Gloucester Ferry Company v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

114 U.S. 196

Gloucester Ferry Company  v.  Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

In March, 1865, the Gloucester Ferry Company, the plaintiff in error here, was incorporated by the legislature of New Jersey to establish a steam-boat ferry from the town of Gloucester, in that state, to the city of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, with a capital stock of $50,000, divided into shares of $50 each. During that year it established, and has ever since maintained, a ferry between those places, across the river Delaware, leasing or owning steam ferry-boats for that purpose. At each place it has a slip or dock on which passengers and freight are received and landed; the one in Gloucester it owns, the one in Philadelphia it leases. Its entire business consists in ferrying passengers and freight across the river between those places. It has never transacted any other business. It does not own, and has never owned, any property, real or personal, in the city of Philadelphia other than the lease of the slip or dock mentioned. All its other property consists of certain real estate in the county of Camden, New Jersey, needed for its business, and steam-boats engaged in ferriage. These boats are registered at the port of Camden, New Jersey. It has never owned any boats registered at a port of Pennsylvania, and its boats are never allowed to remain in that state, except so long as may be necessary to discharge and receive passengers and freight. In Jury, 1880, the auditor general and the treasurer of the state of Pennsylvania stated an account against the company of taxes on its capital stock, based upon its appraised value, for the years 1865 to 1879, both inclusive, finding the amount of $2,593.96 to be due the commonwealth. From this finding an appeal was taken to the court of common pleas of Philadelphia, and was there heard upon a case stated, in which it was stipulated that if the court were of opinion that the company was liable for the tax, judgment against it in favor of the commonwealth should be entered for the above amount; but if the court were of opinion that the company was not liable, judgment should be entered in its favor.

A statute of Pennsylvania, passed June 7, 1879, 'to provide revenue by taxation,' in its fourth section enacted as follows: 'That every company or association whatever, now or hereafter incorporated by or under any law of this commonwealth, or now or hereafter incorporated by any other state or territory of the United States or foreign government, and doing business in this commonwealth, or having capita employed in this commonwealth in the name of any other company or corporation, association or associations, person or persons, or in any other manner, except foreign insurance companies, banks and savings institutions, shall be subject to and pay into the treasury of the commonwealth annually a tax to be computed as follows, namely: If the dividend or dividends made or declared by such company or association as aforesaid, during any year ending with the first Monday of November, amount to six or more than six per centum upon the par value of its capital stock, then the tax to be at the rate of one-half mill upon the capital stock for each one per centum of dividend so made or declared; if no dividend be made or declared, or if the dividend or dividends made or declared do not amount to six per centum upon the par value of said capital stock, then the tax to be at the rate of three mills upon each dollar of a valuation of the said capital stock,' made in accordance with the provisions of another section of the act. It was under the authority of this act that the taxes in question were stated against the company by the auditor general and the state treasurer.

The court of common pleas held that the taxes could not be lawfully levied, for there was no other business carried on by the company in Pennsylvania except the landing and receiving of passengers and freight, which is a part of the commerce of the country, and protected by the constitution from the imposition of burdens by state legislation. It therefore gave judgment in favor of the company. The case being carried on a writ of error to the supreme court of the state, the judgment was reversed, and judgment ordered in favor of the commonweath for the amount mentioned. To review this latter judgment, the case is brought here.

John G. Johnson, M. E. Olmsted, Sanil Dickson, and M. P. Henry, for plaintiff in error.

Robert Snodgrass, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 199-202 intentionally omitted]

FIELD, J.

Notes[edit]

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).