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METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY NEW YORK v. CITY NEW ORLEANS

April 8, 1907

METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW YORK
v.
CITY OF NEW ORLEANS



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Moody

Author: Moody

[ 205 U.S. Page 397]

 MR. JUSTICE MOODY delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a writ of error to review the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, which sustained a tax on the "credits, money loaned, bills receivable," etc., of the plaintiff in error, a life insurance company incorporated under the laws of New York, where it had its home office and principal place of business. It issued policies of life insurance in the State of Louisiana and, for the purpose of doing that and other business, had a resident agent, called a superintendent, whose duty it was to superintend the company's business generally in the State. The agent had a local office in New Orleans. The company was engaged in the business of lending money to the holders of its policies, which, when they had reached a certain point of maturity, were regarded as furnishing adequate security for loans. The money lending was conducted in the following manner: The policy holders desiring to obtain loans on their policies applied to the company's agent in New Orleans. If the agent thought a loan a desirable one he advised the company of the application by communicating with the home office in New York, and requested that the loan be granted. If the home office approved the loan the company forwarded to the agent a check for the amount, with a note to be signed by the borrower. The agent procured the note to be signed, attached the policy to it, and forwarded both note and policy to the home office in New York. He then delivered to the borrower the amount of the loan. When interest was due upon the notes it was paid to the agent and by him transmitted to the home office. It does not appear whether or not the notes were returned to New Orleans for the endorsement of the payments of interest. When the notes were paid it was to the agent, to whom they were sent

[ 205 U.S. Page 398]

     to be delivered back to the markers. At all other times the notes and policies securing them were kept at the home office in New York. The disputed tax was not eo nomine on these notes, but was expressed to be on "credits, money loaned, bills receivable," etc., and its amount was ascertained by computing the sum of the face value of all the notes held by the company at the time of the assessent. The tax was assessed under a law, Act 170 of 1898, which provided for a levy of annual taxes on the assessed value of all property situated within the State of Louisiana, and in Section 7 provided as follows:

"That it is the duty of the tax assessors throughout the State to place upon the assessment list all property subject to taxation, including merchandise or stock in trade on hand at the date of listing within their respective districts or parishes. . . . And provided further, In assessing mercantile firms the true intent and purpose of this act shall be held to mean the placing of such value upon stock in trade, all cash, whether borrowed or not, money at interest, open accounts, credits, &c., as will represent in their aggregate a fair average on the capital, both cash and credits, employed in the business of the party or parties to be assessed. And this shall apply with equal force to any person or persons representing in this State business interests that may claim domicile elsewhere, the intent and purpose being that no non-resident, either by himself or through any agent, shall transact business here without paying to the State a corresponding tax with that exacted of its own citizens; and all bills receivable, obligations or credits arising from the business done in this State are hereby declared as assessable within this State and at the business domicile of said non-resident, his agent or representative."

The evident purpose of this law is to lay the burden of taxation equally upon those who do business within the State. It requires that in the valuation for the purposes of taxation of the property of mercantile firms the stock, goods and credits shall be taken into account, to the end that the average

[ 205 U.S. Page 399]

     capital employed in the business shall be taxed. This method of assessment is applied impartially to the citizens of the State and to the citizens of other States or countries doing business, personally or through agents, within the State of Louisiana. To accomplish this result, the law expressly provides that "all bills receivable, obligations or credits arising from the business done in this State shall be assessable at the business domicile of the resident." Thus it is clear that the measure of the taxation designed by the law is the fair average of the capital employed in the business. Cash and credits and bills receivable are to be taken into account merely because they represent the capital and are not to be omitted because their owner happens to have a domicile in another State. The law was so construed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, where, in sustaining the assessment, it was said:

"There can be no doubt that the seventh section of the act of 1898, quoted in the judgment of the District Court, announced the policy of the State touching the taxation of credits and bills of exchange representing an amount of the property of non-residents equivalent or corresponding to said bills or credits which was utilized by them in the prosecution of their business in the State of Louisiana. The evident object of the statute was to do away with discrimination theretofore existing in favor of non-residents as against residents, and place them on an equal footing. The statute was not arbitrary but a legitimate exercise of legislative power and discretion."

The tax was levied in obedience to the law of the State, and the only question here is whether there is anything in the Constitution of the United States which forbids it. The answer to that question depends upon whether the property taxed was within the territorial jurisdiction of the State. Property situated without that jurisdiction is beyond the State's taxing power, and the exaction of a tax upon it is in violation of ...


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