Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982)

Author: Justice Brennan

Show Summary

Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982)

JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring in the judgment.

In California v. Texas, 437 U.S. 601 (1978), I joined in the judgment of the Court denying California’s motion for leave to file an original complaint. I was of the view that California’s motion should be denied, "at least until such time as it is shown that . . . a statutory interpleader action cannot or will not be brought." Id. at 602. I also stated that I was "not so sure as" Justice Stewart and JUSTICE POWELL that Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1939), had been wrongly decided. 437 U.S. at 601. See id. at 606 (Stewart, J., concurring); id. at 615 (POWELL, J., concurring).

Substantially for the reasons set forth in the opinion of the Court, it is now clear to me that, so long as Worcester County Trust Co. v. Riley, 302 U.S. 292 (1937), remains good law, an interpleader suit in the district court is not a practical solution to the problem of potential double taxation presented in cases such as these. As JUSTICE POWELL persuasively argues in Part III of his dissenting opinion, later cases, construing the Due Process Clause, have undermined Worcester County’s holding that the unfairness of double taxation on the basis of conflicting determinations of domicile does not rise to constitutional dimensions. And JUSTICE POWELL is surely correct in observing that

[t]he threat of multiple taxation based solely on domicile simply is incompatible with the structural principles of a federal system recognizing as "fundamental" a constitutional right to travel.

Post at 101.

But if Worcester County is not to be overruled, and interpleader is not available to provide relief from the possibility of duplicative taxation of this estate, I think it appropriate, under Texas v. Florida, supra, to exercise our original jurisdiction to decide the present controversy. I agree with Professor Chafee, quoted post at 101, that "[s]omewhere within [the] federal system we should be able to find remedies for the frictions which that system creates." Where such a remedy exists -- even if only in the narrow class of cases falling within the holding of Texas v. Florida -- it should be employed. The exercise of the Court’s original jurisdiction in circumstances such as this is both just and prudent, and very likely in accordance with the Framer’s original intent.

1. 28 U.S.C. § 1335.

2. Nevada imposes no estate tax, and therefore has not appeared as a party.

3. As a result of this decision, the Hughes heirs apparently will not suffer unfair double taxation. Other heirs of other estates presumably will not be so fortunate.

4. JUSTICE BRENNAN also filed a concurring opinion tentatively accepting Justice Stewart’s conclusion and stating that he would "deny California’s motion, at least until such time as it is shown that . . . a statutory interpleader action cannot or will not be brought." 437 U.S. at 601, 602. I too filed a concurring opinion. Id. at 615.

5. The Court’s main ground for distinguishing the situation in 1978 from the situation today seems to be that "it seemed to several Members of the Court [in 1978] that statutory interpleader might obviate the need to exercise our original jurisdiction." California v. Texas, post at 168. Yet this argument simply is unresponsive to the question whether there is an actual case or controversy for which our original jurisdiction properly can be invoked. The Court notes that "several other uncertainties" have disappeared. Post at 169. But its arguments are makeweights. Until the States have obtained conflicting judgments in their own courts, there is no ripe "dispute between two States as to the proper division of [the] finite sum of money" comprising the Hughes estate. California v. Texas, 437 U.S. 601, 610 (1978) (Stewart, J., concurring). See post at 170 (POWELL, J., dissenting).

6. Worcester County must be viewed in the context of a constitutional history that is hardly one of settled consistency. Only seven years before the Court decided Worcester County, in Farmers Loan & Trust Co. v. Minnesota, 280 U.S. 204 (1930), this Court had overruled Blackstone v. Miller, 188 U.S. 189 (1903), and held that the Due Process Clause forbids the multiple taxation of intangibles. For a time, Farmers Loan & Trust Co. appeared to have established that only the single State of a person’s domicile could tax intangible property in a decedent’s estate. See First National Bank v. Maine, 284 U.S. 312 (1932). But the Court then reached the contrary conclusion in Worcester County, finding that inconsistent state court adjudications of domicile and consequent assessment of estate taxes did not violate the Due Process Clause. First National Bank v. Maine, supra, then squarely was overruled by State Tax Comm’n v. Aldrich, 316 U.S. 174, 181 (1942), which held that multiple taxation of intangibles did not per se offend the Constitution.


If it is unfair to subject an estate to two domicile-based taxes when all agree that it is possible to have only one domicile, that unfairness is just as great, if not greater, when a decedent’s estate is able to pay the taxes to both States.

437 U.S. at 611.


When we speak of the jurisdiction to tax land or chattels as being exclusively in the state where they are physically located, we mean no more than that the benefit and protection of laws enabling the owner to enjoy the fruits of his ownership . . . are so narrowly restricted to the state in whose territory the property is physically located as to set practical limits to taxation by others. Other states have been said to be without jurisdiction and so without constitutional power to tax tangibles if, because of their location elsewhere, those states can afford no substantial protection to the rights taxed. . . .

307 U.S. at 364.

9. See Curry v. McCanless, 307 U.S. 357, 365-366 (1939):

Very different considerations, both theoretical and practical, apply to the taxation of intangibles, that is, rights which are not related to physical things. Such rights are but relationships between persons, natural or corporate, which the law recognizes by attaching to them certain sanctions enforceable in courts. The power of government over them and the protection which it gives them cannot be exerted through control of a physical thing. They can be made effective only through control over and protection afforded to those persons whose relationships are the origin of the rights.

10. See Chafee, Federal Interpleader Since the Act of 1936, 49 Yale L.J. 377, 383-384 (1940) (footnotes omitted):

[T]here are two types of double taxation. In one kind, the same property or person is taxed in two states on two different theories. . . . In the other kind of double taxation, a single theory is applied in both states to tax the same person or property, but the two state governments disagree on a vital issue of fact. The Worcester County Trust Co. case falls into this class. Both states had the same law, that a death tax is levied only at the decedent’s domicile and that a man has only one domicile. The only dispute was, where was that domicile?

It is rather surprising that almost all the attacks on double taxation . . . have been directed at the first kind, because the second kind seems more unjust. . . . [I]t is highly unfair for both state governments to tell the taxpayer, "You have to pay only one tax," and then make him pay twice. The injustice of the situation is clearly brought out by the fact that the courts of each state regard the other state as acting unlawfully, and yet neither state gives the taxpayer any remedy.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982)

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982)

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Brennan, "Brennan, J., Concurring," Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982) in 457 U.S. 85 457 U.S. 92. Original Sources, accessed July 14, 2024,

MLA: Brennan. "Brennan, J., Concurring." Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982), in 457 U.S. 85, page 457 U.S. 92. Original Sources. 14 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Brennan, 'Brennan, J., Concurring' in Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85 (1982). cited in 1982, 457 U.S. 85, pp.457 U.S. 92. Original Sources, retrieved 14 July 2024, from