decided: November 8, 1937.
ATLANTIC REFINING CO
APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA.
McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo, Black; Hughes took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
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MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Atlantic Refining Company is a Pennsylvania corporation engaged in refining and selling gasoline and petroleum which it markets throughout the United States and in foreign countries. In 1929 the year's sales aggregated more than $153,000,000. Prior to 1930 the company had never applied for permission to do business in Virginia. It had not done any intrastate business there; and had no property or place of business within the State. It had done some interstate business, but had not paid, or been requested by the State to pay, either an entrance fee or taxes. In January 1930 the company applied to the State Corporation Commission for a certificate of authority to do intrastate business. Its net assets were then $132,196,275; its authorized capital $100,000,000; its issued capital $67,049,500. The Commission granted the certificate; but, as prescribed by Chapter 53, § 38a of the Acts of Assembly of Virginia, 1910; Tax Code of Virginia (Michie, 1930) § 207, set forth in the margin,*fn1 exacted for the privilege $5,000 as an entrance
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fee. Payment was made under protest. Having duly claimed that by requiring it the statute violated the Federal Constitution, the company requested refund of the amount paid. The Commission refused to make the refund; the highest court of the State affirmed its order, 165 Va. 492; 183 S. E. 243, and the case is here on the company's appeal.
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Answering the company's statement under Rule 12, the Commonwealth opposed our taking jurisdiction. Its objection was that the appeal presented no substantial federal question, since, in 1918, the validity of the statute was challenged under similar circumstances and sustained by a unanimous Court in General Railway Signal Co. v. Virginia, 246 U.S. 500; and, in 1928, was again sustained, by a Per Curiam opinion, in Western Gas Construction Co. v. Virginia, 276 U.S. 597. The company asks us to overrule these decisions, contending that they are inconsistent with other and later cases. It asserts that in sustaining the Virginia statute this Court followed views expressed in Baltic Mining Co. v. Massachusetts, 231 U.S. 68, 87; and that the doctrine of the Baltic case has since been repudiated, in Alpha Portland Cement Co. v. Massachusetts, 268 U.S. 203, 218 and Cudahy Packing Co. v. Hinkle, 278 U.S. 460, 466. Consideration of the jurisdiction of this Court was postponed to the hearing on the merits.
By the statute foreign corporations are divided, for the purpose of fixing the amount of the entrance fee, into twelve classes. The fee for the lowest class -- those whose authorized capital stock is $50,000 or less -- is $30. The fee for the highest class -- those whose authorized capital stock exceeds $90,000,000 -- is $5,000. The company does not object to the subject or the occasion of the exaction. Its objection is solely to the measure. Its claim is that the statute imposes an unconstitutional condition because it determines the amount of the fee by the amount of the company's authorized capital. The contention is that a fee so determined necessarily burdens interstate commerce, denies due process, and denies equal protection of the laws.
Unlike the cases in which the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions has been applied, the condition here
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questioned does not govern the corporation's conduct after admission. But it may be assumed that the rule declared in Terral v. Burke Construction Co., 257 U.S. 529, is applicable also to conditions to be performed wholly before admission; and that the $5,000 must be refunded if its exaction involved denial of any constitutional right. For we are of opinion that in refusing to grant the authority to carry on local business except upon payment of the $5,000 no constitutional right of the company was violated.
First. Virginia recognized the constitutional right of the company to carry on interstate business without paying an entrance fee. On the other hand, the company conceded that the Federal Constitution does not confer upon it the right to engage in intrastate commerce in Virginia unless it has secured the consent of the State. Compare Hemphill v. Orloff, 277 U.S. 537, 548. Whether the privilege shall be granted to a foreign corporation is a matter of state policy. Virginia might refuse to grant the privilege for any business, or might grant the privilege for some kinds of business and deny it to others.*fn2 It might grant the privilege to all corporations with small capital while denying the privilege to those whose capital or resources are large. It might grant the privilege without exacting compensation; or it could insist upon a substantial payment as a means of raising revenue.
As the entrance fee is not a tax, but compensation for a privilege applied for and granted, no reason appears why the State is not as free to charge $5,000 for the privilege as it would be to charge that amount for a
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franchise granted to a local utility, or for a parcel of land which it owned. If Virginia had the power to charge $5,000 for the privilege, the particular measure applied by the Legislature in arriving at that sum would seem to be legally immaterial; and the company is in a position like that of the taxpayer in Castillo v. McConnico, 168 U.S. 674, 680, of whom it was said: "His right is limited solely to the inquiry whether in the case which he presents the effect of applying the statute is to deprive him of his property without due process of law." The validity even of a tax "can in no way be dependent upon the mode which the State may deem fit to adopt." Home Insurance Co. v. New York, 134 U.S. 594, 600. "The selected measure may appear to be simply a matter of convenience in computation . . . and if the tax purports to be laid upon a subject within the taxing power of the State, it is not to be condemned by the application of any artificial rule . . ." Kansas City, F. S. & M. Ry. Co. v. Botkin, 240 U.S. 227, 233. Compare Rae Consolidated Copper Co. v. United States, 268 U.S. 373, 376; New York v. Latrobe, 279 U.S. 421, 427.
Second. Even if the Federal Constitution conferred upon every foreign corporation the right to enter any State and carry on there a local business upon paying a reasonable fee, there is nothing in the record to show that the $5,000 charged is more than reasonable compensation for the privilege granted. The payment required is a single, non-recurrent charge -- a payment in advance for a privilege extending into the long future. No matter how large the company's local business may be, no matter how much, or how often, its issued capital may be increased, no additional entrance fee is payable. The value of such a privilege cannot be gauged by the sales expected in the year 1930.*fn3 They may increase
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rapidly from year to year. The corporation with $132,196,275 assets in 1930 may have more than double the amount a decade later. Nor is it unreasonable to base the fee upon the amount of the capital authorized at the time of the application, instead of charging a fee based upon the amount of the capital then issued, or upon the amount of assets then owned, and exacting later additional fees if, and when, more capital stock is issued or more assets are acquired. By fixing the fee in accordance with the capital authorized at the time of the application for admission, the State relieves itself of the necessity of keeping watch of changes in the future in these respects.
Third. It is contended that a fee measured solely by the amount of the corporation's authorized capital stock necessarily burdens interstate commerce. In support of that contention it is said that the authorized capital stock represents property located in forty-seven States and several foreign countries used in both interstate and foreign commerce. But this is not true. Authorized capital has no necessary relation to the property actually owned or used by the corporation; furthermore, the fee for which it is the measure represents simply the privilege of doing a local business. Because the entrance fee does not represent either property or business being done, it is immaterial that in fixing its amount no apportionment is made between the property owned or the business done within the State and that owned or done elsewhere.
The entrance fee is obviously not a charge laid upon interstate commerce; nor a charge furtively directed against interstate commerce; nor a charge measured by such commerce. Its amount does not grow or shrink according to the volume of interstate commerce or the
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amount of the capital used in it. The size of the fee would be exactly the same if the company did no interstate commerce in Virginia or elsewhere. The entrance fee is comparable to the charter, or incorporation, fee of a domestic corporation -- a fee commonly measured by the amount of the capital authorized.*fn4 It has never been doubted that such a charge to a domestic corporation whatever the amount is valid, although the company proposes to engage in interstate commerce and to acquire property also in other States. No reason is suggested why a different rule should be applied to the entrance fee charged this foreign corporation.
Fourth. It is contended that a statute which measures the entrance fee solely by the authorized capital deprives the corporation of its property without due process, because
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the amount is determined by reference to property beyond the taxing jurisdiction; and also that this charge is an arbitrary taking of property. As has been shown, the amount of the entrance fee is not measured by property, either within or without the jurisdiction; and it is not a tax upon property. It is payment for an opportunity granted. Nor is it a charge arbitrary in amount. The value of the privilege acquired is obviously dependent upon the financial resources of the corporation -- not only upon the capital possessed at the time of its admission to do business, but also upon the capital which it will be in a position to secure later through its existing authority
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to issue additional stock. Obviously, the power inherent in the possession of large financial resources is not dependent upon, or confined to, the place where the assets are located. Compare Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Grosjean, 301 U.S. 412. Great power may be exerted by the company in Virginia although it has little property located there. And the value to it of the privilege to exert that power is not necessarily measured by the amount of the property located, or by the amount of the local business done, in Virginia. Moreover, it is immaterial whether the opportunity is availed of or not. The State grants a large privilege. It may demand a corresponding price.
Fifth. It is contended that the statute by measuring the entrance fee solely by the authorized capital is void because it operates arbitrarily and unequally between the appellant and other foreign corporations seeking the same privilege within the State. The contention is unfounded. Even if a corporation which has not yet been admitted to do business were in a position to complain that the State denies it equal protection, there is here no basis for a claim of discrimination. Every foreign corporation with an authorized capital exceeding ninety million dollars which seeks admission to do an intrastate business is, and has been since 1910, required to pay the same entrance fee. Nor is there any discrimination between foreign corporations and domestic of which the company may complain. While the charter fees of domestic corporations are smaller than the entrance fees of foreign corporations, Virginia levies upon foreign corporations, after admission, less in taxes than it does upon domestic corporations. A domestic corporation with an authorized capital of $100,000,000 is required to pay a charter fee of only $600; but it must pay each year a franchise tax of $8,850. A foreign corporation of that authorized capital is required to pay an entrance fee of $5,000, but pays no franchise tax whatever.
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The difference in the powers of a State over entrance fees and taxes was pointed out in Hanover Fire Ins. Co. v. Harding, 272 U.S. 494, 510-511: "In subjecting a law of the State which imposes a charge upon foreign corporations to the test whether such a charge violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a line has to be drawn between the burden imposed by the State for the license or privilege to do business in the State, and the tax burden which, having secured the right to do business, the foreign corporation must share with all the corporations and other taxpayers of the State. With respect to the admission fee, so to speak, which the foreign corporation must pay, to become a quasi citizen of the State and entitled to equal privileges with citizens of the State, the measure of the burden is in the discretion of the State, and any inequality as between the foreign corporation and the domestic corporation in that regard does not come within the inhibition of the Fourteenth Amendment; but, after its admission, the foreign corporation stands equal, and is to be classified with domestic corporations of the same kind."
Sixth. The position of the company in the case at bar differs radically from that of the foreign corporation involved in Cudahy Packing Co. v. Hinkle, supra, and from those in the other decisions of this Court on which appellant relies. In each of those cases the corporation had, before the exaction held unconstitutional, entered the State with its permission to do local business and pursuant to that permission had acquired property and made other expenditures. Their property and the local business were found to be so closely associated with this interstate business done there that the exaction burdened it. The exaction, although called in some of those cases a filing fee, was in each case strictly a tax; for it was imposed after the admittance of the corporation into the
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State.*fn5 In the case at bar the situation is different. In 1930, when the company applied for the permission to do local business, it had no property whatsoever within the State. It had never done any local business there. Its product had been marketed locally in Virginia by two other foreign corporations which had been duly admitted to do local business, and whose facilities the company had used in connection with its interstate business. The company wished to make a change. It wanted to acquire the property and business of the two corporations which were marketing its product and thereafter to carry on the local business itself. In order to do so it sought permission of the State to engage in local business. The State in no way attempted to impose an additional burden upon the company or otherwise to change the conditions under which it was operating. Virginia insisted merely that if the company wished to change the existing conditions, it should comply with the statute enacted fourteen years before the company began to do business there.
The CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
165 Va. 492; 183 S. E. 243, affirmed.