Coca-Cola Bottling Plants v. Johnson, COCA-COLA

Decision Date26 March 1952
Docket NumberCOCA-COLA
Citation87 A.2d 667,147 Me. 327
PartiesBOTTLING PLANTS, Inc. v. JOHNSON, State Tax Assessor.
CourtMaine Supreme Court

Hutchinson, Pierce, Atwood & Scribner, Portland, for plaintiff.

Ernest H. Johnson, pro se, Boyd L. Bailey, Asst. Atty. Gen., for defendant.



The question is whether the common returnable soft drink bottle, on which a deposit is made on purchase and refunded on return, is a 'container' within the meaning of Section 2 of the 'Sales and Use Tax Law.'

The appellant, a bottler in Maine, purchased bottles from an Ohio manufacturer. If the bottles were 'containers,' the purchase was not 'at retail sale' and not taxable. If the bottles were not 'containers,' the purchase was 'at retail sale' and taxable.

The case is an appeal to the Superior Court from the decision of the State Tax Assessor upon a petition by appellant for reconsideration of an assessment of a 'use' tax in the amount of $34.78. Sections 29 and 30. It is before us on report upon an agreed statement of facts. References to the statutes are to the 'Sales and Use Tax Law'. P.L.1951, Ch. 250, also designated as R.S. Ch. 14-A.

The parts of the 'Sales and Use Tax Law' with which we are concerned read as follows:

'Sec. 2. Definitions. The following words, terms and phrases when used in this chapter have the meaning ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning:

* * *

* * *

"Retail sale' or 'sale at retail' means any sale of tangible personal property, in the ordinary course of business, for consumption or use, or for any purpose other than for resale in the form of tangible personal property. * * * 'Retail sale' or 'sale at retail' do not include the sale of containers, boxes, crates, bags, cores, twines, tapes, bindings, wrappings, labels and other packing, packaging and shipping materials when sold to persons for use in packing, packaging or shipping tangible personal property produced or sold by them.

* * *

* * *

'Sec. 4. Use Tax. A tax is hereby imposed on the storage, use or other consumption in this state of tangible personal property, purchased at retail sale on or after July 1, 1951 at the rate of 2% of the sale price. * * *

* * *

* * *

'Sec. 10. Exemptions. No tax on sales, storage or use shall be collected upon or in connection with: * * *.

'X. Containers. Sales of returnable containers when sold with the contents in connection with a retail sale of the contents or when resold for refilling.'

The 'use' tax under Section 4 is based upon a purchase at 'retail sale'. To determine the meaning of 'retail sale' we turn to the definitions in Section 2. 'Retail sale,' or 'sale at retail', under the first sentence quoted does not include a sale for resale.

If the bottles in question were purchased for resale by the bottler, there would clearly be no tax on the transaction. For the purposes of this case, however, we assume that the appellant neither purchased the bottles for resale nor sold them. The appellant contends that it does not sell bottles and specifically that it does not seek an abatement of the tax under the resale provision. The State admits in argument that the bottles are not sold 'in the ordinary sense' to a distributor or consumer.

We are concerned with the first and last sentences, quoted above, of the paragraph in Section 2 defining 'retail sale.' Under the first sentence standing alone the purchase by the appellant was a 'retail sale.' It was a sale for 'use' of the bottler or in any event 'for a purpose other than for resale.' The definition of 'retail sale' or 'sale at retail' is not found in the first sentence alone. We must consider the entire definition, and for our immediate purpose the last sentence of the paragraph.

We come now to the 'container' sentence and to the question vital to the controversy. The State says that 'container' under the statute includes a non-returnable or 'throw away' bottle but not the returnable bottle. The appellant says whether or not the bottle is returnable is of no consequence. In either event it says the bottle is a 'container,' and with this view we agree.

We recognize the principles of 'noscitur a sociis' and 'ejusdem generis'. See 50 Am.Jur. 241 et seq., and 59 C.J. 979 et seq. There is no place here, however, for the application of the principles.

What is there, we may ask, in this paragraph fairly and reasonably to lead one to believe that non-returnable bottles are 'containers' and returnable bottles are something else? The Legislature, had it wished to limit 'container' to the non-returnable or 'throw away' bottle, could readily have so provided.

It is suggested that Section 10-X, exempting returnable containers from tax under certain conditions, indicates significantly that the 'container' of Section 2 is of the non-returnable or 'throw away' variety and does not include the returnable bottle. Section 10-X operates, it is clear, at the level of the retail sale of the contents of the container or at the level of the sale of the container for refilling. It has no bearing upon a sale, such as the transaction before us, from manufacturer to bottler. In our view the plain and ordinary meaning of 'container' in Section 2 is not to be altered in such an indirect manner.

The State further urges that on appellant's theory every sale of returnable bottles will escape taxation contrary to the intent of the Legislature that one sale of tangible personal property, with certain exceptions, should be taxed and that the taxable...

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10 cases
  • State Dept. of Revenue v. Adolph Coors Co.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • 8 September 1986
    ..."containers, labels, sacks, or bags used for packaging tangible personal property for shipment or sale"); Coca-Cola Bottling Plants, Inc. v. Johnson, 147 Me. 327, 87 A.2d 667 (1952) (distinction between returnable and non-returnable containers unimportant in construction of provision exempt......
  • Opinion of the Justices
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • 7 January 1970
    ...legislative intent but not with any responsibility for economic and social effects of legislation. Coca-Cola Bottling Plants v. Johnson, 1952, 147 Me. 327, 87 A.2d 667. Whether or not the enactment of a law is the best means to achieve the desired results is a matter for the Legislature and......
  • State v. Reynolds Metals Co.
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 28 November 1955
    ...the following cases: Commonwealth of Mass. v. Brandon Farms Milk Co., 249 Mass. 531, 144 N.E. 381, 35 A.L.R. 780; Coca Cola Bottling Plants v. Johnson, 147 Me. 327, 87 A.2d 667; Dewey Portland Cement Co. v. Crooks, 8 Cir., 57 F.2d 499; La Salle Cement Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue......
  • W. S. Libbey Co. v. Johnson
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Court
    • 3 February 1953
    ...legislative intention, when determinable, must be given effect. Acheson v. Johnson, 147 Me. 275, 86 A.2d 628; Coca-Cola Bottling Plants, Inc. v. Johnson, 147 Me. 327, 87 A.2d 667; Hudson Pulp and Paper Corporation v. Johnson, 147 Me. 444, 88 A.2d 154; Androscoggin Foundry Co. v. Johnson, 14......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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