358 U.S. 522 (1959), 10, Allied Stores of Ohio, Inc. v. Bowers

Docket Nº:No. 10
Citation:358 U.S. 522, 79 S.Ct. 437, 3 L.Ed.2d 480
Party Name:Allied Stores of Ohio, Inc. v. Bowers
Case Date:February 24, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 522

358 U.S. 522 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 437, 3 L.Ed.2d 480

Allied Stores of Ohio, Inc.

v.

Bowers

No. 10

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1959

Argued November 12, 1958

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF OHIO

Syllabus

Appellant, an Ohio corporation owning and operating department stores in Ohio and maintaining there private warehouses where it stores stocks of merchandise to be sold in its stores, challenged in the Ohio courts the validity of an ad valorem state tax on the contents of its warehouses. It claimed that it was denied the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment because Ohio exempted from such taxation merchandise belonging to nonresidents "if held in a storage warehouse for storage only." The trial court sustained the tax. The State Supreme Court held that appellant lacked standing to raise this constitutional question and affirmed the judgment.

Held:

1. Appellant had standing to prosecute its constitutional claim. Pp. 525-526.

2. The exemption from taxation of merchandise belonging to a nonresident when "held in a storage warehouse for storage only" did not deny to appellant, a resident of the State, the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Wheeling Steel Corp. v. Glander, 337 U.S. 562, distinguished. Pp. 526-530.

166 Ohio St. 116,140 N.E.2d 411, affirmed.

WHITTAKER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question presented is whether an Ohio statute that exempts from ad valorem taxation "merchandise or agricultural products belonging to a nonresident

Page 523

. . . if held in a storage warehouse for storage only" denies to appellant, a resident of the State, the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The facts are stipulated. So far as pertinent, they are that appellant, Allied Stores of Ohio, Inc., an Ohio corporation, owns and operates a department store in each of four Ohio cities. It also maintains in each of those cities a private warehouse where it stores stocks of merchandise [79 S.Ct. 439] of the kinds sold in its stores. As needed, merchandise is transferred from the warehouse to the store, and when merchandise is sold by sample in the store -- usually a heavy or bulky article -- it is delivered from the warehouse directly to the customer.

Title 57, Page's Ohio Rev.Code Ann.1953, § 5709.01, provides, inter alia, that "All personal property located and used in business in this state [shall be] subject to taxation, regardless of the residence of the owners thereof. . . ." (Emphasis added.) During the tax year involved, another Ohio statute, Title 57, Page's Ohio Rev.Code Ann.1953, § 5701.08(A), provided, in pertinent part, that:

As used in Title LVII of the Revised Code:

(A) Personal property is "used" within the meaning of "used in business" . . . when stored or kept on hand as material, parts, products, or merchandise; but merchandise or agricultural products belonging to a nonresident of this state is not used in business in this state if held in a storage warehouse for storage only. . . .1

(We have added the italics, and, as was done by the Supreme Court of Ohio, we will refer to the italicized portion as the "proviso.")

Page 524

Acting under those statutes, appellee, as Tax Commissioner of Ohio, proposed the assessment of an ad valorem tax against appellant based on the average value of the merchandise that it had stored in its four Ohio warehouses during the tax year ending January 31, 1954.2 Appellant petitioned the Board of Tax Appeals of Ohio for a redetermination, contending that the property stored in its four warehouses in the tax year involved was "merchandise . . . held in a storage warehouse for storage only," within the meaning of § 5701.08(A), and that, because the section exempted nonresidents,3 but taxed residents, on stocks of merchandise so held, it denied to appellant, a resident of Ohio, the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Board of Tax Appeals upheld the tax, and so did the Court of Appeals of Cuyahoga County. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio held that appellant

Page 525

lacked standing to raise the constitutional question presented and affirmed the judgment. 166 Ohio St. 116, 140 N.E.2d 411. The case comes here on Allied's appeal.

The first and preliminary question thus is whether the Supreme Court [79 S.Ct. 440] of Ohio correctly held that appellant lacked standing to prosecute the constitutional question sought to be presented. It is settled that

[w]hether a pleading sets up a sufficient right of action or defense, grounded on the Constitution or a law of the United States is necessarily a question of federal law, and where a case coming from a state court presents that question, this court must determine for itself the sufficiency of the allegations displaying the right or defense, and is not concluded by the view taken of them by the state court.

First National Bank of Guthrie Center v. Anderson, 269 U.S. 341, 346; Staub v. City of Baxley, 355 U.S. 313, 318.

In reaching its conclusion, the Ohio court said,

In our opinion, it is not necessary to consider the constitutional question raised by the taxpayer in the instant case, because, if its contention with regard to that question is sound, it necessarily leads to the conclusion that the entire proviso in subdivision (A) of Section 5701.08, which read

but merchandise or agricultural products belonging to a nonresident of this state is not used in business in this state if held in a storage warehouse for storage only,

was void and should be stricken. That being so, it is apparent that any of taxpayer's "merchandise . . . held in a storage warehouse for storage only" would be taxable because described by the preceding words remaining in the statute and reading, "stored . . . as . . . merchandise." But the court did not hold that the proviso was invalid, nor did it strike it from the statute. Instead, it held that the proviso expressed the valid legislative purpose to exempt the merchandise and agricultural products of nonresidents when held in a storage warehouse for storage only, and that the court was powerless to strike it. In

Page 526

this, the court was following its prior decisions on the question. General Cigar Co. v. Peck, 159 Ohio St. 152, 111 N.E.2d 265...

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