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CHALKER v. BIRMINGHAM & N. W. RY. CO. , 249 U.S. 522 (1919)

U.S. Supreme Court

CHALKER v. BIRMINGHAM & N. W. RY. CO. , 249 U.S. 522 (1919)

249 U.S. 522

CHALKER et al.
BIRMINGHAM & N. W. RY. CO. et al.
No. 283.

Argued March 25 and 26, 1919.
Decided April 21, 1919.

[249 U.S. 522, 523]   Messrs. C. E. Pigford, of Jackson, Tenn., and Watson E. Coleman, of Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs in error.

Mr. R. F. Spragins, of Jackson, Tenn., for defendants in error.

[249 U.S. 522, 525]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The point for determination is the liability of J. W. Wright, Jr., a citizen and resident of Alabama with his chief office therein, who engaged in the business of constructing a railroad in Tennessee, for the tax prescribed by section 4 of 'An act to provide revenue for the state of Tennessee and the counties and municipalities thereof,' approved May 1, 1909 (Acts of Tenn. 1909, c. 479, pp. 1726, 1727, 1735), which provides:


Replying to the claim that the statute in effect discriminates against citizens of other states the Supreme Court of Tennessee, in Wright v. Jackson Const. Co., 138 Tenn. 145, 152, 153, 196 S. W. 488, 490, said:

With this conclusion we are unable to agree. Accepting the construction placed upon it by the Supreme Court, we think the quoted section does discriminate between citizens of Tennessee and those of other states by imposing a higher charge on the latter than it does on the former, contrary to section 2, art. 4, of the federal Constitution:

The power of a state to make reasonable and natural classifications for purposes of taxation is clear and not questioned; but neither under form of classification nor [249 U.S. 522, 527]   otherwise can any state enforce taxing laws which in their practical operation materially abridge or impair the equality of commercial privileges secured by the federal Constitution to citizens of the several states.

As the chief office of an individual is commonly in the state of which he is a citizen, Tennessee citizens engaged in constructing railroads in that state will ordinarily have their chief offices therein, while citizens of other states so engaged will not. Practically, therefore, the statute under consideration would produce discrimination against citizens of other states by imposing higher charges against them than citizens of Tennessee are required to pay. We can find no adequate basis for taxing individuals according to the location of their chief offices- the classification, we think, is arbitrary and unreasonable. Under the federal Constitution a citizen of one state is guaranteed the right to enjoy in all other states equality of commercial privileges with their citizens; but he cannot have his chief office in every one of them. [249 U.S. 522, 528]   It is insisted that no tender of any sum for license tax was made in time, and therefore plaintiff in error cannot question the validity of the enactment because of discrimination. But the Supreme Court expressly declared that the statute fixed the liability of Wright at $100. A tender of less would have availed nothing and it was therefore unnecessary.

The judgment of the court below is reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.

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