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U.S. Supreme Court

Atlantic & Pacific Tel. Co. v. Philadelphia, 190 U.S. 160 (1903)

Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company v. Philadelphia

No. 163

Argued February 24, 1903

Decided June 1, 1903

190 U.S. 160


The following propositions as to the taxation by states and their municipalities of corporations engaged in carrying on interstate commerce have been settled:

1. The Constitution of the United States having given to Congress the power to regulate commerce not only with foreign nations, but among the several states, that power is necessarily exclusive whenever the subjects are national in their character or admit only of one uniform system or plan of regulation. Robbins v. Shelby Taxing District, 120 U. S. 489, 120 U. S. 492.

2. No state can compel a party, individual or corporation, to pay for the privilege of engaging in interstate commerce.

3. This immunity does not prevent a state from imposing ordinary property taxes upon property having a situs within its territory and employed in interstate commerce.

4. The franchise of a corporation, although that franchise is the business of interstate commerce, is, as a part of its property, subject to state taxation, providing at least the franchise is not derived from the United States.

6. No corporation, even though engaged in interstate commerce, can appropriate to its own use property, public or private, without liability to a charge therefor.

Where telegraph companies, engaged in interstate commerce, carry on their business so as to justify police supervision, the municipality is not obliged to furnish such supervision for nothing, but it may, in addition to ordinary property taxation, subject the corporations to reasonable charges

for the expense thereof. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 190 U. S. 161

The reasonableness of such charges will depend upon all the circumstances involved in the particular case, and if, in a case tried before a jury, the evidence in regard thereto is not such as to exclude every conclusion except one, the question of reasonableness should be submitted to the jury.

This action was commenced in the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia on December 31, 1891, to recover the sum of $3,715 as license fees alleged to be due the city for the six preceding years. The case was removed by the defendant to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. A trial was had before the court and a jury which resulted in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff for a part of the sum claimed, which judgment was thereafter reversed by the circuit court of appeals. A second trial was had in April, 1901, before the court and a jury which resulted in a verdict and judgment for the full amount claimed, with interest. From such judgment, the case was brought to this Court directly on writ of error on the ground that it involved the construction and application of the Constitution of the United States; that the action was brought to recover from the telegraph company certain license charges imposed by the city which the company claimed the city had no right or power to impose, for the reason that it was a regulation of commerce between the states.

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