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PHOENIX FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY v. TENNESSEE.

decided: March 2, 1896.

PHOENIX FIRE AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
TENNESSEE.



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE.

Author: PECKHAM

[ 161 U.S. Page 174]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM delivered the opinion of the court.

This was a bill filed by the plaintiffs below in the Chancery Court of Tennessee for Shelby County, in October, 1891, to recover taxes alleged to be due from the corporation, plaintiff in error, or its stockholders, to the city of Memphis for the years 1888 to 1891, inclusive. The complainant's bill alleged that neither the defendant company nor its shareholders had any immunity from taxation, and that if any such immunity existed it could not operate to protect both the shareholders and the capital stock. Judgment was accordingly prayed in the alternative against the corporation or the stockholders according as the taxes might be held to have been laid upon one or the other. A demurrer was interposed to the bill, which was sustained in the court below, but upon appeal to

[ 161 U.S. Page 175]

     the Supreme Court, that judgment was reversed. Memphis v. Phoenix Insurance Co., 7 Pickle, 566. The latter court held that the charter of the company contained no immunity from taxation, and that both its shares of stock and capital stock were subject to the taxing power of the State and municipality. The case was thereupon remanded to the court below for further proceedings. It having been determined by the Supreme Court that the complainant upon the allegations of the bill was entitled to a discovery of the names and residences of the stockholders, a stipulation was entered into between the parties to avoid the necessity of the discovery, by which it was agreed that the corporation would assume any liability that might be established against the stockholders, and that a decree might be entered accordingly, and that the defendant Johnson should be made a defendant in his capacity of a stockholder and as the representative of all the others.

By its answer the defendant company claimed immunity from taxation both for itself and its shareholders, and also set up a plea of res judicata, and alleged various objections to the validity of the several assessments upon which complainant claimed taxes due to the State. The case was duly tried, and judgment for the complainant was rendered by the trial court, in which it was adjudged that by the charter neither the defendant company nor its shares of stock had any immunity from taxation, and that both were, for the years mentioned in the bill, subject to the taxing power of the State. The court decided the Federal question made by the defendants below against them, and adjudged that the state tax laws set up in the record, under which the taxes were levied, were not violative of the Constitution of the United States, or void as claimed by the defendants. This judgment was in substance affirmed by the Supreme Court, and the defendants below sued out a writ of error, and the record is now here for review.

The question first arising is as to the correctness of the judgment holding that the plaintiffs in error were not entitled to any immunity from taxation either as to the capital stock or the the shares of stock in the hands of stockholders. The

[ 161 U.S. Page 176]

     following are the facts: The Bluff City Insurance Company of Memphis was duly incorporated by an act of the legislature of Tennessee, and by section ten of the act of incorporation it was enacted "that said company shall pay to the State an annual tax of one half of one per cent on each share of the capital stock subscribed, which shall be in lieu of all other taxes." On the 20th day of March, 1858, the legislature of Tennessee incorporated the De Soto Insurance Company, and that charter was amended on the 30th of March, 1860, and by section eleven of that act "all the rights, privileges and immunities" of the Bluff City Insurance Company were granted to the De Soto Insurance Company. On the 11th day of March, 1867, the legislature incorporated the Washington Fire and Marine Insurance Company of Memphis, Tennessee, and by that act "all the rights and privileges" (omitting the word "immunities") of the De Soto Insurance Company of Memphis, Tennessee, granted to it in its charter or amendments were granted to the Washington Fire & Marine Insurance Company, above named, and by the act of the legislature, approved March 28, 1881, the name of the Washington Fire & Marine Insurance Company was changed to the Phoenix Fire & Marine Insurance Company of Memphis, Tennessee, being the plaintiffs in error. The act of incorporation and the amendments thereto were duly accepted by plaintiff in error and its stockholders, and since that time the business of fire and marine insurance has been conducted by it in Memphis, under the last corporate name.

It will thus be seen that the Bluff City Insurance Company was to pay to the State a certain annual tax on each share of capital stock subscribed, which was declared to be in lieu of all other taxes, and the question is now presented, whether by virtue of these various statutes the plaintiff in error was granted an immunity from taxation to the same extent as that given to the Bluff City Insurance Company and to the De Soto Insurance Company. Is immunity from taxation granted to plaintiff in error under language which grants "all the rights and privileges" of a company which has such immunity? In statutes, as is sometimes the case in legal

[ 161 U.S. Page 177]

     documents, more words are occasionally used than are necessary to convey the meaning of those who passed the statute or executed the document, and it may happen that this very excess of verbiage tends to confuse rather than to enlighten one as to the meaning intended. The words "rights, privileges and immunities" when used in a statute of the kind under consideration are certainly full and ample for the purpose of granting an exemption from taxation contained in the first or original statute, and when in granting to still another company certain rights the word "immunities" is dropped, its absence would seem and ought to have some special significance. In granting to the De Soto company "all the rights, privileges and immunities" of the Bluff City company, all words were used which could be regarded as necessary to carry the exemption from taxation possessed by the Bluff City company, while in the next following grant, that of the charter of the plaintiff in error, the word "immunities" is omitted. Is there any meaning to be attached to that omission? And, if so, what? We think some meaning is to be attached to it. The word "immunity" expresses more cleary and definitely an intention to include therein an exemption from taxation than does either of the other words. Exemption form taxation is more accurately described as an "immunity" than as a privilege, although it is not to be denied that the latter word may sometimes and under some circumstances include such exemption. It must always be borne in mind in construing language of this nature that the claim for exemption must be made out wholly beyond doubt; for, as stated by Mr. Justice Harlan, in Chicago, Burlington & Kansas City Railroad v. Guffey, 120 U.S. 569, 575: "It is the settled doctrine of this court that an ...


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