West Point Wholesale Grocery Company v. City of Opelika

PETITIONER: West Point Wholesale Grocery Company
RESPONDENT: City of Opelika
LOCATION: Railroad Crossing

DOCKET NO.: 478
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 354 US 390 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1957

Facts of the case

Question

Media for West Point Wholesale Grocery Company v. City of Opelika

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 24, 1957 in West Point Wholesale Grocery Company v. City of Opelika

Earl Warren:

Number 478, West Point Wholesale Grocery Company, Appellant, versus City of Opelika, Alabama.

Mr. Schlesinger.

M. R. Schlesinger:

Mr. Chief Justice, members of the Court, may it please the Court.

In the case at bar, the City of Opelika, Alabama has imposed a flatsum license tax upon local merchants -- upon non-local merchants entering its jurisdiction from the outside.

A tax necessarily discriminatory in its operation and indeed a tax which is discriminatory and in regard merely to the face of the ordinance itself in view of a contrasting rate structure applied to local merchants.

This controversy reaches this Court upon appeal from a fine judgment by an Alabama Court of Appeals.

That Court of Appeals in turn affirmed an Alabama trial court's action in sustaining the defendant city's demurrer to the plaintiff's complaint for refund of tax.

The Alabama Supreme Court having denied certiorari, the appeal has been taken from the judgment of the appellate court.

Since this appeal calls into action -- calls into question the state courts' action upon the defendant's demurrer, the fact as set out in the plaintiff's compliant are of critical importance.

May I therefore review those facts in a rather brief fashion.

Section 82 of the Opelika City license schedule for the year 1953 imposed an annual license or privilege tax upon wholesale merchants.

That tax was according to certain graduated amounts depending upon the bracket of gross business, annual gross business into which the merchant happened to fall.

By way of example, Your Honors will observe that the lowest bracket requiring a tax of $35 was where the merchant did less than 100,000 of business a year, the top amount of $250 was reached when the merchant's business exceeded to a million dollars per year.

And in addition, Section 82 imposed a tax at a very small fraction of 1% upon the gross business done by the merchant.

Now, that, if the Court please, is Section 82 but Section 82 applies only to wholesalers delivering wares in the City of Opelika from a point within Opelika.

For merchants delivering goods from outside Opelika into the City of Opelika, two special sections are applicable.

The first of those special sections is Section 130.

It imposes on merchants -- on persons and firms et cetera bringing goods in from outside and delivering them in Opelika, an annual tax of $100.

That, however, is inapplicable to wholesale grocers who bring goods in from outside the City.

And that brings me to the second special section if I may say a special, special section, Section 130 (a), which is the Section with which this Court is primarily concerned.

Section 130 (a) imposes an annual flatsum license tax of $250 upon wholesale grocers who deliver in the City of Opelika wares which they have brought in -- grocers -- groceries which they have brought in from outside of the City.

May I therefore review in very bird's eye fashion the three taxing patterns that we have here.

We have here Section 130 (a), imposing an annual license tax of $250 on wholesale grocers who bring in to Opelika from outside the City groceries.

Secondly, we have a $100 annual license tax, not of primary concern here which applies to others bringing in merchandise from outside the City and delivering in the City.

Finally, we have under Section 82 a favorable rate structure, a structure geared to gross receipts but applicable only to merchants delivering goods in Opelika from a point within the City of Opelika.

Now, as to the plaintiff in this action, the plaintiff is a wholesale grocer who delivered from his business over in Georgia groceries to his retail merchant customers in the City of Opelika.

Those deliveries were pursuant to orders taken by its salesmen which orders were transmitted over to the plaintiff in Georgia and accepted by it in Georgia.

The shipments, made pursuant to those orders, were in a continuous movement in the interstate commerce from Georgia into Alabama.

The plaintiff is a Georgia corporation.

Its only place of business is in Georgia.