NASHVILLE, C. & ST. LOUIS RY. CO. V. WALLACE, 288 U. S. 249 (1933)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Nashville, C. & St. Louis Ry. Co. v. Wallace, 288 U.S. 249 (1933)

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway Co. v. Wallace

No. 176

Argued December 12, 1932

Decided February 6, 1933

288 U.S. 249


1. Whether an appeal to this Court from a judgment of a state court in a proceeding under a state "declaratory judgments" law, presents a "case or controversy" within the jurisdiction of this Court depends not upon the name or the form, but upon the nature and substance, of the proceeding and the effect of the judgment upon the rights asserted by the appellant. P. 288 U. S. 260.

2. The Tennessee Declaratory Judgments Act, as construed by the Supreme Court of the State, may be invoked only when the complainant asserts rights which are challenged by the defendant, and presents for decision an actual controversy to which he is a party, capable of final adjudication by the judgment to be rendered, and no judgment will be rendered when all the parties who will be adversely affected by it are not before the court. In a suit under the Act to secure a judicial determination that a tax levied against

Page 288 U. S. 250

the complainant, and about to be enforced by defendant state officers, was invalid under the Federal Constitution, which, in substance, differed from the ordinary injunction suit only in the absence of a prayer for an injunction and of an allegation of irreparable injury -- Held that a judgment upholding the tax and affirming dismissal of the bill on the merits was reviewable by this Court. Pp. 288 U. S. 260-264.

3. While the ordinary course of judicial procedure results in a judgment requiring an award of process or execution to carry it into effect, such relief is not an indispensable adjunct to the exercise of the judicial function. P. 288 U. S. 263.

4. The Constitution does not require that the case or controversy should be presented by traditional forms of procedure, invoking only traditional remedies; the judiciary clause defined and limited judicial power, not the particular method by which that power might be invoked. P. 288 U. S. 264.

5. When the judicial power is invoked to review judgments of state courts, the ultimate constitutional purpose is protection of rights arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States; changes by the States in the form or method by which federal rights are brought to final adjudication in their courts do not preclude review by this Court so long as the case retains the essentials of an adversary proceeding, involving a real, not a hypothetical, controversy which is finally determined by the judgment below. P. 288 U. S. 264.

6. As the prayer for relief by injunction is not a necessary prerequisite to the exercise of judicial power, allegations of threatened irreparable injury, which are material only if an injunction is asked, may likewise be dispensed with if, in other respects, the controversy is real and substantial. P. 288 U. S. 264.

7. A railroad company brings gasoline into Tennessee, stores it in its tanks, and withdraws and uses it as required as a source of motive power for moving its interstate trains in that State and in others. No ascertainable part of the gasoline when imported has a destination beyond the local storage tanks. Held:

(1) That, upon being unloaded and stored, the gasoline ceases to be a subject of interstate commerce, and loses its immunity as such from state taxation. P. 288 U. S. 265.

(2) A Tennessee "privilege tax" on the storage of gasoline within the State and its withdrawal from storage for sale or use, when applied to petitioner's gasoline, is not a tax on the use of the gasoline as an instrument of commerce, and burdens the function

Page 288 U. S. 251

of interstate commerce too indirectly and remotely to transgress constitutional limitations. P. 288 U. S. 267.

8. The power to tax property -- the sum of all the rights and powers incident to ownership -- necessarily includes the power to tax its constituent parts. As the gasoline in storage could be taxed by the State as property notwithstanding its prospective use as an instrument of interstate commerce, the State can likewise tax the successive exercise of two of the powers incident to it ownership, storage and withdrawal from storage, both completed before interstate commerce begins. P. 288 U. S. 268.

9. The constitutional power to levy taxes doe not depend upon the enjoyment by the taxpayer of any special benefit from the use of the funds raised by taxation. P. 288 U. S. 268.

10. The allegations of the bill showing a heavier state tax burden upon railroads than upon common carriers by motor bus fall short of alleging a discrimination forbidden by the commerce clause or by the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 288 U. S. 268.


APPEAL from the affirmance of a decree dismissing a bill challenging a Tennessee excise tax.

Page 288 U. S. 258

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