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U.S. Supreme Court

Old Dominion Steamship Co. v. Virginia, 198 U.S. 299 (1905)

Old Dominion Steamship Company v. Virginia

No. 231

Argued April, 25-26, 1905

Decided May 15, 1905

198 U.S. 299


The general rule that tangible personal property is subject to taxation by the state in which it is, no matter where the domicil of the owner may be, is not affected by the fact that the property is employed in interstate transportational on either land or water.

Vessels registered or enrolled are not exempt from ordinary rules respecting taxation of personal property. The artificial status created as the home port of a vessel, under § 4141, Rev.Stat., only controls the place of taxation in the absence of an actual situs elsewhere.

Vessels, though engaged in interstate commerce, employed in such commerce wholly within the limits of a state are subject to taxation in that state although they may have been registered or enrolled at a port outside its limits.

On March 17, 1904, the Supreme Court of Appeals of the State of Virginia, in a matter appealed from a finding of the State Corporation Commission, entered the following findings and order:

"That the Old Dominion Steamship Company was a nonresident corporation, having been incorporated by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Delaware; that it was then and had been for many years theretofore engaged in the transportation of passengers and freight on the Atlantic Ocean and communicating navigable waters between the City of New York, in the State of New York, and Norfolk, and certain other ports within the State of Virginia. That said steamship company, in the prosecution of its said transportation business, owned and operated the vessel property above named; that these vessels, with the exception of the tug Germania, whose movements and use will be hereinafter stated, visited various ports or points within the State of Virginia for the purpose of receiving freight and passengers, for which they

Page 198 U. S. 300

issued bills of lading and tickets to points outside the State of Virginia; that, owing to the shallow waters where these vessels plied, it was impossible in most instances for the larger oceangoing steamers of the company to be used; that, in consequence, the vessels above enumerated were used to receive the freight and passengers as aforesaid, giving the shipper of freight a bill of lading for the same, destined to New York and other points outside of Virginia, and the passenger a ticket to his destination, and thus transported such freight and passengers to deeper water at Norfolk and Old Point Comfort, where, upon such bills of lading and tickets, the passengers and freight were transferred to one of the larger ocean-going vessels of the steamship company, and so the ultimate destination, namely, New York and elsewhere outside of Virginia, was reached; that any other business transacted by the above-named vessels was incidental in character and comparatively insignificant in amount; that the said vessels were built and designed for interstate traffic especially, and were adjuncts to or branches of the main line of the Old Dominion Steamship Company between New York and Norfolk; that each and all of the said vessels were regularly enrolled, under the United States laws, outside of the State of Virginia, with the name and port of such enrollment painted on the stern of each of them; that the said vessels, though regularly enrolled and licensed for coastwise trade, were then used on old established routes upon navigable waters within Virginia, as follows, to-wit:"

"First. The steamer Hampton Roads between Fort Monroe and Hampton and Norfolk."

"Second. The steamer Mobjack between points in Mathews and Gloucester Counties and Norfolk."

"Third. The steamers Luray and Accomac between Smithfield and Norfolk."

"Fourth. The steamer Virginia Dare between Suffolk and Norfolk."

"Fifth. The steamers Berkeley and Brandon between Richmond and Norfolk; and "

Page 198 U. S. 301

"The steamers Berkeley and Brandon ply between Richmond and Norfolk. These two steamers were completed in the year 1901, or early in 1902, one of them having been constructed at the William R. Trigg shipyard in the City of Richmond, and the other outside of the State of Virginia. Early in the year 1902, they were placed upon the line between Norfolk and Richmond, one steamer leaving Richmond each evening and arriving in Norfolk each morning, thus giving a night trip every night each way between Richmond and Norfolk. At the time these steamers were placed upon this route, and since that time, the Old Dominion Steamship Company has, by public advertisement, called attention to the fact that these two steamers were especially fitted in the matter of stateroom accommodations for carrying passengers between Richmond and Norfolk, and the said two steamers have since that time been advertising for the carriage of passengers and freight on their route between Richmond and Norfolk, and have been regularly carrying freight and passengers between the said two points in Virginia as well as taking on freight and passengers for further transportation on their ocean steamers at Norfolk. The Old Dominion Steamship Company applied, under the revenue laws of the State of Virginia, for a license to sell liquor at retail on each of these steamers, and on July 1, 1902, there was granted, through the Commissioner of the Revenue of the City of Richmond, a license to the Old Dominion Steamship Company for the sale of liquor at retail on each of these steamers, said licenses to expire on April 30, 1903. On or about the same time, the said steamship company complied with the revenue laws of the United States and paid the necessary revenue tax through the custom house at the City of Richmond for the purpose of selling liquor at retail on each of these steamers. In the spring of 1903, the said steamship company, in order to obtain licenses to sell liquor at retail on each of these steamers, applied for the same in the City of Richmond, and complied with the requirements of section 143 of the new revenue law, approved April 16, 1903, and so obtained

Page 198 U. S. 302

licenses for the year 1903-1904 to sell liquor at retail on each of these steamers on their route between the cities of Richmond and Norfolk, and likewise, on or about the same time, complied with the revenue laws of the United States in the matter of selling liquor at retail on each of the said steamers on said route."

"Sixth. The steam tug Germania, which was used in the harbor of Norfolk and Hampton Roads for the purpose of docking the large ocean-going steamers of the Old Dominion Steamship Company, and the transferring from different points in those waters freight from connecting lines destined to points outside of Virginia."

"And the court, having maturely considered said transcript of the record of the finding aforesaid and the arguments of counsel, is of opinion that the legal situs of the vessels and barges assessed for taxation by the finding of the State Corporation Commission is, for that purpose, within the jurisdiction of the State of Virginia, and that said property is amenable to the tax imposed thereon, notwithstanding the fact that said vessels and barges are owned by a nonresident corporation, that they may have been enrolled under the act of Congress at some port outside the State of Virginia, and that they are engaged, in part, in interstate commerce, and doth so decide and declare. Therefore it seems to the court here that the finding of the State Corporation Commission appealed from is without error, and said finding is approved and affirmed. It is further considered by the court that the appellee recover against the appellant thirty dollars damages and its costs by it about its defense expended upon this appeal. "

Page 198 U. S. 305


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