Kirtland v. Hotchkiss
100 U.S. 491 (1879)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Kirtland v. Hotchkiss, 100 U.S. 491 (1879)

Kirtland v. Hotchkiss

100 U.S. 491

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ERRORS,

LITCHFIELD COUNTY, STATE OF CONNECTICUT

Syllabus

1. This Court can afford the citizen of a state no relief from the enforcement of her laws prescribing the mode and subjects of taxation if they neither trench upon federal authority nor violate any right recognized, or secured by the Constitution of the United States.

2. The Constitution does not prohibit a state from taxing her resident citizens for debts held by them against a nonresident, evidenced by his bonds, payment whereof is secured by his deeds of trust or mortgages upon real estate situate in another state.

3. For the purposes of taxation, a debt has its situs at the residence of the creditor, and may be there taxed.

Charles W. Kirtland, a citizen of Connecticut, instituted this action for the purpose of restraining the enforcement of certain tax warrants levied upon his real estate in the town in which he resided, in satisfaction of certain state taxes, assessed against him for the years 1869 and 1870. The assessment was by reason of his ownership, during those years, of certain bonds executed in Chicago and made payable to him, his executors, administrators, or assigns in that city, at such place as he or they should by writing appoint, and, in default of such appointment, at the Manufacturers' National Bank of Chicago. Each bond declared that

"it is made under, and is, in all respects, to be construed by the laws of Illinois, and is given for an actual loan of money, made at the City of Chicago, by the said Charles W. Kirtland to the said Edwin A. Cummins, on the day of the date hereof."

They were secured by

Page 100 U. S. 492

deeds of trust, executed by the obligor to one Perkins, of that city, upon real estate there situated, the trustee having power by the terms of the deed to sell and convey the property and apply the proceeds in payment of the loan in case of default on the part of the obligor to perform the stipulations of the bond.

The statute of Connecticut under which the assessment was made declares, among other things, that personal property in that state "or elsewhere" should be deemed, for purposes of taxation, to include all moneys, credits, choses in action, bonds, notes, stocks (except United States stocks), chattels, or effects, or any interest thereon, and that such personal property or interest thereon, being the property of any person resident in the state, should be valued and assessed at its just and true value in the tax list of the town where the owner resides. The statute expressly exempts from its operation money or property actually invested in the business of merchandizing or manufacturing, when located out of the state. Conn. Revision of 1866, p. 709, tit. 64, c. 1, sect. 8.

The court below held that the assessments complained of were in conformity to the state law, and that the law itself did not infringe any constitutional right of the plaintiff.

This writ of error is prosecuted by Kirtland upon the ground, among others, that the statute of Connecticut thus interpreted and sustained is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.

Page 100 U. S. 496

MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the Court.

We will not follow the interesting argument of counsel by

Page 100 U. S. 497

entering upon an extended discussion of the principles upon which the power of taxation rests under our system of constitutional government. Nor is it at all necessary that we should now attempt to state all limitations which exist upon the exercise of that power, whether they arise from the essential principles of free government or from express constitutional provisions. We restrict our remarks to a single question, the precise import of which will appear from the preceding statement of the more important facts of this case.

In McCulloch v. State of Maryland, 4 Wheat. 428, this Court considered very fully the nature and extent of the original right of taxation which remained with the states after the adoption of the federal Constitution. It was there said

"that the power of taxing the people and their property is essential to the very existence of government, and may be legitimately exercised on the objects to which it is applicable to the utmost extent to which the government may choose to carry it."

Tracing the right of taxation to the source from which it was derived, the Court further said:

"It is obvious that it is an incident of sovereignty, and is coextensive with that to which it is an incident. All subjects over which the sovereign power of a state extends are objects of taxation, but those over which it does not extend are, upon the soundest principles, exempt from taxation."

"This vital power," said this Court in Providence Bank v. Billings, 4 Pet. 563,

"may be abused, but the Constitution of the United States was not intended to furnish the corrective for every abuse of power which may be committed by the state governments. The interest, wisdom, and justice of the representative body and its relations with its constituents furnish the only security, when there is no express contract, against unjust and excessive taxation as well as against unwise legislation."

In St. Louis v. The Ferry Company, 11 Wall. 423, and in State Tax on Foreign-held Bonds, 15 Wall. 300, the language of the Court was equally emphatic.

In the last-named case, we said that

"unless restrained by provisions of the federal Constitution, the power of the state as to the mode, form, and extent of taxation is unlimited

Page 100 U. S. 498

where the subjects to which it applies are within her jurisdiction."

We perceive no reason to modify the principles announced in these cases or to question their soundness. They are fundamental and vital in the relations which, under the Constitution, exist between the United States and the several states. Upon their strict observance depends in no small degree the harmonious and successful working of our complex system of government, federal and state. It may therefore be regarded as the established doctrine of this Court that so long as the state, by its laws, prescribing the mode and subjects of taxation, does not entrench upon the legitimate authority of the Union or violate any right recognized, or secured by the Constitution of the United States, this Court, as between the state and its citizen, can afford him no relief against state taxation, however unjust, oppressive, or onerous.

Plainly, therefore, our only duty is to inquire whether the Constitution prohibits a state from taxing in the hands of one of its resident citizens a debt held by him upon a resident of another state and evidenced by the bond of the debtor, secured by deed of trust or mortgage upon real estate situated in the state in which the debtor resides.

The question does not seem to us to be very difficult of solution. The creditor, it is conceded, is a permanent resident within the jurisdiction of the state imposing the tax. The debt is property in his hands constituting a portion of his wealth, from which he is under the highest obligation, in common with his fellow citizens of the same state, to contribute for the support of the government whose protection he enjoys.

That debt, although a species of intangible property, may, for purposes of taxation if not for all others, be regarded as situated at the domicile of the creditor. It is nonetheless property because its amount and maturity are set forth in a bond. That bond, wherever actually held or deposited, is only evidence of the debt, and if destroyed, the debt -- the right to demand payment of the money loaned, with the stipulated interest -- remains. Nor is the debt, for the purposes of taxation, affected by the fact that it is secured by mortgage

Page 100 U. S. 499

upon real estate situated in Illinois. The mortgage is but a security for the debt, and, as held in State Tax on Foreign-held Bonds, supra, the right of the creditor

"to proceed against the property mortgaged, upon a given contingency, to enforce by its sale the payment of his demand . . . has no locality independent of the party in whom it resides. It may undoubtedly be taxed by the state when held by a resident therein,"

&c. Cooley on Taxation, 15, 63, 134, 270. The debt, then, having its situs at the creditor's residence, both he and it are, for the purposes of taxation, within the jurisdiction of the state. It is consequently for the state to determine, consistently with its own fundamental law, whether such property owned by one of its residents shall contribute, by way of taxation, to maintain its government. Its discretion in that regard cannot be supervised or controlled by any department of the federal government, for the reason, too obvious to require argument in its support, that such taxation violates no provision of the federal Constitution. Manifestly it does not, as is supposed by counsel, interfere in any true sense with the exercise by Congress of the power to regulate commerce among the several states. Nathan v. Louisiana, 8 How. 73; Cooley on Taxation 62. Nor does it, as is further supposed, abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, or deprive the citizen of life, liberty, or property without due process of law or violate the constitutional guaranty that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges of citizens in the several states.

Whether the State of Connecticut shall measure the contribution which persons resident within its jurisdiction shall make by way of taxes in return for the protection it affords them, by the value of the credits, choses in action, bonds, or stocks which they may own (other than such as are exempted or protected from taxation under the Constitution and laws of the United States), is a matter which concerns only the people of that state, with which the federal government cannot rightly interfere.

Judgment affirmed.

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