosecution, which appellant threatens if they continue to sell without paying the tax, would destroy appellee's business. The value of his business and his loss on account of the enforcement of the act are each alleged to be more than $3,000. Appellant's answer and motion to dismiss the cause as not within the jurisdiction of the District Court admit the facts stated in the complaint, so far as now material, except that they deny the allegation that the matter in controversy exceeds $3,000, the jurisdictional amount.

On this issue, a trial was had in the course of which evidence was given to show the extent of appellee's business

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in Manchester and elsewhere in New Hampshire and in adjoining states, and the profits derived from it in New Hampshire both before and after the enactment of the taxing statute. No interlocutory injunction was sought, and, after the effective date of the statute, appellee changed the method of doing his business in New Hampshire in a way to avoid the necessity of a license, sales being made by sample, with later delivery by shipping the merchandise directly to the purchaser from outside the state. The business was carried on in this manner in 1931 at a loss. It appeared that the total number of salesmen employed in conducting appellee's business in Manchester during 1931, when the statute was enacted, was six, and that, in earlier years, a larger number had been employed. During those years, from twenty-two to twenty-seven salesmen were employed elsewhere in the state.

It is appellee's contention that the matter in controversy is either the tax which he would be required to pay annually in order to continue his business in New Hampshire or his right to conduct the business there without payment of the tax, and that the value of each exceeds $3,000. He argues upon the evidence that the expenditure for payment of the...

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