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SUSQUEHANNA POWER COMPANY v. STATE TAX COMMISSION MARYLAND (NO. 1.)

decided: April 13, 1931.

SUSQUEHANNA POWER COMPANY
v.
STATE TAX COMMISSION OF MARYLAND (NO. 1.)



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND.

Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts

Author: Stone

[ 283 U.S. Page 292]

 MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is here on appeal, § 237 Jud. Code, as amended by the Act of January 31, 1928, from a judgment of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, 159 Md. 334; 151 Atl. 29, which upheld an order of appellee, the State Tax Commission, assessing 2110 acres of appellant's submerged lands, for 1929 taxation, at $2,349,300.

Appellant is a licensee of the Federal Power Commission, created under the Act of June 10, 1920, c. 285, 41 Stat. 1063. Acting under the license, it has constructed a dam across the Susquehanna River which, for present purposes, we assume to be navigable, and has established an adjacent power plant at a point within the State. As a part of the power project, it acquired by purchase from private owners, and by grant from the State, large areas of land, including the bed of the river and adjoining upland. On completion of the dam, the waters of the Susquehanna were backed up, forming a pool about fourteen miles in length, and submerging a large area formerly upland, including a town site, and land previously occupied and used as a canal. The lands assessed by appellee lie under the pool created by appellant's dam, and are used, and derive their chief value, as a part of the power project.

In the present suit, brought to review the order of the Commission fixing the assessment, appellant assailed its action, taken under Laws of Maryland, 1914, c. 841; Bagby, Ann. Code (1924), Art. 81, § 249 (2), directing assessment of property for taxation, as in conflict with the Federal Constitution. Appellant urges, as principal grounds for reversal, first, that in constructing and operating its power plant under the federal license, it, and its lands and property used in the power project, are agencies

[ 283 U.S. Page 293]

     or instrumentalities of the Federal Government, state taxation of which is impliedly prohibited by the Constitution, and, second, that in assessing the lands for taxation, appellee has assigned to them a value attributable to appellant's license, likewise immune from taxation, and to the river waters, not appellant's property, in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

1. The Federal Power Commission is authorized to grant to licensees permission to construct dams on navigable waterways, and to make use of surplus water not necessary for navigation. Act of June 10, 1920, supra. The Act contemplates the use of such surplus water in the development of power, and, for that purpose, the construction and operation of works and transmission lines. See Ford & Son v. Little Falls Co., 280 U.S. 369. It provides (§ 14) that after the expiration of a license, the Government shall have the right to take over and operate the licensed project upon payment of just compensation as defined by the Act. The Commission is given extensive regulatory and supervisory powers over the construction, maintenance, operation, financing, rates, and service of licensed projects, and over the system of accounting maintained by licensees. The Act does not deal directly with state taxation, but § 8, forbidding voluntary transfers of licenses, provides that "tax sales shall not be deemed voluntary transfers . . ."

Appellant is a business corporation, operating its power plant for profit. The challenged tax is imposed, not on the license, but on the private property of the licensee used in its business. Lands privately owned are subject to state taxation although lying under navigable waters, Central R. R. Co. v. Jersey City, 209 U.S. 473; Leary v. Jersey City, 248 U.S. 328, as is private property in which the Federal Government may have an interest, Baltimore Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. v. Baltimore, 195 U.S. 375; New Brunswick v. United States, 276 U.S. 547; Shaw v.

[ 283 U.S. Page 294]

     O. & G. R. R. Co. v. Mackey, 256 U.S. 531; Group No. 1 Oil Corp. v. Bass, ante, p. 279.

The present case is not only controlled by the earlier decisions of this Court, but it would be difficult to suppose any case in which the adverse effect of a tax upon a governmental purpose would be more remote or attenuated, or in which the asserted immunity would more ...


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