Wright v. Steers, No. 30148

Docket NºNo. 30148
Citation179 N.E.2d 721, 242 Ind. 582
Case DateJanuary 30, 1962
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

Page 721

179 N.E.2d 721
242 Ind. 582
Fred J. WRIGHT, Marguerite Wright, Joseph Dunne, Florine M.
Dunne, Individually and as representatives of a class
consisting of all citizens and taxpayers of the State of
Indiana, subject to the ad valorem property tax, Appellants,
v.
Edwin K. STEERS, as Attorney General of the State of Indiana
et al., Appellees.
No. 30148.
Supreme Court of Indiana.
Jan. 30, 1962.

[242 Ind. 583]

Page 722

Murray, Mannon, Fairchild & Stewart, H. William Irwin, Indianapolis, for appellants.

Edwin K. Steers, Atty. Gen., Michael B. Reddington, Indianapolis, for appellee Robert Reilly.

Francis E. Thomason, Indianapolis, for appellee Phillip L. Bayt.

Obed T. Kilgore, Indianapolis, for appellees Allan Hunter, David Finney and Clem Smith.

John I. Bradshaw, Jr., Indianapolis, for appellee Marguerite Joyce and Special Attorney for appellees Alva Brewer, Richard L. Worley, Lawrence D. Baker, Peter Beczkiewiez, Dorothy Gardner, John Hatchett and John Barton.

Thomas M. Scanlon and George J. Zazas, Indianapolis, for appellee Automobile Dealers Ass'n of Indiana, Inc.

Andrew Jacobs, Sr., Indianapolis, for Robert O'Neal, Sheriff.

Barnes, Hickam, Pantzer & Boyd, Indianapolis, of counsel, for appellees.

ARTERBURN, Judge.

This appeal concerns the constitutionality of Chapter 345 of the Acts of the General [242 Ind. 584] Assembly of 1961, which provides for a

Page 723

tax of two (2%) per cent on the value of motor vehicles and mobile homes '* * * in lieu of the ad valorem property tax * * *.' To raise this question the appellants filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment and asked for injunctive relief against the defendant public officials to prevent the enforcement of the Act. The trial court rendered a judgment holding the Act to be constitutional and denied the injunctive relief asked.

The contentions of the parties in this case in a large measure, revolve around the question as to whether the proposed tax is an excise tax or an ad valorem property tax.

The Act briefly provides:

'Sec. 2. There is hereby imposed an annual license excise tax upon motor vehicles and mobile homes, which tax shall be in lieu of the ad valorem property tax levied for state or local purposes, but in addition to any registration fees imposed on such vehicles.' (Our italics.)

It further provides that the tax shall be a sum equal to two (2%) per cent of the value of the vehicle, which shall be determined on a sliding scale of depreciation beginning with the delivered price. There are various other provisions with reference to adjusting this valuation in cases of inequities that we need not consider here. It is further provided that the tax shall be paid each year at the time the vehicle is registered and a license tag is obtained. Provisions are made for a reduction of the tax, depending upon the portion of the year having expired at the time application is made for registration.

As noted above, no such vehicle to which the tax is applicable may be assessed as personal property or be subject to ad valorem taxes thereafter.

[242 Ind. 585] It is generally recognized that there is no limitation under the Indiana Constitution as to the number of excise taxes which may be imposed by the legislature. Such a tax has been defined as one which is imposed upon the exercise of a privilege or use within the state, the most common illustration being that of the use of the public highways. Miles v. Dept. of Treasury (1935), 209 Ind. 172, 199 N.E. 372, 101 A.L.R. 1359, appeal dism. 298 U.S. 640, 56 S.Ct. 750, 80 L.Ed. 1372; Crittenberger, Auditor, v. State, etc., Trust Co. (1920), 189 Ind. 411, 127 N.E. 552; Gafill v. Bracken, Auditor (1924), 195 Ind. 551, 145 N.E. 312, 146 N.E. 109.

It is contended that although the Act in question calls the tax an 'excise' and 'license' tax, at no place therein does it define the use or privilege for which the tax is levied. It does not fix the purpose for which the proceeds from the tax shall be applied. It is further pointed out that the amount of tax in each instance is based upon the value of the property, and not related to the extent of the use made. It is true that the nature of the tax must be determined by its operation and incidence, rather than by its title or designation made by the legislature. In other words, the legislature may not change a factual situation by giving it a different name or designation. However, none of these factors are decisive of the question here. 51 Am.Jur., Taxation, § 28, pp. 56, 57; Miles v. Dept. of Treasury, supra; Flint v. Stone Tracy Co. (1911), 220 U.S. 107, 31 S.Ct. 342, 55 L.Ed. 389; Nicol v. Ames (1899), 173 U.S. 509, 19 S.Ct. 522, 43 L.Ed. 786.

It is not necessary for us to make an exact determination of these questions for the reason that it appears to us that whether the Act in question establishes[242 Ind. 586] an excise tax or an ad valorem property tax, it has, in either case, inherent constitutional weaknesses.

Let us first consider the Act as if it were an ad valorem property tax. The Constitution of Indiana provides (Article 10, § 1):

Page 724

'Assessment and taxation.--The General Assembly shall provide, by law, for a uniform and equal rate of assessment and taxation; and shall prescribe such regulations as shall secure a just valuation for taxation of all property, both real and personal, excepting such only for municipal, educational, literary, scientific, religious, or charitable purposes, as may be specially exempted by law.'

As stated in the related case of Finney v. Johnson (Ind.1962), 179 N.E.2d 718 (No. 30,162, handed down this same date):

'Viewing the Indiana constitutional provision (Article 10, § 1) set forth above, it has three main provisions: (1) The rate of taxation shall be uniform. (2) The valuation and assessment for taxes must be 'just' on all property. (3) Only property used for 'municipal, educational, literary, scientific, religious or charitable purposes' may be exempted from such taxation. (Our italics.)'

It is apparent from the Act in question that if it is an ad valorem property tax,...

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18 practice notes
  • Welsh v. Sells, No. 30442
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 2, 1963
    ...the constitutionality of a law by the yardstick of the Constitution.' Wright v. Steers, Atty. General, et al. (1962), 242 Ind. 582, 591, 179 N.E.2d 721, If the action of the General Assembly in passing this law is unwise or imprudent, the remedy is at the polls on election day--not in the c......
  • State v. Gerschoffer, No. 71A05-0003-CR-116.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 28, 2000
    ...by all public officials and particularly the courts as guardians of the citizens' rights stated therein." Finney, 242 Ind. at 472, 179 N.E.2d at 721. The State cannot combat drunken driving at the expense of the Indiana There is much disagreement in the case law over the degree to which sob......
  • Indiana Dept. of State Revenue v. Felix, Nos. 49S00-8905-CV-388
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • May 16, 1991
    ...was a property tax rather than Page 294 an excise tax. They further argue that Lutz was implicitly overruled by Wright v. Steers (1962), 242 Ind. 582, 179 N.E.2d 721, which held that a 1961 automobile "excise" tax violated article 10, section 1 of the Indiana Constitution. The stockholders ......
  • Town of St. John v. State Bd. of Tax Com'rs, No. 49T10-9309-TA-00070
    • United States
    • Indiana Tax Court of Indiana
    • May 31, 1996
    ...be strictly observed by all public officials and particularly the courts as guardians of the citizens' rights stated therein. Finney, 179 N.E.2d at 721. Under Article 10, § 1, all property is to be assessed and taxed equally and uniformly based on the property wealth it represents. In order......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 cases
  • Welsh v. Sells, No. 30442
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • October 2, 1963
    ...the constitutionality of a law by the yardstick of the Constitution.' Wright v. Steers, Atty. General, et al. (1962), 242 Ind. 582, 591, 179 N.E.2d 721, If the action of the General Assembly in passing this law is unwise or imprudent, the remedy is at the polls on election day--not in the c......
  • State v. Gerschoffer, No. 71A05-0003-CR-116.
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • November 28, 2000
    ...by all public officials and particularly the courts as guardians of the citizens' rights stated therein." Finney, 242 Ind. at 472, 179 N.E.2d at 721. The State cannot combat drunken driving at the expense of the Indiana There is much disagreement in the case law over the degree to which sob......
  • Indiana Dept. of State Revenue v. Felix, Nos. 49S00-8905-CV-388
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • May 16, 1991
    ...was a property tax rather than Page 294 an excise tax. They further argue that Lutz was implicitly overruled by Wright v. Steers (1962), 242 Ind. 582, 179 N.E.2d 721, which held that a 1961 automobile "excise" tax violated article 10, section 1 of the Indiana Constitution. The stockholders ......
  • Town of St. John v. State Bd. of Tax Com'rs, No. 49T10-9309-TA-00070
    • United States
    • Indiana Tax Court of Indiana
    • May 31, 1996
    ...be strictly observed by all public officials and particularly the courts as guardians of the citizens' rights stated therein. Finney, 179 N.E.2d at 721. Under Article 10, § 1, all property is to be assessed and taxed equally and uniformly based on the property wealth it represents. In order......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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