Farmers Loan Trust Co v. State of Minnesota

Decision Date06 January 1930
Docket NumberNo. 26,26
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Cleon Headly and George W. Morgan, both of St. Paul, Minn., for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from page 205 intentionally omitted] Mr. G. A. Youngquist, of Washington, D. C., for appellee.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 206-207 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Henry R. Taylor, while domiciled and residing in New York, died testate, December 4, 1925. He had long owned and kept within that state negotiable bonds and certificates of indebtedness issued by the state of Minnesota and the cities of Minneapolis and St. worth above $300,000. Some of these were registered, others were payable to bearer. None had any connection with business carried on by or for the decedent in Minnesota. All passed under his will, which was probated in New York. There also his estate was administered and a tax exacted upon the testamentary transfer.

Minnesota assessed an inheritance tax upon the same transfer. Her Supreme Court approved this and upheld the validity of the authorizing statute. The executor-appellant-claims that, so construed and applied, that enactment conflicts with the Fourteenth Amendment.

When this cause first came before the Supreme Court of Minnesota, it held negotiable public obligations were something more than mere evidences of debt and, like tangibles, taxable only at the place where found, regardless of the owner's domicile. It accordingly denied the power of that state to tax the testamentary transfer. After Blodgett v. Silberman, 277 U. S. 1, 48 S. Ct. 410, 72 L. Ed. 749, upon a rehearing, considering that cause along with Blackstone v. Miller, 188 U. S. 189, 23 S. Ct. 277, 47 L. Ed. 439, it felt obliged to treat the bonds and certificates like ordinary choses in action and to uphold the assessment.

Registration of certain of the bonds we regard as an immaterial circumstance. So did the court below. Counsel do not maintain otherwise.

Under Blodgett v. Silberman the obligations here involved were rightly regarded as if ordinary choses in action. The maxim mobilia sequuntur personam applied and gave them situs for taxation in New York-the owner's domicile. The testamentary transfer was properly taxed there. This is not controverted.

But it is said the obligations were debts of Minnesota and her corporations, subject to her control; that her laws gave them validity, protected them, and provided means for enforcing payment. Accordingly, counsel argue that they had situs for taxation purposes in that state and maintain the validity of the challenged assessment.

Blackstone v. Miller, supra, and certain approving opinions, lend support to the doctrine that ordinarily choses in action are subject to taxation both at the debtor's domicile and at the domicile of the creditor; that two states may tax on different and more or less inconsistent principles the same testamentary transfer of such property without conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment. The inevitable tendency of that view is to disturb good relations among the states and produce the kind of discontent expected to subside after establishment of the Union. The Federalist, No. VII. The practical effect of it has bren bad; perhaps two-thirds of the states have endeavored to avoid the evil by resort to reciprocal exemption laws. It has been stoutly assailed on principle. Having reconsidered the supporting arguments in the light of our more recent opinions, we are compelled to declare it untenable. Blackstone v. Miller no longer can be regarded as a correct exposition of existing law; and to prevent misunderstanding it is definitely overruled.

Four different views concerning the situs for taxation of negotiable public obligations have been advanced. One fixes this at the domicile of the owner; another at the debtor's domicile; a third at the place where the in struments are found-physically present; and the fourth within the jurisdiction where the owner has caused them to become integral parts of a localized business. It each state can adopt any one of these and tax accordingly, obviously, the same bonds may be declared present for taxation i two, or three, or four places at the same moment. Such a startling possibility suggests a wrong premise.

In this Court the presently approved doctrine is that no state may tax anything not within her jurisdiction without violating the Fourteenth Amendment. State Tax on Foreign-Held Bonds, 15 Wall. 300, 21 L. Ed. 179; Union Refrig. Transit Co. v. Kentucky, 199 U. S. 194, 26 S. Ct. 36, 39, 50 L. Ed. 150, 4 Ann. Cas. 493; Safe Deposit & Trust Co. v. Virginia (November 25, 1929) 280 U. S. 83, 50 S. Ct. 59, 74 L. Ed. 180. Also no state can tax the testamentary transfer of property wholly beyond her power, Rhode Island Trust Co. v. Doughton, 270 U. S. 69, 46 S. Ct. 256, 70 L. Ed. 475, 43 A. L. R. 1374, or impose death duties reckoned upon the value of tangibles permanently located outside her limits. Frick v. Pennsylvania, 268 U. S. 473, 45 S. Ct. 603, 69 L. Ed. 1058, 42 A. L. R. 316. These principles became definitely settled subsequent to Blackstone v. Miller and are out of harmony with the reasoning advanced to support the conclusion there announced.

At this time it cannot be assumed that tangible chattels permanently located within another state may be treated as part of the universal succession and taken into account when estimating the succession tax laid at the decedent's domicile. Frick v. Pennsylvania is to the contrary.

Nor is it permissible broadly to say that, notwithstanding the Fourteenth Amendment, two states have power to tax the same personalty on different and inconsistent principles or that a state always may tax according to the fiction that in successions after death mobilia sequuntur personam and domicile govern the whole. Upon Refrig. Transit Co. v. Kentucky, supra; Rhode Island Trust Co. v. Doughton, supra; and Safe Deposit & Trust Co. v. Virginia, supra, stand in opposition.

Southern Pacific Co. v. Kentucky, 222 U. S. 63, 32 S. Ct. 13, 56 L. Ed. 96, indicates plainly enough that the right of one state to tax may depend somewhat upon the power of another so to do. And Coe v. Errol, 116 U. S. 517, 524, 6 S. Ct. 475, 477, 29 L. Ed. 715, though frequently cited to support the general affirmation that nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits double taxation, does not go so far. It affirmed the rather obvious proposition that the mere fact of taxation of tangibles by one state is not enough to exclude the right of another to tax them.

'If the owner of personal property within a state resides in another state, which taxes him for that property as part of his general estate attached to his person, this action of the latter state does not in the least affect the right of the state in which the property is situated to tax it also. * * * The fact, therefore, that the owners of the logs in question were taxed for their value in Maine as a part of their general stock in trade, if such fact were proved, could have no influence in the decision of the case, and may be laid out of view.'

If Maine undertook to tax logs permanently located in another state, she transcended her legitimate powers. Union Refrig. Transit Co. v. Kentucky, supra. Of course, such action could not affect New Hampshire's rights in respect of property localized within her limits.

While debts have no actual territorial situs, we have ruled that a state may properly apply the rule mobilia sequuntur personam and treat them as localized at the creditor's domicile for taxation purposes. Tangibles with permanent situs therein, and their testamentary transfer, may be taxed only by the state where they are found. And, we think, the general reasons declared sufficient to inhibit taxation of them by two states apply under present circumstances with no less force to intangibles with taxable situs imposed by due application of the legal fiction. Primitive conditions have passed; business is now transacted on a national scale. A very large part of the country's wealth is invested in negotiable securities whose protection against discrimination, unjust and oppressive taxation, is matter of the greatest moment. Twenty-four years ago Union Refrig. Transit Co. v. Kentucky, supra, declared: 'In view of the enormous increase of such property (tangible personalty) since the introduction of railways and the growth of manufactures, the tendency has been in recent years to treat it as having a situs of its own for the purpose of taxation, and correlatively to exempt it at the domicile of the owner.' And, certainly, existing conditions no less imperatively demand protection of choses in action against multiplied taxation whether following misapplication of some legal fiction or conflicting theories concerning the sovereign's right to exact contributions. For many years the trend of decisions here has been in that direction.

Taxation is an intensely practical matter, and laws in respect of it should be construed and applied with a view of avoiding, so far as possible, unjust and oppressive consequences. We have determined that in general intangibles may be properly taxed at the domicile reason for saying that they at the domicile of their owner, and we can are not entitled to enjoy an immunity against taxation at more than one place similar to that accorded to tangibles. The difference between the two things, although obvious enough, seems insufficient to justify the harsh and oppressive discrimination against intangibles contended for on behalf of Minnesota.

Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad Co. v. Pennsylvania-'State Tax on Foreigh-Held Bonds Case'-15 Wall. 300, 320, 21 L. Ed. 179, distinctly held that the state was without power to tax the owner of bonds of a domestic railroad corporation made and payable outside her limits when...

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