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EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE SOCIETY UNITED STATES v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


June 14, 1915

EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA

ERROR TO THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF DAUPHIN COUNTY, STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA

White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Holmes

[ 238 U.S. Page 145]

 MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the court.

The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, the plaintiff in error, does business in Pennsylvania. By an act of June 28, 1895, that State levies an annual tax of two per cent. upon the gross premiums of every character received from business done within the State during the preceding year. The Company paid large taxes under this act, but appealed to the state courts from charges made by the State Accounting Officer in respect of premiums for the years 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909 and 1910, paid to the Company outside the State by residents of Pennsylvania. The Supreme Court sustained the charge. 239 Pa. St. 288. The whole discussion there was whether these items fell within the statute. On that point of course the decision of the state court is final, and as the Company is a foreign corporation and this is held to be a tax for the privilege of doing business in the State, it is obvious that the scope of the question before us is narrow, being only whether the statute as construed deprives the Company of its property without due process of law, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, as alleged. It is true that the plaintiff in error suggests a further infraction of that amendment in an assumption by the Supreme Court of an unproved fact: that the beneficiaries of the policies lived in Pennsylvania. But it is enough to answer that we understand the decision when it uses the word beneficiaries to mean parties to the contracts, the insured, and that the assumption was warranted by the record as to them.

The grounds for the only argument open are that a State cannot tax property beyond its jurisdiction, Union Transit Co. v. Kentucky, 199 U.S. 194; that it cannot effect that result indirectly by making the payment a condition of the right to do local business, Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Kansas, 216 U.S. 1; Pullman Co. v.

[ 238 U.S. Page 146]

     statement of the plaintiff in error are kept alive and renewed to residents of Pennsylvania by payments from year to year. The fact that the State could not prevent the contracts, so far as that may be true, has little bearing upon its right to consider the benefit thus annually extended into Pennsylvania in measuring the value of the privileges that it does grant. We may add that the State profits the Company equally by protecting the lives insured, wherever the premiums are paid. The tax is a tax upon a privilege actually used. The only question concerns the mode of measuring the tax. Flint v. Stone Tracy Co., 220 U.S. 107, 162, 163. As to that a certain latitude must be allowed. It is obvious that many incidents of the contract are likely to be attended to in Pennsylvania, such as payment of dividends when received in cash, sending an adjuster into the State in case of dispute, or making proof of death. See Connecticut Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Spratley, 172 U.S. 602, 611; Pennsylvania Lumbermen's Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Meyer, 197 U.S. 407, 415. It is not unnatural to take the policy holders residing in the State as a measure without going into nicer if not impracticable details. Taxation has to be determined by general principles, and it seems to us impossible to say that the rule adopted in Pennsylvania goes beyond what the Constitution allows.

Judgment affirmed.

19150614

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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