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MATTHEWS ET AL. v. RODGERS ET AL.

decided: February 15, 1932.

MATTHEWS ET AL
v.
RODGERS ET AL.



APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI.

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts

Author: Stone

[ 284 U.S. Page 522]

 MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an appeal, §§ 238, 266 of the Judicial Code, from a decree of a District Court of three judges, for the Northern District of Mississippi, enjoining the collection from the several appellees of a state tax, as an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. After argument here on

[ 284 U.S. Page 523]

     the merits, the cause was restored to the docket "for reargument, limited to the question of the jurisdiction of the District Court both with respect to the amount involved in the suit and the jurisdiction of the court as a court of equity." Reargument has been had accordingly.

The bill of complaint assails the constitutionality of § 56, c. 88, 1930 Laws of Mississippi, as applied to appellees. The section imposes an annual license or "privilege" tax of $100, payable in advance by "every person engaged in the business of buying or selling cotton for himself." It also requires employers engaged in the business of buying or selling cotton to pay a similar "tax of twenty-five dollars ($25) for every employe engaged in their business as buyer or seller." Penalties are imposed in double the amount of the tax for its nonpayment. § 225. Failure to make application for the license, or engaging in the business without having procured the license or paid the tax, are misdemeanors, punishable by fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both. § 242.

The bill, which is in the form of a class bill, filed by the numerous appellees for the benefit of themselves and others similarly situated, alleges that they are engaged in interstate and foreign commerce, in the course of which they purchase cotton within the state and sell and ship it in interstate or foreign commerce to purchasers outside the state; that the business of each of the several appellees and the right to conduct it is of a value of more than $3,000, the jurisdictional amount for suits brought in a district court of the United States; that the tax imposed by the state statute is, as to them, an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce, and that appellants, state officers, charged with the duty of collecting the tax, threaten to enforce its collection by criminal proceedings and the imposition of penalties. The bill states that resort to equity to prevent collection of the tax is either

[ 284 U.S. Page 524]

     necessary or authorized for the following, among other, reasons:

(1) That the enforcement of the unconstitutional statute would irreparably injure or destroy the business of each of the appellees.

(2) That the taxes, if paid, can not be recovered by any action or proceeding at law.

(3) That § 304 of Hemingway's Annotated Mississippi Code of 1927, has conferred on the appellees the right to proceed in equity in the state courts to enjoin the collection of an unconstitutional tax, and that ...


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