XEROX CORP. V. COUNTY OF HARRIS, 459 U. S. 145 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Xerox Corp. v. County of Harris, 459 U.S. 145 (1982)

Xerox Corp. v. County of Harris

No. 81-1489

Argued November 10, 1982

Decided December 13, 1982

459 U.S. 145


Appellant, a New York corporation that manufactures and sells copying machines, shipped machine parts manufactured in this country to Mexico City, Mexico, for assembly by its affiliate there. After assembly, the copiers were transported by a customs bonded trucking company to a customs bonded warehouse in Houston, Tex., where they were segregated from other merchandise and stored while awaiting sale and shipment to appellant's affiliates in Latin America. None of these copiers were ever sold to customers for domestic use, but remained under the continuous control and supervision of the United States Customs Service from the time they entered the warehouse until they cleared United States Customs at their export ports. In 1977, both the city of Houston and Harris County (appellees) assessed ad valorem personal property taxes on the copiers stored in the Houston warehouse. Appellant sought declaratory and injunctive relief in state court, claiming that the taxes were unconstitutional. Appellees counterclaimed for the taxes assessed. The trial court entered judgment for appellant, holding that the taxes violated the Import-Export and Commerce Clauses of the Constitution. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals reversed and granted judgment to appellees on their counterclaims, holding that the taxes violated neither Clause of the Constitution and, alternatively, that the trial court had violated state law in granting injunctive relief.


1. This Court has jurisdiction over the appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2). Notwithstanding appellees' argument that this Court lacks jurisdiction because the Court of Civil Appeals' decision reversing the grant of an injunction rested on an independent and adequate state ground, an indispensable predicate to the award of judgment to appellees on their counterclaims was a determination that the taxes were permissible under the Federal Constitution. P. 459 U. S. 149.

2. State property taxes, such as those involved here, on goods stored under bond in a customs warehouse are preempted by Congress' comprehensive regulation of customs duties. Under the customs system, established pursuant to Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause, imports may be stored duty-free in Government-supervised bonded

Page 459 U. S. 146

warehouses for prescribed periods, and during such periods may be withdrawn and reexported without payment of duty. Only if the goods are withdrawn for domestic sale or stored beyond the prescribed period does any duty become due. Congress created such duty-free enclaves under federal control in order to encourage merchants here and abroad to make use of American ports as transshipment centers for goods in foreign trade. It would not be compatible with the comprehensive scheme Congress enacted to effect these goals if the states were free to tax such goods while they were lodged temporarily in Government-regulated bonded storage in this country. Cf. McGoldrick v. Gulf Oil Corp., 309 U. S. 414. Pp. 459 U. S. 150-154.

619 S.W.2d 402, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 459 U. S. 155.

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