Japan Line, Ltd. v. County of Los Angeles

PETITIONER: Japan Line, Ltd.
RESPONDENT: County of Los Angeles
LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 77-1378
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 441 US 434 (1979)
ARGUED: Jan 08, 1979
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1979

James Dexter Clark -
Kent L. Jones -
Peter L. Briger - for appellants

Facts of the case


Media for Japan Line, Ltd. v. County of Los Angeles

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 1979 in Japan Line, Ltd. v. County of Los Angeles

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning and first this year, in Japan Line Limited against County of Los Angeles.

Mr. Briger, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Peter L. Briger:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The precise issue to be decided in this case is whether the existence of situs through the fiction of an assumed average presence, can be relied upon by appellees so as to tax foreign containers which are used exclusively in foreign commerce, are continuously in transit, and which the trial court found had their home port in Japan, so as to justify a conclusion of continuous presence within appellee's jurisdiction.

Such presence is necessary in order to permit the subjection of containers to an apportioned ad valorem California property tax.

Such tax, it is noted, would be in addition to full ad valorem property taxes, which have been levied upon the containers at their home port in Japan.

Unless the decision of the California Supreme Court is reversed, this case undoubtedly will have profound and adverse impacts upon the foreign trade relations of the United States.

Indeed the Court in requesting the Solicitor General to express his views on the case has recognized the important foreign policy and foreign relations questions triggered by California’s unilateral rejection of the home port doctrine in the case of foreign owned instrumentalities used exclusively in foreign commerce.

William H. Rehnquist:

Are you arguing both the home port doctrine and the Customs Convention, Mr. Briger?

Peter L. Briger:

Yes I'm.

William H. Rehnquist:

I thought perhaps that you intended to blend them together in that last sentence?

Peter L. Briger:

I do indeed.

I believe that the Customs Convention is another indication of the federal interest in this area and that the home port doctrine was a means enunciated by this Court more than a 130 years ago in order to deal with the treatment of the taxation of foreign-owned instrumentalities that the Customs Convention is one of numerous areas of federal expression of its concern in this area.

William H. Rehnquist:

But the home port doctrine is constitutionally based, is it not?

Peter L. Briger:

Yes it is.

William H. Rehnquist:

And your case would not be as strong, apart from the home port doctrine, without the affirmative adoption of the Customs Convention, would it?

Peter L. Briger:

I think it probably would be.

What we are arguing is that there are long established customs among the trading nations of the world which have been recognized by this Court in its adoption of the Hays versus Pacific Mail Shipping Company case, this was a basic Commerce Clause rule and that there are reliance interests of foreign governments on this long accepted policy.

They have based their trade relations with the United States in connection with the international carriage of goods and passengers.

Warren E. Burger:

So what is that they do if they are relying?

Peter L. Briger:

Well, every country Your Honor and this comes out in the Solicitor General's brief, every country with the exception possibly of Afghanistan, in the treatment of the international carriage of goods and persons by aircraft, vessels or containers has followed a policy of reciprocal exemption from local or national taxes upon these instrumentalities and all governments of the world in their trading relations have observed this policy.

William H. Rehnquist:

But it's the executive and the legislative branches that speak for this country on foreign policy, isn't it?

Peter L. Briger:


William H. Rehnquist:

And Hays Mail didn't -- the Pacific Mail case didn't depend on any action of the executive branch, did it or did it of the legislative branch?

Peter L. Briger:

It did not but there are really two policies that coalesce.

The Court in the Hays decision at that time came to this conclusion in order to eliminate the cumulative burdens of multiple taxation.

There is a clear statement in that case.

Now of course the case was decided before the apportionment rule became the law for the states.

Byron R. White:

Hays wasn't an international case, was it?

Peter L. Briger:

It dealt with ocean carriage and it dealt.