The Delaware Railroad Tax , 85 U.S. 206 ( 1874 )


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  • 85 U.S. 206 (1873)
    18 Wall. 206

    THE DELAWARE RAILROAD TAX.
    MINOT
    v.
    THE PHILADELPHIA, WILMINGTON AND BALTIMORE RAILROAD COMPANY AND OTHERS.

    Supreme Court of United States.

    *215 Messrs. J.E. Gowen, G.C. Gordon, and J.P. Comegys, for the appellant.

    Messrs. T.F. Bayard and E. Saulsbury, for the State officers of Delaware, contra.

    *224 Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the facts of the case, delivered the opinion of the court, as follows:

    It is contended by the appellant that the act of Delaware of April 8th, 1869, so far as it imposes taxes upon the corporation defendant, violates the contract between the State and the corporation contained in the charter of the latter. His position is that the provision, in the act of Delaware of 1835, by which the Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad Company was united with the Delaware and Maryland Railroad Company, that the new company should pay annually into the treasury of the State a tax of one-quarter of one per cent. upon its capital stock of four hundred thousand dollars, being accepted by the stockholders of the two companies by their union into one company, constituted a contract between the new company and the State of Delaware, which precluded that State from imposing any greater or different tax upon the capital stock of the new company; and that the provision in the same act of Delaware, that the new company should possess all the rights and privileges vested in the original companies, or either of them, by that law, or any other law of that State or of Maryland, extended to the new company the same exemption from taxation on its shares of capital stock, which was possessed by the Maryland corporation under its charter; and that the same limitation upon the taxation of the capital stock, and the same immunity of the shares from any taxation, were extended to the corporation defendant by the provisions of the act of Delaware under which this latter company was formed.

    *225 That the charter of a private corporation is a contract between the State and the corporators, and within the provision of the Constitution prohibiting legislation impairing the obligation of contracts, has been the settled law of this court since the decision in the Dartmouth College case.[*] Nor does it make any difference that the uses of the corporation are public, if the corporation itself be private. The contract is equally protected from legislative interference, whether the public be interested in the exercise of its franchise or the charter be granted for the sole benefit of its corporators. This doctrine is not controverted by any one; it is the established law; and the question in all cases, when it becomes necessary to apply it, is whether the particular legislative interference alleged does in fact impair the obligation of the contract; for it is not every kind of legislative interference with the powers, action, and property of the corporation which will have that result.

    It has also been repeatedly held by this court that the legislature of a State may exempt particular parcels of property or the property of particular persons or corporations from taxation, either for a specified period or perpetually, or may limit the amount or rate of taxation, to which such property shall be subjected. And when such immunity is conferred, or such limitation is prescribed by the charter of a corporation, it becomes a part of the contract, and is equally inviolate with its other stipulations. But before any such exemption or limitation can be admitted, the intent of the legislature to confer the immunity or prescribe the limitation must be clear beyond a reasonable doubt. All public grants are strictly construed. Nothing can be taken against the State by presumption or inference. The established rule of construction in such cases is that rights, privileges, and immunities not expressly granted are reserved. There is no safety to the public interests in any other rule. And with special force does the principle, upon which the rule rests, apply when the right, privilege, or immunity *226 claimed calls for any abridgment of the powers of the government, or any restraint upon their exercise. The power of taxation is an attribute of sovereignty, and is essential to every independent government. As this court has said, the whole community is interested in retaining it undiminished, and has "a right to insist that its abandonment ought not to be presumed in a case in which the deliberate purpose of the State to abandon it does not appear."[*] If the point were not already adjudged it would admit of grave consideration, whether the legislature of a State can surrender this power, and make its action in this respect binding upon its successors any more than it can surrender its police power or its right of eminent domain. But the point being adjudged, the surrender when claimed must be shown by clear, unambiguous language, which will admit of no reasonable construction consistent with the reservation of the power. If a doubt arise as to the intent of the legislature, that doubt must be solved in favor of the State.

    If, now, we apply this rule of construction to the provision of the act of Delaware, under which the original Wilmington and Susquehanna Railroad Company was united with the Delaware and Maryland Railroad Company, requiring the new company to pay annually into the treasury of the State a tax of one-quarter of one per cent. upon its capital stock of four hundred thousand dollars, the position of the appellant falls to the ground. That provision is not accompanied with any words indicating the intent of the legislature that no further or different tax should not be subsequently levied. Had the provision in question been embodied in an independent act, no one would pretend that the designation of the amount and character of the tax carried with it any implication, that the tax should remain unchanged in these particulars for all future time during the existence of the corporation. And it is not perceived how a different conclusion is warranted because the tax is designated in an independent section of the act, under which the *227 new company was formed, instead of being designated in an independent act. As already observed, nothing can be taken from the power of the State in this respect by presumption or inference.

    In the case of The Commonwealth v. The Easton Bank,[*] we have an adjudication of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upon the precise question here presented. The Easton Bank had been chartered under a general law which prescribed the payment of taxes on its dividends at a fixed rate. A subsequent statute increased that rate, and it was argued, as here, that the designation in the original act created a contract on the part of the State that no additional tax should be laid, and that the latter act, therefore, impaired the obligation of the contract. But the court held that the designation in the original act was nothing more than a simple declaration of the tax then to be paid by the bank, and did not give the slightest intimation of an agreement or understanding, that the tax should not be increased during the existence of the charter. "To deduce," said the court, "from premises so insufficient, a consequence of such magnitude, would, indeed, be a gross violation of the wholesome principle that an abandonment of the power of taxation is only to be established by clearly showing this to have been the deliberate purpose of the State."

    The position of the appellant, as to the effect of the provision in the same act of Delaware, that the new company should possess all the rights and privileges vested in the original companies, or either of them, by that act, or any other law of that State or the State of Maryland, is more plausible, but equally unfounded. It proceeds, we think, as stated by the Circuit Court, upon a misapprehension of the purpose of the provision. A similar provision, as already stated, is contained in the Maryland act authorizing, on her part, the consolidation of the companies. The purpose of the two provisions was to vest in the new company the rights and privileges which the original companies had previously *228 possesed under their separate charters; the rights and privileges in Maryland which the Maryland company had there enjoyed, and the rights and privileges in Delaware which the Delaware company had there enjoyed; not to transfer to either State and enforce therein the legislation of the other. The new company was clothed by the legislature of Delaware, so far as that legislature could clothe it, with all the rights and privileges of both the original companies; but as the Maryland company took under the legislation of Maryland only exemption from taxation of its shares in Maryland, the privilege of the new company in this matter could only be a similar exemption in that State, not a similar exemption of the shares of its capital stock from taxation in Delaware. The new company stood in each State as the original company had previously stood in that State, invested with the same rights, and subject to the same liabilities. And the act of consolidation, so far as Delaware was concerned, had only this effect.

    The act of that State under which the three companies were consolidated into one, and the present defendant corporation was formed, contained a similar provision to the one we have been considering, that the new consolidated company should be entitled to all the rights, privileges, and immunities which each and all of them possessed and enjoyed under their respective charters, a provision which, in no respect, changed the position with reference to taxation of the new company in one of the States from that of the old company in such State. Such is substantially the construction given by this court in the case of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad Company against Maryland, reported in the 10th of Howard.[*] In that case the question arose whether the qualified exemption of the line of road which belonged to one of the companies was extended to the consolidated company under the provision in question; and the court said that, "as these companies held their corporate privileges under different charters, the evident *229 meaning of this provision is, that whatever privileges and advantages either of them possessed should in like manner be held and possessed by the new company, to the extent of the road they had respectively occupied before the union; that it should stand in their place, and possess the power, rights, and privileges they had severally enjoyed in the portions of the road which had previously belonged to them."

    We are, therefore, of opinion that the act of April 8th, 1869, is not obnoxious to the objection that it violates any contract between the State of Delaware and the company contained in the charter of the latter.

    We proceed, therefore, to the second objection to the act, that it imposes taxes upon property beyond the jurisdiction of the State. If such be the fact the tax to that extent is invalid, for the power of taxation of every State is necessarily confined to subjects within its jurisdiction. The objection of the appellant is directed principally to the tax imposed by the fourth section of the act, and assumes that the tax must be considered as laid upon the shares as representing the separate property of the individual stockholders, or as representing the property of the corporation. And the argument is that if the tax be laid upon the shares of the stockholders it falls upon property out of the State, because nearly all the stockholders, at least a much greater number than the ratio of the mileage of the road in Delaware to its entire length, are citizens and residents of other States; and if the tax be laid upon the shares as representing the property of the corporation, it falls upon property out of the State, because the ratio of the mileage of the road in Delaware to its entire length is not that which the capital invested by the company in that State bears to the entire capital of the company, or that which the value of the property of the company there situated bears to the value of its entire property.

    If the assumption of the appellant were correct, there would be difficulty in sustaining the validity of the tax.

    In the first place, the share of a stockholder is, in one aspect, something different from the capital stock of the company; *230 the latter only is the property of the corporation; the former is the individual interest of the stockholder, constituting his right to a proportional part of the dividends when declared, and to a proportional part of the effects of the corporation when dissolved, after payment of its debts. Regarded in that aspect it is an interest or right which accompanies the person of the owner, having no locality independent of his domicile.[*] But whether, when thus regarded, it can be treated as so far severable from the property to which it relates as to be taxable independent of the locality of the latter is a question not necessary now to decide. The argument of the appellant assumes that it is thus severable.

    In any aspect, if provision for the taxation of the shares at the locality of the company be made in its charter, their taxability at such locality is annexed as an incident to the shares, and it does not matter where the domicile of the owner may be. The tax may then be enforced through the corporation by requiring it to withhold the amount from the dividends payable thereon. The shares in the national banks created under the act of Congress of June 3d, 1864, are made taxable at the place where the bank is located, and not elsewhere; and in the case of The National Bank v. Commonwealth, reported in the 9th of Wallace, a law of Kentucky requiring the banks in that State to pay the tax laid on their shares was sustained by this court.[†] But in the act of Delaware under which the corporation defendant was formed, there is no such provision for the taxation of the shares of the individual stockholders.

    In the second place, assuming that the tax is upon the property of the corporation, if the ratio of the value of the property in Delaware to the value of the whole property of the company be less than that which the length of the road in Delaware bears to its entire length, and such is admitted *231 to be the fact, a tax imposed upon the property in Delaware according to the ratio of the length of its road to the length of the whole road must necessarily fall upon property out of the State. The length of the whole road is in round numbers one hundred miles; the length in Delaware is twenty-four miles. The tax upon the property estimated according to this ratio would be in Delaware 24/100 or 6/25 of the amount of the tax upon the whole property. But the value of the property in Delaware is not 6/25 of the value of the whole property, but much less than this proportion would require.

    We repeat, therefore, that upon the assumption made by the appellant there would be difficulty in sustaining the tax.

    We do not think, however, the assumption is correct. As we construe the language of the fourth section, the tax is neither imposed upon the shares of the individual stockholders nor upon the property of the corporation, but is a tax upon the corporation itself, measured by a percentage upon the cash value of a certain proportional part of the shares of its capital stock; a rule which, though an arbitrary one, is approximately just, at any rate is one which the legislature of Delaware was at liberty to adopt.

    The State may impose taxes upon the corporation as an entity existing under its laws, as well as upon the capital stock of the corporation or its separate corporate property. And the manner in which its value shall be assessed and the rate of taxation, however arbitrary or capricious, are mere matters of legislative discretion. It is not for us to suggest in any case that a more equitable mode of assessment or rate of taxation might be adopted than the one prescribed by the legislature of the State; our only concern is with the validity of the tax; all else lies beyond the domain of our jurisdiction.

    Nothing was urged in the argument specially against the tax upon the corporation under the first section of the act, which is determined by the net earnings or income of the company. Whatever objections could be presented are answered by the observations already made upon the tax under the other section. A tax upon a corporation may be proportioned *232 to the income received as well as to the value of the franchise granted or the property possessed.

    It remains to notice the objections that the act of 1869 conflicts with the power of Congress to regulate commerce among the several States, and interferes with the right of transit of persons and property from one State into or through another.

    The tax imposed by the act in question affects commerce among the States and impedes the transit of persons and property from one State to another just in the same way, and in no other, that taxation of any kind necessarily increases the expenses attendant upon the use or possession of the thing taxed. That taxation produces this result of itself constitutes no objection to its constitutionality. As was very justly observed by this court in a recent case, "Every tax upon personal property, or upon occupations, business, or franchises, affects more or less the subjects, and the operations of commerce. Yet it is not everything that affects commerce that amounts to a regulation of it, within the meaning of the Constitution."[*]

    The exercise of the authority which every State possesses to tax its corporations and all their property, real and personal, and their franchises, and to graduate the tax upon the corporations according to their business or income, or the value of their property, when this is not done by discriminating against rights held in other States, and the tax is not on imports, exports, or tonnage, or transportation to other States, cannot be regarded as conflicting with any constitutional power of Congress.

    From the views expressed, it follows that the judgment of the Circuit Court must be

    AFFIRMED, AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

    NOTES

    [*] 4 Wheaton, 518

    [*] Providence Bank v. Billings, 4 Peters, 561.

    [*] 10 Pennsylvania State, 451.

    [*] 10 Howard, 377. In the title given in 10th Howard the word "Baltimore" is omitted by mistake.

    [*] Van Allen v. Assessors, 3 Wallace, 583; Union Bank v. State, 9 Yerger, 501; Richmond v. Daniel, 14 Grattan, 385; Savings Bank v. Nashua, 46 New Hampshire, 398; Dwight v. Mayor, 12 Allen, 322; Redfield's Supplement to Law of Railways, 507-510.

    [†] 9 Wallace, 353.

    [*] State Tax on Railway Gross Receipts, 15 Wallace, 293.