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AMERICAN STEEL & WIRE COMPANY v. SPEED

February 23, 1904

AMERICAN STEEL & WIRE COMPANY
v.
SPEED



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: White

[ 192 U.S. Page 508]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

Whether the plaintiff in error is entitled to recover the sum of certain taxes which were paid under protest, on the ground that the taxes were repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, is the question for decision on this record.

Section 28, article II, of the constitution of the State of Tennessee, so far as pertinent to the issue to be decided, is as follows:

"All property, real, personal or mixed, shall be taxed. . . . All property shall be taxed according to its value, that value to be ascertained in such manner as the legislature shall direct, so that taxes shall be equal and uniform throughout the State. No one species of property from which a tax may be collected, shall be taxed higher than any other species of property of the same value, but the legislature shall have power to tax merchants, peddlers and privileges, in such manner as they may from time to time direct. The portion of a merchant's capital used in the purchase of merchandise sold by him to non-residents and sent beyond the State, shall not be taxed at a rate higher than the ad valorem tax on property."

Section 30, article II, of the same constitution provides:

"No article manufactured of the produce of this State shall be taxed otherwise than to pay inspection fees."

The assessing and taxing laws of the State of Tennessee in force at the time the taxes in controversy were levied provided, first, for a general ad valorem tax upon all property; second, for

[ 192 U.S. Page 509]

     a merchants' tax separate from the general ad valorem levy, this latter tax being of two classes: A tax upon the average capital invested in business and a privilege tax, which was at a different rate and in other respects distinct from the merchants' tax just referred to. Moreover, at the time the tax assessments in question were made the statutes of the State of Tennessee concerning the merchants' tax contained the following:

"The term 'merchants,' as used in this act, includes all persons, co-partnerships or corporations engaged in trade or dealing in any kind of goods, wares, merchandise, either on land or in steamboats, wharf boats or other craft stationed or plying in the waters of this State, and confectioners, whether such goods, wares or merchandise be kept on hand for sale or the same be purchased and delivered for profit as ordered."

Moreover, the assessment laws, whilst providing that all "persons, co-partners and joint stock companies engaged in the manufacture of any goods, wares, merchandise or other articles of value shall pay an ad valorem tax upon the actual cash value of their property, real, personal or mixed, . . ." made the following exception: " Provided, the value of articles manufactured from the produce of the State in the hands of the manufacturer shall be deducted in assessing the property." And a like exception qualified a provision imposing an ad valorem tax upon the capital and franchises of manufacturing corporations. Besides, the assessing statutes contained a general provision exempting "all growing crops of whatever nature or kind -- the direct product of the soil of this State in the hands of the producer or his immediate vendee, and manufactured articles from the produce of this State in the hands of the manufacturer."

Whilst these laws were in force the officer whose duty it was to list the merchant tax assessed against the American Steel and Wire Company, which we shall hereafter call the Steel Company, both the general merchants' tax and a merchants' privilege tax. The company resisted the assessment, and,

[ 192 U.S. Page 510]

     after unsuccessfully pressing, through the administrative channels provided by the law of Tennessee, its objections, paid the tax under protest, and thereupon, as authorized by the law of Tennessee, commenced this suit to recover the amount paid.

Without going into detail, it suffices to say that the bill filed in the action to recover substantially alleged as follows: That the company was a New Jersey corporation, having a place of business in the city of Chicago, and owning and operating various plants for the manufacture of wire, nails, etc., in States other than the State of Tennessee. And, for the purpose of facilitating the sale and delivery of the goods by it manufactured, it had selected Memphis, Tennessee, as a distributing point, and had made an arrangement in that city with the Patterson Transfer Company, a corporation engaged at Memphis in the transfer of merchandise. By this arrangement the Patterson Transfer Company was to take charge of the products when shipped to Memphis, consigned to the Steel Company, store them in a warehouse there, assort them and make delivery to the persons to whom the goods were sold by the Steel Company. It was averred that the Patterson Transfer Company, in fulfilling its obligations under the contract, was in no sense a merchant, but only a carrier, and that the Steel Company, in storing and delivering its goods at Memphis, was not a merchant in Memphis, but was simply a manufacturer, delivering in the original packages goods made in other States to the persons who had bought them. In substance, besides, it was alleged that the goods in the warehouse in Memphis were merely in transit from the point of manufacture outside of the State of Tennessee to the persons to whom they had been previously sold. The levy of the tax was charged to be repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States: First, because the goods in the warehouse in Memphis were in the original packages as shipped from other States and had not been sold in Tennessee, and hence had not been commingled with the property of that State, and because, in any event, they had acquired no situs in Tennessee, as they

[ 192 U.S. Page 511]

     were moving in the channels of interstate commerce from the place where the goods were manufactured, for delivery to the persons to whom in effect they had been sold. Second. Because, as the State of Tennessee exempted from taxation articles manufactured from the produce of that State, no tax could be imposed by Tennessee upon articles manufactured from the produce of other States, without operating a discrimination against articles manufactured from the produce of other States. Issue was joined on the complaint. The trial court, deducing from the proof conclusions of ultimate facts in favor of the complainant, entered a decree in favor of the Steel Company. The case was taken to the Supreme Court of the State. In that court the validity of the tax was upheld and the judgment below was reversed. The ...


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