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U.S. Supreme Court

Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Ry. Co. v. Browning, 310 U.S. 362 (1940)

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

No. 789

Argued April 30, May 1, 1940

Decided May 20, 1940

310 U.S. 362


1. In the absence of special circumstances rendering it inapplicable to the particular case, the mileage basis affords an appropriate method, consistent with the Commerce Clause, of apportioning the value of an interstate railroad system among the several States in which it functions, for the purpose of taxation. Arithmetical precision in the apportionment is not essential to its validity. P. 310 U. S. 365.

The judgment of state taxing authorities and courts upholding a use of the mileage basis, despite evidence of different earning capacities of lines of the railroad in and out of the State -- accepted in this case.

2. Upon review of a decree of a state court sustaining a tax assessment of a railroad over the objection that unconstitutional discrimination resulted from systematic assessment of railroads and other public utilities at full value and undervaluation of all other kinds of property, this Court declines to examine the minutes of the state board of equalization, not in the record but proffered here for the first time in the litigation, in order to learn whether the state court was correct in presuming that disparities of assessment had been equalized, as required by the state law. P. 310 U. S. 366.

3. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permits a State to classify the property of railroads and other public utilities separately from other property, and to tax it higher. P. 310 U. S. 367.

Page 310 U. S. 363

4. Where a State for many years systematically assessed the property of railroads and other utilities at full cash value and 11 other kinds of property at less than cash value -- held that the practice was the "law" of the State, within the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, although uniformity of taxation was commanded by the state constitution, and although it were true that the tax in question was sustained by the State Supreme Court by a resort to fiction. P. 310 U. S. 369.

5. The contention that an assessment, continued without change for a series of years, had become confiscatory because of decrease in value of the property due to economic causes, is rejected because

(1) The Court finds in the record no warrant for upsetting the administrative determination, sustained by the state courts. P. 310 U. S. 370.

(2) The maintenance of an assessment in the face of declining value is merely way of increasing the tax. P. 310 U. S. 370.

140 S.W.2d 781 affirmed.

Certiorari, 309 U.S. 651, to review a decree sustaining the dismissal of a suit to reduce, as excessive, a tax assessment of railroad property.

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