Armour Packing Co. v. Lacy - 200 U.S. 226 (1906)
U.S. Supreme Court
Armour Packing Co. v. Lacy, 200 U.S. 226 (1906)
Armour Packing Co. v. Lacy
Argued November 8, 1905
Decided January 8, 1906
200 U.S. 226
The construction, by the highest court of a state, that a license tax imposed on meatpacking houses was exacted from a foreign corporation doing both interstate and domestic business only by virtue of the latter, is not open to review in this Court.
The Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to prevent a state from adjusting its system of taxation in all proper and reasonable ways, or
through its undoubted power to impose different taxes upon different trades and professions, and imposing a license tax on meatpacking houses is not an arbitrary and unreasonable classification which will render the tax void under the Fourteenth Amendment, as denying the equal protection of the laws. Nor is it a denial of equal protection of the law because the tax is not imposed on persons not doing a meatpacking house business but selling products thereof, or because it is not imposed on persons engaged in packing articles of food other than meat.
Where the highest court of the state has so construed the act, a foreign corporation selling its products in the state, but whose packing establishments are not situated in the state, is not for that reason exempt from such a license tax.
The court will not interfere with the conclusion expressed by the highest court of the state that, under the provisions of the state constitution, a tax is uniform when it is equal upon all persons belonging to the described class upon which it is imposed.
This was "a controversy without action," submitted in accordance with the laws of North Carolina in that behalf, in the Superior Court of Buncombe County, that state, in which B.R. Lacey, Treasurer of North Carolina, was plaintiff and Armour Packing Company was defendant.
By the revenue law of North Carolina of March 9, 1903, Public Laws, N.Car. p. 323, c. 247, it is provided in schedule B:
"SEC. 26. Defining taxes under this schedule. Taxes in this schedule shall be imposed as license tax for the privilege of carrying on the business or doing the act named, and nothing in this act contained shall be construed to relieve any person or corporation from the payment of tax as required in the preceding schedule."
"SEC. 56. Packing houses. Upon every meatpacking house doing business in this state, one hundred dollars for each county in which said business is carried on."
"SEC. 88. Unless prohibited, county may levy same license tax as state. In case where a specific license tax is levied for the privilege of carrying on any business, trade, or profession, the county may levy the same tax, and no more: Provided, no provision to the contrary is made in the section levying the specific license tax. "
Section 107 of chapter 251 of Public Laws of 1903 (p. 407) reads:
"SEC. 107. State treasurer to sue for taxes. Upon failure to pay to the state treasurer within thirty days after the same shall have become due, any tax which by law is made payable direct to the state treasurer, it shall be his duty to institute an action to enforce the same in the County of Wake, or in the county in which the property taxed is located."
The third section of Article V of the Constitution of North Carolina provides:
"Laws shall be passed taxing, by a uniform rule, all moneys, credits, investments in bonds, stocks, joint stock companies, or otherwise. . . . The general assembly may also tax trades, professions, franchises, and incomes."
It appeared from the facts agreed, as in substance stated by the Supreme Court of North Carolina, that the Armour Packing Company was incorporated in New Jersey, but has its principal office and place of business in Kansas, that business being "a meatpacking house business," and that it has property in North Carolina; that
"a meatpacking house is a place where the business of slaughtering animals, and dressing and preparing the products of their carcasses for food and other purposes is carried on; the products thus prepared consist of fresh and cured meats, such as hams, dry salt sides, bacon, lard, beef extracts, glue, blood, tankage, etc."
That the Armour Packing Company
"does not, anywhere within the State of North Carolina, slaughter, dress, cure, pack, or manufacture any products hereinbefore set forth, of any animal, for food, or for commercial use, or for other purposes,"
but that, after the animals are slaughtered, dressed, and prepared for food or other commercial purposes in Kansas, such product is shipped in bulk to Wilmington, Greensboro, Asheville, Charlotte, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, where the company has cold storage plants and warehouses, and sold from such storage plants, some of such product to parties in North Carolina and some to parties outside of that state; that part of said products shipped to
the cold storage warehouse in Asheville, Buncombe County, remain there until disposed of in due course of trade on orders taken and received after said products have been stored or placed in said warehouse or cold storage plants. At each of said five points in North Carolina, where the company maintains a warehouse and cold storage plants, it has one or more employees, i.e., bookkeepers, stenographers, shipping clerks, salesmen, drivers, laborers who box said meats and who wrap and crate goods for delivery as they are sold. There are, in Wilmington and other cities of said state, commission merchants, brokers, and butchers who sell by wholesale and retail in competition with the Armour Packing Company, who are not engaged in a meatpacking house business in North Carolina or elsewhere, fresh, cured, and salt meats and other products that have been manufactured from the carcasses of slaughtered animals for food and commercial purposes, and, under the laws of North Carolina, said commission merchants, brokers, and butchers are not amenable to the tax levied under § 56 of said revenue act of 1903. At all points in North Carolina where the Armour Packing Company is engaged in business, and at various other places in said state, there are engaged in business, as the Armour Packing Company is engaged, packing houses which pack articles of food other than meat, and offer them for sale in said state, such as peas, beans, tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, fruit, fish, oysters, etc. The products of said packing houses are articles of food and commerce, and are sold in the State of North Carolina through agents, brokers, wholesale and retail merchants, just as the products packed by the Armour Packing Company are sold.
The ruling of the court was invoked on certain points stated, all of which were adjudged adversely to defendant, and judgment was rendered against it for the tax and costs, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of North Carolina. 134 N.C. 567.