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MICHIGAN-WISCONSIN PIPE LINE CO. v. CALVERT

decided: February 8, 1954.

MICHIGAN-WISCONSIN PIPE LINE CO
v.
CALVERT, COMPTROLLER OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS, ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS OF TEXAS, THIRD SUPREME JUDICIAL DISTRICT.*fn*

Warren, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton

Author: Clark

[ 347 U.S. Page 159]

 MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellants, two natural gas pipeline companies, brought separate suits against Texas State officials, appellees here, in a state district court, seeking a determination that a Texas tax statute as applied to appellants violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States, and seeking recovery of money paid under protest in compliance with the statute. The District Court sustained appellants' contentions and entered judgment in their favor. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed, holding that the tax statute as applied is constitutional. 255 S. W. 2d 535. The Supreme Court of Texas "refused" appellants' applications for writs of error.

By state statute and procedural rule, the docket notation "refused" in denying application for writ of error signifies that the State Supreme Court deems the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals a correct one and the principles of law declared in the opinion correctly determined. Appellants were uncertain whether appeal to this Court was properly from the Court of Civil Appeals or the Supreme Court of Texas, as "the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had" within the meaning of 28 U. S. C. ยง 1257. Hence each appellant appealed from each of the courts.*fn1 We postponed to the hearing of the cases on the merits a determination of the jurisdictional question. 346 U.S. 805.

[ 347 U.S. Page 160]

     We think that appeals in these cases were properly from the Court of Civil Appeals. In American Railway Express Co. v. Levee, 263 U.S. 19 (1923), the Supreme Court of Louisiana had refused a writ of certiorari to the State Court of Appeal "for the reason that the judgment is correct." Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for a unanimous Court, said:

". . . Under the Constitution of the State the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is discretionary . . . and although it was necessary for the petitioner to invoke that jurisdiction in order to make it certain that the case could go no farther, . . . when the jurisdiction was declined the Court of Appeal was shown to be the highest Court of the State in which a decision could be had. Another section of the article cited required the Supreme Court to give its reasons for refusing the writ, and therefore the fact that the reason happened to be an opinion upon the merits rather than some more technical consideration, did not take from the refusal its ostensible character of declining jurisdiction. Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Crovo, 220 U.S. 364, 366. Norfolk & Suburban Turnpike Co. v. Virginia, 225 U.S. 264, 269. Of course the limit of time for applying to this Court was from the date when the writ of certiorari was refused." 263 U.S., at 20-21.

In Lone Star Gas Co. v. Texas, 304 U.S. 224 (1938), with the present Texas procedural provisions in effect, this Court's mandate issued to the Court of Civil Appeals in a case where the State Supreme Court had "refused" writ of error. See also United Public Service Co. v. Texas, 301 U.S. 667 (1937).

Accordingly the appeals in Nos. 199 and 201, from the Supreme Court of Texas, are dismissed. We proceed to consider Nos. 198 and 200.

[ 347 U.S. Page 161]

     The question presented is whether the Commerce Clause is infringed by a Texas tax on the occupation of "gathering gas," measured by the entire volume of gas "taken," as applied to an interstate natural gas pipeline company, where the taxable incidence is the taking of gas from the outlet of an independent gasoline plant within the State for the purpose of immediate interstate transmission. In relevant part the tax statute*fn2 provides that "In addition to all other licenses and taxes levied and assessed in the State of Texas, there is hereby levied upon every person engaged in gathering gas produced in this State, an occupation tax for the privilege of engaging in such business, at the rate of 9/20 of one cent per thousand (1,000) cubic feet of gas gathered." Using a beggared definition of the term "gathering gas," the Act further provides that "In the case of gas containing gasoline or liquid hydrocarbons that are removed or extracted at a plant within the State by scrubbing, absorption, compression or any other process, the term 'gathering gas' means the first taking or the first retaining of possession of such gas for other processing or transmission whether through a pipeline, either common carrier or private, or otherwise after such gas has passed through the outlet of such plant." It also prohibits the "gatherer" as therein defined from shifting the burden of the tax to the producer of the gas, and provides that the tax shall not be levied as to gas gathered for local consumption if declared unconstitutional as to that gathered for interstate transmission.

Michigan-Wisconsin Pipe Line Company and Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company, appellants, are Delaware corporations and are natural gas companies holding certificates of convenience and necessity under the ...


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