UTAH POWER & LIGHT CO. V. PFOST, 286 U. S. 165 (1932)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Utah Power & Light Co. v. Pfost, 286 U.S. 165 (1932)

Utah Power & Light Co. v. Pfost

No. 722

Argued April 13, 1932

Decided May 16, 1932

286 U.S. 165


1. The generation of electricity from water power and the transmission of the electricity over wires from the generator to consumers in another state are, from the practical standpoint of taxation, distinct processes, the one local, the other interstate, like the making and shipping of goods to order, although the generation and transmission are apparently simultaneous, and both respond instantaneously to the turning of a consumer's switch. P. 286 U. S. 177.

2. Therefore, a state license tax on the electricity produced at a plant within the state is valid under the commerce clause as applied to that which is transmitted therefrom and sold to consumers in another state. P. 286 U. S. 181.

3. In deciding whether a part of a statute is separable, the fact that the bill was passed after a bill like it but lacking the part in question had been withdrawn by unanimous consent does not justify the inference that the legislature would not have passed the statute if that part had been omitted. P. 286 U. S. 183.

4. A clause in a statute declaring that an adjudication that any of its provisions is unconstitutional shall not affect the validity of the Act as a whole, or any other of its provisions or sections, has the effect of reversing the common law presumption that the legislature intends an act to be effective as an entirety, by putting in its place the opposite presumption of divisibility. P. 286 U. S. 184.

5. This presumption of divisibility must prevail unless the inseparability of the provisions be evident or there be a clear probability that the legislature would not have been satisfied with the statute without the invalid part. Id.

6. The primary object of the Idaho statute here involved (Laws 1931, Ex.Sess., c. 3) is to raise revenue by taxing production of electricity. Section 5, which provides an exemption as to electricity chanrobles.com-red

Page 286 U. S. 166

used for pumping water for irrigating land in Idaho, is secondary in purpose, and its validity may be considered apart. P. 286 U. S. 185.

7. In the Idaho law taxing electricity produced for sale, the exemption of that used for irrigating lands, inserted for the benefit of those so using it, is consistent with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because, in the arid region, the irrigation of even private lands is a matter of public concern. P. 286 U. S. 185.

8. The question whether a state taxing statute will operate unconstitutionally to take the money of one person to give to another will not be decided here when the construction of the statute is involved and has not been determined by the state supreme court, and when it does not appear that the party complaining is presently in danger of such an application of it. P. 286 U. S. 186.

9. This Court cannot assume in advance that a state court will so construe or apply a state statute as to render it obnoxious to the Federal Constitution. Id.

10. To warrant holding a statute invalid under a constitutional requirement that "every act shall embrace but one subject and matters properly connected therewith, which subject shall be expressed in the title," the violation must be substantial and plain. P. 286 U. S. 187.

11. The Idaho statute, supra, complies in this respect with § 16, Art. III, of the Idaho constitution. Id.

12. The statute is to be construed as laying the tax only on the electricity produced for barter, sale, or exchange, to be determined by deducting from the production of the generator the amounts disposed of otherwise, including the part used by the producer, or consumed in effecting transmission. P. 286 U. S. 188.

13. Neither the validity of the tax nor its certainty is affected because it may be necessary to ascertain, as an element in the computation, the amounts delivered in another jurisdiction. P. 286 U. S. 190.

14. In the administration of a revenue act involving complicated measurements and computations, fair and reasonable approximations must suffice where absolute precision is impracticable. Id.

54 F.2d 803 affirmed.

Appeal from the final decree in a suit to enjoin the enforcement of a law taxing production of electrical power. The decree dissolved an interlocutory injunction and required the petitioner corporation to pay the tax, with interest, but without penalties accrued during the pendency of the suit. chanrobles.com-red

Page 286 U. S. 175