MR. JUSTICE JACKSON delivered the opinion of the court.
The question presented by the record in this case is whether an act of the legislature of Georgia, approved October 16,
The act complained of provides as follows:
"SECTION I. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of this State, and it is hereby enacted by authority of the same, That hereafter in each and every year, on or before the first day of May, each and every railroad company in this State shall make an annual return to the comptroller-general of this State, for the purposes of county taxation in each of the counties through which said road runs, in the following manner: Said return shall be under the oath of the president or other chief executive officer, and shall show the following facts as they existed on the first day of April preceding, to wit: First, showing the aggregate value of the whole property of said railroad company; second, showing the value of the real estate and track bed of said company; third, showing the value of the rolling stock and all other personal property of said company; fourth, showing the value of the company's property in each county through which it runs.
"SEC. II. Be it further enacted, etc., That, whenever the amount of the tax levy of any county through which the said railroad runs is assessed by the authority of such county, it shall be the duty of the ordinary thereof to certify the same and transmit such certificate to the comptroller-general; and the property of such railroad companies shall be subject to taxation in each and every county through which the same passes to the same extent and in the same manner that all other property is taxed, in the manner hereafter set out.
"SEC. III. Be it further enacted, etc., That, whenever such certificate is received by the comptroller-general, it shall be his duty to proceed to assess the amount of each and every railroad company's property, in each and every of said counties,
"SEC. IV. Be it further enacted, That should the property of any railroad company in this State be not subject to taxation, as hereinbefore provided, but taxable upon its net income, such railroad company shall report to the comptroller-general the entire length of its road, the different counties through which such road runs, and the number of miles in each county, which report shall be made at the time that railroad companies are required to return their property for taxation. When the income of such road is returned to the comptroller-general, he shall estimate the amount of income for each county through which such road runs, upon which shall be levied for such county a tax to be ascertained in the following manner: In the proportion that the road in each county bears to the whole length of the road, in that proportion shall the income returned by said road be taxed by each county through which it passes. Such income shall be taxed at the rate fixed by the charter of such railroad company, which tax shall be assessed and collected by the comptroller-general, and by him paid over to the county entitled to such tax. If any railroad company refuses to pay such tax, the comptroller shall issue execution for the amount of said tax due to each county, which shall be levied on any property of said company. The railroad company may resist such tax as is herein provided in case of tax on property of railroad companies.
"SEC. VI. Be it further enacted, etc., If any railroad company shall refuse to pay, within sixty days, the amount thus ascertained and due by it, to the tax collector of any county to which the same is due and payable, it shall be the duty of the comptroller-general to at once issue a fi. fa. in the name of the State of Georgia, against such railroad company, for the same; to be issued, levied, and returned in the same manner as tax fi. fas. are issued for state taxes due in the State by said companies.
"SEC. VII. Be it further enacted, etc., If any railroad company shall dispute the liability to such county tax, it may be done by an affidavit of illegality, to be made by the president of said railroad in the same manner as other affidavits of illegality are made, and shall be returned for trial to the Superior Court of the county of Fulton, where such cases shall be given precedence for trial over all other cases, except tax cases, in which the State shall be a party.
"SEC. VIII. Be it further enacted, etc., That all laws and parts of laws in conflict with this act be, and the same are hereby, repealed."
By an act approved in 1874, (Act of February 28, 1874, No. 107, p. 109, Laws of 1874,) provision was made for the taxation of railroad property for state purposes, but this act of 1889 was the first statute enacted providing for the taxation of railroad property for county purposes.
The plaintiff in error is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Georgia, having its principal
Under the provisions of the first section of the act set out above, the railroad company made return of its property for the year 1890. Upon the basis of that return the comptroller-general of the State assessed and levied taxes for the benefit of the several counties through which the railroad extended, (after such counties had certified to him their respective tax rate and levies,) and on October 27, 1890, notified the company that the taxes so levied must be paid to the respective tax collectors of the several counties within sixty days from the date of that notice.
The tax rate upon the property thus assessed, as stated in the notice of the comptroller-general, was different in the different counties. For Muscogee County it was 2½ mills; for Chattahoochee it was 8 mills; for Stewart it was 5 mills; for Terrell it was 5.34 mills; and for Webster County it was 3.47 mills, these rates of taxation being imposed by the respective counties on other property situate therein, and subject to taxation.
Before the expiration of the sixty days, within which the railroad company was required to make payment of the taxes thus assessed, it filed its bill, or equitable petition, in the Superior Court of Fulton County against William A. Wright, comptroller-general, for an injunction and relief against the payment of these county taxes.
In the petition it was alleged that the act was repugnant to the constitution of the State of Georgia, for various reasons: First, that it was inconsistent with that provision of the constitution which required that "all taxation shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects and ad valorem on all property subject to be taxed within the territorial limits of the
The defendant interposed a general demurrer to the petition, which the Superior Court of Fulton County sustained, and dismissed the petition, holding that the act was not repugnant to the provisions of either the State or the Federal Constitutions in any of the respects alleged. From that judgment the railroad company prosecuted a writ of error to the Supreme Court of the State, which court fully reviewed and considered the questions, and in affirming the judgment of the court below held that the act of 1889 in no way violated the constitution of the State and in no way discriminated against the railway company so as to deny it the equal protection of the laws, and was not, therefore, repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. 89 Georgia, 574. The present writ of error was sued out to reverse this judgment.
Upon this writ of error we cannot, of course, review the construction which the Supreme Court of the State has placed
These two objections embody substantially the single proposition that the act in question discriminated against the railroad company in not taxing its unlocated or intangible personal property at the place of the railroad company's domicil or principal office; in other words, in the county of Muscogee. This proposition was disposed of by the Supreme Court of the State as follows, pp. 593-595:
"The next objection made by the petition is that the requirement of the constitution as to uniformity in taxation is violated, because certain personal property of railroads is taxed for the benefit of counties, though not situated therein, while as to other corporations and individuals county taxation is imposed, so far as any particular county is concerned, only on property within its territorial limits. This objection is disposed of by what has already been said. We have shown that in each county its rate of taxation is applied to the property of the railroad actually located therein, and that it is perfectly just and proper to distribute the unlocated personalty of the road for taxing purposes in fair proportion among the several counties, the corporation residing sub modo in all the counties along its line of road, and therefore in one as much as in another.
"In the next place, it is contended that the same paragraph of the constitution is violated because the act prescribes a different rate of taxation in each of the several counties through
This decision of the Supreme Court of the State establishes, what is conceded by plaintiff in error, that the rate of taxation and the mode of valuing the railroad property for assessment was in all respects the same as the rate and mode prescribed for other taxpayers. So, that, the only difference between the county taxation upon railroad property, real and personal, and that of other persons or companies consisted in the method of distributing the transitory or unlocated personal property of the railroad company, as valued by itself, among the several counties entitled to share therein, for the purposes of taxation. In other words, the question is whether the railroad company has any constitutional right to have its transitory property assessed for taxation alone in Muscogee County, and whether the distribution, among the several counties, of such property is such a discrimination against the railroad as denies to it the equal protection of the laws?
This is hardly an open question. Various modes of taxing railroad property are adopted by the different States. In some, railroad companies are taxed upon their property as a unit. In others, the road and the property in each county are separately assessed, and in still other States, the whole road is assessed, and then the assessment apportioned among the several counties and towns. These and all similar modes of taxation are subject to the legislative discretion of the respective States, and do not ordinarily present any Federal question
In Kansas City &c. Railroad v. Severance, 55 Missouri, 378, 388, the Supreme Court of Missouri, in dealing with this question, said: "The proposition is undoubtedly true, that where a corporation has its residence, there the property of this description is liable to assessment and taxation if the law has prescribed no different rule on the subject. This notion of the situs of personal property following the personal residence of the corporation is a legal fiction, but is not an unbending and uncontrollable principle of law. It may be modified by the legislature. The rolling stock of a railroad company has no more local existence in one county than another. . . . This machinery by which the road is operated is constantly passing from one terminus to the other of the entire road, and to save all cavil and dispute in respect to it, it was perfectly competent for the legislature to say that it should become a part of the road itself and become property the same as the road, and that for the purpose of taxation it should be equally distributed through the counties, cities, or towns through which it passed in proportion to its length in these respective localities."
The principle here announced is repeated in the well-considered case of Franklin County v. Railroad Co., 12 Lea, (Tenn.,) 521, 537, 538, 539, which involved substantially the same question of the situs for the purpose of taxation of the rolling stock and personal property of railway companies. It was there said by the Supreme Court of Tennessee: "The property of a railroad company for purposes of taxation consists of its realty, its local personalty, its rolling stock, its choses in action, and its franchise. The franchise is the privilege conferred by the charter of incorporation, namely, the right to exercise all the powers granted in the mode prescribed for the purpose of profit. It is a unit, not confined to any one county in which it may be exercised. The principal part of the franchise is the right to charge for freight and passengers,
The principle set out in the above quoted authorities is clearly sanctioned by this court in the State Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U.S. 575, 607, where the same objection to the system of taxation by the State, as here presented, was made that the rolling stock, etc., was personal property, and that it and other personal property had a situs at the principal place of business of the corporation, and could be taxed in no other county but the one where it was situated. This court met that objection by saying: "It may be doubted very reasonably whether such a rule can be applied to a railroad corporation as between the different localities embraced by its line of road. But, after all, the rule is merely the law of the State which recognizes it. . . . Like all other laws of a State, it is, therefore, subject to legislative repeal, modification, or limitation, and when the legislature of Illinois declared that it should not prevail in assessing personal property of railroad companies for taxation, it simply exercised an ordinary function of legislation. Whether allowing the rule to stand as to taxation of individuals, and changing it as to railroads or other corporations, it violated any rule of uniformity prescribed by the constitution of the State, we will consider when we come to the constitutional objections to the statute."
In its further consideration of that case the court held that changing the situs of such unlocated property of a railroad
Without reviewing authorities on this subject, the principle involved in the case under consideration is not distinguishable from the principle involved in State Railroad Tax Cases, 92 U.S. 575; and in Kentucky Railroad Tax Cases, 115 U.S. 321, 339; Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway v. Beckwith, 129 U.S. 26; and in Charlotte, Columbia & Augusta Railroad v. Gibbes, 142 U.S. 386.
The whole complaint made by the plaintiff in error is that it had a constitutional right to have its rolling stock, and other unlocated personal property, taxed in the county of Muscogee, where it had its principal office, and to give such property a different situs, under the act complained of, by distributing it among the counties through which the road extended, was an unjust discrimination, and violated its constitutional rights. This proposition cannot be entertained for a moment, for the reason already stated, that it was clearly within the province of the legislature of Georgia, to give such personal property a different situs, for purposes of taxation, from that of the company's principal office. The act in question having apportioned the transitory and unlocated property of the railroad company among the several counties through which the road extends for the purpose of taxation, and having subjected such property to the same rate of taxation imposed upon all other property in the respective counties, the fact that the rate of taxation varied in the different counties, according to their respective wants and necessities,
The Federal question involved in the case was correctly decided by the Supreme Court of the State, and the judgment of that court is therefore