Pittsburgh Coal Company v. Bates
The Pittsburgh & Southern Coal Company, a corporation organized under the laws of Pennsylvania and domiciled in the city of Pittsburgh, Pa., and a citizen of that state, filed its petition in the Seventeenth judicial district court of the parish of East Baton Rouge, La., alleging that the petitioner was and had been for some time engaged in the business of buying and selling coal from the mines in Pennsylvania upon the Mississippi river and other navigable rivers of the country.
That it was the owner of a large number of vessels and barges, which it had brought with cargoes of coal, and was therewith engaged in trade, commerce, and navigation upon the Mississippi river and other navigable rivers of the United States.
That, in the course of the trips and voyages of its vessels and barges down the Mississippi river, it was often convenient, advantageous, or necessary that the vessels should be stopped and moored at different places or landings on the Mississippi river, for different periods of time, in the states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana, pending the arrangements being made by its officers and agents for the reception and disposition of the cargoes of the vessels.
That during the current year it had sent down the Mississippi river a large number of vessels, the property of the petitioner, to supply the trade of Louisiana along the Mississippi and its navigable tributaries, which vessels and cargoes of coal were consigned to Schneidau, the agent of the petitioner in New Orleans.
That the agent, Mr. Schneidau, not having yet made the necessary arrangements to receive and dispose of the cargoes of the vessels at New Orleans or elsewhere, the vessels, being about 100 in number, were stopped and moored in the Mississippi river at a convenient mooring place about nine miles above the port of Baton Rouge, where they awaited the orders of petitioner's agent, to be thence navigated to such place or places as he might deem convenient or advantageous to the trade in which petitioner was engaged, and the vessels and the cargoes of coal therein were still the property of the petitioner.
That one J. W. Bates, who was the sheriff and ex officio tax collector of the parish of East Baton Rouge, had notified the petitioner through said Schneidau, its agent, that it was indebted for state taxes for the year 1887 on movable property (as stock on hand) belonging to the petitioner, as per the assessment rolls and state and parish books of 1887, in the sum of $1,200, and threatened, unless the amount was paid within three days, to seize, advertise, and sell movable property of the petitioner sufficient to pay the debt.
And the petitioner was informed and believed, and so averred, that by the movable property referred to, and designated as 'stock in trade,' was intended to describe the cargoes of coal on board the vessels of the petitioner which were moored in the Mississippi river about nine miles above the city of Baton Rouge.
That the tax claimed by Bates, sheriff and ex officio tax collector of the parish of East Baton Rouge, was not due or owing by petitioner or by the cargoes of the vessels, and the pretended assessment and tax claimed thereunder were illegal, unconstitutional, null, and void, for the following reasons:
(1) That the pretended assessment, under which the tax was claimed, was vague, indefinite, erroneous, and informal, and not such as was required by the laws of Louisiana.
(2) That the coal formed the cargoes of vessels owned in Pittsburgh, Pa., and engaged in trade and commerce between different states; was still upon the vessels upon the navigable waters of the United States; had never been landed in the parish of East Baton Rouge or the state of Louisiana; had never been mixed or commingled with the mass of the movable property in that state, and never ceased to be the property of the petitioner.
(3) That petitioner was not carrying on any business in the parish of East Baton Rouge; had no agent there; and the coal was not stock in trade on hand, but formed the cargoes of vessels employed in interstate commerce, and lying temporarily off the shore of East Baton Rouge, in the Mississippi river, from whence they would proceed at proper and convenient times to places of final destination.
(4) That the tax was in violation of article 1, § 8, cl. 3, Const. U.S., the clause which provides that congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states.
(5) That it was in violation of article 1, § 10, cl. 2, Const., the clause which provides that no state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any imposts or duties except what may be absolutely necessary for executing the inspection laws.
(6) That it was in violation of article 4, § 2, cl. 1, Const., the clause which provides that the citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states.
(7) That it was in violation of article 1, § 9, cl. 5, Const., the clause which declares that no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state.
The petitioner represented that notwithstanding the illegality, unllity, and unconstitutionality of the assessment and tax, for the reasons given, and numerous other reasons, J. W. Bates, sheriff and ex officio tax collector of the parish of East Baton Rouge, had threatened and intended and would, unless restrained by an injunction, seize, advertise, and sell the vessels of the petitioner and their cargoes of coal, or some part thereof, in order to pay the illegal tax; which action of Bates, if permitted, would injure the petitioner in a sum exceeding $6,000, and cause it irreparable injury.
Whereupon the petitioner prayed that a writ of injunction issue to restrain Bates from thus seizing, advertising, or selling the vessels and coal of the petitioner lying in the Mississippi river, and hereinbefore fully described, in order to pay any tax of 1887, and from in any manner interfering with the property under color of enforcing the alleged tax.
The petition was signed by the attorneys of petitioner, and verified by one of them.
A writ was accordingly issued restraining Bates, the sheriff and ex officio tax collector, from seizing or advertising the vessels and coal of the petitioner for the alleged tax.
The sheriff and tax collector appeared in answer to the petition, and denied its allegations; admitting, however, that in his capacity as tax collector he had caused the demand to be served upon the agent of the petitioner, and it was his intention, unless restrained by order of the court, to seize and sell the property.
And he averred that the coal was personal, taxable property, belonging to the Pittsburgh & Southern Coal Company as 'stock in trade,' situated in the parish of East Baton Rouge, and owed the state tax to the state of Louisiana, and was legally assessed according to the laws of the state.
On the trial it was admitted that the property on which the demand was made was on the Mississippi river, in boats of the plaintiff in injunction, which were moored to the shores, the boats being known as 'coal boats,' and that the coal was brought down in them from mines in Pennsylvania, on the navigable streams leading therefrom.
Mr. Schneidau, the agent of the company, testified that the company was taxed at Pittsburgh; that some of the coal moored at Natchez was sold there and some at other points below; that the company sold its coal in different states; that 'East' Baton Rouge was not the final destination of the coal stopped there, but that some of it was there sold; that he had been the agent of the company since December, 1886; that during the whole of that time the company had kept a fleet of canal boats up the river in this parish,-on an average of about 50 boats,-averaging about 100 or more boats and barges; that coal was sold at different times by the company along the river, but that all was sold within the state of Louisiana.
It was admitted that the assessor made the assessment in due form of law, and that the property, consisting of the vessels and coal, had been assessed at $200.000.
The defendant, at the hearing of the case, moved that the injunction be dissolved, and the suit be dismissed, with costs.
And it was contended that the cargoes of vessels owned in Pittsburgh, Pa., and engaged in trade and commerce between different states, were still upon the vessels upon the navigable waters of the United States, had never been landed in that parish or in the state of Louisiana, had never been mixed or commingled with the mass of movable property of the state, and had never ceased to be the petitioner's property; that it carried on no business in the parish of East Baton Rouge, had no agent there, and that the coal was not stock on hand in trade, but formed the cargoes of vessels employed in commerce, and then lying temporarily off the shore of Baton Rouge, on the Mississippi, whence it would be sent to its final destination, and that the tax violated article 1, § 8, cl. 3, Const. U.S.,-the power of congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states,-and article 1, § 10, cl. 2, Const., which declares that no state shall, without the consent of congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports; and that it was in violation of article 4, § 2, cl. 1, Const., the article which provides that citizens of each state shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states, and of article 1, § 9, cl. 5, Const., which provides that no tax or duty shall be laid on articles exported from any state.
On the 24th of January, 1888, the court of the Seventeenth judicial district of East Baton Rouge gave judgment dissolving the injunction in the case, and decreeing that the suit be dismissed at plaintiff's cost, and that the defendant proceed to collect the tax.
From this judgment the Pittsburgh & Southern Coal Company appealed to the supreme court of the state.
On the 5th of March, 1888, that court affirmed the judgment of the Seventeenth judicial court of East Baton Rouge. 3 South. 642.
From this judgment of affirmance the case was brought to the supreme court of the United States by the plaintiff in the original suit on writ of error.
Chas. W. Hornor, Geo. A. King, and W. S. Benedict, for plaintiff in error.
[Argument of Counsel from pages 582-584 intentionally omitted]
M. J. Cunningham, for defendant in error.
Mr. Justice FIELD, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.