316 U.S. 174 (1942), 814, State Tax Commission of Utah v. Aldrich

Docket Nº:No. 814
Citation:316 U.S. 174, 62 S.Ct. 1008, 86 L.Ed. 1358
Party Name:State Tax Commission of Utah v. Aldrich
Case Date:April 27, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 174

316 U.S. 174 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 1008, 86 L.Ed. 1358

State Tax Commission of Utah



No. 814

United States Supreme Court

April 27, 1942

Argued March 12, 1942



A State may, consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment, impose a tax upon a transfer by death of shares of stock in a corporation which is incorporated under its laws, even though the decedent, of whose estate the share were a part, was domiciled at the time of death in another State, where the certificates representing the shares were held, though the certificates were never within the State of incorporation, and though, for many years, the corporation had kept its stock books, records, and transfer agents in the State where decedent was domiciled, and had maintained none of these in the State of incorporation. First National Bank v. Maine, 284 U.S. 312, overruled. P. 180.

116 P.2d 923 reversed:

Certiorari, 315 U.S. 789, to review the affirmance of a declaratory judgment that the transfer of stock by death, here involved, was not subject to tax under the Utah Inheritance Tax Law.

DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The sole question presented by this case is whether the Utah is precluded by the Fourteenth Amendment from imposing a tax upon a transfer by death of shares of stock in a Utah corporation, forming part of the estate of a decedent who, at the time of his death, was domiciled in the New York and held there the certificates representing those shares.

In 1940, Edward S. Harkness died testate, being at that time domiciled in New York. His estate was probated

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in New York, where respondents were appointed executors. Respondents were also appointed administrators with the will annexed in Utah. At the time of his death, Harkness was the owner of 10,000 shares of common stock and 400 shares of preferred stock of the Union Pacific Railroad Co., a Utah corporation. The certificates representing those shares were never within Utah. They were in the possession of Harkness in New York at the time of his death, and are now held by respondents. For many years, the Union Pacific Railroad Co. has kept its stock books and records and transfer agents in New York, and has not maintained any in Utah. These shares are the only property owned by decedent which is claimed to be within the [62 S.Ct. 1009] jurisdiction of Utah. At the date of decedent's death, a New York statute allowed as a credit against the estate tax imposed by New York the amount of any constitutionally valid estate or inheritance tax paid to any other state within three years after the decedent's death.1

Respondents sought a declaratory judgment in the Utah court holding that the transfer of the shares was not subject to tax by Utah under the provisions of its inheritance tax law.2 The trial court entered judgment for respondents.

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The Supreme Court of Utah, under the compulsion of First National Bank v. Maine, 284 U.S. 312, aff'd, 116 P.2d 923. We granted the petition for certiorari so that the constitutional basis of First National Bank v. Maine could be reexamined in the light of such recent decisions as Curry v. McCanless, 307 U.S. 357, and Graves v. Elliott, 307 U.S. 383. And see Commonwealth v. Stewart, 338 Pa. 9, 12 A.2d 444, aff'd, 312 U.S. 649.

There can be no doubt but that the judgment below should be affirmed if First National Bank v. Maine is to survive, as the judgment in that case prohibited the Maine from doing what the Utah is here attempting. But we do not think it should survive. And certainly it cannot if the principles which govern the Curry and Graves cases rest on firm constitutional grounds.

First National Bank v. Maine, like its forerunners Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. v. Minnesota, 280 U.S. 204, and Baldwin v. Missouri, 281 U.S. 586, read into the Fourteenth Amendment a "rule of immunity from taxation by more than one state." 284 U.S. p. 326. As we said in the Curry case, that doctrine is of recent origin. Prior to 1930, when Blackstone v. Miller, 188 U.S. 189, was overruled by Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. v. Minnesota, the adjudications of this Court clearly demanded a result opposite from that which obtained in First National Bank v. Maine. That was recognized by the majority in the latter case (284 U.S. p. 321) -- and properly so, because Blackstone v. Miller rejected the notion that there were constitutional objections

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to double taxation of intangibles by States which had command over them or their owner. And see Kidd v. Alabama, 188 U.S. 730, 732. Blackstone v. Miller permitted New York to tax the transfer of debts owed by New York citizens to a decedent who died domiciled in Illinois, although Illinois had taxed the entire succession. Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for the Court, upheld the power of New York to [62 S.Ct. 1010] collect the tax because the transfer of the debts "necessarily depends upon and involves the law of New York for its exercise." 188 U.S. p. 205. It was that view which the minority in First National Bank v. Maine championed. They maintained that there was no constitutional barrier to taxation by Maine of the transfer of the shares of stock of the Maine corporation, since the nature and extent of the decedent's interest in the shares were "defined by the laws of Maine, and his power to secure the complete transfer" was "dependent upon them." 284 U.S. p. 332. That view had been repeatedly expressed in other earlier cases touching on the rights of a State to tax intangibles over which it had command though the owner was a nonresident. Tappan v. Merchants' Nat. Bank, 19 Wall. 490, 503-504; Hawley v. Malden, 232 U.S. 1, 12; Baker v. Baker, Eccles & Co., 242 U.S. 394, 401; Frick v. Pennsylvania, 268 U.S. 473, 497; Rhode Island Hospital Trust Co. v. Doughton, 270 U.S. 69, 81. As stated by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 429, the power to tax

is an incident of sovereignty, and is coextensive with that to which it is an incident. All subjects over which the sovereign power of a state extends are objects of taxation. . . .

It was that view which we followed in the Curry case. We held there that the Fourteenth Amendment did not prevent both Alabama and Tennessee from imposing death taxes upon the transfer of an interest in intangibles held in trust by an Alabama trustee but passing under the will of a beneficiary decedent domiciled in Tennessee.

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We stated that rights to intangibles

are but relationships between persons, natural or corporate, which the law recognizes by attaching to them certain sanctions enforceable in courts. The power of government over them and the protection which it gives them cannot be exerted through control of a physical thing. They can be made effective only through control over and protection afforded to those persons whose relationships are the origin of the rights. . . . Obviously, as sources of actual or potential wealth -- which is an appropriate measure of any tax imposed on ownership or its exercise -- they cannot be dissociated from the persons from whose relationships they are derived. These are not in any sense fictions. They are indisputable realities.

307 U.S. p. 366. We held that the power to tax intangibles was not restricted to one State, whether

we regard the right of a state to tax as founded on power over the object taxed, as declared by Chief Justice Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland, supra, through dominion over tangibles or over persons whose relationships are the source of intangible rights; or on the benefit and protection conferred by the taxing sovereignty, or both.

Id., pp. 367-368. And we added:

Shares of corporate stock may be taxed at the domicile of the shareholder and also at that of the corporation which the taxing state has created and controls, and income may be taxed both by the state where it is earned and by the state of the recipient's domicile. Protection, benefit, and power over the subject matter are not confined to either state.

Id., p. 368. In the recent case of Wisconsin v. J. C. Penney Co., 311 U.S. 435, 444, we gave renewed expression to the same view:

A state is free to pursue its own fiscal policies, unembarrassed by the Constitution, if, by the practical operation of a tax, the state has exerted its power in relation to opportunities which it has given, to protection which it has afforded, to benefits which it has

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conferred by the fact of being an orderly, civilized society.

And see Graves v. Schmidlapp, 315 U.S. 657.

Furthermore, the rule of immunity against double taxation espoused by First National Bank v. Maine had long been rejected in other [62 S.Ct. 1011] cases. Kidd v. Alabama, supra; Fort Smith Lumber Co. v. Arkansas, 251 U.S. 532; Cream of Wheat Co. v. Grand Forks, 253 U.S. 325. We rejected it again only recently. Illinois Central R. Co. v. Minnesota, 309 U.S. 157. And as we pointed out in the Curry case the reasons why the Fifth Amendment "does not require us to fix a single exclusive place of taxation of intangibles for the benefit of their foreign owner" (Burnet v. Brooks, 288 U.S. 378) are no less cogent in case of the Fourteenth. 307 U.S. pp. 369-370.

The recent cases to which we have alluded are all distinguishable on their facts. But their guiding principles are irreconcilable with the views expressed in First National Bank v. Maine. If we raised a constitutional barrier in this case after having let it down in the Curry case, we would indeed be drawing neat legal distinctions and refinements which certainly cannot be divined from the language of the Constitution. Certainly any differences between the shares of stock in this case and the intangibles in the Curry case do not warrant differences in constitutional treatment so as to forbid taxation by two States in the one case and to permit it in the...

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