323 U.S. 101 (1944), 62, Spector Motor Co. v. McLaughlin

Docket Nº:No. 62
Citation:323 U.S. 101, 65 S.Ct. 152, 89 L.Ed. 101
Party Name:Spector Motor Co. v. McLaughlin
Case Date:December 04, 1944
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 101

323 U.S. 101 (1944)

65 S.Ct. 152, 89 L.Ed. 101

Spector Motor Co.



No. 62

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 4, 1944

Argued November 9, 1944




Since the answers to the questions of local law involved in this case may render unnecessary, or may affect, the decision of the questions arising under the Federal Constitution, and since the local questions have not been passed upon by the state courts though an appropriate proceeding is available, the cause is remanded to the District Court with directions to retain the bill pending the determination of proceedings to be brought with reasonable promptitude in the state court. P. 105.

139 F.2d 809 vacated.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

[65 S.Ct. 153] MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought in a United States district court to enjoin the enforcement of a State tax and for a declaratory judgment.

The Connecticut Corporation Business Tax Act of 1935, as amended, imposed on every corporation, not otherwise specially taxed, carrying on or having the right to carry

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on business within the State "a tax or excise upon its franchise for the privilege of carrying on or doing business within the state. . . ." Conn.Gen.Stat.Cum.Supp.1935, § 418c, as amended by Conn.Gen.Stat.Supp.1939, § 354e. Petitioner, a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois, is engaged exclusively in the interstate trucking business. It is neither authorized by Connecticut to do intrastate trucking nor in fact does it engage in it. It maintains two leased terminals in Connecticut solely for the purpose of carrying on its interstate business. At the request of its lessor, it has filed with the Secretary of State in Connecticut a certificate of its incorporation in Missouri, has designated an agent in Connecticut for service of process, and has paid the statutory fee. On this state of facts, the State Tax Commissioner determined that petitioner was subject to the Act of 1935, as amended, and assessed the tax against Spector for the years 1937 to 1940. Whereupon petitioner brought this suit in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to free itself from liability for the tax. Alleging appropriate grounds for equitable relief, petitioner claims that the "tax or excise" levied by the Act does not apply to it, and, in the alternative, that, if it should be deemed within the scope of the statute, the tax offends provisions of the Connecticut Constitution as well as the Commerce and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution, art. 1, § 8, cl. 3, and amend. 14.

The District Court construed the statute to be "a tax upon the exercise of a franchise to carry on intrastate commerce in the state," and therefore not applicable to petitioner. Spector Motor Service v. Walsh, 47 F.Supp. 671, 675. On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit construed the statute to reach all corporations having activity in Connecticut, whether doing or authorized to do intrastate business or, like the petitioner, engaged exclusively in interstate commerce. It further decided all contentions under the Connecticut

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Constitution against the petitioner. And so the court below found itself compelled "to face directly the main issue whether the tax is in fact an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce." 139 F.2d 809, 813. The dissenting judge thus phrased the issue: "[W]e have before us in the barest possible form the effort of a state to levy an excise directly upon the privilege of carrying on an activity which is neither derived from the state nor within its power to forbid." 139 F.2d at 822. It was conceded below that, if the Connecticut tax was construed to cover petitioner, it would run afoul the Commerce Clause, were this Court to adhere to what Judge Learned Hand called "an unbroken line of decisions." On the basis of what it deemed foreshadowing "trends", the majority ventured the prophecy that this Court would change its course, and accordingly sustained the tax. In view of the far-reaching import of such a disposition by the Circuit Court of Appeals, we brought the case here. 322 U.S. 720.

Once doubts purely local to the Constitution and laws of Connecticut are resolved against the petitioner, there are at stake in this case questions of moment touching the taxing powers of the States and their relation to the overriding national interests...

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