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April 6, 1914



White, MCKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney; Lurton took no part in the decision of this case

Author: White

[ 233 U.S. Page 19]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error was charged in a municipal court with violating an ordinance which imposed an annual occupation tax of $25 upon "lightning rod agents or dealers engaged in putting up or erecting lightning rods within the corporate limits" of the City of Waycross. Although admitting that he had carried on the business he pleaded not guilty and defended upon the ground that he had done so as the agent of a St. Louis corporation on whose behalf he had solicited orders for the sale of lightning rods; had received the rods when shipped on such orders from St. Louis and had erected them for the corporation, the price paid for the rods to the corporation including the duty to erect them without further charge. This it was asserted constituted the carrying on of interstate commerce which the city could not tax without violating the Constitution of the United States. Although the facts alleged were established without dispute, there was a conviction and sentence and the same result followed from a trial de novo in the Superior Court of Ware County where the case was carried by certiorari. On error to the Court of Appeals that judgment was affirmed, the court stating its reasons for doing so in a careful and discriminating opinion reviewing and adversely passing upon the defense under the Constitution of the United States (11 Ga. App. 46). From that judgment this writ of error is prosecuted because of the constitutional question and because under the law of Georgia the Court of Appeals had final authority to conclude the issue.

The general principles by which it has been so frequently determined that a State may not burden by taxation or otherwise the taking of orders in one State for goods to be shipped from another or the shipment of such goods in the channels of interstate commerce up

[ 233 U.S. Page 20]

     to and including the consummation by delivery of the goods at the point of shipment have been so often stated as to cause them to be elementary and as to now require nothing but a mere outline of the principle. The sole question, therefore, here is whether carrying on the business of erecting lightning rods in the State under the conditions established, was interstate commerce beyond the power of the State to regulate or directly burden. The solution of the inquiry will, we think, be most readily reached by briefly reviewing a few of the more recently decided cases which are relied upon to establish that although the interstate transit of the lightning rods had terminated and they had been delivered at the point of destination to the agent of the seller, the business of subsequently attaching them to the houses, for which they were intended, constituted the carrying on of interstate commerce. The cases relied on are Caldwell v. North Carolina, 187 U.S. 622; Rearick v. Pennsylvania, 203 U.S. 507 and Dozier v. Alabama, 218 U.S. 124.

Caldwell v. North Carolina concerned the validity of an ordinance of the village of Greensboro, imposing a tax upon the business of selling or delivering picture frames, photographs, etc. The question was whether Caldwell, the agent of an Illinois corporation, was liable for this tax because in Greensboro he had taken from a railroad freight office certain packages of frames and pictures which were awaiting delivery and which had been shipped to Greensboro by the selling corporation to its own order for the purpose of filling orders previously obtained by its agents in North Carolina. After the packages of frames and pictures were received by Caldwell, in a room in a hotel, the pictures and frames were fitted together and were delivered to those who had ordered them. The assertion that there was liability for the tax was based on the contention that the act of Caldwell in receiving the pictures and frames and bringing them together was not under the

[ 233 U.S. Page 21]

     protection of the commerce clause, but was the transaction of local business after the termination of interstate commerce, especially because the pictures and frames had been shipped from Chicago in separate packages and, because the pictures and frames were incomplete on their arrival, and were made complete in the State by the union accomplished after the end of their movement in interstate commerce. Both of these propositions were decided to be unsound and it was adjudged that as both the pictures and frames had been ordered from another State and their shipment was the fulfillment of an interstate commerce transaction, the mere fact that they were shipped in separate packages and brought together at the termination of the transit, did not amount to the transaction of business within North Carolina which the State could tax without placing a direct burden upon interstate commerce. In Rearick v. Pennsylvania, where the right to levy a tax was decided not to exist because to sustain it would be a direct burden upon interstate commerce, the only question was whether the form in which certain shipments of goods were made from Ohio into Pennsylvania to fill orders was of such a character as to cause the act of the agent of the shipper, who opened the packages for the purpose of distributing the goods to those for whom they were intended, to amount to the carrying on of business in the State of Pennsylvania. Dozier v. Alabama in substance concerned the principles applied in the two previous cases with the modification that it was there held that because there was no binding obligation on a purchaser to accept the frame which was to accompany a picture ordered from another State and transmitted through interstate commerce, did not take the case out of the previous ruling.

It is evident that these cases when rightly considered, instead of sustaining, serve to refute, the claim of protection under the interstate commerce clause which is here

[ 233 U.S. Page 22]

     relied upon since the cases were concerned only with merchandise which had moved in interstate commerce and where the transactions which it was asserted amounted to the doing of local business consisted only of acts concerning interstate commerce goods, dissociated from any attempt to connect them with or make them a part in the State of property which had not and could not have been the subject of interstate commerce. Thus, in Caldwell v. North Carolina, the court laid emphasis upon the fact that the shipment of the pictures in interstate commerce in one package and the frames in another was not essential but accidental for the two could have been united at the point of shipment before interstate commerce began as well as be brought together after delivery at the point of destination. And this was also the condition in the Rearick Case. Indeed, it is apparent in all three cases that there was not the slightest purpose to enlarge the scope of interstate commerce so as to cause it to embrace acts and transactions theretofore confessedly local, but simply to prevent the ...

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