Boston Stock Exchange v. State Tax Comm'nAnnotate this Case
429 U.S. 318 (1977)
U.S. Supreme Court
Boston Stock Exchange v. State Tax Comm'n, 429 U.S. 318 (1977)
Boston Stock Exchange v. State Tax Commission
Argued November 2, 1976
Decided January 12, 1977
429 U.S. 318
APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK
A New York statute imposing a transfer tax on securities transactions, if part of the transaction occurs in New York, was amended in 1968 so that transactions involving an out-of-state sale are taxed more heavily than most transactions involving a sale within the State. The amendment provides for two deviations from the prior uniform application of the statute under which a transaction involving a sale and transfer of shares in New York was taxed the same as a transaction involving an in-state transfer but an out-of-state sale: (1) transactions by nonresidents of New York are afforded a 50% reduction in the tax rate when the transaction involves an in-state sale; and (2) the total tax liability of any taxpayer (resident or nonresident) is limited to $350 for a single transaction when it involves a New York sale. The purpose of the amendment was to provide relief from the competitive disadvantage thought to be created by the transfer tax for New York stock exchanges, as against out-of-state exchanges. Appellant "regional" stock exchanges brought action in state court against appellee State Tax Commission and its members challenging the constitutionality of the 1968 amendment under the Commerce Clause. The trial court denied the Commission's motion to dismiss, but on appeal the amendment was declared to be constitutional.
Held: The amendment discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause. Pp. 429 U. S. 328-337.
(a) No State, consistent with the Commerce Clause, may "impose a tax which discriminates against interstate commerce . . . by providing a direct commercial advantage to local business," Northwestern Cement Co. v. Minnesota,358 U. S. 450, 358 U. S. 458. P. 429 U. S. 329.
(b) Because it imposes a greater tax liability on out-of-state sales than on in-state sales, the transfer tax, as amended, falls short of the substantially evenhanded treatment demanded by the Commerce Clause, the extra tax burden on out-of-state sales neither compensating for a like burden on in-state sales nor neutralizing an economic advantage previously enjoyed by appellant exchanges as a result of the unamended statute. Pp. 429 U. S. 329-332.
(c) The diversion of interstate commerce and diminution of free
competition in securities, sales created by the 1968 amendment are wholly inconsistent with the free trade purpose of the Commerce Clause. With respect to residents, the discriminatory burden of the maximum tax on out-of-state sales promotes intrastate transactions at the expense of interstate commerce to out-of-state exchanges. With respect to nonresidents, both the maximum tax and the rate reduction provisions discriminate against out-of-state sales, and the fact that this discrimination is in favor of nonresident, in-state sales which may also be considered as interstate commerce, does not save the amendment from Commerce Clause restrictions. Pp. 429 U. S. 333-336.
37 N.Y.2d 535, 337 N.E.2d 758, reversed and remanded.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this case, we are asked to decide the constitutionality of a recent amendment to New York State's longstanding tax on securities transactions. Since 1905, New York has imposed a tax (transfer tax) on securities transactions, if part of the transaction occurs within the State. In 1968, the state legislature amended the transfer tax statute so that transactions involving an out-of-state sale are now taxed more heavily than most transactions involving a sale within the State. In 1972, appellants, six "regional" stock exchanges located outside New York, [Footnote 1] filed an action in state court
against the State Tax Commission of New York and its members. The Exchanges' complaint alleged that the 1968 amendment unconstitutionally discriminates against interstate commerce by imposing a greater tax burden on securities transactions involving out-of-state sales than on transactions of the same magnitude involving in-state sales. [Footnote 2] The State Supreme Court denied the Commission's motion to dismiss the action, and the Commission appealed. The Appellate Division reversed and ordered that the Commission's motion be granted to the extent of entering a judgment declaring the 1968 amendment to be constitutional. [Footnote 3] 45 App.Div.2d
365, 357 N. .Y. S.2d 116 (1974). The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the order, 37 N.Y.2d 535, 337 N.E.2d 758 (1975), and we noted probable jurisdiction of the Exchanges' appeal, 424 U.S. 964 (1976).
New York Tax Law § 270.1 (McKinney 1966) provides that "all sales, or agreements to sell, or memoranda of sales and all deliveries or transfers of shares or certificates of stock" in any foreign or domestic corporation are subject to the transfer tax. [Footnote 4] Administrative regulations promulgated with respect to
the transfer tax provide that the tax applies if any one of the five taxable events occurs within New York, regardless of where the rest of the transaction takes place, and that, if more than one taxable event occurs in the State, only one tax is payable on the entire transaction. 20 N.Y.C.R.R. 940.2 (1976). For transactions involving sales, the rate of tax depends on the selling price per share and the total tax liability is determined by the number of shares sold. [Footnote 5] N.Y.Tax Law § 270.2 (McKinney 1966). Thus, under the unamended version of § 270, a transaction involving a sale and a transfer of shares in New York was taxed the same as a transaction involving an in-state transfer but an out-of-state sale. In both instances, the occasion for the tax was the occurrence of at least one taxable event in the State, the rate of tax was
based solely the. price of the securities, and the total tax was determined by the number of shares sold. The Exchanges do not challenge the constitutionality of § 270. [Footnote 6]
None of the States in which the appellant Exchanges are located taxes the sale or transfer of securities. During the 1960's, the New York Stock Exchange became concerned that the New York transfer tax created a competitive disadvantage for New York trading, and was thus responsible for the growth of out-of-state exchanges. [Footnote 7] In response to
this concern and fearful that the New York Stock Exchange would relocate outside New York, the legislature, in 1968, enacted § 270-a to amend the transfer tax by providing for two deviations from the uniform application of § 270 when one of the taxable events, a sale, takes place in New York. First, transactions by nonresidents of New York are afforded a 50% reduction ("nonresident reduction") in the rate of tax when the transaction involves an in-state sale. Taxable transactions by residents (regardless of where the sale is made) [Footnote 8] and by nonresidents selling outside the State do not benefit from the rate decrease. Second, § 270-a limits the total tax liability of any taxpayer (resident or nonresident) to $350 (maximum tax) for a single transaction when it involves a New York sale. If a sale is made out-of-State,
the § 270 tax rate applies to an in-state transfer (or other taxable event) without limitation. [Footnote 9]
The reason for the enactment of § 270-a and the intended
effect of the amendment are clear from the legislative history. With respect to the amendment, the legislature found:
"The securities industry, and particularly the stock exchanges located within the state, have contributed importantly to the economy of the state and its recognition as the financial center of the world. The growth of exchanges in other regions of the country, and the diversion of business to those exchanges of individuals who are nonresidents of the state of New York, require recognition that the tax on transfers of stock imposed by article twelve of the tax law is an important contributing element to the diversion of sales to other areas to the detriment of the economy of the state. Furthermore, in the case of transactions involving large blocks of stock, recognition must be given to the ease of completion
of such sales outside the state of New York without the payment of any tax. In order to encourage the effecting by nonresidents of the state of New York of their sales within the state of New York and the retention within the state of New York of sales involving large blocks of stock, a separate classification of the tax on sales by nonresidents of the state of New York and a maximum tax for certain large block sales are desirable."
1968 N.Y.Laws, c. 827, § 1. In granting executive approval to § 27a, then Governor Nelson Rockefeller confirmed that the purpose of the new law was to "provide long-term relief from some of the competitive pressures from outside the State." [Footnote 10] The Governor
announced that, as a result of the transfer tax amendment, the New York Stock Exchange intended to remain in New York.
Appellant Exchanges contend that the legislative history states explicitly what is implicit in the operation of § 270-a: the amendment imposes an unequal tax burden on out-of-state sales in order to protect an in-state business. They argue that this discrimination is impermissible under the Commerce Clause. Appellees do not dispute the statements of the legislature and the Governor that § 270-a is a measure to reduce out-of-state competition with an in-state business. They agree, however, with the holding of the Court of Appeals that the legislature has chosen a nondiscriminatory, and therefore constitutionally permissible, means of "encouraging" sales on the New York Stock Exchange. We hold that § 270-a discriminates against interstate commerce in violation of the Commerce Clause.
As in Great A&P Tea Co. v. Cottrell,424 U. S. 366 (1976), we begin with the principle that "[t]he very purpose of the Commerce Clause was to create an area of free trade among the several States." McLeod v. J. E. Dilworth Co.,322 U. S. 327, 322 U. S. 330 (1944). It is now established beyond dispute that
"the Commerce Clause was not merely an authorization to Congress to enact laws for the protection and encouragement of commerce among the States, but, by its own force, created an area of trade free from interference by the States. . . . [T]he Commerce Clause, even without implementing legislation by Congress, is a limitation upon the power of the States."
v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 22 U. S. 199 (1824), or for other purposes, cf. United States v. Sanchez,340 U. S. 42, 340 U. S. 44-45 (1950); rather, the Clause is a limit on state power. Defining that limit has been the continuing task of this Court.
On various occasions when called upon to make the delicate adjustment between the national interest in free and open trade and the legitimate interest of the individual States in exercising their taxing powers, the Court has counseled that the result turns on the unique characteristics of the statute at issue and the particular circumstances in each case. E.g., Freeman v. Hewit, supra at 329 U. S. 252. This case-by-case approach has left
"much room for controversy and confusion and little in the way of precise guides to the States in the exercise of their indispensable power of taxation."
Northwestern States Portland Cement Co. v. Minnesota,358 U. S. 450, 358 U. S. 457 (1959). Nevertheless, as observed by Mr. Justice Clark in the case just cited: "[F]rom the quagmire there emerge . . . some firm peaks of decision which remain unquestioned." Id. at 358 U. S. 458. Among these is the fundamental principle that we find dispositive of the case now before us: no State, consistent with the Commerce Clause, may "impose a tax which discriminates against interstate commerce . . . by providing a direct commercial advantage to local business." Ibid.See also Halliburton Oil Well Co. v. Reily,373 U. S. 64 (1963); Nippert v. Richmond,327 U. S. 416 (1946); I. M. Darnell & Son v. Memphis,208 U. S. 113 (1908); Guy v. Baltimore,100 U. S. 434, 100 U. S. 443 (1880); Welton v. Missouri,91 U. S. 275 (1876). The prohibition against discriminatory treatment of interstate commerce follows inexorably from the basic purpose of the Clause. Permitting the individual States to enact laws that favor local enterprises at the expense of out-of-state businesses "would invite a multiplication of preferential trade areas destructive" of the free trade which the Clause protects. Dean Milk Co. v. Madison,340 U. S. 349, 340 U. S. 356 (1951).
Although apparently accepting the teaching of the prior
cases, the Court Appeals seemed to view § 270-a as "compensatory legislation" enacted to "neutralize" the competitive advantage § 270 conferred on stock exchanges outside New York. Thus, it analogized the New York statute to state use taxes which have survived Commerce Clause challenges. 37 N.Y.2d at 542, 337 N.E.2d at 762. The statute will not support this characterization.
Prior to the 1968 amendment, the New York transfer tax was neutral as to in-state and out-of-state sales. An in-state transfer or delivery of securities triggered the tax, and the burden fell equally on all transactions, regardless of the situs of sale. Thus, the choice of an exchange for the sale of securities that would be transferred or delivered in New York was not influenced by the transfer tax; wherever the sale was made, tax liability would arise. The flow of interstate commerce in securities was channeled neither into nor out of New York by the state tax. [Footnote 11]
Section 270-a upset this equilibrium. After the amendment took effect, a nonresident contemplating the sale of securities that would be delivered or transferred in New York faced two possible tax burdens. If he elected to sell on an out-of-state exchange, the higher rates of § 270 applied without limitation on the total tax liability; if he sold the securities on a New York exchange, the one-half rate of § 270-a
applied and then only up to a $350 tax liability. Similarly, residents engaging in large block transactions on the New York exchanges were subject to a maximum tax levy of $350; but if they sold out-of-State, their tax bill would be limited only by the number of shares sold. Thus, under § 270-a, the choice of exchange by all nonresidents and by residents engaging in large transactions is not made solely on the basis of nontax criteria. Because of the delivery or transfer in New York, the seller cannot escape tax liability by selling out of State, but he can substantially reduce his liability by selling in State. The obvious effect of the tax is to extend a financial advantage to sales on the New York exchanges at the expense of the regional exchanges. Rather than "compensating" New York for a supposed competitive disadvantage resulting from § 270, the amendment forecloses tax-neutral decisions and creates both an advantage for the exchanges in New York and a discriminatory burden on commerce to its sister States.
Equal treatment of interstate commerce, lacking in § 270-a, has been the common theme running through the cases in which this Court has sustained "compensating," state use taxes. In Henneford v. Silas Mason Co.,300 U. S. 577 (1937), Washington imposed a 2% sales tax on all goods sold at retail in the State. Since the sales tax would have the effect of encouraging residents to purchase at out-of-state stores, Washington also imposed a 2% "compensating tax" on the use of goods within the State. The use tax did not apply, however, when the article had already been subjected to a tax equal to or greater than 2%. The effect of this constitutional tax system was nondiscriminatory treatment of in-state and out-of-state purchases:
"Equality exists when the chattel subjected to the use tax is bought in another state and then carried into Washington. It exists when the imported chattel is shipped from the state of origin under an order received
directly from the state of destination. In each situation, the burden borne by the owner is balanced by an equal burden where the sale is strictly local."
Id. at 300 U. S. 584. A similar use-sales-tax structure was sustained in General Trading Co. v. Tax Comm'n,322 U. S. 335 (1944), because the "tax [was] what it professes to be -- a nondiscriminatory excise laid on all personal property" regardless of where the sale was made. Id. at 322 U. S. 338. See also International Harvester Co. v. Department of Treasury,322 U. S. 340 (1944); Alaska v. Arctic Maid,366 U. S. 199, 366 U. S. 204 (1961). In all the use tax cases, an individual faced with the choice of an in-state or out-of-state purchase could make that choice without regard to the tax consequences. If he purchased in State, he paid a sales tax; if he purchased out of State but carried the article back for use in State, he paid a use tax of the same amount. The taxes treated both transactions in the same manner.
Because it imposes a greater tax liability on out-of-state sales than on in-state sales, the New York transfer tax, as amended by § 270-a, falls short of the substantially evenhanded treatment demanded by the Commerce Clause. The extra tax burden on out-of-state sales created by § 270-a is not what the New York Court of Appeals holds it out to be; it neither compensates for a like burden on in-state sales nor neutralizes an economic advantage previously enjoyed by the appellant Exchanges because of § 270. [Footnote 12]
The court below further attempted to save § 27a from invalidation under the Commerce Clause by finding that the effect the amendment might have on sales by residents and nonresidents did not amount to unconstitutional discrimination. As to New York residents, the court found that the higher tax on large out-of-state sales would have no "practical" effect, since "it is more than likely . . . that the sale would be made on a New York exchange in any event." 37 N.Y.2d at 543, 337 N.E.2d at 762. As to the discriminatory tax burden on all out-of-state sales by nonresidents, the court observed that, because New York sales by nonresidents also involve interstate commerce, § 27a does not discriminate against interstate commerce in favor of intrastate commerce; rather, it discriminates between two kinds of interstate transactions. Ibid. Although it did not so state, the Court of Appeals apparently believed that such discrimination was permissible under the Commerce Clause. We disagree with the Court of Appeals with respect to both residents and nonresidents.
The maximum tax discrimination against out-of-state sales by residents is not triggered until the taxed transaction involves a substantial number of shares. Investors, institutional and individual, engaging in such large-block transactions can be expected to choose an exchange on the basis of services, prices, and other market conditions, rather than geographical proximity. Even a small difference in price (of either the securities or the sales services) can, in a large sale, provide a substantial enough additional profit to outweigh whatever additional transaction costs might be incurred from trading on an out-of-state exchange. The New York Legislature,
in its legislative findings in connection with § 270-a, recognized that securities transactions by residents were not being conducted only on the New York exchanges; it therefore considered the amendment necessary to "[retain] within the state of New York . . . sales involving large blocks of stock." If, as the Court of Appeals assumed, it were "more than likely" that residents would sell in New York, there would have been no reason for the legislature to reduce the tax burden on in-state sales by residents in order to retain their sales in New York. Nor is the discriminatory burden of the maximum tax insubstantial. On a transaction of 30,000 shares selling at $20 or more, for example, the tax on an in-state sale is the maximum $350, while an out-of-state sale is taxed $1,500. The disparity between the two taxes increases with the number of shares sold. Such a large tax penalty for trading on out-of-state markets cannot be deemed to have no practical effect on interstate commerce. [Footnote 13]
Both the maximum tax and the rate reduction provisions of § 27a discriminate against out-of-state sales by nonresidents. The fact that this discrimination is in favor of nonresident, in-state sales which may also be considered as interstate commerce, see Freeman v. Hewit, 329 U.S. at 329 U. S. 258-259, does not save § 27a from the restrictions of the Commerce Clause. A State may no more use discriminatory taxes to assure that nonresidents direct their commerce to businesses
within the State than to assure that residents trade only in intrastate commerce. As we stated at the outset, the fundamental purpose of the Clause is to assure that there be free trade among the several States. This free trade purpose is not confined to the freedom to trade with only one State; it is a freedom to trade with any State, to engage in commerce across all state boundaries.
There has been no prior occasion expressly to address the question whether a State may tax in a manner that discriminates between two types of interstate transactions in order to favor local commercial interests over out-of-state businesses, but the clear import of our Commerce Clause cases is that such discrimination is constitutionally impermissible. Guy v. Baltimore, 100 U.S. at 100 U. S. 443, held that no State, consistent with the Commerce Clause, may "build up its domestic commerce by means of unequal and oppressive burdens upon the industry and business of other States"; and in Baldwin v. G. A. F. Seelig, Inc.,294 U. S. 511 (1935), New York was prohibited from regulating the price of out-of-state milk purchases because the effect of that regulation would be "to suppress or mitigate the consequences of competition between the states." Id. at 294 U. S. 522. [Footnote 14] More recently, we noted that
"Court has viewed with particular suspicion state statutes requiring business operations to be performed in the home State that could more efficiently be performed elsewhere. Even where the State is pursuing a clearly legitimate local interest, this particular burden on commerce has been declared to be virtually per se illegal."
Although the statutes at issue in those cases had the primary effect of prohibiting or discriminatorily burdening a resident's purchase of out-of-state goods and services, the constitutional policy of free trade and competition that led to their demise is equally fatal to the New York transfer tax. New York's discriminatory treatment of out-of-state sales is made possible only because some other taxable event (transfer, delivery, or agreement to sell) takes place in the State. Thus, the State is using its power to tax an in-state operation as a means of "requiring [other] business operations to be performed in the home State." As a consequence, the flow of securities sales is diverted from the most economically efficient channels and directed to New York. This diversion of interstate commerce and diminution of free competition in securities sales are wholly inconsistent with the free trade purpose of the Commerce Clause.
Our decision today does not prevent the States from structuring their tax systems to encourage the growth and development of intrastate commerce and industry. Nor do we hold that a State may not compete with other States for a share
of interstate commerce; such competition lies at the heart of a free trade policy. We hold only that in the process of competition no State may discriminatorily tax the products manufactured or the business operations performed in any other State.
The judgment of the New York Court of Appeals is reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. [Footnote 15]
It is so ordered.
Appellants are the Boston Stock Exchange, Detroit Stock Exchange, Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, Cincinnati Stock Exchange, Midwest Stock Exchange, and the PBW (Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington) Stock Exchange. The Exchanges provide facilities for their members to effect the purchase and sale of securities for their own accounts and the accounts of their customers.
In the courts below, the Exchanges also contended that the amendment to the transfer tax was unconstitutional under the Privileges and Immunities Clause of Art. IV, § 2, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They have not brought those claims to this Court, and we do not address them.
The Commission's motion to dismiss was based on three grounds: (1) the state court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, (2) the Exchanges did not have standing to question the constitutionality of the statute, and (3) the complaint failed to state a cause of action. All three state courts agreed that there was jurisdiction and standing, but the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint on the merits because the statute was constitutional.
We agree, of course, that state courts of general jurisdiction have the power to decide cases involving federal constitutional rights where, as here, neither the Constitution nor statute withdraws such jurisdiction. We also agree that the Exchanges have standing under the two-part test of Data Processing Service v. Camp,397 U. S. 150 (1970). Appellants' complaint alleged that a substantial portion of the transactions on their exchanges involved securities that are subject to the New York transfer tax, and that the higher tax on out-of-state sales of such securities diverted business, from their facilities to exchanges in New York. This diversion was the express purpose of the challenged statute. See infra at 429 U. S. 325-328, and nn. 7, 10. The allegation establishes that the statute has caused them "injury in fact," and that a case or controversy exists. 397 U.S. at 397 U. S. 151-152. The Exchanges are asserting their right under the Commerce Clause to engage in interstate commerce free of discriminatory taxes on their business, and they allege that the transfer tax indirectly infringes on that right. Thus, they are "arguably within the zone of interests to be protected . . . by the . . . constitutional guarantee in question." Id. at 397 U. S. 153. Moreover, the Exchanges brought this action also on behalf of their members.
"[A]n association may have standing solely as the representative of its members . . . [if it] allege[s] that its members, or any one of them, are suffering immediate or threatened injury as a result of the challenged action of the sort that would make out a justiciable case had the members themselves brought suit."
Warth v. Seldin,422 U. S. 490, 422 U. S. 511 (1975). See also National Motor Freight Assn. v. United States,372 U. S. 246 (1963); NAACP v. Alabama,357 U. S. 449, 357 U. S. 458-460 (1958). The Exchanges' complaint alleged that their members traded on their own accounts in securities subject to the New York transfer tax. The members therefore suffer an actual injury within the zone of interests protected by the Commerce Clause, and the Exchanges satisfy the requirements for representational standing.
After the decision by the New York Court of Appeals in this case, § 21(2)(d) of the Federal Securities Acts Amendments of 175 became effective. This amendment provides that no State may tax a change in beneficial or record ownership of securities if the change is effected through the facilities of a registered clearing house or registered transfer agent unless the change would otherwise be taxable if the facilities were not physically located in the taxing State. § 21(2)(d), 89 Stat. 161, amending § 28 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78bb(d) (1970 ed., Supp. V). A transfer agent is defined in § 3(6) of the 1975 amendments, 89 Stat. 100, amending § 3(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78c(a)(25) (1970 ed., Supp. V). Although the Senate Committee was unclear as to whether the New York transfer tax reached such changes in ownership, the Senate Report on the 1975 amendments indicates that § 21(2)(d) was directed to New York's transfer tax in particular, and in general to similar taxes being considered by other States. S.Rep. No. 94-75, p. 60 (1975). See N.Y.Tax Law § 270.5(i)-(1) (McKinney Supp. 1976). On December 1, 1975, counsel for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance issued an opinion that the 1975 amendments limited the types of taxable events covered by § 270:
"[W]here the sole event in New York State is the delivery or transfer to or by a 'registered clearing agency' or a 'registered transfer agent,' as those terms are defined under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, there is no stock transfer tax due and owing on and after December 1, 1975. However, where a sale, agreement to sell, memorandum of sale or any other delivery or transfer takes place in New York State, the stock transfer tax due and owing thereon must be paid."
2 CCH N.Y. Tax Rep.
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