Montana v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:Residence of Irving Dunaway

DOCKET NO.: 77-1134
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 440 US 147 (1979)
ARGUED: Dec 04, 1978
DECIDED: Feb 22, 1979

Robert A. Poore – for appellants
Stuart A. Smith – for appellee

Facts of the case


Media for Montana v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 22, 1979 in Montana v. United States

Thurgood Marshall:

In the second case, Montana against United States is an appeal from a three-judge District Court for the District of Montana holding unconstitutional Montana’s gross receipts tax on contractors of public but not private construction projects.

The questions presented is whether a prior judgment by the Montana Supreme Court sustaining the tax precludes the United States from contesting its constitutionality and if not, whether the tax discriminates against the Federal Government in violation of the Supremacy Clause.

In 1971, the contractor on a federal dam project in Montana, brought suit in state court contending that the gross receipts tax unconstitutionally discriminate against the government and companies with which it dealt.

The litigation was directed and financed by the United States.

And less than a month later, the government brought this action in a Federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of that tax.

By stipulation the case was continued pending resolution on a state court.

And that litigation concluded in a decision by the Montana Supreme Court upholding the tax.

The federal court then heard the instant case on the merits, and concluded that the United States was not bound by the earlier state court judgment that the tax violated the Supremacy Clause.

Because we hold that the United States was collaterally estopped from charging issues previously resolved against it in the state court, we reverse the federal court’s decision without reaching the merits of the constitutional question.

Mr. Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion.