THE case is stated in the opinion of the court.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.
The plaintiffs in error, a commercial firm in New Orleans, brought this action in the Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans, to prevent the enforcement of certain tax assessments made by the city of New Orleans in the year 1897.
The petition alleged that during the whole of the year 1897 the plaintiffs were engaged in importing for sale foreign goods upon all of which they paid the duties and imposts levied by the United States;
That the Board of Assessors for the Parish of Orleans assessed them for that year $2500 on "merchandise and stock in trade," and $1000 under the head of "money loaned on interest, all credits and all bills receivable, money loaned and advanced or for goods sold, all credits of any and every description;" and,
That such assessments were void for the following reasons: 1. All merchandise and stock in trade had and carried by the plaintiffs during 1897 consisted of dry goods imported by them from foreign countries upon which duties, imposts and import taxes were levied by the United States and paid by them, and which were sold only in unbroken original packages as imported, and the assessment thereon was in violation of Article 1, section 10, paragraph 2, of the Constitution of the United States. 2. All the credits and bills receivable of the firm during that year consisted wholly of sums due on the purchase price of the above merchandise sold in unbroken and original packages as imported, and the assessment thereon was in violation of the same constitutional provision. 3. The assessment of $1000 upon "money loaned on interest" was unconstitutional,
because the plaintiffs at no time during 1897 had any money loaned on interest.
A temporary injunction having been granted against any sale of the plaintiffs' property for the taxes in question, the city answered denying each allegation of the petition.
The only evidence in the case was the testimony of one of the plaintiffs as to the manner in which the company conducted its business. That testimony -- using substantially the words of the witness -- may be thus summarized:
Representatives of the firm went to Europe and obtained from different manufacturers samples of goods which were sent to New Orleans and were used by plaintiffs in obtaining what were known as import orders. Besides that method, if any article was thought good they placed what were known as stock orders -- that is, they ordered the goods on their own account. But in most cases the firm sold the goods and did not keep a stock on hand. All their goods were imported and customs duties were paid on them. They did not handle domestic goods.
They sold the goods in the packages in which they were received because the bulk of their business was jobbing trade. Two, three or five hundred packages might be ordered. If the order were for five hundred dozen towels, they might come package two, three or five dozen in a package. Such a package was never broken. If a small customer came in they might sell him one package. It had often happened that customers desired only a sample, in which case a package might be broken to get it. Upon these samples the importers obtained orders. If an order was given for five hundred dozen towels, put up in packages of five dozen each when shipped to the firm by the manufacturer in Europe, they would be enclosed in a wooden case. Cases containing such orders might not come to the firm's store at all but would go directly to the customer unopened. But if there were two or three orders in a case it would be brought to the store, opened, and the different orders taken out. But they never opened any of the packages in the case.
An import order was one placed on samples to be manufactured, and about sixty-five per cent of the firm's business was
done by import orders. They would submit to the buyer a line of samples and he would give an import order with the understanding that the goods ordered were to be manufactured and the delivery of them not made for three or four months. If he placed a stock order it was for goods that were in the store ready for delivery.
Goods were always ordered on the firm's own account. They might receive an order for two hundred dozen towels, but give an order on the manufacturer for five hundred dozen, for three hundred of which they had no order but which they might sell while in process of manufacture. They were the owners of all goods that came to them upon those orders.
The lace handled by them was put up in cartons or pasteboard boxes, each box containing twelve pieces of lace, each piece twelve yards long. In filling orders a number of these cartons or boxes were put in another box or case by the manufacturer and so received by the firm. If a case contained only one order it was sent directly to the customer. If the case happened to contain two or more orders it went to the store, where it was opened and the orders separated.
Bobbinet was received in cases containing thirty, forty or fifty packages of two, three or four pieces each. If a customer wished to buy bobbinet, he was told that he would have to buy at least one package; that they did not sell one piece only but in packages. The bulk of the business in bobbinet was directly on import orders. At times six, seven or eight cases which did not come to the store were sold to one firm. Bobbinet was not sold by the case. If more than one order came in a case it was broken open and the orders separated.
The stock of the firm consisted mostly of bobbinet and house-hold linens. They also kept a number of samples of dolls and toys, household linens, ...