332 U.S. 495 (1947), 39, Aero Mayflower Transit Co. v. Board of Railroad Commissioners of Montana

Docket Nº:No. 39
Citation:332 U.S. 495, 68 S.Ct. 167, 92 L.Ed. 99
Party Name:Aero Mayflower Transit Co. v. Board of Railroad Commissioners of Montana
Case Date:December 08, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 495

332 U.S. 495 (1947)

68 S.Ct. 167, 92 L.Ed. 99

Aero Mayflower Transit Co.

v.

Board of Railroad Commissioners of Montana

No. 39

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 8, 1947

Argued October 15, 1947

[68 S.Ct. 168] APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF MONTANA

Syllabus

Appellant, a foreign corporation engaged exclusively in interstate transportation of freight by motor trucks and doing a continuous and substantial amount of such business in Montana, challenged the validity under the Commerce Clause of two Montana taxes on all interstate and intrastate motor carriers operating there: (1) a flat tax of $10 for each vehicle operated over the State's highways, and (2) a "gross revenue" tax which, as applied to the appellant, amounted to an additional flat fee of $15 per vehicle. The taxes are imposed expressly "in consideration of the use of the highways of this state" and "in addition to all other licenses, fees and taxes imposed upon motor vehicles in this state."

Held:

1. As applied to appellant, the taxes do not violate the Federal Constitution. Pp. 501-507.

2. This Court is bound by the state court's construction of the tax statute as applying alike to interstate and intrastate commerce, and of "gross operating revenue" as comprehending only such revenue as is derived from appellant's operations within Montana. Pp. 499-500.

3. The fact that the proceeds of the taxes go into the State's general fund, subject to appropriation for general state purposes, does not render them invalid. Pp. 502-505.

4. The taxes are levied as compensation for the use of the highways, and not on the privilege of doing interstate business. P. 505.

5. It is immaterial that the State imposes two taxes, rather than one, or that appellant pays other taxes which in fact are devoted to highway maintenance. Pp. 501-507.

119 Mont. 118, 172 P.2d 452, affirmed.

A state court of Montana sustained one of two state taxes as applied to appellant, and enjoined appellant from operating within the State until the tax was paid.

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The Supreme Court of Montana upheld both taxes as applied to appellant. 119 Mont. 118, 172 P.2d 452. Affirmed., p. 507.

RUTLEDGE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Again we are asked to decide whether state taxes as applied to an interstate motor carrier run afoul of the commerce clause, Art. I, § 8, of the Federal Constitution.

Two distinct Montana levies are questioned. Both are imposed by that state's Motor Carriers Act, Rev.Codes Mont.(1935) §§ 3847.1-3847.28. One is a flat tax of $10 for each vehicle operated by a motor carrier over the state's highways, payable on issuance of a certificate or permit, which must be secured before operations begin, and annually thereafter. § 3847.16(a).1 The other is a quarterly fee of one-half of one percent of the motor carrier's

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"gross operating revenue," but with a minimum annual fee of $15 per vehicle for class C carriers, in which group appellant falls. § 3847.27.2 Each tax is declared expressly to be laid "in consideration of the use of the highways of this state" and to be "in addition to all other licenses, fees and taxes imposed upon motor vehicles in this state."

Prior to July 1, 1941, the fees collected pursuant to §§ 3847.16(a) and 3847.27 were paid into the state treasury and credited to "the motor carrier fund."3 After that date, by virtue of Mont.Laws, 1941, c. 14, § 2, they were allocated to the state's general fund.

Appellant is a Kentucky corporation, with its principal offices in Indianapolis, Indiana. [68 S.Ct. 169] Its business is exclusively interstate. It consists in transporting household

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goods and office furniture from points in one state to destinations in another. Appellant does no intrastate business in Montana. The volume of its interstate business there is continuous and substantial, not merely casual or occasional.4 It holds a certificate of convenience and necessity issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission, pursuant to which its business in Montana and elsewhere is conducted.

In 1935, appellant received a class C permit to operate over Montana highways, as required by state law.5 Until 1937, apparently, it complied with Montana requirements, including the payment of registration and license plate fees for its vehicles operating in Montana and of the 5¢ per gallon tax on gasoline purchased there.6 However, in 1937 and thereafter appellant refused to pay the flat $10 fee imposed by § 3847.16(a) and the $15 minimum "gross revenue" tax laid by § 3847.27. In consequence, after hearing on order to show cause, the appellee

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board7 in 1939 revoked the 1935 permit and brought this suit in a state court to enjoin appellant from further operations in Montana.

Upon appellant's cross-complaint, the trial court issued an order restraining the board from enforcing the "gross revenue" tax laid by § 3847.27. But at the same time it enjoined appellant from operating in Montana until it paid the fees imposed by § 3847.16(a). On appeal, the state supreme court held both taxes applicable to interstate as well as intrastate motor carriers and construed the term "gross operating revenue" in § 3847.27 to mean "gross revenue derived from operations in Montana."8 It then sustained both taxes as against appellant's constitutional objections, state and federal. Accordingly, it reversed the trial court's judgment insofar as the "gross revenue" tax had been held invalid, but affirmed the decision relating to the flat $10 tax. Mont., 172 P.2d 452, 460.

We put aside at the start appellant's suggestion that the Supreme Court of Montana has misconstrued the state statutes and therefore that we should consider them, for purposes of our limited function, according to appellant's view of their literal import. The rule is too well settled to permit of question that this Court not only accepts, but is bound by, the construction given to

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state statutes by the state courts.9 Accordingly, we accept the state court's rulings, [68 S.Ct. 170] insofar as they are material, that the two sections apply alike to interstate and intrastate commerce and that "gross operating revenue" as employed in § 3847.27 comprehends only such revenue derived from appellant's operations within Montana, not outside that state.10

Moreover, since Montana has not demanded or sought to enforce payment by appellant of more than the flat $15 minimum fee for class C carriers under § 3847.27,11 we limit our consideration of the so-called "gross revenue" tax to that fee. This too is in accordance with the state supreme court's declaration:

Even if it be admitted

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that the manner of arriving at a sound basis upon which the tax on gross revenue [should be calculated] is not provided by the statute, a contention to which we do not agree, no difficulty would arise in putting into effect the minimum fee of $15.00 required for each company vehicle operated within the state.12

Although the state court did not concede that the statute comprehended no workable or sound basis for calculating the tax above the minimum, we take this statement as a clear declaration that it would sustain the minimum charge even if, for some reason, the amount of the tax above the minimum would have to fall.

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