NORFOLK & WESTERN RY. CO. V. SIMS, 191 U. S. 441 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Norfolk & Western Ry. Co. v. Sims, 191 U.S. 441 (1903)

Norfolk & Western Railway Co. v. Sims

No. 74

Argued November 12, 1903

Decided December 7, 1903

191 U.S. 441


The states have no power to tax directly, or by license upon the importer, goods imported from foreign countries or other states while in their original packages, or before they have become commingled with the general property of the state and lost their distinctive character as imports.

In cases not arising under the police power, where an article is made in one state and shipped in its original package in pursuance of an order to a person in another state, to be there delivered on payment of the agreed price, the sale is actually made in the former state and the seller cannot by reason of the delivery of the article and passing of the title of the property in the latter state be subjected to a license tax imposed by it on persons engaged in the sale of similar articles within that state.

This was a controversy between the sheriff of Person County, North Carolina, on the one part, and the railway company and Mrs. O. L. Satterfield, on the other, which might have been the subject of a civil action, and which the parties agreed to submit, under the Code of North Carolina, to the judge of the superior court upon the following facts, and upon the question of the liability of the defendants for a license tax under section 52 of "An Act to Raise Revenue," ratified March 15, 1901.

Page 191 U. S. 442

Laws of 1901, p. 116. The material part of the section reads as follows:

"Every manufacturer of sewing machines, and every person or persons or corporation engaged in the business of selling the same in this state, shall, before selling or offering for sale any such machine, pay to the state treasurer, a tax of $350, and obtain a license, which shall operate for one year from the date of the issue."

The Norfolk & Western Railway Company, a Virginia corporation, operates a railroad from its main line at Lynchburg, Virginia, via Roxboro in Person County, North Carolina, to Durham in the same state. This company had itself complied with the revenue act of 1901, and paid a license tax for the privilege of carrying on its business as a common carrier within the State of North Carolina.

Sears, Roebuck & Company (incorporated), of the City of Chicago, are manufacturers and dealers in sewing machines at Chicago, Illinois.

The defendant, Mrs. Satterfield, a resident of Person County, N.C. about November 1, 1901, sent an order by mail to Sears, Roebuck & Co. for a sewing machine, which was shipped by them as railroad freight from Chicago to Mrs. Satterfield at Roxboro, the railway company at Chicago issuing, on behalf of itself and its connecting railroad lines, a through bill of lading therefor under which the sewing machine was to be delivered to Mrs. Satterfield on surrender of the bill of lading, and payment of freight charges to the delivering carrier, the Norfolk & Western Railway Co.

The bill of lading was sent by Sears, Roebuck & Co. by express, C.O.D., to the express agent at Roxboro, who received from Mrs. Satterfield the price of the sewing machine and delivered the bill of lading to her. The express agent and the railway station agent were one and the same person. Mrs. Satterfield, having paid the purchase price, presented the bill of lading to the station agent, tendered the freight charges, and demanded the delivery of the sewing machine.

Page 191 U. S. 443

The railway company was willing, and would have delivered the same had not the plaintiff, the sheriff and ex officio tax collector of Person County, insisted that Sears, Roebuck & Co. could not sell the machine to Mrs. Satterfield without paying the license tax of $350, and forbade the delivery of the machine until the tax was paid, and thereupon levied upon the machine for such tax. He also insisted that the railway company would, by delivering the machine, be acting as the agent of Sears, Roebuck & Co., and would be liable to prosecution for misdemeanor in aiding and abetting them in an unlawful sale of the sewing machine.

It also appears in the agreed statement of facts that other machines were sent by the same consignors to various purchasers in North Carolina, upon the lines of other interstate railroads, and were delivered upon the presentation of other bills of lading under the same conditions as above described.

The court found that Sears, Roebuck & Co. were indebted to the state for $350 license tax; that the levy upon the machine was lawful and valid, and plaintiff was ordered to sell the machine and apply the proceeds to the payment of the tax. The judgment was affirmed by the supreme court of the state. 130 N.C. 556.

Page 191 U. S. 446

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