May v. New Orleans - 178 U.S. 496 (1900)
U.S. Supreme Court
May v. New Orleans, 178 U.S. 496 (1900)
May v. New Orleans
Argued March 6-7, 1900
Decided May 21, 1900.
178 U.S. 496
May & Co., merchants at New Orleans, were engaged in the business of importing goods from abroad and selling them. In each box or case in which they were brought into this country, there would be many packages, each of which was separately marked and wrapped. The importer sold each package separately. The City of New Orleans taxed the goods after they reached the hands of the importer (the duties having been paid) and were ready for sale. Held:
(1) That the box, case, or bale in which the separate parcels or bundles were placed by the foreign seller, manufacturer, or packer was to be regarded as the original package, and when it reached its destination for trade or sale and was opened for the purpose of using or exposing to sale the separate parcels or bundles, the goods lost their distinctive character as imports and each parcel or bundle became a part of the general mass of property in the state, and subject to local taxation.
(2) That Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419, established these propositions: 1. That the payment of duties to the United States gives the right to sell the things imported, and that such right to sell cannot be forbidden or impaired by a state; 2. That while the things imported retain their character as imports, and remain the property of the importer, "in his warehouse, in the original form or package in which it was imported," a tax upon it is a duty on imports within the meaning of the Constitution; 3. That a state cannot, in the form of a license or otherwise, tax the right of the importer to sell, but when the importer has so acted upon the goods imported that they have been incorporated or mixed with the general mass of property in the state, such goods have then lost their distinctive character as imports and have become from that time subject to state taxation, not because they are the products of other countries, but because they are property within the state in like condition with other property that should contribute, in the way of taxation, to the support of the government which protects the owner in his person and estate.
The case is stated in the opinion of the Court.