APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.
Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question of the validity of a franchise tax assessed pursuant to a statute of the State of Alabama upon the Southern Natural Gas Corporation. The imposition of the tax was assailed as a direct burden upon interstate commerce and as also depriving the corporation of its property without due process of law and denying it the equal protection of the laws contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. The Supreme Court of the State sustained the tax (170 So. 178) and the case comes here on appeal.
The statute, enacted in pursuance of § 232 of the state constitution, is § 54 of Act No. 163, General Acts of Alabama, 1927, page 176, and provides:
"That every corporation organized under the laws of any other state, nation, or territory, and doing business in this State, except strictly benevolent, educational or religious corporations, shall pay annually to the State an annual franchise tax of Two dollars ($2.00) on each One Thousand Dollars of the actual amount of capital employed in this State."
The assessment was made by the State Tax Commission for the year 1931 in the sum of $11,047.43 and was said to be based upon capital employed in Alabama amounting to $5,523,715. Appellant resisted the assessment upon the ground that it was not doing business and did not propose to do business in the State of Alabama except in interstate commerce and that the property by which the tax was measured was used exclusively in interstate commerce.
The case was submitted upon an agreed statement from which the following facts appear:
Appellant was organized prior to May 12, 1928, under the laws of Delaware and on that date it qualified to do
business in Alabama. It named a statutory agent and filed in the office of the Secretary of State a copy of its charter which covered a wide range of activities.*fn1 It has paid annually the required permit fee. At the time of the assessment in question appellant maintained its office and chief place of business in the city of Birmingham, Alabama. The entire management, control and conduct of its business was conducted from that office.
Appellant is engaged in the transmission and distribution of gas which it purchases from the producers in the Louisiana and Mississippi fields. In May, 1929, it began the construction of its pipe lines and by January, 1931, it had constructed its main lines from the Louisiana fields to Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia, the Columbus line turning south from the Atlanta line at a point near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In 1931, appellant owned approximately 564 miles of pipe and various items of real and personal property located within Alabama, all constituting part of its general transmission system. It was agreed that in the event that it should be held that all of appellant's property located in the State was subject to the assessment of a franchise tax, the value of that property as of January 1 to May 13, 1931, the date of the final assessment, was $5,500,000.
Appellant had contracts for the delivery of natural gas in Alabama to only four purchasers. Three were intrastate utilities in Alabama, the Alabama Natural Gas ...