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Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee


    Citation. Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517, 53 S. Ct. 481, 77 L. Ed. 929, 1933 U.S. LEXIS 51, 85 A.L.R. 699 (U.S. Mar. 13, 1933)

    Brief Fact Summary. Thirteen chain storeowners, (Appellants), filed a class action seeking an order enjoining tax officials, (Appellees), from enforcing Chapter 15624 of the Laws of Florida, 1931 (Ex. Sess.). Defendant successfully moved to dismiss and the Supreme Court of Florida affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Chain stores employ distinguishable methods of conducting business and the Legislature may make the difference in method and character of the business the basis of classification for taxation.


    Facts. This statute requires businesses operating in Florida to obtain a license. The filing fees for the license are heavier for chain stores as opposed to stores owned independently but operating in voluntary cooperation with each other. The tax is increased if one or more store in the chain is located in a different county. A further tax of $3 is required for each $1,000 value of stock carried in each retail store. Filling stations engaged exclusively in the sale of petroleum products are excluded.

    Issue.
    Whether a tax distinguishing between chain stores and voluntary chains is an arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination.

    Whether those provisions of the act that increase the tax if the owner’s stores are located in more than one county are unreasonable and arbitrary.

    Whether the requirement deprives Appellants of equal protection of the law because wholesale merchants not taxed by the act in question are assessed under section 926 of the Revised General Statutes of Florida.

    Whether tax of $3 for each $1,000 value of stock carried in each retail store deprives Appellants of equal protection of the law because merchants are not taxed similarly.

    Whether excluding filling stations engaged exclusively in the sale of petroleum products deprives Appellants of equal protection of the law.

    Whether the act by bearing unevenly upon those who purchase directly from a wholesale manufacturer whose plant is outside the state burdens interstate commerce.

    Whether the tax is unconstitutionally discriminatory because state officials do not intend to collect it from the owners of stores in certain lines of business and therefore Appellants should be exempt from paying the tax.

    Held.
    No. A single shop employs distinguishable methods of conducting business, and the Legislature may make the difference in method and character of the business the basis of classification for taxation.

    Yes. Those provisions that increase the tax if the owner’s stores are located in more than one county are unreasonable and arbitrary and violate the Fourteenth Amendment

    No. The diverse purposes of the storage and difference in the nature of business conducted are sufficient to justify a different classification of the two sorts of warehouses for taxation.

    No. 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.

    No. The tax is laid for the privilege of operating stores in Florida and attempts no discrimination between merchandise imported from another state and that produced in Florida.

    No. If discrimination does result, Appellants only remedy is a writ of mandamus compelling the taxing officials to do their duty.

    Dissent.
    The main purpose of the legislation is to protect the individual storeowners from the competition of chain stores by taxing chain stores at a higher rate. The validity of the entire act should be upheld. Appellants are all corporations engaged in intrastate commerce in Florida. They can only succeed if the discrimination is unconstitutional as applied to them as corporations. The Constitution does not give corporations the right to engage in intrastate commerce in Florida. Whether the corporate privilege shall be granted or withheld is always a matter of state policy. The states may carry out the policy by adjusting its revenue laws and taxing the system in such a ways as to favor certain industries. The difference in power between corporations and natural person sis ample basis for placing them in different classes. Since the proper purpose of the statute is to financially handicap chain stores to create inequality that will discourage the establishment of chain store a higher lice
    nse fee is appropriate.

    The gradation of a tax may be determined by the spread of a business from one county into another. Statistics indicate that there is a difference between chains that serve consumers within a single territory than those framed for larger ends. The Legislature had to draw the line somewhere and it chose the county line. Movement from the locality to other fields of activity is a symptom of an inner change. The business conducted by Appellants is subjected to tax because it is the business of operating chain stores and the spread over counties is a factor in determining how much should have to be paid. Differences have been discovered between local chains and others in organization and opportunity. These differences need not be great to justify the difference in tax.


    Discussion.
    In attempting to distinguish this case from precedent, Appellants stress mere details while ignoring the underlying reason for sustaining the classification. The conduct of a chain of stores constitutes a form and method of merchandizing apart from that adapted to the practice of the ordinary individually operated small or department store. That difference is fundamental and the Legislature may distinguish between them for the purposes of taxation.

    A tax on stores in the same ownership within the same county that increases for all the stores if one happens to be in another county has no reasonable basis. Appellees fail to show how the fact that the new place of business lies in another county increases the advantage over that to accrue from a location within the same county. This difference in treatment has no discernible relation to the sort of chain that establishes a store across a county line.

    When chain stores warehouse goods, it is for the purpose of retail sale at their shops. On the other hand, goods stored by a wholesaler are stored for sale to retail establishments who will resell them. The difference in purpose of the storage and nature of the business conducted justify a different classification for taxation.

    All dealers in gasoline are required by statute to pay a license tax of 5$ per annum and 7 cents per gallon for every gallon sold. This is not clear and hostile discrimination in view of the imposition of taxes on the operation of filling stations by other acts.

    The tax on the value of merchandise in a retail store for sale in that store even though incident on articles which have moved in interstate commerce, is laid after interstate commerce has ceased. It does not burden the purchase in interstate commerce of articles for sale in Florida.

    Appellants’ argue that where the taxing officials fail to tax some persons required to pay, all others are exempt from having to pay. Every unit of the taxpaying public has an interest in having all property subject to taxation legally assessed and may require all property subject to taxation be placed on the tax books and bear its proportionate part of the expense of the government.


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