879 P.2d 137 (Okla. 1994), 68401, Private Truck Council of America, Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Com'n

Docket Nº:68401.
Citation:879 P.2d 137, 1994 OK 96
Party Name:PRIVATE TRUCK COUNCIL OF AMERICA, INC., Circle W Transportation, Inc., and Roy E. Griffis, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Appellants, v. OKLAHOMA TAX COMMISSION, et al., Appellees, and Associated Motor Carriers of Oklahoma, Inc., Intervenor.
Case Date:July 19, 1994
Court:Supreme Court of Oklahoma
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 137

879 P.2d 137 (Okla. 1994)

1994 OK 96

PRIVATE TRUCK COUNCIL OF AMERICA, INC., Circle W

Transportation, Inc., and Roy E. Griffis, on

behalf of themselves and all others

similarly situated, Appellants,

v.

OKLAHOMA TAX COMMISSION, et al., Appellees,

and

Associated Motor Carriers of Oklahoma, Inc., Intervenor.

No. 68401.

Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

July 19, 1994.

Page 138

On Remand from the United States Supreme Court.

The United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment called for in our opinion in Private Truck Council of America, Inc. et al. v. Oklahoma Tax Commission, et al., 806 P.2d 598 (Okla.1991), and remanded the matter to this Court for further consideration in light of Dennis v. Higgins, 498 U.S. 439, 111 S.Ct. 865, 112 L.Ed.2d 969 (1991), where the court held, for the first time, that suits for unconstitutional violations of the Interstate Commerce Clause created a right of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although the right of action is created, we find that in Oklahoma an adequate state remedy exists for redress, as the trial court held. We hold that the trial court correctly dismissed plaintiffs' § 1983 claim. A federal court would have been prohibited, under The Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341, from entertaining such a claim because "the district courts shall not enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under state law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such state." To allow § 1983 remedies in the courts of this state would give plaintiffs relief to which they would not have been entitled in federal court. Thus, under the principles of comity, we hold that state courts in Oklahoma may not enforce federally created rights, which federal law prohibits federal courts from enforcing.

Judgment Reinstated.

Richard A. Allen, Richard P. Schweitzer, Zuckert, Scoutt & Rasenberger, Washington, DC, William B. Rogers, William B. Rogers & Associates, Oklahoma City, for appellants.

David Hudson, Gen. Counsel, Stanley P. Johnston, Deputy Gen. Counsel, Oklahoma Tax Com'n, Oklahoma City, for appellee.

PER CURIAM.

This case is before us on remand from the United States Supreme Court, 501 U.S. 1247, 111 S.Ct. 2882, 115 L.Ed.2d 1048. The judgment was vacated and the cause remanded for our consideration in light of Dennis v. Higgins, 498 U.S. 439, 111 S.Ct. 865, 112 L.Ed.2d 969 (1991). We held in our original opinion in this appeal, Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Commission, 806 P.2d 598 (Okla.1991), that 68 O.S.Supp.1982 § 607.1 and 47 O.S.Supp.1986 § 1120(K) were unconstitutional because they violated the fundamental requirement of nondiscrimination against interstate commerce. 1 Based

Page 139

upon that holding, we found it unnecessary to address plaintiffs' constitutional challenge of the tax statutes under the Privileges and Immunities Clause. We affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' federal claim for refund under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because Oklahoma has an adequate state remedy affording the requested relief. We allowed a refund to plaintiffs based upon the refund procedures in 68 O.S.1981 § 226, from the payment of the 1987 taxes, based upon American Trucking Ass'ns., Inc. v. Scheiner, 483 U.S. 266, 107 S.Ct. 2829, 97 L.Ed.2d 226 (1987), and American Trucking Ass'ns., Inc. v. Smith, 496 U.S. 167, 110 S.Ct. 2323, 110 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990).

The trial court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, finding that the two statutes did not violate the Commerce Clause, and dismissed Count III of plaintiffs' petition, which sought a refund under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for failure to state a claim. Plaintiffs' Count III asserted that the defendants violated the Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities clauses of the United States Constitution, as set out in Counts I and II of their petition, under color of state law, and threatened to deprive plaintiffs of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Thus, plaintiffs alleged that defendants were liable to plaintiffs under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs prayed for: 1) a declaratory judgment that the two statutes were null and void because they violated the United States Constitution and other laws, 2) a permanent injunction enjoining the Oklahoma Tax Commission from assessing or collecting the retaliatory taxes and fees on nonresident motor carries under the above-referenced statutes, 3) a refund of all retaliatory taxes and fees collected by the Oklahoma Tax Commission pursuant to 68 O.S.1981 § 607.1 and 47 O.S.Supp.1986 § 1120(K), plus interest, and 4) attorneys' fees under 12 O.S.1981 § 18(C) and 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and costs.

The trial court dismissed plaintiffs' claim for refund under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, relying on Consolidated Freightways of Delaware v. Kassel, 730 F.2d 1139 (8th Cir.1984), in which the Eighth Circuit had held that violations of the Commerce Clause were not a basis for bringing a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We affirmed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' claim for refund under § 1983, because Oklahoma has an adequate state remedy affording the relief plaintiffs requested. We reversed the trial court's summary judgment to defendants on Counts I and II of plaintiffs' petition, finding that the two statutes violated the Commerce Clause. We denied the plaintiff's claim for attorneys' fees, however, because plaintiffs had no civil rights claim under § 1983 and, accordingly, no right to attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. We also denied plaintiffs' claim for attorneys' fees under state law on the ground that the statute upon which plaintiffs relied, 12 O.S.1981 § 18(C) was repealed before plaintiffs filed their action.

After our decision in the case at bar, the United States Supreme Court handed down the case of Dennis v. Higgins, 498 U.S. 439, 111 S.Ct. 865, 112 L.Ed.2d 969 (1991). In Dennis, the United States Supreme Court held, contrary to our earlier opinion in this matter, that claims for violations of the Commerce Clause may be brought under § 1983. In Dennis the trial court held that the Nebraska taxing statutes at issue violated the Commerce Clause, for essentially the same reasons that we held in our first opinion in the case at bar. The Dennis trial court permanently enjoined the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles from assessing, levying or collecting the taxes and fees. The Nebraska trial court awarded the plaintiffs attorneys' fees and expenses under the "common fund" doctrine, but denied the § 1983 claims under Kassel. Both sides appealed, although the unconstitutionality of the taxing statutes was not appealed. The Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' § 1983 claim, but reversed the allowance of attorneys' fees under the common fund doctrine. The Nebraska Supreme Court held, despite § 1983's broad language, that there was no cause of action under § 1983 for violation of the Commerce Clause.

Page 140

As in Dennis, the trial court in the case at bar ruled that plaintiffs failed to state a claim under § 1983.

In Dennis v. Higgins, Id., the United States Supreme Court decided that the Commerce Clause creates rights that can be asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the Commerce Clause confers rights, privileges or immunities within the meaning of § 1983. Thus, suits for violation of the Commerce Clause may be brought under § 1983 to obtain injunctive and declaratory relief from state action that violates the Commerce Clause. We directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing the affect of Dennis on plaintiffs' claims.

Here, plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, a refund of taxes paid, and an attorneys' fee, under both state law, and § 1983. In our first opinion we held the two taxing statutes unconstitutional and granted plaintiffs a partial refund. It is clear to us that the United States Supreme Court vacated our opinion because of our reliance on Kassel, which the Supreme Court repudiated in Dennis. Dennis, however, did not address the critical issue of whether a state court, under the principles of comity, should decline to grant relief under § 1983, a federal law, when a federal court would have been prohibited from granting such relief under The Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341.

I.

We now reconsider whether plaintiffs are entitled to assert federally created remedies under §§ 1983 and 1988 in this state court action. We hold, under the principles of comity and federalism, that plaintiffs are not entitled to relief under §§ 1983 and 1988.

We have not previously addressed this issue, but the Supreme Court of North Dakota recently considered it. State v. Quill, 500 N.W.2d 196 (N.D.1993) Cert. Denied 510 U.S. 859, 114 S.Ct. 173, 126 L.Ed.2d 132 (1993), was virtually identical to the case at bar. There, as here, 1) the matter came before the court following reversal by the United States Supreme Court of an earlier opinion, which had erroneously held that a state tax act did not violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution; 2) the taxpayers sought an attorneys' fee under § 1983 and § 1988; and 3) the parties did not dispute that state statutes provided the parties full relief from the unconstitutionality of the involved tax acts. The Quill court denied an attorneys' fee to Quill, on the ground of comity and federalism, because a federal court would have been prohibited from granting such relief under the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341. 2 The Quill court concluded that, while § 1341 did not expressly prohibit state courts from granting federally created relief, state courts should decline to exercise such jurisdiction. Relying on its earlier opinion in Linderkamp v. Bismarck School District No. 1, 397 N.W.2d 76 (N.D.1986), the Quill court held that the...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP