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U.S. Supreme Court

Wheeler Lumber Co. v. United States, 281 U.S. 572 (1930)

Wheeler Lumber Co. v. United States

No. 15

Argued April 25, 1929

Decided May 26, 1930

281 U.S. 572


1. A certification by the Court of Claims under § 3(a) of the Act of February 13, 1925, cannot be entertained if the question certified embraces the whole case, because to accept it and proceed to a determination thereof would be an exercise of original jurisdiction by this Court contrary to the Constitution, and because the statute permits a certification only of definite and distinct questions of law. P. 281 U. S. 576.

2. That a certification from a court of first instance, restricted to definite and distinct questions of law, invokes appellate action is settled by early and long continued usage amounting to a practical construction of the constitutional provision defining the jurisdiction of this Court. Id.

3. The certification of a definite question of law is not rendered objectionable merely because the answer may be decisive of the ease. P. 281 U. S. 577.

4. The importance or controlling character of the question certified, if it be a question of law and suitably specific, affords no ground for declining to accept the certification. Id.

5. Under the Revenue Acts of 1917 and 1918, which imposed a tax on transportation of freight payable by the person paying for the service, the exemption [§ 502, Act of 1917; § 500(h), Act of 1918,] allowed in case of transportation rendered to a state is to be construed a extending to her counties. P. 281 U. S. 578.

6. Where a vendor, who had engaged to sell and deliver lumber needed for public bridges to a county at a designated point in the county f.o.b. at a stated price, shipped the lumber by rail to that point preparatory to there effecting the required delivery and forwarded the bills of lading to the county, and the latter, conformably to the vendor's intention, surrendered the bills of lading to the carrier, paid its transportation charges, received the lumber from it, deducted from the f.o.b. price at destination the transportation charges paid to the carrier, and remitted the balance to the vendor,the transportation of the lumber to the place of delivery was not a service rendered to the county (state) within the meaning of the exempting provisions of § 502 of the

Page 281 U. S. 573

Revenue Act of 1917 and § 500(h) of the Revenue Act of 1918. P. 281 U. S. 575.

7. Although the transportation in this case was with a view to definite sale to the county, the transportation was not in fact a part of the sale, but preliminary to it and wholly the vendor's affair; therefore, the tax on the transportation cannot be regarded as a tax or burden on the sale, and Panhandle Oil Co. v. Mississippi, 277 U. S. 218, is inapplicable. P. 281 U. S. 579.

Answer to a question certified by the Court of Claims in a suit by the Lumber Company to recover the amount of a tax on rail transportation service, which it paid under protest.

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