405 U.S. 707 (1972), 70-99, Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District

Docket Nº:No. 70-99
Citation:405 U.S. 707, 92 S.Ct. 1349, 31 L.Ed.2d 620
Party Name:Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District
Case Date:April 19, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 707

405 U.S. 707 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1349, 31 L.Ed.2d 620

Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District

No. 70-99

United States Supreme Court

April 19, 1972

v. Delta Airlines, Inc.

Argued February 23-24, 1972

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIANA

Syllabus

In No. 70-99, respondents challenged a "use and service charge" of $1 "for each passenger enplaning any commercial aircraft operated from the Dress Memorial Airport" in Evansville, Indiana. The funds were to be used for the improvement and maintenance of the airport. The Indiana Supreme Court, upholding the lower court, held the charge to be an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce in violation of Art. I, § 8, of the Constitution. In No. 70-212, a New Hampshire statute levied a service charge of $1 for each passenger enplaning a schedule commercial airliner weighing 12,500 pounds or more, and a 50¢ charge for each passenger enplaning a scheduled aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. Fifty percent of the funds were allocated to the State's aeronautical fund, with the balance going to the municipalities or airport authorities owning the public landing areas. The New Hampshire Supreme Court sustained the constitutionality of the statute.

Held: The charges imposed in these cases are constitutional. Pp. 711-722.

[92 S.Ct. 1351] (a) A charge designed to make the user of state-provided facilities pay a reasonable fee for their construction and maintenance may constitutionally be imposed on interstate and intrastate users alike. Crandall v. Nevada, 6 Wall. 35, distinguished. Pp. 711-717.

(b) The charges, applicable to both interstate and intrastate flights, do not discriminate against interstate commerce and travel. P. 717.

(c) Although not all users of the airport facilities are subject to the fees, and there are distinctions among different classes of passengers and aircraft, the charges reflect a fair, albeit imperfect,

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approximation of the use of the facilities by those for whose benefit they are imposed, and the exemptions are not wholly unreasonable. Pp. 717-719.

(d) The airlines have not shown the charges to be excessive in relation to the costs incurred by the taxing authorities in constructing and maintaining airports with public funds. New Hampshire's decision to reimburse local expenditures through unrestricted revenues is not a matter of concern to the airlines. Pp. 719-720.

(e) The charges do not conflict with any federal policies furthering uniform national regulation of air transportation. Pp. 720-721.

(f) There is no suggestion here that the charges do not advance the constitutionally permissible objective of having interstate commerce bear a fair share of airport costs. P. 722.

No. 70-99, ___ Ind. ___, 265 N.E.2d 27, reversed; No. 70-212, 111 N.H. 5, 273 A.2d 676, affirmed.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 722. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

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BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question is whether a charge by a State or municipality of $1 per commercial airline passenger to help defray the costs of airport construction and maintenance violates the Federal Constitution. Our answer is that, as imposed in these two cases, the charge does not violate the Federal Constitution.

No. 70-99. Evansville-Vanderburgh Airport Authority District was created by the Indiana Legislature to operate Dress Memorial Airport in Evansville, Indiana. Under its authority to enact ordinances adopting rates and charges to be collected from users of the airport facilities and services, the Airport Authority enacted Ordinance No. 33 establishing

a use and service charge of One Dollar ($1.00) for each passenger enplaning any commercial aircraft operated from the Dress Memorial Airport.

The commercial airlines are required to collect and remit the charge, less 6% allowed to cover the airlines' administrative costs in doing so. The moneys collected are held by the Airport Authority

in a separate fund for the purpose of defraying the present and future costs incurred by said Airport Authority in the construction, improvement, equipment, and maintenance of said Airport and its facilities for the continued use and future enjoyment by all users thereof.

Respondents challenged the constitutionality of the charge in an action filed in the Superior Court of Vanderburgh County, Indiana. The court held that the charge constituted an unreasonable burden on interstate commerce in violation of Art. I, § 8, of the Federal Constitution, and permanently enjoined enforcement of the ordinance. The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed, ___ Ind. ___, 265 N.E.2d 27 (1970). We granted certiorari, 404 U.S. 820 (1971). We reverse.

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No. 70-212. Chapter 391 of the 1969 Laws of New Hampshire, amending N.H.Rev.Stat.Ann. §§ 422:3, 422:43, 422:45, requires every interstate and intrastate "common carrier of passengers for hire by aircraft on a regular schedule" that uses any of New Hampshire's five publicly owned and operated airports to

pay a service charge of one dollar with respect to each passenger emplaning1 upon its aircraft with a gross weight of 12,500 pounds or more, or a service charge of fifty cents with respect to each passenger emplaning upon its aircraft with a gross weight of less than 12,500 pounds.

Fifty percent of the moneys collected are allocated to the State's aeronautical fund, and 50% "to the municipalities or the airport authorities owning the public landing areas at which the fees . . . were imposed." The airlines are authorized to pass on the charge to the passenger.2

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Appellants brought this action in the Superior Court of Merrimack County, New Hampshire, and challenged the constitutionality of the charge as to scheduled commercial flights on the grounds of repugnancy to the Commerce Clause, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the provisions of the Federal Constitution protecting the right to travel. The Superior Court, without decision, transferred the action to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and that court sustained the constitutionality of the statute. 111 N.H. 5, 273 A.2d 676 (1971). We noted probable jurisdiction, 40 U.S. 819 (1971).3 We affirm.

We begin our analysis with consideration of the contention of the commercial airlines in both cases that the charge is constitutionally invalid under the Court's decision in Crandall v. Nevada, 6 Wall. 35 (1868). There, the Court invalidated a Nevada statute that levied a

tax of one dollar upon every person leaving the State by any railroad, stage coach, or other vehicle engaged or employed in the business of transporting passengers for hire.

The Court approached the problem a one of whether levy of "any tax of that character," whatever its amount, impermissibly [92 S.Ct. 1353] burdened the constitutionally protected right of citizens to travel. In holding that it did, the Court reasoned:

[I]f the State can tax a railroad passenger one dollar, it can tax him one thousand dollars. If one State

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can do this, so can every other State. And thus one or more States covering the only practicable routes of travel from the east to the west, or from the north to the south, may totally prevent or seriously burden all transportation of passengers from one part of the country to the other.

Id. at 46.4

The Nevada charge, however, was not limited, as are the Indiana and New Hampshire charges before us, to travelers asked to bear a fair share of the costs of providing public facilities that further travel. The Nevada tax applied to passengers traveling interstate by privately owned transportation, such as railroads. Thus, the tax was charged without regard to whether Nevada provided any facilities for the passengers required to pay the tax. Cases decided since Crandall have distinguished it on that ground, and have sustained taxes "designed to make [interstate] commerce bear a fair share of the cost of the local government whose protection it enjoys." Freeman v. Hewit, 329 U.S. 249, 253 (1946).5 For example, in Hendrick v. Maryland, 235 U.S. 610 (1915), a District of Columbia resident was convicted of driving in Maryland without paying a fee charged to help defray the costs of road construction and repair. He challenged his conviction on the ground that the fee burdened interstate commerce in violation of the rights of citizens to travel into and through the State. The Court rejected that argument, holding that:

[W]here a State at its own expense furnishes special facilities for the use of those engaged in commerce,

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interstate as well as domestic, it may exact compensation therefor. The amount of the charges and the method of collection are primarily for determination by the State itself, and so long as they are reasonable and are fixed according to some uniform, fair and practical standard, they constitute no burden on interstate commerce. Transportation Co. v. Parkersburg, 107 U.S. 691, 699; Huse v. Glover, 119 U.S. 543, 548, 549; Monongahela Navigation Co. v. United States, 148 U.S. 312, 329, 330; Minnesota Rate Cases, 230 U.S. 352, 405; and authorities cited. The action of the State must be treated as correct unless the contrary is made to appear. In the instant case, there is no evidence concerning the value of the facilities supplied by the State, the cost of maintaining them, or the fairness of the methods adopted for collecting the charges imposed, and we cannot say from a mere inspection of the statute that its provisions are...

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