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FRICK ET AL. v. PENNSYLVANIA

decided: June 1, 1925.

FRICK ET AL
v.
PENNSYLVANIA



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA.

Taft, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Sanford, Stone

Author: Van Devanter

[ 268 U.S. Page 486]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

These four cases involve the constitutional validity of particular features of a statute of Pennsylvania imposing a tax on the transfer of property by will or intestate laws. Act No. 258, Pa. Laws 1919, 521.

[ 268 U.S. Page 487]

     Henry C. Frick, domiciled in Pennsylvania, died testate December 2, 1919, leaving a large estate. By his will he disposed of the entire estate -- giving about 53 per cent. for charitable and public purposes and passing the rest to or for the use of individual beneficiaries. Besides real and personal property in Pennsylvania, the estate included tangible personalty having an actual situs in New York, tangible personalty having a like situs in Massachusetts, and various stocks in corporations of States other than Pennsylvania. The greater part of the tangible personalty in New York,*fn1 having a value of $13,132,391.00, was given to a corporation of that State for the purposes of a public art gallery, and the other part,*fn2 having a value of $77,818.75, to decedent's widow. The tangible personalty in Massachusetts,*fn3 having a value of $325,534.25, was also given to the widow. The will was probated in Pennsylvania, and letters testamentary were granted there. It was also proved in New York and Massachusetts, and ancillary letters were granted in those States. Under the laws of the United States the executors were required to pay to it, and did pay, an estate tax of $6,338,898.68; and under the laws of Kansas, West Virginia and other States they were required to pay to such States, and did pay, large sums in taxes imposed as a prerequisite to an effective transfer from a non-resident deceased of stocks in corporations of those States.

The Pennsylvania statute provides that where a person domiciled in that State dies seized or possessed of

[ 268 U.S. Page 488]

     property, real or personal, a tax shall be laid on the transfer of the property from him by will or intestate laws, whether the property be in that State or elsewhere; that the tax shall be 2 per cent. of the clear value of so much of the property as is transferred to or for the use of designated relatives of the decedent and 5 per cent. of the clear value of so much of it as is transferred to or for the use of others; and that the clear value shall be ascertained by taking the gross value of the estate and deducting therefrom the decedent's debts and the expenses of administration, but without making any deduction for taxes paid to the United States or to any other State.

In applying this statute to the Frick estate the taxing officers included the value of the tangible personalty in New York and Massachusetts in the clear value on which they computed the tax; and in fixing that value refused to make any deduction on account of the estate tax paid to the United States or the stock-transfer taxes paid to other States. In proceedings which reached the Supreme Court of the State the action of the taxing officers and the resulting tax were upheld by that court, 277 Pa. 242. The matter was then brought here on writs of error under ยง 237 of the Judicial Code.

The plaintiffs in error are the executors and an interested legatee. They contended in the state court, and contend here, that in so far as the Pennsylvania statute attempts to tax the transfer of tangible personal property having an actual situs in States other than Pennsylvania it transcends the power of that State, and thereby contravenes the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

This precise question has not been presented to this Court before, but there are many decisions dealing with cognate questions which point the way to its solution. These decisions show, first, that the exaction by a State of a tax which it is without power to impose is a taking

[ 268 U.S. Page 489]

     of property without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment; secondly, that while a State may so shape its tax laws as to reach every object which is under its jurisdiction it cannot give them any extraterritorial operation; and, thirdly, that as respects tangible personal property having an actual situs in a particular State, the power to subject it to state taxation rests exclusively in that State, regardless of the domicil of the owner. Cleveland, Painesville and Ashtabula R. R. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 15 Wall. 300, 319, 325; Louisville and Jeffersonville Ferry Co. v. Kentucky, 188 U.S. 385, 396; Old Dominion Steamship Co. v. Virginia, 198 U.S. 299; Delaware, Lackawanna and Western R. R. Co. v. Pennsylvania, 198 U.S. 341, 356; Union Refrigerator Transit Co. v. Kentucky, 199 U.S. 194; Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Kansas, 216 U.S. 1, 38; International Paper Co. v. Massachusetts, 246 U.S. 135, 142.

In Union Refrigerator Transit Co. v. Kentucky the question presented was whether, consistently with the restriction imposed by the due process of law clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the State of Kentucky could tax a corporation of that State upon its tangible personal property having an actual situs in other States. The question was much considered, prior cases were reviewed, and a negative answer was given. The grounds for the decision are reflected in the following excerpts from the opinion:

"It is also essential to the validity of a tax that the property shall be within the territorial jurisdiction of the taxing power. Not only is the operation of state laws limited to persons and property within the boundaries of the State, but property which is wholly and exclusively within the jurisdiction of another State, receives none of the protection for which the tax is supposed to be the compensation. This rule receives its most familiar illustration in the cases of land which, to be taxable, must be

[ 268 U.S. Page 490]

     within the limits of the State. Indeed, we know of no case where a legislature has assumed to impose a tax upon land within the jurisdiction of another State, much less where such action has been defended by any court. It is said by this Court in the Foreign-held Bond case, 15 Wall. 300, 319, that no adjudication should be necessary to establish so obvious a proposition as that property lying beyond the jurisdiction of a State is not a subject upon which her taxing power can be legitimately exercised. The argument against the taxability of land within the jurisdiction of another State applies with equal cogency to tangible personal property beyond the jurisdiction. It is not only beyond the sovereignty of the taxing State, but does not and cannot receive protection under its laws. . . ."

"The arguments in favor of the taxation of intangible property at the domicile of the owner have no application to tangible property. The fact that such property is visible, easily found and difficult to conceal, and the tax readily collectible, is so cogent an argument for its taxation at its situs, that of late there is a general consensus of opinion that it is taxable in the State where it is permanently located ...


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