Territory of Alaska v. American Can Company

PETITIONER: Territory of Alaska
RESPONDENT: American Can Company
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

DOCKET NO.: 40
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 358 US 224 (1959)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1958
DECIDED: Jan 12, 1959

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Territory of Alaska v. American Can Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1958 (Part 2) in Territory of Alaska v. American Can Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1958 (Part 1) in Territory of Alaska v. American Can Company

Earl Warren:

Number 40, Territory of Alaska versus American Can Company, et al.

You may -- you may proceed, Attorney General Williams.

J. Gerald Williams:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court.

The question that arises in this case is whether or not the Territory of Alaska may continue to collect taxes from delinquent taxpayers after the taxing statute has been repealed.

In 1949, for the first time, the Legislature of the Territory of Alaska passed a general property tax.

This was Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska, 1949 and it places or placed a 1% or 10 mills levy on all real and personal property within the entire Territory of Alaska.

Now, there were some peculiar modifications of the peculiar aspects of Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska.

For instance, the Act provided that municipalities, school districts, and public utility districts could keep the tax.

Now, many of the cities at that time were levying -- levying 20 mills, and the school districts and -- school districts and public utility districts, generally, 8, 9 to 10 mil.

It was the position of the Territory of Alaska and has been that the first 10 mills that every city levied -- was levied under Chapter 10, and the Act provided that they could keep that 10 mills.

Now, I -- I point that out because it will become apparent to you, later on, as I argue about Chapter 22, Session Laws of 1953, which repealed Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska in Section 1.

But in Section 2 (a) of the Act, it does not repeal Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska, 1949 as to municipalities, public utility districts, and school districts until the end of the fiscal year of 1953.

Now, they didn't say calendar year, they said fiscal year.

And I assume that that was put on because of the different -- municipalities had different fiscal years.

But for all practical purposes it would be for the calendar year 1953.

Now, this Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska has had a long and checkered career through the Courts of Alaska.

I've been Attorney General now for almost 10 years and it's practically been my whole career, Mr. Chief Justice.

Shortly after the Act was passed, William Hess, a mining man in Fairbanks, Alaska brought an action against the Territory, filed this action in the Fourth Division District Courts sought to enjoin Mr. Mullaney, the Tax Commissioner, from enforcing this Act.

A preliminary injunction was granted by Judge Kraft on the 30th day of January, 1950.

Then that -- that preliminary injunction was made permanent by the same court on June the 19th, 1950.

On May the 10th, the Territory then took an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

And on May the 10th, 1951, the Ninth Circuit Court said that the taxpayer had sought the wrong remedy.

He had an action of law that he should have paid his taxes and sued for a refund.

So, on June the 8th, 1951, Mr. Hess, having paid his tax, again filed another action to the District Court of the Fourth Division for the return of the tax.

Territory moved for change of venue.

The case was transferred to the First Division.

And on February the 18th, 1952, the District Court for the First Division of Alaska held that Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska, 1949 was a valid taxing statute.

The taxpayer then took an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court, on August the 4th, 1952.

On May the 25th, 1954, more than a year, Your Honors, after the Legislature of Alaska had repealed Chapter 10, Session Laws of Alaska, 1949, by Chapter 22, Session Laws of Alaska, 1953.

We got our decision from the Ninth Circuit Court affirming the District Court's holding that this was a valid taxing statute.