Buckstaff Bath House Co v. Kinley

Decision Date18 December 1939
Docket NumberNo. 201,201
Citation84 L.Ed. 322,60 S.Ct. 279,308 U.S. 358
PartiesBUCKSTAFF BATH HOUSE CO. v. McKINLEY, Commissioner of the Department of Labor of the State of Arkansas, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Terrell Marshall, of Little Rock, Ark., for petitioner.

Mr. W. L. Pope, of Little Rock, Ark., for respondents.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 901 of the Social Security Act, 49 Stat. 620, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1101, levies an excise tax, equal to specified percentages of total wages paid, on 'every employer' of eight or more persons with respect to their 'employment'. By § 902 the taxpayer may credit against this tax the amount of contributions paid by him into an unemployment fund under a state law, such credit however not to exceed 90 per cent of the tax and to be allowed only for contributions made under the laws of states approved and certified by the Social Security Board in accordance with the standards prescribed in § 903. By § 907 the term 'employment' is defined to mean 'any service, of whatever nature, performed within the United States by an employee for his employer' except, inter alia, service performed 'in the employ of the United States Government or of an instrumentality of the United States'.

Petitioner is an Arkansas corporation, organized for profit and with its only place of business situated on the United States Government Reservation known as Hot Springs National Park. It operates a bath house, which it erected and equipped, under a long term lease from the Secretary of the Interior. By the terms of that lease the operation and use of the bath house facilities are subject to certain control by the Department of the Interior, which in the main relate to the number of bath tubs which may be used, the charges to the public, the qualifications of employees, the maintenance and care of the premises, a prohibition of employment of agents to solicit patronage, and control over an assignment or transfer of the lease or any interest therein.

Respondents are officials of the State of Arkansas charged with the duty of enforcement of the Arkansas Unemployment Compensation Law,1 an act reciprocal to, and integrated with, the Social Security Act.2 Pursuant to that act respondents sought to collect from petitioner as an employer the required contributions for the calendar year 1937. Petitioner paid into the Treasury of the United States the tax required by the Social Security Act for that period. But it refused to pay the state tax and sued in the state court to enjoin its collection on the grounds, inter alia, that it is an instrumentality of the United States and that certain acts of Congress and statutes of Arkansas exempt it from such taxation. The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed a decree sustaining a demurrer to the bill and dismissing it, on the grounds that the Arkansas statute was applicable to petitioner and that, on construction of the acts in question, petitioner did not have the claimed immunity, 127 S.W.2d 802. We granted certiorari because that decision was asserted to be repugnant to the acts vesting exclusive jurisdiction over the Hot Springs Reservation in the United States. 308 U.S. 508, 60 S.Ct. 97, 84 L.Ed. —-.

Petitioner's contention here, as below, is based primarily on the Act of Congress of March 3, 1891, 26 Stat. 842, whereby the consent of the United States was given for the taxation, under the authority of the laws of the State of Arkansas applicable to the equal taxation of personal property in that State, as personal property of all structures and other property in private ownership on the Hot Springs Reservation (National Park).' 16 U.S.C.A. § 365. 3 Petitioner points out that the tax imposed by the Social Security Act against which appropriate credits may be made for contributions under state laws is laid, as stated by this Court in Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548, 578, 57 S.Ct. 883, 886, 887, 81 L.Ed. 1279, 109 A.L.R. 1293, 'as a duty, an impost, or an excise upon the relation of employment'; and that as held by the Supreme Court of Arkansas the tax in question is 'not a tax on personal property; nor is it, in any sense, a property tax'. 127 S.W.2d 805. Therefore, petitioner concludes that the United States did not confer on the state of Arkansas the power to impose such a tax but retains its sovereign jurisdiction in that regard since the power of Arkansas to tax was limited to the enumerated property taxes.

We agree with the Supreme Court of Arkansas that the state had jurisdiction to impose the tax in question.

There can be no question but that petitioner is liable for the tax levied by § 901 of the Social Security Act, unless it is exempted by that portion of § 907 which relieves 'an instrumentality of the United States' from that duty. But it seems clear that petitioner is not, within the meaning of the Social Security Act, such an instrumentality. The mere fact that a private corporation conducts its business under a contract with the United States does not make it an instrumentality of the latter. Fidelity & Deposit Co. v. Pennsylvania, 240 U.S. 319, 36 S.Ct. 298, 60 L.Ed. 664. Petitioner's lease from the Secretary of the Interior did not convert it into such an instrumentality. Petitioner 'is engaged in its own behalf, not the government's, in the conduct of a private business for profit'. See Federal Compress & Warehouse Co. v. McLean, 291 U.S. 17, 23, 54 S.Ct. 267, 269, 78 L.Ed. 622. Though it acts with the Government's permission and has received a privilege from the Government, it does not exercise that privilege on behalf of the latter. See Broad River Power Co. v. Query, 288 U.S. 178, 180, 53 S.Ct. 326, 327, 77 L.Ed. 685. The control reserved by the Government for protection of a governmental program and the public interest is not incompatible with the retention of the status of a private enterprise. See Federal Compress & Warehouse Co. v. McLean, supra. That control, being wholly supervisory, is not to be differentiated from the type of control which the United States may reserve over any independent contractor without transforming him into its instrumentality. See James v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 149, 58 S.Ct. 208, 216, 82 L.Ed. 155, 114 A.L.R. 318. In effect, petitioner concedes the point by admitting its liability under the Social Security Act.

That petitioner is subject to the Social Security Act is extremely relevant to the solution of the problem at hand. For that Act laid the foundation for a cooperative endeavor between the states and the nation to meet a grave emergency problem. As pointed out by this Court in Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, supra, 301 U.S. page 588, 57 S.Ct. page 891, 81 L.Ed. 1279, 109 A.L.R. 1293, that Act was an attempt to find a method by which the states and the federal government could 'work together to a common end'. Prior thereto many states had 'held back through alarm lest in laying such a toll upon their industries, they would place themselves in a position of economic disadvantage as compared...

To continue reading

Request your trial
56 cases
  • United States v. Silk Harrison v. Greyvan Lines
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 16, 1947
    ...sought by the legislation.7 These considerations have heretofore guided our construction of the Act. Buckstaff Bath House Co. v. McKinley, 308 U.S. 358, 60 S.Ct. 279, 84 L.Ed. 322; Social Security Board v. Nierotko, 327 U.S. 358, 66 S.Ct. 637, 90 L.Ed. 718, 162 A.L.R. Of course, this does n......
  • Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Texas Co Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Magnolia Petroleum Co
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 7, 1949
    ...are: James v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 58 S.Ct. 208, 82 L.Ed. 155, 114 A.L.R. 318; Buckstaff Bath House Co. v. McKinley, 308 U.S. 358, 60 S.Ct. 279, 84 L.Ed. 322; State of Alabama v. King & Boozer, 314 U.S. 1, 62 S.Ct. 43, 86 L.Ed. 3; and Wilson v. Cook, 327 U.S. 474, 66 S.Ct. 6......
  • Penn Dairies v. Milk Control Commission of Pennsylvania
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • March 1, 1943
    ...v. Dravo Contracting Co., 302 U.S. 134, 149, 58 S.Ct. 208, 216, 82 L.Ed. 155, 114 A.L.R. 318; Buckstaff Bath House Co. v. McKinley, 308 U.S. 358, 359, 362, 363, 60 S.Ct. 279, 281, 84 L.Ed. 322 and cases cited; cf. Susquehanna Power Co. v. State Tax Comm'n, 283 U.S. 291, 294, 51 S.Ct. 434, 4......
  • McCaw v. Fase
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • January 31, 1955
    ...from state taxation. Broad River Power Co. v. Query, 1933, 288 U.S. 178, 53 S.Ct. 326, 77 L.Ed. 685; Buckstaff Bathhouse Co. v. McKinley, 1939, 308 U.S. 358, 60 S.Ct. 279, 84 L.Ed. 322. And the character of radio communication does not prohibit a tax upon the state business any more than th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT