American Constitutional Law: Introductory Essays & Selected Cases

By Alpheus Thomas Mason; William M. Beaney | Go to book overview

Liggett Co. v. Lee

288 U.S. 517, 53 S.Ct. 481, 77 L.Ed. 929 ( 1933)

In a statute directed at large retail chain stores, Florida required that an annual license fee be paid for each retail store, with the amount of the fee per store dependent on the number of stores. A similar county and municipal tax was authorized. In addition, a higher rate of license fees was payable by corporations with stores located in more than one county of the state. Retail gasoline stations were exempt from the application of the statute. Finally, a tax was imposed on the value of the stock in each store. The Liggett Company appealed from an adverse judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court. . . .

. . . The complainants are corporations of Florida and other states. They challenge the statute as violative of various provisions of the constitution of Florida, of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, and of the commerce clause of the Federal Constitution. . . .

1. In support of the allegation of arbitrary and unreasonable discrimination the bill recites facts from which appellants claim the conclusion is inevitable that there is no difference between the method of conducting chain stores and those employed in department stores, so-called voluntary chains, and singly operated units. This is but a reiteration of the contention made and overruled in State Board of Tax Commissioners v. Jackson, 283 U.S. 527. It was there held that whatever may be said of individual similarities and differences between chain store operation and the conduct of a single shop or a department store, the former employ distinguishable methods of conducting business, and the legislature may make the difference in method and character of business the basis of classification for taxation. In their bill the complainants aver that the fact situation in Florida at the date of suit differed materially from that set forth in the Jackson case. Each of the features of chain store operation enumerated in this court's opinion is singled out, and as respects each the averment is that as to some chain store operators, or some operators of individual stores, the present case differs from the Jackson case.

In their endeavor thus to distinguish the earlier case, the appellants stress mere details, but ignore the underlying reason for sustaining the classification there attacked. The decision in the Jackson case was based not upon any single feature of chain store management, but upon the ultimate fact of common knowledge, illustrated and emphasized by the evidence, that the conduct of a chain of stores constitutes a form and method of merchandising quite apart from that adapted to the practice of the ordinary individually operated small store or department store; and that the difference between an integrated and a voluntary chain is fundamental. While incidents of the operation of the one

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