Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee - 288 U.S. 517 (1933)
U.S. Supreme Court
Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517 (1933)
Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee
Argued January 12, 13, 1933
Decided March 13, 1933
288 U.S. 517
1. A state tax (Florida Laws 1931, c. 15624) on the privilege of opening and maintaining stores fixed at so much per store without regard to value or volume of business, and increasing progressively with the number of stores maintained by the owners taxed, is not in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because of the resulting discrimination against them and in favor of owners of single and department stores or the owners of distinct stores in voluntary cooperation. State Board of Tax Comm'rs v. Jackson, 283 U. S. 527. P. 288 U. S. 532.
2. A state statutory provision laying a heavier privilege tax per store on the owner whose stores are in different counties than on the owner whose stores are all in the same county is arbitrary and void. P. 288 U. S. 533.
3. The county line furnishes no rational basis for such a classification. Id.
4. There is nothing in the Florida statute here in question indicating that the discrimination based on counties was directed against so-called "national chains" of stores, in contrast with "local chains," or against corporate owners, distinguished from individuals, or large owners distinguished from small. P. 288 U. S. 534.
5. Assuming the State had power to suppress by taxation a form of organization deemed inimical to the public interest, no such motive can be attributed to the present statute in the absence of legislative declaration or record proof. P. 288 U. S. 535.
6. Corporations are as much entitled to the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment as are natural persons. P. 288 U. S. 536.
7. Unequal treatment and arbitrary discrimination as between corporations and natural persons, or between different corporations, inconsistent with the declared object of the legislation, cannot be justified by the assumption that a different classification for a wholly different purpose might be valid. P. 288 U. S. 536.
8. The provision authorizing counties and municipalities to levy license taxes on stores, to be graduated only on the number of stores situated within their respective limits, is constitutional. P. 288 U. S. 537.
9. A higher state tax on the goods held in storage by chain stores for retail sale in their own shops than on the goods stored by wholesalers, to be sold to retailers, is consistent with the equal protection clause. P. 288 U. S. 537.
10. Taxing chain stores generally by graduated license taxes but excepting filling stations engaged exclusively in the sale of gasoline or other petroleum products, that business being otherwise taxed by license and by a tax per gallon of products sold, held consistent with the equal protection clause. P. 288 U. S. 538.
11. The Fourteenth Amendment does not prevent a state from imposing differing taxes upon different trades and professions or varying the rates of excise upon various products. P. 288 U. S. 538.
12. State taxes for the privilege of operating stores within the state and on the value of the goods warehoused in the state for sale in such stores held consistent with the commerce clause. P. 288 U. S. 538.
13. A person is not exempted by the equal protection clause from paying a state tax because the tax is not collected by the state officials from others who are equally liable. Cumberland Coal Co. v. Board of Revision, 284 U. S. 23; Iowa-Des Moines Nat. Bank v. Burnett, 284 U. S. 239, distinguished. P. 288 U. S. 539.
14. The remedy in such cases for taxpayers in Florida is by writ of mandamus commanding the tax officers to collect the omitted taxes. P. 288 U. S. 540.
15. When, in a case from a state court, this Court finds that a part of a state statute is unconstitutional, it has jurisdiction to decide the question of state law whether the remainder is preserved by a saving clause, but may leave that determination to the courts of the state. P. 288 U. S. 541.
104 Fla. 609, 141 So. 153, reversed.
Appeal from a decree affirming the dismissal of the bill in a suit to enjoin state taxing officers from enforcing an Act laying a discriminatory tax on chain stores.