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492, adjudging the Nichols law to be valid under the constitution of
that State, will not be reviewed by this court. Although the transportation of the subjects of interstate commerce, or the
receipts received therefrom, or the occupation or business of carrying it on, cannot be directly subjected to state taxation, yet property belong. ing to corporations or companies engaged in such commerce may be; and whatever the particular form of the exaction, if it is essentially only property taxation, it will not be considered as falling within the inhibi
tion of the Constitution. The property of corporations engaged in interstate commerce, situated in
the several States through which their lines or business extends, may be valued as a unit for the purposes of taxation, taking into consideration the uses to which it is put and all the elements making up aggregate value; and a proportion of the whole fairly and properly ascertained may be taxed by the particular State, without violating any Federal
restriction. While there is an undoubted distinction between the property of railroad
and telegraph companies and that of express companies, there is the same unity in the use of the entire property for the specitic purposes,
and there are the same elements of value, arising from such use. The classification of express companies with railroad and telegraph com
panies, as subject to the unit rule, es not deny the equal protection of the laws; as that provision in the Fourteenth Amendment was not intended to prevent a State from adjusting its system of taxation in all proper and reasonable ways, and was not intended to compel a State to
adopt an iron rule of equal taxation. The statute of the State of Ohio of April 27, 1893, 90 Laws Ohio, 330,
(amended May 10, 1894, 91 Laws Ohio, 220,) created a board of appraisers and assessors, and required each telegraph, telephone and express company doing business within the State to make returns of the number of shares of its capital, the par value and market value thereof, its entire real and personal property, and where located and the value thereof as assessed for taxation, its gross receipts for the year of business wherever done and of the business done in the State of Ohio, giving the receipts of each office in the State, and the whole length of the line of rail and water routes over which it did business within and without the State. It required the board of assessors to
etc., et al.; Appeals from the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and in No. 398, Clarence A. Seward, Vice-President of the Adams Express Company, Appellant, v. Ebenezer W. Poe, Auditor of the State of Ohio; No. 399, James C. Fargo, President of the American Express Company, Appellant, v. Ebenezer W. Poe, Auditor of the State of Ohio; and No. 400, Thomas C. Platt, President of the United States Express Company, Appellant, v. Ebenezer W. Poe, Auditor of the State of Ohio; Appeals from the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of Ohio.
Statement of the Case.
“proceed to ascertain and assess the value of the property of said express, telegraph and telephone companies in Ohio, and in determining the value of the property of said companies in this State, to be taxed within the State and assessed as herein provided, said board shall be guided by the value of said property as determined by the value of the entire capital stock of said companies, and such other evidence and rules as will enable said board to arrive at the true value in money of the entire property of said companies within the State of Ohio, in the proportion which the same bears to the entire property of said companies, as determined by the value of the capital stock thereof, and the other evidence and rules as aforesaid.” Held, (1) That, assuming that the proportion of capital employed in each of the
several States through which such a company conducts its operations has been fairly ascertained, while taxation thereon, or determined with reference thereto, may be said in some sense to fall on the business of the company, it does so only indirectly; and that the taxation is essentially a property tax, and, as such, not an
interference with interstate commerce; (2) That the property so taxed has its actual situs in the State and is,
therefore, subject to its jurisdiction; and that the distribution among the several counties is a matter of regulation by the state
legislature; (3) That this was not taking of property without due process of law,
either by reason of its assessment as within the jurisdiction of the taxing authorities, or of its classification as subject to the unit
rule. (4) That the valuation by the assessors cannot be orerthrown simply
by showing that it was otherwise than as determined by them. These are cases involving the constitutionality of certain laws of the State of Ohio providing for the taxation of telegraph, telephone and express companies, and the validity of assessments of express companies thereunder.
The general assembly of Ohio passed, April 27, 1893, 90 Ohio Laws, 330, an act to amend and supplement $S 2777, 2778, 2779 and 2780 of the Revised Statutes of that State (commonly styled “The Nichols Law"), which was amended May 10, 1894. The law created a state board of appraisers and assessors, consisting of the auditor of State, treasurer of State and attorney general, which was charged with the duty of assessing the property in Ohio of telegraph, telephone and express companies. By the act as amended, between the first and thirty-first days of May annually each telegraph, telephone and express company, doing business in Ohio, was
Statement of the Case.
required to file a return with the auditor of State, setting forth among other things the number of shares of its capital stock; the par value and market value (or, if there be no market value, then the actual value) of its shares at the date of the return; a statement in detail of the entire real and personal property of said companies and where located, and the value thereof as assessed for taxation. Telegraph and telephone companies were required to return, also, the whole length of their lines, and the length of so much of their lines as is without and is within the State of Ohio, including the lines controlled and used, under lease or otherwise. Express companies were required to include in the return a statement of their entire gross receipts, from whatever source derived, for the year ending the first day of May, of business wherever done; and of the business done in the State of Ohio, giving the receipts of each office in the State; also the whole length of the lines of rail and water routes over which the companies did business, within and without the State. Provision was made in the law for the organization of the board, for the appointing of one of its members as secretary and the keeping of full minutes of its proceedings. The board was required to meet in the month of June and assess the value of the property of these companies in Ohio. The rule to be followed by the board in making the assessment was that “in determining the value of the property of said companies in this State, to be taxed within the State and assessed as herein provided, said board shall be guided by the value of said property as determined by the value of the entire capital stock of said companies, and such other evidence and rules as will enable said board to arrive at the true value in money of the entire property of said companies within the State of Ohio, in the proportion which the same bears to the entire property of said companies, as determined by the value of the capital stock thereof, and the other evidence and rules as aforesaid."
As to telegraph and telephone companies, the board was required to apportion the valuation among the several counties through which the lines ran, in the proportion that the length of the lines in the respective counties bore to the
Statement of the Case.
entire length in the State; in the case of express companies, the apportionment was to be made among the several counties in which they did business, in the proportion that the gross receipts in each county bore to the gross receipts in the State.
The amount thus apportioned was to be certified to the county auditor, and placed by him on the duplicate “to be assessed, and the taxes thereon collected the same as taxes assessed and collected on other personal property,” the rate of taxation to be the same as that on other property in the local taxing district.
The valuation of all the real estate of the companies, situated in Ohio, was required to be deducted from the total valuation, as fixed by the board.
Provisions were made for hearings and for the correction of erroneous and excessive valuations, as follows:
"At any time, after the meeting of the board on the first Monday in June, and before the assessment of the property of any company is determined, any company or person interested shall have the right, on written application, to appear before the board and be heard in the matter of the valuation of the property of any company for taxation. After the assessment of the property of any company for taxation by the board, and before the certification by the auditor of State of the apportioned valuation to the several counties, as provided in section 2780, the board may, on the application of any interested person or company, or on its own motion, correct the assessment or valuation of the property of any company, in such manner as will, in its judgment, make the valuation thereof just and equal. The provisions of section 167 of the Revised Statutes shall apply to the correction of any error or over-valuation in the assessment of property for taxation by the state board of appraisers and assessors, and to the remission of taxes and penalties illegally assessed thereon."
Section 167 of the Revised Statutes, referred to, reads thus:
“SECTION 167. He [the auditor of State] may remit such taxes and penalties thereon as he ascertains to have been illegally assessed, and such penalties as have accrued or may
Statement of the Case.
accrue in consequence of the negligence or error of any officer required to do any duty relating to the assessment of property for taxation, or the levy or collection of taxes, and he may, from time to time, correct any error in any assessment of property for taxation or in the duplicate of taxes in any county; provided that when the amount to be remitted in any one case shall exceed one hundred dollars, he shall proceed to the office of the governor and take to his assistance the governor and attorney general; and in all such cases may remit no more than shall be agreed upon by a majority of the officers named."
Instead of distributing the valuation as under the act of 1893, the state board by the act of 1894 was to certify it to the auditor of State, whose duty it was made to apportion and certify the valuation among the counties.
In No. 337 the taxes for 1893 were involved; and in Nos. 338, 339 and 340, the taxes for 1894. These are appeals from the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In Nos. 398, 399 and 400 the taxes for 1895 were involved. These are appeals from decrees of the Circuit Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
The original suits were brought in the Circuit Court to enjoin the certification of the apportioned valuations to the county auditors, as to 1893, against the state board; as to 1894 and 1895, against the auditor of State.
The Circuit Court, Taft, J., on April 23, 1894, after a preliminary opinion, filed opinions in the case of the Western Union Telegraph Company against the State Board, 61 Fed. Rep. 449, and in No. 337, Adams Express Co. v. Poe, 61 Fed. Rep. 470, holding the Nichols law to be invalid under the constitution of Ohio. On the first of May following the Supreme Court of Ohio decided that the Nichols law was constitutional and valid. State v. Jones, 51 Ohio St. 492.
Thereupon the Circuit Court reversed its ruling, and accepted the decision of the Supreme Court of the State, and Judge Taft filed a further opinion holding that the assessments were valid. 64 Fed. Rep. 9.
In all the cases the final decrees of the Circuit Court dis