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U.S. Supreme Court

American Express Co. v. Michigan, 177 U.S. 404 (1900)

American Express Company v. Michigan

No. 220

Argued November 9, 1899

Decided April 16, 1900

177 U.S. 404


A proceeding for a mandamus is "a suit" within the meaning of that term as employed in Rev.Stat. § 709.

A federal question, which was decided in the court below, is involved in this suit.

The statute of June 13, 1848, c. 448, "to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes," does not forbid an express company, upon which is imposed the duty of paying a tax upon express matter, from requiring the shipper to furnish the stamp or the means of paying for it.

The Attorney General of the State of Michigan, on the relation of George F. Moore and others, commenced proceedings in the Circuit Court of Wayne County, Michigan, against the American Express Company. The company was described as

"a joint stock association organized and existing under the laws of the State of New York and having its principal business office located in the City of New York, in said state."

It was averred that the company complied with the requirements of certain statutes of the State of Michigan, and had obtained the necessary certificate authorizing it to carry on an express business in that state, and in order to conduct such business, had a large number of agents and offices in the state. The petition then alleged that, on June 13, 1898, the Congress of the United States passed an act commonly designated as the "War Revenue Act," by which it was made the duty of express companies on receiving a package for carriage to issue a receipt for such package, and providing that the receipt thus issued should bear a one-cent stamp. After referring to the text of the act of Congress on the above subject, it was alleged that, by the provisions of the law in question, the primary and absolute duty was imposed upon express companies to provide the receipt, and to affix and cancel the one-cent stamp as required by law. The following averments were then made:

"That by reason of a desire of the respondent (the express company) to avoid the payment of the stamp tax, so called, and to impose such obligation on the shipper, the respondent

Page 177 U. S. 405

herein refuses to accept any goods for transportation unless such shipper attaches the stamp to the said bill of lading, manifest, or other evidence of receipt and forwarding for each shipment, or furnishes the money or means for that purpose to the said company, and that the said company thereby not only avoids its duty under said act of Congress to pay and bear its proportion of the revenues to meet war expenditures as provided by said act, but violates its duty as a common carrier to receive, accept, and deliver such goods, wares, and merchandise so offered and tendered to it for that purpose."

A number of instances were specified where it was averred the express company, on the tender to it of packages for transportation as a common carrier, had refused to receive the same and to issue receipts therefor "unless a stamp of the value of one cent was paid or provided" by the shipper. It was charged that the conduct of the express company was in violation of the obligations imposed upon it by the act of Congress in question, and constituted a refusal to perform its duty as a common carrier. The prayer was for a mandamus commanding the company to receive packages for transportation by express, and issue a receipt with stamp duly cancelled thereon, without seeking to compel shippers who might tender packages for carriage either to pay for the one-cent stamp or to provide the means for so doing.

The answer of the express company admitted that it required persons who tendered packages for carriage by express either to pay or provide the means for defraying the cost of the one-cent stamp, but denied that its conduct in so doing was a violation of the act of Congress by which the one-cent tax on express receipts was imposed. On the contrary, it was averred that the act of Congress, when properly construed, although imposing the absolute duty to issue a receipt for every package as therein provided, left the question of who should pay for the stamp free for adjustment between the shipper and the express company. By the act of Congress, it was asserted, the express company had therefore the right or privilege of insisting that those who offered packages to be carried by express should either furnish the one-cent stamp or provide the means of paying chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 177 U. S. 406

for it. It was, moreover, alleged that the company had in effect but increased its rates on each shipment by adding to the previous rates the sum of the stamp tax. And it was averred that this increase the company was not forbidden to make by the act of Congress imposing the one-cent stamp tax, and that the rate as increased by exacting that the one-cent stamp should be furnished or that its value be paid for by the shipper was just and reasonable, and was not in conflict with the act of Congress. The answer was in effect demurred to as not stating a defense. The case was submitted for decision on petition and answer. The court ordered the mandamus to issue substantially as prayed for. The cause was then removed by writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Michigan, where the judgment of the trial court was affirmed. 118 Mich. 682. By an allowance of a writ of error, the judgment of the supreme court of the state is before us for review.

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