United States Express Company v. State of Minnesota

Decision Date19 February 1912
Docket NumberNo. 708,708
Citation56 L.Ed. 459,223 U.S. 335,32 S.Ct. 211
PartiesUNITED STATES EXPRESS COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. STATE OF MINNESOTA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Robert E. Olds, Frank B. Kellogg, and C. A. Severance for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 335-338 intentionally omitted] Mr. Lyndon A. Smith, attorney General of Minnesota, Mr. William J. Stevenson, Assistant Attorney General, and Mr. George T. Simpson for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Day delivered the opinion of the court:

This is a writ of error to the supreme court of the state of Minnesota, bringing in review a judgment of that court sustaining a tax assessed against the United States Express Company. 114 Minn. 346, ——L.R.A.(N.S.) ——, 131 N. W. 489.

The express company is an unincorporated association, with its principal office in the state of New York, engaged in the express business in the United States. The business is carried on under contracts between the company and railroads for the transportation by the railroad companies of goods forwarded by the express company, upon the payment by the express company, as compensation for such service, of a certain percentage of the gross receipts of the express company, derived from the business carried over the lines of the railroads. Under such contracts the company is engaged in carrying on express business over many lines of railroads in the United States, amounting in the aggregate to some 30,000 miles of road. It carries on express business in this manner in the state of Minnesota upon the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway, Duluth & Iron Range Railroad, and, for a time, the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railway. The company has offices in many states, the District of Columbia and Canada, and in various European countries. It has about fifty offices in the state of Minnesota.

The law in question (Revised Laws of Minnesota 1905, chapter 11) provides for the taxation of express companies. Section 1013 of the act requires every express company doing business in the state, between January 1 and February 1, to file with the state auditor, in such form as he may prescribe, a statement, duly verified, showing the entire receipts, including all sums earned or charged, whether received or not, for business done within the state, including its proportion of gross receipts for business done in the state by such company in connection with other companies. The statement must further show the amount actually paid by such express company to the railroads within the state for the transportation of its freight for the year, giving the amount paid to each railroad company; and also show the entire receipts of the company for business done within the state, including its proportion of gross receipts for business done within the state in connection with other companies, after deducting the amounts paid for transportation to railroads within the state. Section 1015 provides that the auditor shall annually, between March 1 and April 1, ascertain the gross receipts of such company by deducting the sums thus annually paid by it for the transportation of freight within the state from its entire receipts for business done in the state, including its proportion for business done within the state in connection with other companies.

Section 1019 provides that annually, on or before March 15, the auditor shall assess upon each company a tax of 6 per cent upon its gross receipts for business done in the state for the preceding calendar year, as determined by the auditor, which shall be in lieu of all taxes upon its property, and shall deliver to the state treasurer for collection a draft upon the company for such sum.

The action was brought by the state of Minnesota to recover certain items which it was claimed were omitted from the returns of the express company, and which were properly the subject of taxation under the statute. Under the stipulated facts these items, embraced in paragraph 3 of complaint, schedule No. 1, consist of:

'Earnings of $54,209.19, constituting earnings on express business for the years 1899 to 1908, inclusive, which express business was made up entirely of shipments delivered by the shipper to an express company in the state of Minnesota, consigned to an ultimate consignee at a second point in the state of Minnesota, which shipments were forwarded by express between the point of origin and point of destination over lines of railroad, which lines were partly within and partly without the state of Minnesota. That is to say, all of these shipments necessarily passed out of the state of Minnesota in transit. Said amount, namely, $54,209.19, is based upon the total earnings on said shipments, and is not that part of said earnings apportionable to the transportation which was performed within the state of Minnesota. In arriving at said amount, the total earnings received by the express company upon said shipments have been taken, regardless of what proportion of the through carry was performed within the state of Minnesota. About 91 per cent of the mileage under this item is within Minnesota.'

Alleged omitted earnings on which back taxes were claimed under paragraph 3 of complaint, schedule No. 2, such omitted earnings amounting to $9,702.89, on which back taxes were claimed of $504.47, were made up as follows:

'Earnings derived by the company from the following express shipments: (a) Shipments received by an express company from a shipper at a point of origin outside of the state of Minnesota, addressed to and destined to a consignee within the state of Minnesota; or (b) shipments delivered to an express company by a shipper in the state of Minnesota and addressed to and destined to a consignee without the state of Minnesota; or (c) shipments delivered to an express company by a shipper without the state of Minnesota and addressed to and destined to a consignee without the state of Minnesota, passing through the state of Minnesota in transit, as to all of which said shipments, either in class a, class b, or class c, the defendant received said shipments at a point in the state of Minnesota and forwarded them over its lines to a second point within the state of Minnesota, the transportation while in the hands of the defendant being performed wholly within the state of Minnesota. The transportation in connection with such shipments outside of the state of Minnesota was performed by connecting companies other than the defendant. Each of said shipments which constituted said amount of $9,702.89 in schedule No. 2 of paragraph 3 of complaint was made upon a through rate and a through waybill and bill of lading, showing the origin and ultimate destination thereof, and consisted of a single transportation transaction, commencing with the delivery by the shipper to an express company, and continuing until and not ending before, the delivery of the shipment to the consignee at the point of ultimate destination to which the shipment was addressed.'

Taxes are not claimed or collected upon shipments of express matter in the classes named where the same express company performs the transportation service both within and without the state of Minnesota.

A question was also made as to the constitutional validity of the tax upon money orders issued by the express company, but that objection has not been pressed in argument here.

The plaintiff in error contends that the assessment of the tax upon its earnings from shipments by a consignor in the state of Minnesota to an ultimate consignee within the state, which shipments were forwarded by express between the points of origin and destination, over railroads partly within and partly without the state of Minnesota (paragraph 3, schedule No. 1), is an unconstitutional exaction, in that it is an attempt of the state to regulate interstate commerce, and is without due process of law. As to such shipments, the supreme court held that 9 per cent of the taxes claimed on this class of earnings should be deducted from the amount of the recovery allowed in the court of original jurisdiction, since it was disclosed that only 91 per cent of the mileage was within the state. For this part of the decision the Minnesota court relied upon Lehigh Valley R. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 145 U. S. 192, 36 L. ed. 672, 1 Inters. Com. Rep. 87, 12 Sup. Ct. Rep. 806. An examination of that case shows that it is decisive of the present one on this point, and we need not further discuss this feature of the case.

As to the transportation described in paragraph 3, schedule No. 2, from points within the state to points without the state, from points without the state to points within the state, and from points without the state to points without the state, passing through the state, the transportation outside of the state being performed by connecting companies, the supreme court of Minnesota held that it was the intention of the legislature, in the statute under consideration, to include the earnings from these classes within the state in the gross receipts upon which the tax is based. This construction of the statute is binding upon us.

The transportation was made upon a through rate and through bill of lading, and, it is stipulated, consisted of a single transportation transaction, commencing with the delivery by the shipper to the express company, and continuing until the delivery of the shipment to the consignee at the ultimate destination. This was clearly interstate commerce, and the Federal question made in this connection is: Is this tax a burden upon interstate commerce, and therefore an infraction of the exclusive power of Congress, under the Constitution, to regulate commerce among the states?

It is thoroughly well settled in this court that state laws may not burden interstate commerce. As one form of burden may exist in taxing the conduct of interstate terstate commerce, such taxation has been uniformly condemned. Examples...

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