Department of Revenue of Washington v. Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies

PETITIONER: Department of Revenue of Washington
RESPONDENT: Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies
LOCATION: WBAI Station

DOCKET NO.: 76-1706
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Washington Supreme Court

CITATION: 435 US 734 (1978)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1978 / Jan 17, 1978
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1978

ADVOCATES:
John T. Piper -
Slade Gorton - for petitioner

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Department of Revenue of Washington v. Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1978 in Department of Revenue of Washington v. Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1978 in Department of Revenue of Washington v. Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 26, 1978 in Department of Revenue of Washington v. Association of Washington Stevedoring Companies

Warren E. Burger:

The Judgment and opinion of the Court in Depart of Revenue of Washington against the Association of Washington’s Stevedoring Companies will be announced by Mr, Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us on certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

Therefore the second time in this century, Washington seeks to apply at its business and occupation tax to Stevedoring.

The first application of that tax back in the thirties was unsuccessful.

In a case called Puget Sound Stevedoring Company against the State Tax Commission, this Court held that the tax was unconstitutional as violative of the Commerce Clause of the Federal Constitution.

The state now has reimposed the tax and rephrased the question on a double front, whether the second attempt violates either the Commerce Clause or the Import-Export Clause of the Federal Constitution.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we hold that Washington’s Business and Occupation tax does not violate the Commerce Clause by taxing the interstate commerce activity of the stevedoring that takes place within the state.

This result we feel, was foretold by a case last term called Complete Auto Transit against Brady.

A state under appropriate conditions may tax the privilege of conducting interstate business and the Commerce Clause balance -- tips against the state, only when it's a tax unfairly burdens commerce by exacting from the interstate activity more than it's just share of the cost of State Government.

We hold that this tax meets the conditions imposed.

As a consequence, the Court’s earlier decisions in the Puget Sound case and one in 1947 called Joseph against Carter & Weeks Stevedoring Company, are therefore overruled.

The second attack upon the Washington tax rests on the Import Export Clause.

That clause states that no state without the consent of Congress, shall lay any imposed or duty on imports or exports.

We hold that the Washington tax as applied to stevedoring, so as to reach services provided wholly within the State of Washington to imports and exports and other goods, is not among the imports or duties prohibited by the Import-Export Clause.

The tax does not threaten any of the policies behind the clause that would lead to precluding, well, namely the preclusion of state disruption of foreign policy or of protecting revenues, or of avoiding friction on trade barriers among the states.

This tax does not fall on the goods themselves but only on the business of loading and unloading ships and it does not constitute the imposition of a transit fee upon inland customers.

As a consequence, the decision of the Washington Supreme Court to the contrary is reversed the and the case is remanded.

In fairness, we note that the Supreme Court of Washington felt itself bound by our prior decisions to the contrary under the Commerce Clause decisions that today are overruled.

I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice Powell has filed a separate opinion, concurring in part and concurring in the result.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Blackmun.