Quill Corporation v. North Dakota by and Through Heitkamp

PETITIONER:Quill Corporation
RESPONDENT:North Dakota by and Through Heitkamp
LOCATION:North Dakota State Tax Commissioner

DOCKET NO.: 91-194
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: North Dakota Supreme Court

CITATION: 504 US 298 (1992)
ARGUED: Jan 22, 1992
DECIDED: May 26, 1992

John E. Gaggini – on behalf of the Petitioner
Nicholas Spaeth – on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Through its Tax Commissioner, the state of North Dakota filed an action in state court to force the Quill Corporation, an out-of-state mail-order office equipment retailer, to charge a North Dakota use tax on Quill merchandise to be used within the state. The state court ruled in favor of Quill, grounding its decision onBellas Hess, Inc. v. Department of Revenue of Illinois, 386 U.S. 753 _. In this 1967 case, the United States Supreme court found a similar Illinois statute to be in violation of both the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The North Dakota Supreme Court reversed, basing its decision on a rejection of _Bellas Hess in light of the “tremendous social, economic, commercial, and legal innovations” since it had been decided.


1) HadBellas Hess become obsolete? 2) Was North Dakota’s imposition of a use tax upon the merchandise of the Quill Corporation in compliance with the Due Process Clause and the Commerce Clause?

Media for Quill Corporation v. North Dakota by and Through Heitkamp

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 22, 1992 in Quill Corporation v. North Dakota by and Through Heitkamp

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 26, 1992 in Quill Corporation v. North Dakota by and Through Heitkamp

John Paul Stevens:

The second case I have to announce is No. 91-194, Quill Corporation against North Dakota.

The case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of North Dakota.

Petitioner, Quill, is a mail-order house that maintains neither outlets nor sales representatives in North Dakota.

This case involves North Dakota’s efforts to require Quill to collect and pay a use tax on goods purchased for use within the state.

The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the state’s collection effort ruling that social, economic, and legal innovations had rendered obsolete our 1967 ruling in National Bellas Hess versus the Department of Revenue.

In that case, our Court held that a similar tax imposed by the State of Illinois violated both the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and also created an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce.

Our ruling today has two parts.

First, we observe that our due process jurisprudence has evolved substantially over the last 25 years.

We conclude that under the governing principles of that body of law, a mail-order house like Quill has the necessary minimum contact with North Dakota that are of constitutional prerequisite to that state’s taxing jurisdiction.

We, therefore, overrule that part of the holding in the Bellas Hess case and hold that the statute does not violate the due process clause.

On the other hand, the second part of our opinion concludes that the Commerce Clause holding of Bellas Hess remains good law.

Although we have addressed related issues on many occasions, we have never rejected the principle that a vendor whose only connection was customers in the taxing state is by common carrier or the United States Mails lacks a substantial nexus with the taxing state required by the commerce clause.

Accordingly, the judgment of the North Dakota Supreme Court is reversed.

Our ruling today, however, makes entirely clear that Congress retains the ultimate power to address and resolve the complex issues surrounding the taxation of mail-order businesses.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment which Justices Kennedy and Thomas have joined; Justice White has filed a dissenting opinion.