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U.S. Supreme Court

American Sugar Refining Co. v. Louisiana, 179 U.S. 89 (1900)

American Sugar Refining Company v. Louisiana

No 38

Submitted October 10, 1900

Decided November 6, 1900

179 U.S. 89


A state statute imposing a license tax upon persons and corporations carrying on the business of refining sugar and molasses does not, by exempting from such tax "planters and farmers grinding and refining their own sugar and molasses," deny sugar refiners the equal protection of the laws within the Fourteenth Amendment.

This was a petition filed in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans by John Brewster, tax collector, against the American Sugar Refining Company, a corporation engaged in the business of refining sugar and molasses, to recover the sum of $3,500 per year as a state license tax for the years 1892 to 1897, inclusive, alleged to be due under a statute of Louisiana enacted in 1890, entitled

"An Act to Levy, Collect, and Enforce Payment of an Annual License Tax upon all Persons, Associations of Persons, or Business Firms and Corporations Pursuing any Trade, Profession, Vocation, Calling, or Business, Except Those Who are Expressly Excepted from Such License Tax by Articles 206 and 207 of the Constitution."

By the ninth section, it is enacted

"that for carrying on each business of . . . refining sugar and molasses . . . the license shall be based on the gross annual receipts of each person, association of persons, business firm or corporation engaged in said business as follows: Provided, that this section shall not apply to planters and farmers grinding and refining their own

Page 179 U. S. 90

sugar and molasses; . . . and provided, further, that it shall not apply to those planters who granulate syrup for other planters during the rolling season."

"First class. When the said gross actual receipts are $2,500,000 and over, the license shall be $3,500."

This act was passed in pursuance of Article 206 of the state constitution of 1879, which reads as follows:

"ART. 206. The general assembly may levy a license tax, and in such case shall graduate the amount of such tax to be collected from the persons pursuing the several trades, professions, vocations, and callings. All persons, associations of persons, and corporations pursuing any trade, profession, business, or calling may be rendered liable to such tax, except clerks, laborers, clergymen, school teachers, those engaged in mechanical, agricultural, horticultural, and mining pursuits and manufacturers, other than those of distilled, alcoholic, or malt liquors, tobacco and cigars, and cotton-seed oil. No political corporation shall impose a greater license tax than is imposed by the general assembly for state purposes."

Defense: first, that the business of refining sugar and molasses is exempt from the payment of any license tax, because it is one of those manufactures enumerated in article 206 as entitled to exemption. Second, that the act of 1890

"violates the Constitution of the United States, and is void insofar as it attempts to impose a license tax on this defendant, because said act denies to this defendant the equal protection of the laws of the state inasmuch as said act does not impose equally a license tax on all persons engaged in the business of refining sugar and molasses, but discriminates in favor of planters who refine their own sugar and molasses, and in favor of planters who granulate syrups for other planters during the rolling season."

The court, being of opinion that the business carried on by the defendant company was that of a manufacturer, dismissed the petition. On appeal to the supreme court, that court was of opinion that the defendant was not entitled to exemption under Article 207 of the Constitution (not now in question), which exempted certain manufacturers, and ordered a judgment chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 179 U. S. 91

for $3,500, with interest and costs, for the license tax for the year 1897. But, upon the attention of the court being called by a petition for rehearing to Article 206 of the Constitution, above quoted, that court delivered a new opinion to the effect that the defendant was not a manufacturer, and therefore not entitled to an exemption by article 206, and that the exemption of planters who refine their own sugar did not deprive the defendant of the equal protection of the laws. It further revised its judgment, and held the state entitled to recover for each of the years from 1892 to 1897, and rendered judgment for the sum of $3,500, for each of said years. Whereupon defendant sued out a writ of error from this Court.

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