1. To constitute a controversy between two States, within the
original jurisdiction of this Court, it must appear that the
complaining State has suffered a wrong through the action of the
other State, furnishing ground for judicial redress, or is
asserting a right against the other State which is susceptible of
judicial enforcement according to the accepted principles of the
common law or equity systems of jurisprudence. P. 308 U. S. 15
2. A bill by one State against another State and citizens of the
other which alleges that the plaintiff has assessed a tax on the
transfer by death of the estate of one of its own citizens, the
satisfaction of which depends upon resort to intangible assets of
the decedent consisting of securities held by the individual
defendants, as trustees, in the defendant State, and which alleges
that the defendant State claims and will exercise a right to levy a
like tax upon the transfer of this intangible property, and which
prays to have the respective rights of the two States adjudicated,
and for general relief, but which shows that the property is
sufficient to answer the claims of both States and that the claims
are not mutually exclusive, but independent, so that each State may
constitutionally press its claim without conflict in point of law
or fact with the decision of the other -- does not present a
justiciable controversy between the two States. Texas v.
Florida, 306 U. S. 398
3. State statutes purporting to exempt from local transfer tax
intangible assets of decedents who, at death, were citizens of
other States which grant reciprocal exemptions create no
enforceable obligation between the States enacting them. P.
308 U. S. 16
Page 308 U. S. 2
4. A State may not invoke the original jurisdiction of this
Court to enforce the individual rights of its citizens. P.
308 U. S. 17
5. Federal jurisdiction to render a declaratory judgment depends
on the existence of a controversy in the constitutional sense.
6. A State cannot be brought into court by making its citizens
parties to a suit not otherwise maintainable against the State.
7. An action by a State to recover money from citizens of
another State will not be entertained by the Court in the absence
of facts showing that resort to the original jurisdiction is
necessary for the protection of the plaintiff State. P.
308 U. S. 18
In the present instance, it does not appear that Massachusetts
is without a proper and adequate remedy in the Missouri courts or
the federal District Court in Missouri. P. 308 U. S. 19
8. Clause 2 of § 2 of Article III of the Constitution merely
distributes the jurisdiction conferred by clause 1.
9. The original jurisdiction of this Court, in cases where a
State is a party, refers to those cases in which, according to the
grant of power made in Art. III, § 2, cl. 1, jurisdiction might be
exercised in consequence of the character of the party, and an
original suit might be instituted in any of the federal courts.
6 Wheat. 264. Id.
10. The objection that the courts in one State will not
entertain a suit to recover taxes due to another, or upon a
judgment for such taxes, goes not to the jurisdiction, but to the
merits, and raises a question which the district courts are
competent to decide. P. 308 U. S. 20
Motion for leave denied.
On motion for leave to file an original bill in this Court and
the return to an order to show cause.
Page 308 U. S. 13
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The State of Massachusetts asks leave to file a bill of
complaint against the State of Missouri and certain citizens of
that State. On return to the order to show cause why leave should
not be granted, the respondents, while contesting the claims of
Massachusetts, stated that they had no cause to show. The Court set
the motion for hearing upon the question whether the Court has
jurisdiction to entertain the suit. The complaint
Page 308 U. S. 14
and the individual respondents contend that the Court has
jurisdiction, and the State of Missouri now presents the contrary
The argument for jurisdiction rests upon two grounds: (1) that
there is a controversy between two States, and (2) that there is a
controversy between a State and citizens of another State.
Constitution, Article III, section 2, paragraphs 1 and 2.
The proposed bill of complaint alleges in substance that Madge
Barney Blake, domiciled in Massachusetts, died in 1935 leaving an
estate in that State of $12,646.02, which has there been
administered, and that this estate will be exhausted by costs of
administration and federal taxes; that the decedent, while
domiciled in Massachusetts, created three trusts of securities of
the value (at the time of death) of $1,850,789.77, the trustees
being residents of Missouri, where the securities are held; that,
in two of these trusts, embracing the greater part of the
securities, the settlor had reserved the right of revocation; that
both Massachusetts and Missouri have inheritance tax statutes
subjecting to taxation property passing by deed, grant, or gift
made or intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment after
the death of the donor; that the Massachusetts statute imposes the
tax upon intangibles only when owned by inhabitants of that State;
that the Missouri statute exempts from the tax intangibles owned by
nonresidents who reside in States extending reciprocal provisions
to residents of Missouri; that, in this instance, both States are
claiming the exclusive right to impose inheritance taxes upon the
trust estates; that Missouri intends to exercise its jurisdiction
over the trustees and the property to the exclusion of
Massachusetts; that Massachusetts has taken the action required by
its statutes to determine the amount of the tax and to certify it
to the persons by whom it is payable, and that there is now due to
Massachusetts from the respondent
Page 308 U. S. 15
trustees $137,000, if all the trust estates are taxable, and
$127,000 if only the property under the two revocable trusts is
taxable, and that the tax cannot be collected from any persons or
property in Massachusetts.
Alleging the absence of adequate remedy save in this Court
sitting as a court in equity, the complainant prays that the Court
may adjudge whether Massachusetts or Missouri has "the jurisdiction
and lawful right to impose transfer, succession or inheritance
taxes" in respect of the several transfers described, and to
determine that question in favor of Massachusetts. There is also a
general prayer for other relief by injunction or otherwise, as the
Court may deem expedient.
-- The proposed bill of complaint does not
present a justiciable controversy between the States. To constitute
such a controversy, it must appear that the complaining State has
suffered a wrong through the action of the other State, furnishing
ground for judicial redress, or is asserting a right against the
other State which is susceptible of judicial enforcement according
to the accepted principles of the common law or equity systems of
jurisprudence. Florida v. Mellon, 273 U. S.
, 273 U. S. 16
Texas v. Florida, 306 U. S. 398
306 U. S. 405
Missouri, in claiming a right to recover taxes from the respondent
trustees, or in taking proceedings for collection, is not injuring
Massachusetts. By the allegations, the property held in Missouri is
amply sufficient to answer the claims of both States, and recovery
by either does not impair the exercise of any right the other may
have. It is not shown that there is danger of the depletion of a
fund or estate at the expense of the complainant's interest. It is
not shown that the tax claims of the two States are mutually
exclusive. On the contrary, the validity of each claim is wholly
independent of that of the other, and, in the light of our recent
decisions, may constitutionally be pressed by each State without
conflict in point of
Page 308 U. S. 16
fact or law with the decision of the other. Curry v.
McCanless, 307 U. S. 357
Graves v. Elliott, 307 U. S. 383
question is thus a different one from that presented in Texas
v. Florida, supra,
where the controlling consideration was
that, by the law of the several States concerned, only a single tax
could be laid by a single State -- that of the domicile. This was
sufficient basis for invoking the equity jurisdiction of the Court
where it also appeared that there was danger that, through
successful prosecution of the claims of the several States in
independent suits, enough of the estate would be absorbed to
deprive some its lawful tax. Texas v. Florida, supra,
306 U. S.
-406, 306 U. S. 408
306 U. S.
Massachusetts urges that a controversy has arisen over the
enforcement of the reciprocal provisions of the tax statutes of the
two States. It is said that Missouri has enacted reciprocal
legislation under which there is exempted from taxation the
transfer of intangibles where the transferor, at the time of death,
was a resident of a State which, at that time, did not impose a
transfer or death tax in respect of the intangible property of
residents of other States, or if the laws of the residence
contained a reciprocal exemption provision (Missouri Rev.Stat.
1929, c. 1, art. 21, § 576), and that Massachusetts, since 1927
(St.1927, c. 156), has granted complete exemption from the
inheritance tax to intangible property not belonging to its
inhabitants. Mass.General Laws (Ter.Ed.) c. 65, § 1. The argument
is that Massachusetts and its residents are entitled to the
immunity offered by the Missouri statute.
But, apart from the fact that there is no agreement or compact
between the States having constitutional sanction (Const. Art. I, §
10, par. 3), the enactment by Missouri of the so-called reciprocal
legislation cannot be regarded as conferring upon Massachusetts any
contractual right. Each State has enacted its legislation
Page 308 U. S. 17
to its conception of its own interests. Each State has the
unfettered right at any time to repeal its legislation. Each State
is competent to construe and apply its legislation in the cases
that arise within its jurisdiction. If it be assumed that the
statutes of the two States have been enacted with a view to
reciprocity in operation, nothing is shown which can be taken to
alter their essential character as mere legislation and to create
an obligation which either State is entitled to enforce as against
the other in a court of justice.
The suggestion that residents of Massachusetts are entitled to
the immunity offered by the Missouri statute is unavailing, as
Massachusetts may not invoke our jurisdiction for the benefit of
such individuals. Oklahoma v. Atchison, T. & S.F. Ry.
Co., 220 U. S. 277
220 U. S. 286
Oklahoma ex rel. Johnson v. Cook, 304 U.
, 304 U. S.
Nor does the nature of the suit as one to obtain a declaratory
judgment aid the complainant. To support jurisdiction to give such
relief, there must still be a controversy in the constitutional
sense (Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.
, 300 U. S.
-241), and, as between the two States, there is no
such controversy here.
-- Complainant urges that jurisdiction may be
sustained in the view that the proposed bill of complaint presents
a controversy between Massachusetts and citizens of Missouri. The
bill is not aptly framed so as to present such a controversy
independently of a controversy between the States. The bill
expressly states the issues presented as being (a) whether
Massachusetts or Missouri has exclusive jurisdiction over the
transfers in trust, so as to have the taxing power, and (b)
secondarily, whether the State having such jurisdiction can
constitutionally reach one of the trusts in which the settlor
reserved no right of revocation. And the specific relief sought is
that the court may determine which State has the jurisdiction to
tax, and may award that
Page 308 U. S. 18
jurisdiction to Massachusetts as against Missouri. If the
gravamen of the proposed bill is deemed to be an assertion of a
controversy between the States, jurisdiction to entertain the bill
cannot be supported in the absence of the showing of such a
controversy. Missouri cannot be brought into court by the expedient
of making its citizens parties to a suit otherwise not maintainable
against the State.
With respect to the second ground of invoking jurisdiction, as
an independent ground, we are virtually asked to disregard the
stated objective of the proposed bill, to treat it as amended so as
to expunge claims against Missouri, and to confine it to claims
against the trustees; to consider the bill as no longer asking a
declaratory judgment as to which State has power to tax, as not
seeking relief in this court "sitting as a court of equity," but,
in the light of the general prayer for other relief, as presenting
a simple action against the trustees to recover the amount of the
tax claimed to be due Massachusetts irrespective of any claim of
If it be possible to consider the proposed bill as thus stripped
of its abortive allegations against Missouri and as presenting a
cause of action so distinct from that primarily relied upon, still
the invocation of our jurisdiction must fail. In the exercise of
our original jurisdiction so as truly to fulfill the constitutional
purpose, we not only must look to the nature of the interest of the
complaining State -- the essential quality of the right asserted --
but we must also inquire whether recourse to that jurisdiction in
an action by a State merely to recover money alleged to be due from
citizens of other States is necessary for the State's protection.
In Oklahoma ex rel. Johnson v. Cook, supra,
attention to the enormous burden which would be imposed upon this
Court if, by taking title to assets of insolvent state
institutions, including claims against citizens of other States, a
State could demand access to the original
Page 308 U. S. 19
jurisdiction of this Court to enforce such claims. To open this
Court to actions by States to recover taxes claimed to be payable
by citizens of other States, in the absence of facts showing the
necessity for such intervention, would be to assume a burden which
the grant of original jurisdiction cannot be regarded as compelling
this Court to assume, and which might seriously interfere with the
discharge by this Court of its duty in deciding the cases and
controversies appropriately brought before it. We have observed
that the broad statement that a court having jurisdiction must
exercise it (See Cohens v.
6 Wheat. 264, 19 U. S. 404
is not universally true, but has been qualified in certain cases
where the federal courts may, in their discretion, properly
withhold the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred upon them where
there is no want of another suitable forum. Canada Malting Co.
v. Paterson Co., 285 U. S. 413
285 U. S. 422
Rogers v. Guaranty Trust Co., 288 U.
, 288 U. S.
-131. Grounds for justifying such a qualification
have been found in "considerations of convenience, efficiency, and
justice" applicable to particular classes of cases. Rogers v.
Guaranty Trust Co., supra.
Reasons not less cogent point to
the need of the exercise of a sound discretion in order to protect
this Court from an abuse of the opportunity to resort to its
original jurisdiction in the enforcement by States of claims
against citizens of other States.
In this instance, it does not appear that Massachusetts is
without a proper and adequate remedy. Clause 2 of Section 2 of
Article III merely distributes the jurisdiction conferred by clause
one. Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U. S. 1
176 U. S. 16
Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U. S. 313
292 U. S. 321
The original jurisdiction of this Court, in cases where a State is
"refers to those cases in which, according to the grant of power
made in the preceding clause, jurisdiction might be exercised in
consequence of the character of the party, and an original suit
might be instituted in any of
Page 308 U. S. 20
the federal courts; not to those cases in which an original suit
might not be instituted in a federal court."
Cohens v. Virginia, supra,
pp. 19 U. S.
-399. With respect to the character of the claim now
urged, we are not advised that Missouri would close its courts to a
civil action brought by Massachusetts to recover the tax alleged to
be due from the trustees. The Attorney General of Missouri, at this
bar, asserts the contrary. He says that
"it would seem that Massachusetts should be able to bring a suit
against the trustees for the collection of its taxes, in either a
Missouri state court or in a federal district court in
and that "such a suit would be of a civil nature, and would
present a justiciable case or controversy." We have said that the
objection that the courts in one State will not entertain a suit to
recover taxes due to another, or upon a judgment for such taxes, is
not rightly addressed to any want of judicial power in courts which
are authorized to entertain civil suits at law. It goes "not to the
jurisdiction, but to the merits," and raises a question which
district courts are competent to decide. Milwaukee County v. M.
E. White Co., 296 U. S. 268
296 U. S.
The motion for leave to file the proposed bill of complaint is
MR. JUSTICE BUTLER took no part in the consideration and
decision of this case.