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MERCHANTS' NATIONAL BANK RICHMOND v. CITY RICHMOND

June 6, 1921

MERCHANTS' NATIONAL BANK OF RICHMOND, VIRGINIA
v.
CITY OF RICHMOND



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA

McKenna, Holmes, Day, Van Devanter, Pitney, McReynolds, Brandeis, Clarke

Author: Pitney

[ 256 U.S. Page 636]

 MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.

The court of last resort of Virginia sustained a tax assessed by the City of Richmond in the year 1915, in form against plaintiff in error, a national banking association, in substance and effect against its shareholders, overruling a contention based upon the Constitution and laws of the United States. To review its judgment a writ of error has been sued out and allowed, and application has been made also for the allowance of a writ of certiorari. The proceeding originated in the Hustings Court of the City of Richmond with a petition filed by the Bank against the City to correct the assessment as erroneous. The first hearing resulted in an order granting the relief prayed for, upon grounds not now material; but, upon review by the Supreme Court of Appeals, this was reversed (124 Virginia, 522), and the case remanded

[ 256 U.S. Page 637]

     for further proceedings in conformity with the views of that court; in consequence of which, correction of the alleged erroneous assessment was refused by the trial court, and the proceeding dismissed. An application for a writ of error to review this judgment was denied by the Supreme Court of Appeals, with the effect of affirming the judgment of the Hustings Court.

The tax was imposed pursuant to an ordinance approved April 9, 1915, passed under the powers conferred upon the City by its charter and an act of the General Assembly approved March 15, 1915 (Virginia Acts 1915, c. 85, p. 119). The opinion of the court of last resort shows that plaintiff in error drew in question the validity of the ordinance and statute, as construed and applied, upon the ground of their alleged repugnance to § 5219, Rev. Stats., and that the court sustained their validity notwithstanding. Under § 237, Jud. Code, as amended by Act of September 6, 1916, c. 448, 39 Stat. 726, writ of error is the appropriate process for reviewing the final judgment in this court, and the petition for allowance of a writ of certiorari will be denied.

It will not be necessary to recite the provisions of the statute and ordinance, beyond saying that, taken in connection with another act of the General Assembly, approved March 17, 1915 (Virginia Acts 1915, c. 117, p. 160), they authorized the imposition for the year 1915 upon bank stocks, state and national, of a tax for state purposes at the rate of 35 cents and a tax for city purposes at the rate of $1.40 -- a total of $1.75 -- upon the $100 of valuation, while upon intangible personal property in general, including bonds, notes, and other evidences of indebtedness, the state rate was 65 cents and the city rate 30 cents, an aggregate of 95 cents, upon each $100 of valuation.

The Bank's petition alleged, and the evidence showed without dispute, that in the City of Richmond, in 1915,

[ 256 U.S. Page 638]

     city and state taxes at the rates first mentioned were imposed upon national bank stocks (including that of plaintiff in error) to the aggregate value of more than $8,000,000 and stocks of state banks and trust companies to the value of $6,000,000 and upwards, while taxes at the lower aggregate rate of 95 cents per $100 -- city tax 30 cents, state tax 65 cents -- were imposed for the same year upon bonds, notes, and other evidences of indebtedness aggregating $6,250,000. It is to be inferred that a substantial part of this aggregate was in the hands of individual taxpayers; the precise amount does not appear. It also was shown by evidence without dispute that moneyed capital in the hands of individuals invested in bonds, notes, and other evidences of indebtedness comes into competition with the national banks in the loan market.

Neither of the state courts passed upon this evidence or made findings of fact thereon; doubtless because, under their respective views of the applicable law, the facts referred to were immaterial. But this omission does not relieve us of the duty of examining the evidence for the purpose of determining what facts reasonably might be, and presumably would be, found therefrom by the state court, if plaintiff in error's contention upon the question of federal law should be sustained, and the facts thereby shown to be material. Carlson v. Curtiss, 234 U.S. 103, 106.

The Supreme Court of Appeals entertained the view that the purpose of § 5219, Rev. Stats., was confined to the prevention of discrimination by the States in favor of state banking associations as against national banking associations, and that since none such is shown here there was no repugnance to the federal statute. This, however, is too narrow a view of § 5219. It traces its origin to § 41 of the Act of June 3, 1864, c. 106, 13 Stat. 99, 111-112, in ...


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