329 U.S. 69 (1946), 46, Richfield Oil Corp. v. State Board of Equalization

Docket Nº:No. 46
Citation:329 U.S. 69, 67 S.Ct. 156, 91 L.Ed. 80
Party Name:Richfield Oil Corp. v. State Board of Equalization
Case Date:November 25, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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329 U.S. 69 (1946)

67 S.Ct. 156, 91 L.Ed. 80

Richfield Oil Corp.

v.

State Board of Equalization

No. 46

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 25, 1946

Argued October 24, 1946

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

1. A judgment of the Supreme Court of California reversing, without directions, a judgment for the plaintiff in a suit for a refund of a tax unconstitutionally levied on an export under the California Retail Sales Tax Act, the case having been tried on the pleadings and stipulated facts and the State Supreme Court having passed on the issues which control the litigation, held reviewable here as a "final judgment" within the meaning of Judicial Code § 237, 28 U.S.C. § 344(a). P. 72.

2. Appellant, which was engaged in producing and selling oil in California, entered into a contract for the sale of oil to the New Zealand Government. The oil was delivered by appellant from dockside tanks into a vessel of the New Zealand Government at a California port; was consigned to a New Zealand official at Auckland; was transported to New Zealand, and none of it was used or consumed in the United States. Appellant filed with the Collector of Customs

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a shipper's export declaration, and did not collect, nor attempt to collect, any sales tax from the purchaser. Held that a tax levied upon appellant pursuant to the California Retail Sales Tax Act and measured by the gross receipts from the transaction was an impost upon an export, within the meaning of Art. I, § 10, Cl. 2 of the Federal Constitution, and therefore unconstitutional. Pp. 71-72, 75.

3. The fact that the provision of the Federal Constitution that no State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay "any" tax on imports or exports specifies but a single exception -- "except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws" -- indicates that no other qualification of the absolute prohibition was intended. P. 76.

4. The constitutional prohibition against "any" state tax on imports or exports is not to be read as a prohibition against any "discriminatory" state tax. P. 76.

5. The commerce clause and the import-export clause of the Constitution, though complementary, serve different ends, and the limitations of the former are not to be read into the latter. P. 76.

6. The constitutional prohibition of "any" state tax on exports is not to be read as containing an implied qualification. Pp. 76-77.

7. The process of exportation commenced not later than when the oil was delivered into the vessel of the foreign purchaser. P. 83.

8. The construction of a state tax law by the highest court of the State is binding here, but is not determinative of whether the tax denies the taxpayer a federal right. P. 84.

9. Whether a state tax denies a federal right depends not upon the State's characterization of the tax, but upon its operation and effect. P. 84.

10. The incident which gave rise to the accrual of the state tax in this case -- viz., the delivery of the oil into the vessel of the foreign purchaser -- was a step in the export process. P. 84.

11. The constitutional prohibition of state taxes on exports involves more than a mere exemption from taxes laid specifically upon the exported goods themselves. P. 85.

27 Cal.2d 150, 163 P.2d 1, reversed.

Appellant brought suit in a state court for a refund of an allegedly unconstitutional state tax. A judgment for the appellant was reversed by the state supreme court. 27 Cal.2d 150, 136 P.2d 1. Appellant appealed to this Court. Reversed, p. 86.

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DOUGLAS, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here on appeal from the Supreme Court of California, which sustained a California tax against the claim that it was repugnant to Article I, Section 10, Clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States. Judicial Code § 237, [67 S.Ct. 158] 28 U.S.C. §§ 344(a), 861a.

Appellant is engaged in producing and selling oil and oil products in California. It entered into a contract with the New Zealand government for the sale of oil. The price was f.o.b. Los Angeles, payment in London. Delivery was "to the order of the Naval Secretary, Navy Office, Wellington, into N.Z. Naval tank steamer R.F.A. Nucula at Los Angeles, California." The oil was to be consigned to the Naval Officer In Charge, Auckland, New Zealand. Appellant carried the oil by pipeline from its refinery in California to storage tanks at the harbor, where the Nucula appeared to receive the oil. When the Nucula had docked and was ready to receive the oil, appellant pumped it from the storage tanks into the vessel. Customary shipping documents were given the master, including a bill of lading which designated appellant as shipper and consigned the oil to the designated naval officer in Auckland. Payment of the price was made in London. The oil was transported to Auckland, no portion of it being used or consumed in the United States. Appellant filed with the Collector of Customs a shipper's export declaration. It did not collect, nor attempt to do so, any sales tax from the purchaser. Appellee assessed a retail sales tax against appellant measured

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by the gross receipts from the transaction. The tax was paid under protest, a claim for refund was filed asserting that the levy of the tax violated the provisions of Article I, Section 10, Clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States, and this suit was brought to obtain a refund. The California Supreme Court, one justice dissenting, first allowed a recovery on that ground. 155 P.2d 1. After a rehearing, it reversed its position and held the tax constitutional, two justices dissenting. 27 Cal.2d 150, 163 P.2d 1.

I. We are met at the outset with the question whether the judgment of the California Supreme Court is a "final judgment" within the meaning of the Judicial Code § 237, 28 U.S.C. § 344(a). The case was tried on the pleadings and stipulated facts, a jury having been waived. The trial court found for appellant. The Supreme Court ordered that the judgment "be and the same is hereby reversed." The argument is that, under California law, where a judgment has been reversed without directions, there is a new trial; that, on a new trial, appellant might amend its complaint and produce other evidence, and that, if a new trial were had, new or different findings of fact might be made. See Erlin v. National Union Fire Ins. Co., 7 Cal.2d 547, 61 P.2d 756.

The designation given the judgment by state practice is not controlling. Department of Banking, Nebraska v. Pink, 317 U.S. 264, 268. The question is whether it can be said that "there is nothing more to be decided" (Clark v. Williard, 292 U.S. 112, 118), that there has been "an effective determination of the litigation." Market Street R. Co. v. Railroad Commission, 324 U.S. 548, 551; see Radio Station W.O.W. v. Johnson, 326 U.S. 120, 123-124. That question will be resolved not only by an examination of the entire record (Clark v. Williard, supra), but, where necessary, by resort to the local law to determine what effect the judgment has under the state rules of practice. Brady v.

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Terminal Railroad Assn. of St. Louis, 302 U.S. 688; Brady v. Southern R. Co., 319 U.S. 777. See Boskey, Finality of State Court Judgments under the Federal Judicial Code, 43 Col.L.Rev. 1002, 1005.

This suit is brought under the California Retail Sales Tax Act, § 23, and § 31, which prescribes the sole remedy for challenging the tax. The procedure prescribed is payment of the tax, the filing of a claim for refund which sets forth "the specific grounds upon which the claim is founded," Cal.Stats.1941, pp. 1328, 1329, and, in case the claim is denied, the institution of a suit within ninety days "on the [67 S.Ct. 159] grounds set forth in such claim." Cal.Stats.1939, pp. 2184, 2185. The claim thus frames and restricts the issues for the litigation. Although the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the trial court without direction, its decision controls the disposition of the case. See Estate of Baird, 193 Cal. 225, 223 P. 974; Bank of America v. Superior Court, 20 Cal.2d 697, 128 P.2d 357. Since the facts have been stipulated1 and the Supreme Court of California has passed on the issues which control the litigation, we take it that there is nothing more to be

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decided. The jurisdictional objection is thus without merit. See Gulf Refining Co. v. United States, 269 U.S. 125, 136.

II. We turn then to the merits. Article I, Section 10, Clause 2 of the Constitution provides that

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts laid by any State on Imports or Exports shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States, and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

The Supreme Court of California held that this provision did not bar the tax because the delivery of the oil which resulted in the passage of title occurred prior to the commencement of the exportation. The court suggested, and the appellee concedes, that a different result might follow if the oil had been delivered to a common carrier;

for then it would have been placed in the hands of an instrumentality whose sole purpose is to export goods, thus indelibly characterizing the process as a part of exportation.

27 Cal.2d at 153, 163 P.2d at 3. The court, in reaching the conclusion that the tax was constitutional, rested in part on our recent decisions (particularly McGoldrick v. Berwind-White Coal Mining Co., 309 U.S. 33; Department of Treasury v. Wood Preserving Corp., 313 U.S. 62; International Harvester Co. v. Department of Treasury, 322 U.S. 340) which sustained the levy of certain state taxes against the claim that they violated the Commerce...

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