82 U.S. 284 (1873), State Tax On Railway Gross Receipts, In Re

Citation:82 U.S. 284, 21 L.Ed. 164
Case Date:March 03, 1873
Court:United States Supreme Court

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82 U.S. 284 (1873)

21 L.Ed. 164





United States Supreme Court.

March 03, 1873


ERROR to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; the case being thus:

By an act of the legislature of Pennsylvania, passed on the 23d day of February, 1866, entitled 'An act to amend the revenue laws of the Commonwealth,' a tax was imposed upon the gross receipts of certain companies. The second section was as follows:

'In addition to the taxes now provided by law, every railroad, canal, and transportation company incorporated under the laws of this Commonwealth, and not liable to the tax upon income under existing laws, shall pay to the Commonwealth a tax of three-fourths of one per centum upon the gross receipts of said company; the said tax shall be paid semi-annually upon the first days of July and January, commencing on the first day of July, 1866; and for the purpose of ascertaining the amount of the same, it shall be the duty of the treasurer, or other proper officer of said company, to transmit to the auditor-general a statement, under oath or affirmation, of the amount of gross receipts of the said company during the preceding six months; and if such company shall refuse, or fail, for a period of thirty days after such tax becomes due, to make said return, or to pay the same, the amount thereof, with an addition of ten per centum

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thereto, shall be collected for the use of the Commonwealth, as other taxes are recoverable by law from said companies.'

Under this statute the accounting officers of Pennsylvania stated an account between the Commonwealth and the Reading Railroad Company, for tax on the gross receipts of the company, for the half year ending December 31st, 1867. The company, as stated in a preceding case, 1 was a corporation created by the State of Pennsylvania. Its road was between Philadelphia and the coal regions of Pennsylvania, and one large source of the company's profit was the transportation on the road of coal from the coal regions to a place near Philadelphia, called Port Richmond, or to the Schuylkill Canal, from both which places most of it went to States other than Pennsylvania.

The account, as stated by the accounting officers of the Commonwealth, was based on returns made by the company, which discriminated between receipts from freight transported to points within, and receipts from freight exported to points without, the State of Pennsylvania. The latter were returned under protest against their liability to taxation, and the tax assessed against these receipts made the subject of the present controversy. The company, in refusing to pay, alleged that the act of February 23d, 1866--so far as it taxed that portion of the gross receipts which were derived from transportation from the State to another State, or into the State from another,--was unconstitutional and void, because, among other reasons, it was in conflict with the fourth paragraph of the eighth section of the first article of the Constitution of the United States, which ordains that----

'Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States.'

And with the second paragraph of the tenth section of the same article, which ordains that----

'No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws.'

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania adjudged that the act was not in conflict with either of the clauses of the Constitution relied on; and to this, its judgment, the present writ of error was taken.


Messrs. James E. Gowen and R. A. Lamberton, for the plaintiff in error:

We assume that the position taken by us in the case of The State Freight Tax 2--the position, namely, that a State tax upon freight generally is unconstitutional, as applied to the transportation of merchandise from one State to another--will be sustained by the judgment of this court. Setting out, then, as with a postulate, that such a tax is unconstitutional, we say:

1st. There is no difference, in principle, between a freight tax regulated by reference to the articles transported and such a tax levied in the shape of a percentage of the money received for transportation.

Is it not unreasonable to say that a tax of two cents per ton on the transportation of coal is unconstitutional, and yet that a tax of one per cent. on every two dollars (or two cents) paid for the transportation of coal is constitutional? If State taxation of interstate commerce is forbidden, a tax on the transportation of a ton of freight from one State to another must be equally illegal, whether the sum to be paid is specially mentioned or is left to be ascertained by a simple arithmetical calculation. The great object of the constitutional provision giving Congress the power to regulate commerce between the States was to prevent the States from embarrassing the intercourse which was intended should freely exist between these bodies, designed to be united for many purposes into one nation, with equal rights and privileges conferred upon all. If any one could tax the commodities carried it could exclude their passage through the State or across its lines. Is not a tax imposed on the amount

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of freight received by a transportation company the same in effect as one charged against the article carried? If the State can charge three-fourths of one per cent. on the money paid for freight, it can charge fifty per cent. on all money received, and although it can undoubtedly tax its own citizens who are represented in its legislative bodies to any extent that the law-makers may see proper, it cannot thus increase the price of transportation to the people of other States.

2d. A tax upon the gross receipts of a transportation company is necessarily a tax upon transportation.

In the Bank of Commerce v. The Commissioners of Taxes, 3 it was held that Federal securities held by a bank in New York, as part of the bank's capital, could not be constitutionally taxed under a law of that State which took the actual value of the entire capital stock as the basis of taxation, although it was strongly urged that the Federal securities were not specifically and eo nomine taxed; that no discrimination was made between them and other property; and that, in fact, the tax was upon the aggregate value of the property of the bank, irrespective of the character of the component parts of that property. This court, however, unanimously refused to admit that the law of New York did not tax Federal loans, because the tax was imposed indiscriminately upon all the property of the bank.

So a tax upon the gross receipts of a company is, necessarily, a tax upon its receipts from transportation, or any other source; but, when the company is a transportation company, and the tax is chargeable upon the gross receipts of transportation companies only, it is plain that the tax was practically intended to be a tax on gross receipts from transportation, and on nothing else. The gross receipts of a transportation company must, in nearly every case, be receipts from transportation alone.

The Bank Tax Case 4 was but an affirmance of the principle on which the case we refer to was ruled. It was there

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held that a tax on a valuation equal to the amount of the capital stock of a bank, paid in, or secured to be paid in, was really and substantially a tax upon that portion of the capital stock which consisted of the loans of the United States, notwithstanding it was strenuously urged that the tax was the same, in substance, as a tax of a specific sum upon the franchises and privileges of the bank, irrespective of the character of its investments, or, to use the language of Denio, C. J., inUtica v. Churchill, 5 a tax 'like that annexed to the franchise as a royalty for the grant,' and notwithstanding the form of the tax appears to have been specially devised to obviate the objections sustained in the case of The Bank of Commerce v. The Commissioners.

Messrs. F. Carroll Brewster and Lewis Waln Smith, contra:

Even if we conceded, which we do not, the unconstitutionality of the tax on freight generally--the matter just now argued in the preceding...

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