Maine v. Grand Trunk Ry. Co. - 142 U.S. 217 (1891)


U.S. Supreme Court

Maine v. Grand Trunk Ry. Co., 142 U.S. 217 (1891)

Maine v. Grand Trunk Railway Company

No. 29

Submitted April 14, 1891

Decided December 14, 1891

142 U.S. 217

Syllabus

A state statute which requires every corporation, person or association operating a railroad within the state to pay an annual tax for the privilege of exercising its franchises therein, to be determined by the amount of its gross transportation receipts, and further provides that, when applied to a railroad lying partly within and partly without the state, or to one operated as a part of a line or system extending beyond the state, the tax shall be equal to the proportion of the gross receipts in the state, to be ascertained in the manner provided by the statute, does not conflict with the Constitution of the United States, and the tax thereby imposed upon a foreign corporation, operating a line of railway, partly within and partly without the state, is one within the power of the state to levy.

The Court stated the case as follows:

The defendant is a corporation created under the laws of Canada, and has its principal place of business at Montreal, in that province. Its railroad in Maine was constructed by the Atlantic and St.Lawrence Railroad Company under a charter from that state, which authorized it to construct and operate a railroad from the City of Portland to the boundary line of the state; and, with the permission of New Hampshire and Vermont, it constructed a railroad from that city to Island Pond, in Vermont, a distance of 149 1/2 miles, of which 82 1/2 miles are within the State of Maine. In March, 1853, that company leased its rights and privileges to the defendant, the Grand Trunk Railway Company, which had obtained legislative permission to take the same, and since then it has operated that road and used its franchises. A statute of Maine * passed in 1881 enacted that every

Page 142 U. S. 218

corporation, person, or association operating a railroad in the state should pay to the state treasurer, for the use of the

Page 142 U. S. 219

state, "an annual excise tax for the privilege of exercising its franchises" in the state, and it provided that the amount of such tax should be ascertained as follows:

"The amount of the gross transportation receipts, as returned to the railroad commissioners, for the year ending on the 30th of September next preceding the levying of such tax, shall be divided by the number of miles of railroad operated, to ascertain the average gross receipts per mile. When such average receipts per mile shall not exceed twenty-two hundred and fifty dollars, the tax

Page 142 U. S. 220

shall be equal to one-quarter of one percentum of the gross transportation receipts; when the average receipts per mile exceed twenty-two hundred and fifty dollars, and do not exceed three thousand dollars, the tax shall be equal to one-half of one percentum of the gross receipts, and so on, increasing the rate of the tax one-quarter of one percentum for each additional seven hundred and fifty dollars of average gross receipts per mile, or fractional part thereof, provided, the rate shall in no event exceed three and one-quarter percentum. When a railroad lies partly within and partly without this state, or is operated as a part of a line or system extending beyond this state, the tax shall be equal to the same proportion of the gross receipts in this state, as herein provided, and its amount determined as follows: the gross transportation receipts of such railroad, line, or system, as the case may be, over its whole extent, within and without the state, shall be divided by the total number of miles operated to obtain the average gross receipts per mile, and the gross receipts in this state shall be taken to be the average gross receipts per mile, multiplied by the number of miles operated within this state."

The act also provided that the governor and council, on or before the 1st of April in each year, should determine the amount of such tax and report the same to the state treasurer, who should forth with give notice thereof to the corporation, person, or association upon which the tax was levied, and that such tax should be due and payable, one-half on the 1st of July next after the levy, and the other half on the 1st of October following, and it declared that if any party should fail to pay the tax as required, the state treasurer might proceed to collect the same, with interest at the rate of ten percentum per annum, by an action of debt in the name of the state. The defendant, the Grand Trunk Railway Company, made no returns as a corporation, but it furnished the data and caused the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad Company to make a return of the gross transportation receipts over its road, 149 1/2 miles in length, including the 82 1/2 miles in Maine, for the years 1881 and 1882, and upon this return the governor and council, pursuant to the statute, ascertained the proportion of the gross

Page 142 U. S. 221

receipts in the state, and assessed the tax in controversy accordingly. The tax thus assessed for 1881 was $9,569.66, and for 1882, $12,095.56, and, to recover these amounts as debts to the state, the present action was brought in the Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Maine, and on application of the defendant it was transferred to the circuit court of the United States. The defendant pleaded nil debit, accompanied with a statement of special matters of defense. By stipulation of the parties, the case was tried by the court, which held that the imposition of the taxes in question was a regulation of interstate and foreign commerce, in conflict with the exclusive powers of Congress under the Constitution of the United States, and was therefore invalid. It accordingly gave judgment for the defendant that the plaintiff take nothing by its writ and that the defendant recover its costs. From that judgment the case is brought to this Court on writ of error.

Page 142 U. S. 227



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