LIMBACH V. HOOVER & ALLISON CO., 466 U. S. 353 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Limbach v. Hoover & Allison Co., 466 U.S. 353 (1984)

Limbach v. Hoover & Allison Co.

No. 83-96

Argued February 22, 1984

Decided April 18, 1984

466 U.S. 353


Respondent manufacturer of cordage products, in filing its Ohio ad valorem personal property tax returns for 1976 and 1977, deducted from the total value of its inventory the value of imported fibers that were stored in their original packages for future use in the manufacturing process. In taking this deduction, respondent relied on Hooven & Allison Co. v. Evatt, 324 U. S. 652 (Hooven I), a case involving the same tax and the same parties as the instant case, as well as similar property, and wherein it was held that subjecting the property in question there to the Ohio personal property tax would violate the Import-Export Clause. Petitioner Ohio Tax Commissioner disallowed the deduction and accordingly increased the assessments, relying on Michelin Tire Corp. v. Wages, 423 U. S. 276, where the assessment of a State's nondiscriminatory ad valorem property tax on an inventory of imported tires maintained at a wholesale distribution warehouse was held not to be within the Import-Export Clause's prohibition against States' levying "any Imposts or Duties on Imports." The Ohio Board of Tax Appeals reversed, ruling that petitioner was collaterally estopped by the decision in Hooven I from levying the increased assessments, and rejecting respondent's argument that Michelin implicitly overruled Hooven I. The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed.


1. The assessment of the Ohio personal property tax on the original-package imported fibers in question does not violate the Import-Export Clause. This Court in Michelin specifically abandoned the concept that the Import-Export Clause constituted a broad prohibition against all forms of state taxation of imports, and changed the focus of Import-Export Clause cases from whether the goods have lost their status as imports to whether the tax sought to be imposed is an "Impost or Duty." Hooven I, having been decided under the original-package doctrine, was among the progeny of @ 80 U. S. 357-361.

Page 466 U. S. 354

2. Petitioner is not barred by collateral estoppel from levying the increased assessments. Pp. 466 U. S. 361-363.

(a) Collateral estoppel was applied here as a matter of federal, not state, law, and thus the case is not insulated from review in this Court on the asserted ground that, because Michelin did not expressly overrule Hooven I, state law principles of collateral estoppel bar imposition of the Ohio tax on respondent's imported fibers. The case concerns federal issues and a contention that a state court disregarded a federal constitutional ruling of this Court. Pp. 466 U. S. 361-362.

(b) While the parties, the tax, and the goods imported in their containers are the same here as in Hooven I, the years involved are not. Because of this difference in tax years, the case is controlled by Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U. S. 591, a federal income tax case wherein it was held that an earlier decision of the Board of Tax Appeals involving the same facts, questions, and parties, but different tax years, was not conclusive under the collateral estoppel doctrine because certain intervening decisions of this Court made manifest the error of the result reached by the Board. Failure to follow Sunnen's dictates would lead to the very tax inequality that the admonition of that case was designed to avoid. Pp. 466 U. S. 362-363.

4 Ohio St.3d 169, 447 N.E.2d 1295, vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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