Peck & Co v. Lowe
Annotate this Case
247 U.S. 165 (1918)
U.S. Supreme Court
Peck & Co v. Lowe, 247 U.S. 165 (1918)
Peck & Co v. Lowe
Argued December 10, 11, 1917
Decided May 20, 1918
247 U.S. 165
ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
The Sixteenth Amendment does not extend the power of taxation to new or excepted subjects, but merely removes occasion for apportioning taxes on income among the states.
Net income of a corporation derived from exporting goods from the states and selling them abroad is subject to be taxed under § II of the Income Tax Law of October 3, 1913, c. 16, 38 Stat. 166, 172,
as part of the "entire net income arising or accruing from all sources."
Such a tax, general and in no way discriminating against exports and affecting the export business, at most, only indirectly, is not contrary to the constitutional provision that "no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state." Art. I, § 9, cl. 5.
234 F. 125 affirmed.
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
This was an action to recover a tax paid under protest and alleged to have been imposed contrary to the constitutional
provision (Art. I, § 9, cl. 5) that "no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state." The judgment below was for the defendant. 234 F. 125.
The plaintiff is a domestic corporation chiefly engaged in buying goods in the several states, shipping them to foreign countries, and there selling them. In 1914, its net income from this business was $30,173.66, and from other sources $12,436.24. An income tax for that year, computed on the aggregate of these sums, was assessed against it and paid under compulsion. It is conceded that so much of the tax as was based on the income from other sources was valid, and the controversy is over so much of it as was attributable to the income from shipping goods to foreign countries and there selling them.
The tax was levied under the Act of October 3, 1913, c. 16, § 11, 38 Stat. 166, 172, which provided for annually subjecting every domestic corporation to the payment of a tax of a specified percentum of its "entire net income arising or accruing from all sources during the preceding calendar year." Certain fraternal and other corporations, as also income from certain enumerated sources, were specifically excepted, but none of the exceptions included the plaintiff or any part of its income. So, tested merely by the terms of the act, the tax collected from the plaintiff was rightly computed on its total net income. But, as the act obviously could not impose a tax forbidden by the Constitution, we proceed to consider whether the tax, or rather the part in question, was forbidden by the constitutional provision on which the plaintiff relies.
The Sixteenth Amendment, although referred to in argument, has no real bearing, and may be put out of view. As pointed out in recent decisions, it does not extend the taxing power to new or excepted subjects, but merely removes all occasion which otherwise might exist for an apportionment among the states of taxes
The Constitution broadly empowers Congress not only "to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises," but also "to regulate commerce with foreign nations." So, if the prohibitory clause invoked by the plaintiff be not in the way, Congress undoubtedly has power to lay and collect such a tax as is here in question. That clause says "no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state." Of course, it qualifies and restricts the power to tax as broadly conferred. But to what extent? The decisions of this Court answer that it excepts from the range of that power articles in course of exportation, Turpin v. Burgess, 117 U. S. 504, 117 U. S. 507; the act or occupation of exporting, Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419, 25 U. S. 445; bills of lading for articles being exported, Fairbank v. United States, 181 U. S. 283; charter parties for the carriage of cargoes from state to foreign ports, United States v. Hvoslef, 237 U. S. 1, and policies of marine insurance on articles being exported, such insurance being uniformly regarded as "an integral part of the exportation" and the policy as "one of the ordinary shipping documents," Thames & Mersey Ins. Co. v. United States, 237 U. S. 19. In short, the Court has interpreted the clause as meaning that exportation must be free from taxation, and therefore as requiring "not simply an omission of a tax upon the articles exported, but also a freedom from any tax which directly burdens the exportation." Fairbank v. United States, supra, pp. 181 U. S. 292-293. And the Court has indicated that, where the tax is not laid on the articles themselves while in course of exportation, the true test of its validity is whether it "so directly and closely" bears on the "process of exporting" as to be in substance a tax on the exportation. Thames & Mersey Ins.
Co. v. United States, supra, p. 237 U. S. 25. In this view, it has been held that the clause does not condemn or invalidate charges or taxes, not laid on property while being exported merely because they affect exportation indirectly or remotely. Thus, a charge for stamps which each package of manufactured tobacco intended for export was required to bear before removal from the factory was upheld in Pace v. Burgess, 92 U. S. 372, and Turpin v. Burgess, 117 U. S. 504, and the application of a manufacturing tax on all filled cheese to cheese manufactured under contract for export, and actually exported, was upheld in Cornell v. Coyne, 192 U. S. 418, 192 U. S. 427. In that case, it was said:
"The true construction of the constitutional provision is that no burden by way of tax or duty can be cast upon the exportation of articles, and does not mean that articles exported are relieved from the prior ordinary burdens of taxation which rest upon all property similarly situated. The exemption attaches to the export and not to the article before its exportation."
While fully assenting and adhering to the interpretation which has been put on the clause in giving effect to its spirit as well as its letter, we are of opinion that to broaden that interpretation would be to depart from both the spirit and letter.
The tax in question is unlike any of those heretofore condemned. It is not laid on articles in course of exportation or on anything which inherently or by the usages of commerce is embraced in exportation or any of its processes. On the contrary, it is an income tax laid generally on net incomes. And while it cannot be applied to any income which Congress has no power to tax (see Stanton v. Baltic Mining Co., supra, p. 240 U. S. 113), it is both nominally and actually a general tax. It is not laid on income from exportation because of its source, or in a discriminative way, but just as it is laid on other income. The words of the act are "net income arising or accruing
from all sources." There is no discrimination. At most, exportation is affected only indirectly and remotely. The tax is levied after exportation is completed, after all expenses are paid and losses adjusted, and after the recipient of the income is free to use it as he chooses. Thus, what is taxed -- the net income -- is as far removed from exportation as are articles intended for export before the exportation begins. If articles manufactured and intended for export are subject to taxation under general laws up to the time they are put in course of exportation, as we have seen they are, the conclusion is unavoidable that the net income from the venture when completed -- that is to say, after the exportation and sale are fully consummated -- is likewise subject to taxation under general laws. In that respect, the status of the income is not different from that of the exported articles prior to the exportation.
For these reasons, we hold that the objection urged against the tax is not well grounded.
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