Frank Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Company

Decision Date24 January 1916
Docket NumberNo. 140,140
Citation60 L.Ed. 493,36 S.Ct. 236,240 U.S. 1
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Julien T. Davies, Brainard Tolles, Garrard Glenn, and Martin A. Schenck for appellant.

Mr. Henry W. Clark for appellee.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 2-4 intentionally omitted] [Argument of Counsel from pages 3-5 intentionally omitted]

Solicitor General Davis, Assistant Attorney General Wallace, and Attorney General Gregory for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from page 7-9 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justic

e White delivered the opinion of the court:

As a stockholder of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, the appellant filed his bill to enjoin the corporation from complying with the income tax provisions of the tariff act of October 3, 1913 (§ II., chap. 16, 38 Stat. at L. 166). Because of constitutional questions duly arising the case is here on direct appeal from a decree sustaining a motion to dismiss because no ground for relief was stated.

The right to prevent the corporation from returning and paying the tax was based upon many averments as to the repugnancy of the statute to the Constitution of the United States, of the peculiar relation of the corporation to the stockholders, and their particular interests resulting from many of the administrative provisions of the assailed act, of the confusion, wrong, and multiplicity of suits and the absence of all means of redress which would result if the corporation paid the tax and complied with the act in other respects without protest, as it was alleged it was its intention to do. To put out of the way a question of jurisdiction we at once say that in view of these averments and the ruling in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & T. Co. 157 U. S. 429, 39 L. ed. 759, 15 Sup. Ct. Rep. 673, sustaining the right of a stockholder to sue to restrain a corporation under proper averments from voluntarily paying a tax charged to be unconstitutional on the ground that to permit such a suit did not violate the prohibitions of § 3224, Revised Statutes (Comp. Stat. 1913, § 5947), against enjoining the enforcement of taxes, we are of opinion that the contention here made that there was no jurisdiction of the cause, since to entertain it would violate the provisions of the Revised Statutes referred to, is without merit. Before coming to dispose of the case on the merits, however, we observe that the defendant corporation having called the attention of the government to the pendency of the cause and the nature of the controversy and its unwillingness to voluntarily refuse to comply with the act assailed, the United States, as amicus curiae, has at bar been heard both orally and by brief for the purpose of sustaining the decree.

Aside from averments as to citizenship and residence, recitals as to the provisions of the statute, and statements as to the business of the corporation, contained in the first ten paragraphs of the bill, advanced to sustain jurisdiction, the bill alleged twenty-one constitutional objections specified in that number of paragraphs or subdivisions. As all the grounds assert a violation of the Constitution, it follows that, in a wide sense, they all charge a repugnancy of the statute to the 16th Amendment, under the more immediate sanction of which the statute was adopted.

The various propositions are so intermingled as to cause it to be difficult to classify them. We are of opinion, however that the confusion is not inherent, but rather arises from the conclusion that the 16th Amendment provides for a hitherto unknown power of taxation; that is, a power to levy an income tax which, although direct, should not be subject to the regulation of apportionment applicable to all other direct taxes. And the far-reaching effect of this erroneous assumption will be made clear by generalizing the many contentions advanced in argument to support it, as follows: (a) The Amendment authorizes only a particular character of direct tax without apportionment, and therefore if a tax is levied under its assumed authority which does not partake of the characteristics exacted by the Amendment, it is outside of the Amendment, and is void as a direct tax in the general constitutional sense because not apportioned. (b) As the Amendment authorizes a tax only upon incomes 'from whatever source derived,' the exclusion from taxation of some income of designated persons and classes is not authorized, and hence the constitutionality of the law must be tested by the general provisions of the Constitution as to taxation, and thus again the tax is void for want of apportionment. (c) As the right to tax 'incomes from whatever source derived' for which the Amendment provides must be considered as exacting intrinsic uniformity, therefore no tax comes under the authority of the Amendment not conforming to such standard, and hence all the provisions of the assailed statute must once more be tested solely under the general and pre-existing provisions of the Constitution, causing the statute again to be void in the absence of apportionment. (d) As the power conferred by the Amendment is new and prospective, the attempt in the statute to make its provisions retroactively apply is void because, so far as the retroactive period is concerned, it is governed by the pre-existing constitutional requirement as to apportionment.

But it clearly results that the proposition and the contentions under it, if acceded to, would cause one provision of the Constitution to destroy another; that is, they would result in bringing the provisions of the Amendment exempting a direct tax from apportionment into irreconcilable conflict with the general requirement that all direct taxes be apportioned. Moreover, the tax authorized by the Amendment, being direct, would not come under the rule of uniformity applicable under the Constitution to other than direct taxes, and thus it would come to pass that the result of the Amendment would be to authorize a particular direct tax not subject either to apportionment or to the rule of geographical uniformity, thus giving power to impose a different tax in one state or states than was levied in another state or states. This result, instead of simplifying the situation and making clear the limitations on the taxing power, which obviously the Amendment must have been intended to accomplish, would create radical and destructive changes in our constitutional system and multiply confusion.

But let us by a demonstration of the error of the fundamental proposition as to the significance of the Amendment dispel the confusion necessarily arising from the arguments deduced from it. Before coming, however, to the text of the Amendment, to the end that its significance may be determined in the light of the previous legislative and judicial history of the subject with which the Amendment is concerned, and with a knowledge of the conditions which presumptively led up to its adoption, and hence of the purpose it was intended to accomplish, we make a brief statement on those subjects.

That the authority conferred upon Congress by § 8 of article 1 'to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises' is exhaustive and embraces every conceivable power of taxation has never been questioned, or, if it has, has been so often authoritatively declared as to render it necessary only to state the doctrine. And it has also never been questioned from the foundation, without stopping presently to determine under which of the separate headings the power was properly to be classed, that there was authority given, as the part was included in the whole, to lay and collect income taxes. Again, it has never moreover been questioned that the conceded complete and all-embracing taxing power was subject, so far as they were respectively applicable, to limitations resulting from the requirements of art. 1, § 8, cl. 1, that 'all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States,' and to the limitations of art I., § 2, cl. 3, that 'direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states,' and of art 1, § 9, cl. 4, that 'no capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the census or enumeration hereinbefore directed to be taken.' In fact, the two great subdivisions embracing the complete and perfect delegation of the power to tax and the two correlated limitations as to such power were thus aptly stated by Mr. Chief Justice Fuller in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & T. Co. 157 U. S. supra, at page 557: 'In the matter of taxation, the Constitution recognizes the two great classes of direct and indirect taxes, and lays down two rules by which their imposition must be governed, namely: The rule of apportionment as to direct taxes, and the rule of uniformity as to duties, imposts, and excises.' It is to be observed, however, as long ago pointed out in Veazie Bank v. Fenno, 8 Wall. 533, 541, 19 L. ed. 482, 485, that the requirements of apportionment as to one of the great classes and of uniformity as to the other class were not so much a limitation upon the complete and all-embracing authority to tax, but in their essence were simply regulations concerning the mode in which the plenary power was to be exerted. In the whole history of the government down to the time of the adoption of the 16th Amendment, leaving aside some conjectures expressed of the possibility of a tax lying intermediate between the two great classes and embraced by neither, no question has been anywhere made as to the correctness of these propositions. At the very beginning, however, there arose differences of opinion concerning the criteria to be applied in determining in which of the two great subdivisions a tax would fall. Without pausing to state at length the basis of these differences and the consequences which arose from them, as the whole subject was elaborately reviewed in Pollock v. Farmers' Loan &...

To continue reading

Request your trial
758 cases
  • Hunton v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • January 16, 1936
    ... ... Railroad and Power Companies — Exemption of Shares of ... what Chief Justice White later said in Brushaber Union Pacific Railroad Co., 240 U.S. 1, 16, 36 ... They also imposed upon every such company "an income tax of one per centum per annum, which ... ...
  • Hartman v. Switzer, Civ. A. No. 73-788.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania
    • May 21, 1974
    ... ... as against a multitude of objections in Brushaber v. Union Pac. R. Co., 240 U.S. 1, 36 S.Ct. 236, ... ...
  • Diefendorf v. Gallet
    • United States
    • Idaho Supreme Court
    • March 11, 1932
    ... ... 429, 15 S.Ct ... 673, 39 L.Ed. 759; Brushaber v. Union P. R ... Co. , 240 U.S. 1, Ann. Cas ... ...
  • Mississippi State Tax Commission v. Flora Drug Co
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • May 22, 1933
    ... ... proceedings by the Flora Drug Company against the Mississippi ... State Tax ... Bell's Gap Railroad Company v. Pennsylvania, 134 ... U.S. 232. In ... Lumber Co., 84 Miss. 23; Ex parte Frank ... (Calif.), 28 American Reports, 642; Munson ... 576, 34 S.Ct. 372, 58 ... L.Ed. 737; Brushaber v. U. P. R. R. Co., 240 U.S. 1, ... 36 S.Ct ... 44, 41 S.Ct. 219, 65 L.Ed. 489; ... Pacific, etc., Co. v. Alaska, 269 U.S. 269, 46 S.Ct ... ...
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
  • Is A Wealth Tax Constitutional? The Moore Case
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • July 30, 2023
    ...that direct taxes be apportioned among the states, subject to an exception only for 'taxes on incomes.' See Brushaber v. Union Pac. R. Co., 240 U.S. 1, 18-19 (1916). 'Nothing in the Sixteenth Amendment relieved Congress of its duty to apportion other forms of direct taxation, such as a tax ......
5 books & journal articles
  • Income Taxation in Washington: in a Class by Itself
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 1-03, March 1978
    • Invalid date
    ...the use of progressive tax rates based on increasing levels of net income under the federal income tax laws in Brushaber v. Union Pac. Ry., 240 U.S. 1, 25 (1916). It may be argued, of course, that any analogy to federal net income taxation is inappropriate, because the sixteenth amendment t......
  • A Washington State Income Tax-again?
    • United States
    • Seattle University School of Law Seattle University Law Review No. 16-02, December 1992
    • Invalid date
    ...purposes. 251. 277 U.S. 389 (1928). 252. Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 365 (1973). 253. 157 U.S. 429 (1894). 254. 240 U.S. 1 255. Id. at 16-17. 256. South Carolina v. Baker, 485 U.S. 505, 522 (1988). 257. Memphis Bank and Trust Co. v. Garner, 459 U.S. 392 (1983); se......
  • Commerce, Death Panels, and Broccoli: or Why the Activity/inactivity Distinction in the Health Care Case Was Really About the Right to Bodily Integrity
    • United States
    • Georgia State University College of Law Georgia State Law Reviews No. 29-4, June 2013
    • Invalid date
    ...prosecutions); Arver v. United States, 245 U.S. 366, 390 (1918) (upholding the Selective Service Act); Brushaber v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 240 U.S. 1 (1916) (upholding federal income tax); Butler v. Perry, 240 U.S. 328, 333 (1916) ("[The 13th Amendment] was not intended to interdict enforceme......
  • The Horseless Carriage of Constitutional Interpretation: Corpus Linguistics and the Meaning of "Direct Taxes" in Hylton v. United States.
    • United States
    • Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy Vol. 45 No. 2, July 2022
    • July 1, 2022
    ...Loan & Tr. Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895) (Pollock I) (superseded by Constitutional Amendment as stated in Brushaber v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 240 U.S. 1, 18 (1916)); Daniel Hemel & Rebecca Kysar, The Big Problem with Wealth Taxes, N.Y. Times (Nov. 7, 2019),
  • 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