Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co, No. 541

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMcKENNA
Citation67 L.Ed. 237,260 U.S. 245,43 S.Ct. 83
Decision Date27 November 1922
Docket NumberNo. 541
PartiesHEISLER v. THOMAS COLLIERY CO. et al

260 U.S. 245
43 S.Ct. 83
67 L.Ed. 237
HEISLER

v.

THOMAS COLLIERY CO. et al.

No. 541.
Argued Nov. 14 and 15, 1922.
Decided Nov. 27, 1922.

Page 246

Messrs. Louis Marshall, of New York City, and H. S. Drinker, Jr., of Philadelphia, Pa., for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from page 246 intentionally omitted]

Page 247

Mr. George E. Alter, of Pittsburgh, Pa., for defendants in error.

Mr. J. Weston Allen, of Boston, Mass., on behalf of nine States, amicus curiae.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 247-253 intentionally omitted]

Page 253

Mr. Justice McKENNA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1913 the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, by an act of its General Assembly (Act June 17, 1913 [P. L. 639]), imposed a tax of 2 1/2 per cent. upon anthracite coal, and provided for the distribution of the tax.

The act was adjudged a violation of the Constitution of the commonwealth, which required uniformity of taxation. Commonwealth v. Alden Coal Co., 251 Pa. 134, 96 Atl. 246, L. R. A. 1916F, 154, and Commonwealth v. St. Clair, 251 Pa. 159, 96 Atl. 254.

In 1921 the commonwealth passed the act here involved (Act May 11, 1921 [P. L. 479]). It provided that from and after its passage each ton of anthracite coal mined, 'washed or screened, or otherwise prepared for market' in the commonwealth should be 'subject to a tax of 1 1/2 per cent. of the value thereof when prepared for market.' It was provided that the tax should be assessed at the time when the coal has been subjected to the indicated preparation 'and is ready for shipment or market.'

Plaintiff in error, alleging himself to be a stockholder of the Thomas Colliery Company, brought this suit to have the act adjudged and decreed to be unconstitutional and void, and to ejoin that company and its directors from complying with the act, and to enjoin defendant in error, Samuel L. Lewis, Auditor General of the Commonwealth, and the defendant in error, Charles A. Snyder, Treasurer of the commonwealth, from enforcing the act.

The trial court, court of common pleas, decided against the relief prayed, distinguishing the case from those in which the act of 1913 was declared void, and adjudged and decreed that the suit be dismissed. The ruling was affirmed

Page 254

by the Supreme Court of the state. The case is here on writ of error to that action.

The bill in the case, as far as we are concerned with it, assails the act of 1921 as offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, in that it denies to the Thomas Colliery Company, and other owners and operators of anthracite mines, the equal protection of the laws because it taxes such owners and anthracite coal, and does not tax the owners of bituminous mines and bituminous coal. The ultimate foundation of the contention is that anthracite coal and bituminous coal are fuels, and necessarily, therefore, must be associated in the same class for taxation, in disregard or in diminution of whatever other differences may exist between them in composition, qualities or uses, and that not to so associate them is arbitrary and unreasonable, having the consequences of inequality and illegality, and, therefore, within the ban of the Constitution of the United States.

The contention, therefore, concerntrates attention upon the consideration of what resemblances or differences in objects justify their inclusion in, or their exclusion from, a particular class.

It would be commonplace and wearisome to enlarge much upon the principle that presides in and determines the classification of objects. It is too necessary and too familiar in the affairs of life. We cannot go far in thought or practice without its exercise. It is the process of considering objects together or in separation as determined by their properties or some of them, and the purpose we have in hand. If the properties and purpose have relation, the process is logically justified.

Illustrations readily occur. A farmer will classify plants differently from a botanist, but the classification of both may, notwithstanding the difference, be logically proper.

Page 255

And so classification has uses in government—indeed, we may say, necessities in government, for government as well as persons has purposes, varied and, at times, exigent, and its legislation must be accommodated to them, either in convenience or necessity. That government has the power to do so we have often pronounced, not, however, omitting to recognize the restraints upon the power while expressing its range and adaptation. In its exercise in taxation, we have said, it is competent for a state to exempt certain kinds of property and tax others, the restraints upon its only being against 'clear and hostile discriminations against particular persons and classes.' Discriminations merely are not inhibited, for, it was recognized that there are 'discriminations which the best interests of society require.' Bell's Gap Railroad Co. v. Pennsylvania, 134 U. S. 232, 237, 10 Sup. Ct. 533, 33 L. Ed. 892.

The principle of that case, and its concession to the power of a state, has received expression and illustration in cases which concerned the exercise of the power in the classification of objects for taxing purposes. In Watson v. State Comptroller, 254 U. S. 122, 41 Sup. Ct. 43, 65 L. Ed. 170, it is said:

'Any classification is permissible which has a reasonable relation to some permitted end of governmental action. * * * It is enough, for instance, if the classification is reasonably founded in 'the purposes and policy of taxation."

In other cases it is said that facts which can be reasonably conceived of as having existed when the law was enacted will be assumed to justify it. Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U. S. 61, 78, 31 Sup. Ct. 337, 55 L. Ed. 369, Ann. Cas. 1912C, 160, Crescent Oil Co. v. Mississippi, 257 U. S. 129, 137, 42 Sup. Ct. 42, 66 L. Ed. 166.

And 'it makes no difference that the facts may be disputed or their effect opposed by argument and opinion of serious strength. It is not within the competency of the courts to arbitrate in such contrariety.' Rast v. Van Deman & Lewis, 240 U. S. 342, 357, 36 Sup. Ct. 370, 60 L. Ed. 679, L. R. A. 1917A, 421, Ann. Cas. 1917B, 455, and cases there cited.

And, further, the purpose of the legislation may not be the correction of some

Page 256

definite evil, but may be only to remove 'obstacles to a greater public welfare.' See, also, as to classification by legislation and its consonance to the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment, District of Columbia v. Brooke, 214 U. S. 138, 150, 29 Sup. Ct. 560, 53 L. Ed. 941.

Is there a guide in these cases to decision, or is it to be found in the cases cited by the plaintiff in error which express the admonition and restraint that a classification to be justified must not be unreasonable or arbitrary? To answer, a comparison of the coals becomes necessary. In making it, the first fact...

To continue reading

Request your trial
175 practice notes
  • Toomer v. Witsell, No. 415
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1948
    ...186, 68 L.Ed. 437; Oliver Iron Mining Co. v. Lord, 1923, 262 U.S. 172, 43 S.Ct. 526, 67 L.Ed. 929; Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 1922, 260 U.S. 245, 43 S.Ct. 83, 67 L.Ed. 237; Coe v. Errol, 1886, 116 U.S. 517, 6 S.Ct. 475, 29 L.Ed. 715. 23 See note 11 supra. 24 See Paul v. Virginia, 1868,......
  • Louisville Gas Electric Co v. Coleman, No. 70
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 30, 1928
    ...invidious, was a reasonable one, unless some facts were adduced to show that it was arbitrary. Compare Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U. S. 245, 255, 43 S. Ct. 83, 67 L. Ed. 237; State of Ohio ex rel. Clarke v. Deckbach, 274 U. S. 392, 397, 47 S. Ct. 630, 71 L. Ed. 1115. No such facts ......
  • New York Rapid Transit Corporation v. City of New York Brooklyn Queens Transit Corporation v. Same, Nos. 435
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 28, 1938
    ...294, 18 S.Ct. 594, 12 L.Ed. 1037; Quong Wing v. Kirkendall, 223 U.S. 59, 62, 32 S.Ct. 192, 56 L.Ed. 350; Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U.S. 245, 255, 43 S.Ct. 83, 84, 67 L.Ed. 237) 'particularly Page 579 as respects occupation taxes.' Oliver Iron Mining Co. v. Lord, 262 U.S. 172, 179,......
  • Commonwealth Edison Company v. Montana, No. 80-581
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1981
    ...imposed on goods prior to their entry into the stream of interstate commerce. Any contrary statements in Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U.S. 245, 43 S.Ct. 83, 67 L.Ed. 237, and its progeny are disapproved. The Montana tax must be evaluated under the test set forth in Complete Auto Tran......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
175 cases
  • Toomer v. Witsell, No. 415
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1948
    ...186, 68 L.Ed. 437; Oliver Iron Mining Co. v. Lord, 1923, 262 U.S. 172, 43 S.Ct. 526, 67 L.Ed. 929; Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 1922, 260 U.S. 245, 43 S.Ct. 83, 67 L.Ed. 237; Coe v. Errol, 1886, 116 U.S. 517, 6 S.Ct. 475, 29 L.Ed. 715. 23 See note 11 supra. 24 See Paul v. Virginia, 1868,......
  • Louisville Gas Electric Co v. Coleman, No. 70
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 30, 1928
    ...invidious, was a reasonable one, unless some facts were adduced to show that it was arbitrary. Compare Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U. S. 245, 255, 43 S. Ct. 83, 67 L. Ed. 237; State of Ohio ex rel. Clarke v. Deckbach, 274 U. S. 392, 397, 47 S. Ct. 630, 71 L. Ed. 1115. No such facts ......
  • New York Rapid Transit Corporation v. City of New York Brooklyn Queens Transit Corporation v. Same, Nos. 435
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 28, 1938
    ...294, 18 S.Ct. 594, 12 L.Ed. 1037; Quong Wing v. Kirkendall, 223 U.S. 59, 62, 32 S.Ct. 192, 56 L.Ed. 350; Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U.S. 245, 255, 43 S.Ct. 83, 84, 67 L.Ed. 237) 'particularly Page 579 as respects occupation taxes.' Oliver Iron Mining Co. v. Lord, 262 U.S. 172, 179,......
  • Commonwealth Edison Company v. Montana, No. 80-581
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • July 2, 1981
    ...imposed on goods prior to their entry into the stream of interstate commerce. Any contrary statements in Heisler v. Thomas Colliery Co., 260 U.S. 245, 43 S.Ct. 83, 67 L.Ed. 237, and its progeny are disapproved. The Montana tax must be evaluated under the test set forth in Complete Auto Tran......
  • 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