PACIFIC EXPRESS CO. V. SEIBERT, 142 U. S. 339 (1892)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pacific Express Co. v. Seibert, 142 U.S. 339 (1892)

Pacific Express Company v. Seibert

No. 983

Submitted November 9, 1891

Decided January 4, 1892

142 U.S. 339


A bill in equity which alleges (1) that a statute of a state imposes a tax upon interstate commerce, and is therefore void as forbidden by the Constitution of the United States, and which sets out the provision complained of from which it appears that the tax was imposed only on business done within the state, (2) that the act denies to the complainant the equal protection of the laws of the state, and is therefore void by reason of violating the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) that the act is not uniform and equal in its operation, and is void by reason of repugnance to the constitution of the state, and which seeks on these grounds an injunction against the collection of the tax, presents no ground justifying the interposition of a court of equity to enjoin the collection of the tax.

The Act of the Legislature of Missouri of May 16, 1889, "to define express companies and to prescribe the mode of taxing the same, and to fix the rate of taxation thereon," imposes a tax only on business done within the state, and does not violate the requirements of uniformity and equality of taxation prescribed by the Constitution of the Missouri.

Diversity of taxation, both with respect to the amount imposed and the various species of property selected, either for bearing its burdens or for being exempt from them, is not inconsistent with a perfect uniformity and equality in taxation, and of a just adaptation of property to its burdens.

A system of taxation which imposes the same tax upon every species of property, irrespective of its nature or condition or class, will be destructive of the principle of uniformity and equality in taxation and of a just adaptation of property to its burdens.

A state statute which defines an express company to be persons and corporations who carry on the business of transportation on contracts for hire with railroad or steamboat companies does not invidiously discriminate against the express companies defined by it and in favor of other companies or persons carrying express matter on other conditions or under different circumstances.

The Court stated the case as follows:

This was a suit in equity by the Pacific Express Company, a Nebraska corporation, against John M. Seibert, State Auditor,

Page 142 U. S. 340

and John M. Wood, Attorney General, of the State of Missouri, to restrain and enjoin the collection of certain alleged illegal taxes assessed against the company under the provisions of an act of the Missouri Legislature which was claimed to be in conflict with the Constitution of Missouri and the Constitution of the United States.

The act in question, approved May 16, 1889, is as follows:

"SEC. 1. Any person, persons, joint-stock association, company, or corporation incorporated under the laws of any state, territory, or county, conveying to, from, or through this state, or any part thereof, money, packages, gold, silver, plate, articles, goods, merchandise, or effects of any kind by express on contract with any railroad or steamboat company, or the managers, lessees, agents, or receivers thereof, not including railroad companies or steamboats engaged in the ordinary transportation of merchandise and property in this state, shall be deemed to be an express company."

"SEC. 2. Every such express company shall annually, between the first day of April and the first day of May, make and deliver to the state auditor a statement, verified by the oath of the officer or agent making such report, showing the entire receipts for business done within this State of each agent of such company doing business in this state for the year then next preceding the first day of April for and on account of such company, including its proportion of gross receipts for business done by such company in connection with other companies, provided that the amount which any express company actually pays to the railroads or steamboats within this state for the transportation of their freight within this state may be deducted from the gross receipts of such company as above ascertained, and provided further that said amount paid to the various railroad or steamboat companies for transportation shall be itemized, showing the amount paid to each railroad or steamboat company, and provided further that nothing herein contained shall release such express companies from the assessment and taxation of their tangible property in the manner that other tangible property is assessed and taxed. Such company making statement of such receipts shall include as such

Page 142 U. S. 341

all sums earned or charged for the business done within this state for such preceding year, whether actually received or not. Such statement shall contain an abstract of the amount received in each county, and the total amount received for all the counties. In case of the failure or refusal of such express company to make such statement before the first day of May, it shall then be the duty of each local agent of such express company within this state, annually, between the first day of May and the first day of June, to make out and forward to the state auditor a similar verified statement of the gross receipts of his agency for the year then next preceding the first day of April. When such statement is made, such express company shall at the time of making the same pay into the treasury of the state the sum of two dollars on each one hundred dollars of such receipts, and any such express company failing or refusing for more than thirty days after the first day of June in each year to render an accurate account of its receipts in the manner above provided, and to pay the required tax thereon, shall forfeit one hundred dollars for each additional day such statement and payment shall be delayed, to be recovered in an action in the name of the State of Missouri on the relation of the state auditor in any court of competent jurisdiction, and the Attorney General shall conduct such prosecution, and such company, corporation, or association so failing or refusing shall be prohibited from carrying on said business in this state until such payment is made."

The bill, filed on the 17th of June, 1890, contained substantially the following material averments: at the date of the passage of the aforesaid act of the legislature, the complainant was, and ever since that date has been, engaged in the business of conveying valuable articles to, from, and through the State of Missouri and various parts of that state by express, at the same time providing its own transportation, under contracts with the Missouri Pacific, and other railroad companies operating lines in that state, to convey the property bailed to it. In the prosecution of such business, complainant, under contracts of hire, receives and has received property at various points in other states and conveys it to various places in Missouri,

Page 142 U. S. 342

and also property in Missouri which it conveys to points in other states. At the time and during the period mentioned, there were other persons and corporations engaged in a like business in the State of Missouri who either owned their own transportation facilities or procured the same by hire from persons not a railroad or steamboat company or anyone connected with such corporations.

The bill then averred that if the act of the legislature aforesaid was a valid law, complainant would be required to pay taxes to the state for the year ending April 1, 1890, in the estimated sum of over $12,000, and if the act was a valid law only in respect to the gross receipts upon such business as complainant had done between points wholly in the State of Missouri, and void as to gross receipts upon its business done between points within the state and points in other states, then complainant would be required to pay taxes for such period in the sum of over $3,000; that complainant was willing to pay any taxes which might be found to have been legally assessed against it, but it declared that the aforesaid act of the Missouri Legislature was not a valid law, because it sought to impose a tax upon the business of interstate commerce, in which complainant was engaged, and was therefore violative of the Constitution of the United States.

The bill then averred that neither the tax of two percent, mentioned in section 2 of the act of the legislature, nor any other equivalent tax, was imposed by that act or any other law of the state upon other common carriers engaged in similar business as complainant who do not hire transportation by "contract with any railroad or steamboat company," etc.; that there was no provision in that act in respect to the equalization of the taxes required to be levied under it by state and county boards of equalization, as in the case of other state taxes, and the tax assessed under said act was not uniform, and it was claimed therefore that the act was violative of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States because it denied to the complainant the equal protection of the laws, and was also violative of § 3, art. 10, of the Constitution of Missouri, because the taxes levied were not "uniform upon the

Page 142 U. S. 343

same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax."

The bill also averred that the act under consideration was violative of certain other mentioned provisions of the Constitution of Missouri, and that the defendants, being the officials charged with the duty of enforcing the provisions thereof, would proceed to enforce the same unless restrained by the order or process of the court by instituting legal proceedings to collect said taxes and the penalties prescribed, and would thereby prohibit complainant from carrying on its business in Missouri, whereby complainant would be subjected to and harassed by a multiplicity of suits, and would suffer great and irreparable loss and damage for which it had no adequate remedy at law.

Wherefore an injunction was prayed to restrain the collection of said taxes, and a decree was asked adjudging the aforesaid act of the Legislature of Missouri invalid and unconstitutional, together with a prayer for such other and further relief as might appear equitable and just.

Upon the filing of the bill, and upon hearing argument of counsel for both sides of the controversy, the court, on the 23d of June, 1890, granted a temporary injunction, as prayed.

The defendants then demurred to the bill upon three grounds: (1) that it did not state facts sufficient to entitle complainant to the relief prayed, (2) that there was no equity in it, and (3) that it appeared from the bill that complainant had an adequate remedy at law. The demurrer was sustained, and a decree was entered dissolving the temporary injunction and dismissing the bill for want of equity. 44 F.8d 0. From that decree the complainant appealed, and the case is now here for consideration.

Page 142 U. S. 348

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