434 U.S. 452 (1978), 76-635, United States Steel Corp. v. Multistate Tax Commission

Docket Nº:No. 76-635
Citation:434 U.S. 452, 98 S.Ct. 799, 54 L.Ed.2d 682
Party Name:United States Steel Corp. v. Multistate Tax Commission
Case Date:February 21, 1978
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 452

434 U.S. 452 (1978)

98 S.Ct. 799, 54 L.Ed.2d 682

United States Steel Corp.

v.

Multistate Tax Commission

No. 76-635

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 21, 1978

Argued October 11, 1977

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

The Multistate Tax Compact was entered into by a number of States for the stated purposes of (1) facilitating proper determination of state and local tax liability of multistate taxpayers; (2) promoting uniformity and compatibility in state tax systems; (3) facilitating taxpayer convenience and compliance in the filing of tax returns and in other phases of tax administration; and (4) avoiding duplicative taxation. To these ends, the Compact created the appellee Multistate Tax Commission. Each member State is authorized to request that the Commission perform an audit on its behalf, and the Commission may seek compulsory process in aid of its auditing power in the courts of any State specifically permitting such procedure. Individual States retain complete control over all legislative and administrative action affecting tax rates, the composition of the tax base, and the means and methods of determining tax liability and collecting any taxes due. Each member State is free to adopt or reject the Commission's rules and regulations, and to withdraw from the Compact at any time. Appellants, on behalf of themselves and all other multistate taxpayers threatened with Commission audits, brought this action in District Court against appellees (the Commission, its members, and its Executive Director) challenging the constitutionality of the Compact on the grounds, inter alia, that (1) it is invalid under the Compact Clause of the Constitution (which provides: "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State"); (2) it unreasonably burdens interstate commerce; and (3) it violates the rights of multistate taxpayers under the Fourteenth Amendment. A three-judge court granted summary judgment for appellees.

Held:

1. The Multistate Tax Compact is not invalid under the rule of Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U.S. 503, 519, that the application of the Compact Clause is limited to agreements that are

directed to the formation of any combination tending to the increase of political power in the States, which may encroach upon or interfere with the just supremacy of the United States.

Pp. 459-478.

(a) The Compact's multilateral nature and its establishment of

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an ongoing administrative body do not, standing alone, present significant potential for conflict with the principles underlying the Compact Clause. The number of parties to an agreement is irrelevant if it does not impermissibly enhance state power at the expense of federal supremacy, and the powers delegated [98 S.Ct. 803] to the administrative body must also be judged in terms of such enhancement. P. 472.

(b) Under the test of whether the particular compact enhances state power quoad the Federal Government, this Compact does not purport to authorize member States to exercise any powers they could not exercise in its absence, nor is there any delegation of sovereign power to the Commission, each State being free to adopt or reject the Commission's rules and regulations and to withdraw from the Compact at any time. Pp. 472-473.

(c) Appellants' various contentions that certain procedures and requirements of the Commission encroach upon federal supremacy with respect to interstate commerce and foreign relations and impair the sovereign rights of nonmember States, are without merit, primarily because each member State could adopt similar procedures and requirements individually without regard to the Compact. Even if state power is enhanced to some degree, it is not at the expense of federal supremacy. Pp. 473-478.

2. Appellants' allegations that the Commission has abused its powers by harassing members of the plaintiff class in that it induced several States to issue burdensome requests for production of documents and to deviate from state law by issuing arbitrary assessments against taxpayers who refuse to comply with such orders, do not establish that the Compact violates the Commerce Clause or the Fourteenth Amendment. But even if such allegations were supported by the record, they are irrelevant to the facial validity of the Compact, it being only the individual State, not the Commission, that has the power to issue an assessment, whether arbitrary or not. Pp. 478-479.

417 F.Supp. 795, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 479.

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POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Compact Clause of Art. I, § 10, cl. 3, of the Constitution provides: "No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, . . . enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power. . . ." The Multistate Tax Compact, which established the Multistate Tax Commission, has not received congressional approval. This appeal requires us to decide whether the Compact is invalid for that reason. We also are required to decide whether it impermissibly encroaches on congressional power under the Commerce Clause and whether it operates in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I

The Multistate Tax Compact was drafted in 1966 and became effective, according to its own terms, on August 4, 1967, after seven States had adopted it. By the inception of this litigation in 1972, 21 States had become members.1 Its

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formation was a [98 S.Ct. 804] response to this Court's decision in Northwestern States Portland Cement Co. v. Minnesota, 358 U.S. 450 (1959), and the congressional activity that followed in its wake.

In Northwestern States, this Court held that net income from the interstate operations of a foreign corporation may be subjected to state taxation, provided that the levy is nondiscriminatory and is fairly apportioned to local activities that form a sufficient nexus to support the exercise of the taxing power. This prompted Congress to enact a statute, Act of Sept. 14, 1959, Pub.L. 8272, 73 Stat. 555, which sets forth certain minimum standards for the exercise of that power.2 It also authorized a study for the purpose of recommending legislation establishing uniform standards to be observed by the States in taxing income of interstate businesses. Although

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the results of the study were published in 1964 and 1965,3 Congress has not enacted any legislation dealing with the subject.4

While Congress was wrestling with the problem, the Multistate Tax Compact was drafted.5 It symbolized the recognition that, as applied to multistate businesses, traditional state tax administration was inefficient and costly to both State and taxpayer. In accord with that recognition, Art. I of the Compact states four purposes: (1) facilitating proper determination of state and local tax liability of multistate taxpayers, including the equitable apportionment of tax bases and settlement of apportionment disputes; (2) promoting uniformity and compatibility in state tax systems; (3) facilitating taxpayer convenience and compliance in the filing of tax returns and in other phases of tax administration; and (4) avoiding duplicative taxation.

To these ends, Art. VI creates the Multistate Tax Commission, composed of the tax administrators from all the member States. Section 3 of Art. VI authorizes the Commission (i) to study state and local tax systems; (ii) to develop and recommend proposals for an increase in uniformity and compatibility of state and local tax laws in order to encourage simplicity and improvement in state and local tax law and administration; (iii) to compile and publish information that may assist member States in implementing the Compact and taxpayers in complying with the tax laws; and

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(iv) to do all things necessary and incidental to the administration of its functions pursuant to the Compact.

Articles VII and VIII detail more specific powers of the Commission. Under Art. VII, the Commission may adopt uniform administrative regulations in the event that two or more States have uniform provisions relating to specified types of taxes. These regulations are advisory only. Each member State has the power to reject, disregard, amend, or modify any rules or regulations promulgated by the Commission. They have no force in any member State until adopted by that State in accordance with its own law.

Article VIII applies only in those States that specifically adopt it by statute. It authorizes any member State or its [98 S.Ct. 805] subdivision to request that the Commission perform an audit on its behalf. The Commission, as the State's auditing agent, may seek compulsory process in aid of its auditing power in the courts of any State that has adopted Art. VIII. Information obtained by the audit may be disclosed only in accordance with the laws of the requesting State. Moreover, individual member States retain complete control over all legislation and administrative action affecting the rate of tax, the composition of the tax base (including the determination of the components of taxable income), and the means and methods of determining tax liability and collecting any taxes determined to be due.

Article X permits any party to withdraw from the Compact by enacting a repealing statute. The Compact's other provisions are of less relevance to the matter before us.6

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In 1972, appellants brought this action on behalf of themselves7 and all other...

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