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U.S. Supreme Court

Silas Mason Co. v. Tax Commission, 302 U.S. 186 (1937)

Silas Mason Co. v. Tax Commission of Washington

No. 7

Argued April 27, 1937

Reargued October 12, 13, 1937

Decided December 6, 1937*

302 U.S. 186


1. A state occupation tax on gross receipts may constitutionally include the receipts from construction work done under a contract with the United States. James v. Dravo Contracting Co., ante, p. 302 U. S. 134. P. 302 U. S. 190.

2. Acquisition by the United States of exclusive territorial jurisdiction over land to which it has acquired title within a State is dependent upon consent of or cession from the State. P. 302 U. S. 197.

3. Whether a State has yielded to the United States exclusive legislative authority over land within the State is a federal question. P. 302 U. S. 197.

4. The provisions of the federal Reclamation Act relative to the acquisition of land, and the provisions of Remington's Rev.Stats. of Washington §§ 7410-7412 granting land to the United States for irrigation projects, do not intend that, with the title, the United States shall acquire exclusive jurisdiction over the land conveyed. Pp. 302 U. S. 197 et seq. chanrobles.com-red

Page 302 U. S. 187

This applies to land in the bed of a navigable river, shorelands and uplands, including school lands.

5. The term "other needful buildings" in Const. Art. I, § 8, Cl. 17, embraces whatever structures are found to be necessary in the performance of the functions of the Federal Government. James v. Dravo Contraction Co., ante, p. 302 U. S. 134. P. 302 U. S. 203.

6. This clause of the Constitution does not imply that the consent of the State to purchases must be without any reservation of jurisdiction. James v. Dravo Contracting Co., ante, p. 302 U. S. 134. Id.

Such an implication would not be consistent with the freedom of the State and with its admitted authority to refuse or qualify cessions of jurisdiction when purchases have been made without consent or property has been acquired by condemnation.

7. Sec. 8108 of Remington's Rev.Stats. of Washington, giving the State's consent to acquisition of lands by the United States for purposes named, applies to acquisition from individuals and corporations, but semble not to acquisitions from the State itself. P. 302 U. S. 205.

8. Sec. 8108 of Remington's Rev.Stats. of Washington, which consents, in accordance with Const. Art. I, § 9, a. 17, to acquisition of lands by the United States for locks, dams, piers, etc., and other necessary structures and purposes required in improvement of rivers and harbors of the State, or for sites of forts and magazines, arsenals, docks etc., "or other needful buildings" and cedes jurisdiction is construed by the State Supreme Court as inapplicable, and as not yielding all legislative authority of the State, where the land is acquired for a project such as the Columbia Basin Project, which looks not only to the improvement of navigation, but also to the development of irrigation and of power for industrial purposes. Held:

(1) That, in view of the scope of the project mentioned, this construction cannot be deemed inadmissible, and, even if not binding, it should be accorded much weight. P. 302 U. S. 206.

(2) Assuming that the power development contemplated is incidental to improvement of navigation, reclamation of arid and semi-arid land, one of the main objectives of the project, is an activity always regarded as carrying with it an appropriate recognition of continued state jurisdiction. Id.

(3) Therefore, this statute (enacted in 1891) cannot be taken as conclusively showing an intent to yield exclusive jurisdiction in such a case, and inasmuch as it appears that the Federal Government did not intend to acquire exclusive jurisdiction, but contemplated chanrobles.com-red

Page 302 U. S. 188

the continued existence of state jurisdiction consistent with federal functions and invited the cooperation of the State in providing an appropriate exercise of local authority over the territory embraced in the project, the State court's construction is accepted. Id.

9. In acquiring land for federal purposes, the Government is not compelled to accept a transfer of exclusive jurisdiction from the State. P. 302 U. S. 207.

10. Unauthorized administrative action becomes legal when ratified by Congress. P. 302 U. S. 208.

11. Ratification of "all contracts" executed in connection with the Grand Coulee Dam project permits reference to the contracts as proving the intention not only of the federal officials who executed them, but of Congress that, consistently with the execution of the plan, the jurisdiction of the State over the large area acquired, including jurisdiction over contractors engaged on the project, should be retained. P. 302 U. S. 209.

12. To invest the United States with exclusive jurisdiction over tribal Indian lands in a State a cession from the State is essential. P. ___.

13. The State of Washington had territorial jurisdiction to tax the receipts of federal contractors on the land acquired by the United States for the Grand Coulee Dam project, and the tax does not lay an unconstitutional burden on the Federal Government. P. 302 U. S. 210.

188 Wash. 98, 115, 61 P.2d 1269, 1276, affirmed.

Appeals from decrees affirming decrees of a Superior Court which sustained occupation taxes laid on the gross receipts enuring to the appellants under contracts with the United States for construction work in the State of Washington. In the first case, injunctive relief was denied by the Superior Court. The second case included an action or appeal to recover a tax payment, and a suit for an injunction, both of which were dismissed by the Superior Court. chanrobles.com-red

Page 302 U. S. 189


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