Scripto, Inc v. Carson

Decision Date21 March 1960
Docket NumberNo. 80,80
Citation4 L.Ed.2d 660,362 U.S. 207,80 S.Ct. 619
PartiesSCRIPTO, INC., Etc., Appellant, v. Dale CARSON, as Sheriff of Duval County, Florida, et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. George B. Haley, Jr., Atlanta, Ga., for appellant.

Mr. Joseph C. Jacobs, Tallahassee, Fla., for appellees.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Florida, by statute,1 required appellant, a Georgia corporation, to be responsible for the collection of a use tax on certain mechanical writing instruments which appel- lant sells and ships from its place of business in Atlanta to residents of Florida for use and enjoyment there. Upon Scripto's failure to collect the tax, the appellee Comptroller levied a use tax liability of $5,150.66 against it. Appellant then brought this suit to test the validity of the imposition, contending that the requirement of Florida's statute places a burden on interstate commerce and violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It claimed, in effect, that the nature of its operations in Florida does not form a sufficient nexus to subject it to the statute's exactions. Both the trial court and the Supreme Court of Florida held that appellant does have sufficient jurisdictional contacts in Florida and, therefore, must register as a dealer under the statute and collect and remit to the State the use tax imposed on its aforesaid sales. 105 So.2d 775. We noted probable jurisdiction. 361 U.S. 806, 80 S.Ct. 52, 4 L.Ed.2d 54. We agree with the result reached by Florida's courts.

Appellant operates in Atlanta an advertising speciality division trading under the name of Adgif Company. Through it, appellant is engaged in the business of selling mechanical writing instruments which are adapted to advertising purposes by the placing of printed material thereon. In its Adgif operation, appellant does not (1) own, lease, or maintain any office distributing house, warehouse or other place of business in Florida, or (2) have any regular employee or agent there.2 Nor does it own or maintain any bank account or stock of merchandise in the State. Orders for its products are solicited by advertising specialty brokers or, as the Supreme Court of Florida called them, wholesalers or jobbers, who are residents of Florida. At the time of suit, there were 10 such brokers—each having a written contract and a specific territory. The somewhat detailed contract provides, inter alia, that all compensation is to be on a commission basis on the sales made, provided they are accepted by appellant; repeat orders, even if not solicited, also carry a commission if the salesman has not become inactive through failure to secure acceptable orders during the previous 60 days. The contract specifically provides that it is the intention of the parties 'to create the relationship * * * of independent contractor.' Each order is to be signed by the solicitor as a 'salesman'; however, he has no authority to make collections or incur debts involving appellant. Each salesman is furnished catalogs, samples, and advertising material, and is actively engaged in Florida as a representative 'of Scripto for the purpose of attracting, soliciting and obtaining Florida customers' for its mechanical advertising specialties. Orders for such products are sent by these salesmen directly to the Atlanta office for acceptance or refusal. If accepted, the sale is consummated there and the salesman is paid his commission directly. No money passes between the purchaser and the salesman although the latter does occasionally accept a check payable to the appellant, in which event he is required to forward it to appellant with the order.

As construed by Florida's highest court, the impost levied by the statute is a tax 'on the privilege of using personal property * * * which has come to rest * * * and has become a part of the mass of property' within the State. 105 So.2d at page 781. It is not a sales tax, but 'was developed as a device to complement (such a tax) in order to prevent evasion * * * by the completion of purchases in a non-taxing state and shipment by interstate commerce into a taxing forum.' Id., at page 779. The tax is collectible from 'dealers' and is to be added to the purchase price of the merchandise 'as far as practicable.' In the event that a dealer fails to collect the tax, he himself is liable for its payment. The statute has the customary use tax provisions 'against duplication of the tax, an allowance to the dealer for making the collection, and a reciprocal credit arrangement which credits against the Florida tax any amount up to the amount of the Florida tax which might have been paid to another state.' Id., at page 782. Florida held appellant to be a dealer under its statute. 'The application by that Court of its local laws and the facts on which it founded its judgment are of course controlling here.' General Trading Co. v. State Tax Comm., 1944, 322 U.S. 335, 337, 64 S.Ct. 1028, 1029, 88 L.Ed. 1309.

The question remaining is whether Florida, in the light of appellant's operations there, may collect the State's use tax from it on the basis of property bought from appellant and shipped from its home office to purchasers in Florida for use there.

Florida has well stated the course of this Court's decisions governing such levies, and we need but drive home its clear understanding. There must be, as our Brother Jackson stated in Miller Bros. Co. v. State of Maryland, 1954, 347 U.S. 340, 344 345, 74 S.Ct. 535, 539, 98 L.Ed. 744, 'some definite link, some minimum connection, between a state and the person, property or transaction it seeks to tax.' We believe that such a nexus is present here. First, the tax is a nondiscriminatory exaction levied for the use and enjoyment of property which has been purchased by Florida residents and which has actually entered into and become a part of the mass of property in that State. The burden of the tax is placed on the ultimate purchaser in Florida and it is he who enjoys the use of the property, regardless of its source. We note that the appellant is charged with no tax—save when, as here, he fails or refuses to collect it from the Florida customer. Next, as Florida points out, appellant has 10 wholesalers, jobbers, or 'salesmen' conducting continuous local solicitation in Florida and forwarding the resulting orders from that State to Atlanta for shipment of the ordered goods. The...

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