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U.S. Supreme Court

Home Insurance Company v. City Council of Augusta, 93 U.S. 116 (1876)

Home Insurance Company v. City Council of Augusta

93 U.S. 116


1. Where a statute of, or authority exercised under, a state is drawn in question on the ground of its repugnance to the Constitution of the United States, or a right is claimed under that instrument, the decision of a state court in favor of the validity of such statute or authority, or adverse to the right so claimed, can be reviewed here.

2. An insurance company conformed to the requirements of the act of the Legislature of Georgia, and received from the Comptroller-General a certificate authorizing it to transact business in that state for one year from Jan. 1, 1874. That act does not, expressly or by implication, limit or restrain the exercise of the taxing power of the state, or of any municipality. An ordinance of the City Council of Augusta, passed Jan. 5, 1874, imposed from that date an annual license tax "on each and every fire, marine, or accidental insurance company located, having an office or doing business within" that city. Held that the ordinance is not in violation of that clause of the Constitution of the United States which declares that "no state shall pass any law impairing the obligations of contracts."

A statute of the Legislature of Georgia, to regulate insurance business and insurance agencies in the State of Georgia, passed March 19, 1869, enacts as follows:

Page 93 U. S. 117

"SECTION 1. That it shall not be lawful for any insurance company, or agent of the same, excepting masonic, odd fellows, and religious mutual aid societies, already chartered by this state, to transact any business of insurance without first procuring a certificate of authority from the comptroller-general of this state, and, before obtaining such certificate, such company must furnish the comptroller-general with a statement, under oath, specifying:"

"First, the name and locality of the company."

"Second, the condition of such company on the thirty-first day of December then next preceding, exhibiting the following facts and items, in the following form: namely, 1st, capital stock; 2d, assets, detailed; 3d, liabilities, detailed; 4th, income preceding year, detailed; 5th, expenditures preceding year, detailed; 6th, greatest risk; 7th, certified copy of charter."

"SEC. 2. The said statement shall be filed in the office of the comptroller-general, and the company shall show possession of at least $100,000 cash capital."

"SEC. 3. Upon filing such statement as aforesaid, the comptroller-general, when satisfied that the statement is correct, and that the company has fully complied with the provisions of this act, shall issue a certificate of authority to transact business of insurance in this state to the company applying for the same, and to all agents such company may appoint and commission."

"SEC. 4. Said statement must be renewed annually on the first day of January in each year, or within sixty days thereafter, and if the comptroller-general is satisfied that the capital, securities, and investments remain secured as at first, he shall furnish a renewal of the certificates. Insurance companies shall not be required to furnish but the single statement annually. The comptroller-general shall be entitled to a fee, for examining and filing each statement of such companies, of seven and one-half dollars, and for certificates to agents, of two and one-half dollars -- which fee shall be paid by the company or agent filing said statements, and to whom certificates are to be issued."

"SEC. 6. That all persons violating the provisions of this act shall be liable to indictment, and, on conviction, shall be fined not less than one hundred dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars, at the discretion of the jury and court trying the same."

The plaintiff in error, a corporation organized under the laws of the State of New York, had an agency in the City of Augusta. On furnishing the required statement, it received

Page 93 U. S. 118

the certificate of the comptroller-general authorizing it to conduct the business of insurance in that city for one year from Jan. 1, 1874. Under a general law, it paid a tax of one percent upon the gross amount of premiums received, and, under a city ordinance, a tax of one and a quarter percent thereon.

On the 5th of January, 1874, the city council passed an ordinance, the first section of which provides that, from and after that date,

"The annual license tax on insurance companies shall be as follows:"

"1. On each and every life insurance company located, having an office or doing business within the City of Augusta, $100."

"2. On each and every fire, marine, or accidental insurance company located, having an office or doing business within the City of Augusta, $250."

The legislature, by an Act passed Feb. 26, 1874, validated all existing ordinances of said city council imposing taxes for the support of its municipal government for 1874. Thereupon the plaintiff in error filed its bill in the Superior Court of Richmond County, to enjoin the council from collecting the license tax for that year imposed upon it, and claimed, as a ground of relief, that said ordinance impaired the obligation of the contract between the company and the state, whereby the former was authorized to transact the business of insurance therein, and thus violated that clause of the Constitution of the United States which declares that no state, and, a fortiori, no political subdivision of a state, "shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts."

The Superior Court refused the injunction prayed for, and dismissed the bill, and the decree having been affirmed by the supreme court of the state, the company brought the case here.

Page 93 U. S. 120

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