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FELT & TARRANT MFG. CO. v. GALLAGHER, 306 U.S. 62 (1939)

U.S. Supreme Court

FELT & TARRANT MFG. CO. v. GALLAGHER, 306 U.S. 62 (1939)

306 U.S. 62

No. 302.

Argued Dec. 13, 1938.
Decided Jan. 30, 1939.

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of California. [306 U.S. 62, 63]   Messrs. A. Calder MacKay and Thomas R. Dempsey, both of Los Angeles, Cal., for appellant.

Mr. James J. Arditto, of San Francisco, Cal., for appellees.

[306 U.S. 62, 64]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Appellant seeks an injunction prohibiting the state officers from enforcing against it the California Use Tax Act of 1935. Cal.Stat.1935, Ch. 361, p. 1297, as amended by Cal.Stat.1937, Chs. 401, 671 and 683, pp. 1327, 1874, 1936. Counsel do not question the right of the state to collect this tax from the user, etc., but they say that, in the circumstances here disclosed, the officers may not compel appellant to serve as an agent for collecting the tax as they are threatening to do.

The trial court, three judges, dismissed the bill upon motion.

It appears-

Appellant, an Illinois corporation, is engaged in manufacturing and selling comptometers in that state and delivering these to purchasers in various parts of the Union. As stated by the court below its method of doing business with respect to California purchasers is substantially as follows:

And further 'That each of these two general agents maintains an office in this State, the lease to such office designating the plaintiff as lessee therein, the rent for the same being paid by plaintiff, while all other expenses of maintaining such office are paid by the general agent. As soon as an order is accepted a particular machine is appropriated for that purpose in plaintiff's shipping department in Illinois. All machines sold for delivery in California are shipped from one of plaintiff's distributing points outside of the State. Sometimes machines are forwarded directly to the purchasers, while in other instances, in order to secure reduced freight charges, large groups of machines are shipped to the general agent who makes delivery to the respective purchasers. The only machines kept by plaintiff in California are those used as [306 U.S. 62, 66]   demonstrators. Plaintiff has never qualified to do intrastate business in California.'

The Use Tax Act (sec. 6, St.Cal.1937, p. 1938) directs retailers maintaining a place of business in the state, and making sales of tangible personal property for storage, use or other consumption therein, to collect from the purchaser the tax imposed.

Appellant presents for our consideration two points: (1) The statute as construed and applied by the appellees to the appellant is repugnant to Art. 1, section 8, clause 3 of the Federal Constitution, U.S.C.A. (2) The threatened enforcement of the statute would deprive appellant of his property without Due Process of Law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S.C.A.

The argument is this-

The appellant, an Illinois corporation, carried on no intrastate operations in California and is not subject to its jurisdiction. Such business as it transacts in California is interstate in character. California, therefore, lacks the power to require it (1) to act as the state's collecting agent with respect to use tax which may become due from California storers, users or consumers, or (2) to insure payment of such tax if it fails to make collections from the tax debtors, or (3) otherwise to act as a 'retailer' as defined by the Act and the appellees. The treatment of the appellant as a retailer subject to the provisions of the California Use Tax Act is a direct burden upon interstate commerce prohibited by the Federal Constitution. Numerous provisions of the statute, if applied, would deprive appellant of its property without due process of law.

The trial court thought that both contentions were foreclosed by what was said and ruled in Bowman et al. v. Continental Oil Co., 256 U.S. 642, 650 , 41 S.Ct. 606, 609, Monamotor Oil Co. v. Johnson et al., 292 U.S. 86, 93 , 95 S., 54 S.Ct. 575, 578, and Henneford et al. v. Silas Mason Co. et al., 300 U.S. 577, 582 , 583 S., 57 S.Ct. 524, 526, 527. And we agree with that conclusion. [306 U.S. 62, 67]   Henneford v. Silas Mason Co. upheld a Washington statute similar to the one under consideration. The opinion declared (pages 582, 583, 57 S.Ct. page 526)-

Bowman v. Continental Oil Company recognized the right of the state to require a distributor 'to render detailed statements of all gasoline received, sold, or used by it, whether in interstate commerce or not, to the end that the state may the more readily enforce said excise tax to the extent that it has lawful power to enforce it as above stated.' (Page 609.)

Monamotor Oil Co. v. Johnson upheld an Iowa statute. The complainant there sought an injunction prohibiting tax officers from requiring the distributor of motor oil received from another state to pay into the state treasury the tax levied upon the consumer. This Court said (pages 93, 95, 54 S.Ct. page 578), 'There is no substance in the claim that the statutes impose a burden upon interstate commerce, .... The statute in terms imposes the tax on motor vehicle fuel used or otherwise disposed of in the state. Instead of collecting the tax from the user through its own officers, the state makes the distributor its agent for that [306 U.S. 62, 68]   purpose. This is a common and entirely lawful arrangement. ... The statute obviously was not intended to reach transactions in interstate commerce, but to tax the use of motor fuel after it had come to rest in Iowa, and the requirement that the appellant as the shipper into Iowa shall, as agent of the state, report and pay the tax on the gasoline thus coming into the state for use by others on whom the tax falls imposes no unconstitutional burden either upon interstate commerce or upon the appellant.'

The challenged judgment must be affirmed.


Mr. Justice ROBERTS took no part in the consideration or decision of this cause.

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