Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1039)

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Author: Justice Frankfurter

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Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1039)

Opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER.

The authority which the Constitution has committed to this Court over "Controversies between two or more States," serves important ends in the working of our federalism. But there are practical limits to the efficacy of the adjudicatory process in the adjustment of interstate controversies. The limitations of litigation -- its episodic character, its necessarily restricted scope of inquiry, its confined regard for considerations of policy, its dependence on the contingencies of a particular record, and other circumscribing factors -- often denature and even mutilate the actualities of a problem, and thereby render the litigious process unsuited for its solution. Considerations such as these have from time to time led this Court, or some of its most distinguished members, either to deprecate resort to this Court by states for settlement of their controversies (see New York v. New Jersey, 256 U.S. 296, 313) or to oppose assumption of jurisdiction (see Mr Chief Justice Taney in Pennsylvania v. Wheeling Bridge Co., 13 How. 518, 579, 592; in connection with the Act of August 31, 1852, 10 Stat. 112, and Pennsylvania v. Wheeling Bridge Co., 18 How. 421; Mr. Justice Brandeis in Pennsylvania v. West Virginia, 262 U.S. 553, 605).{1}

The presupposition of jurisdiction in this case is the common law doctrine of a single domiciliary status. That, for purposes of legal rights and liabilities, a person must have one domicile, and can have only one, is an historic rule of the common law, and justified by much good sense. Nevertheless, it often represents a fiction. Certainly, in many situations, the determination of a man’s domicile is by no means the establishment of an event or a fact that exists in nature. Even assuming that there is general agreement as to the elements which in combination constitute domicile, a slight shift of emphasis in applying the formula produces contradictory results. But, on the whole, the doctrine of domicile has adequately served as a practical working rule in the simpler societies out of which it arose. More particularly, its difficulties of application were circumscribed when wealth predominantly consisted of realty and tangibles, and when restricted modes of transportation and communication conditioned fixity of residence. In view of the enormous extent to which intangibles now constitute wealth, and the increasing mobility of men, particularly men of substance, the necessity of a single headquarters for all legal purposes, particularly for purposes of taxation, tends to be a less and less useful fiction. In the setting of modern circumstances, the inflexible doctrine of domicile -- one man, one home -- is in danger of becoming a social anachronism. Recent applications and modifications of this rule to satisfy the vague contours of the due process clause have hardly mitigated its inadequacies for our day. E.g., Frick v. Pennsylvania, 268 U.S. 473; Blodgett v. Silberman, 277 U.S. 1; Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. v. Minnesota, 280 U.S. 204; First National Bank v. Maine, 284 U.S. 312.

The facts in this case doubtless present a bizarre story. But, in Green’s peregrinations from state to state, in the multiplicity of his residences, and in the conflicting appeals which various states made upon his interests from time to time, the case is hardly unique, nor are analogues to it unlikely to appear in the future. As a result, this Court is asked to determine the conflicting claims of different states of the Union to a share of the estate of individuals who, as a matter of hard fact, at different periods and contemporaneously invoked and enjoyed such benefits as the existence of state governments confer. It is asked to do so by applying an old doctrine of limited validity to modern circumstances whereby, through the elusive search for an often nonexistent fact called domicile, only one state, to the exclusion of all others, would be allowed to levy a tax. The inherent difficulties of this problem have been widely recognized.{2} The old formulas are simply inadequate to the new situation. On the other hand, it is not for this Court in these cases of multiple residences to evolve new taxing policies based on more equitable considerations than the "all or nothing" consequence of the old domiciliary rule.

I am not unaware of the dilemma presented by such a situation as the Dorrance litigation.{3} The circumstances attending the Green estate do not preclude like possibilities. But, merely because no other means than litigation have as yet been evolved to adjust the conflicting claims of several states in a single estate is not sufficient reason for utilizing as a basis of our jurisdiction oversimplified formulas of the past that have largely lost their relevance in the contemporary context.

The controlling assumption in taking jurisdiction in this case is that the ascertainment of a single domicile for Green is merely the determination of a fact. The auxiliary assumption is the existence of solid danger that the highest courts of four states will ascertain this fact in four different ways. Texas has no standing here except on the basis that three state courts will despoil her of her rights by leaving no assets in the estate out of which to satisfy her claim. But the fact that the political officers of four states make claims to an estate so as to safeguard any possible interest is hardly a substantial reason for assuming that their judiciaries will sanction the claims.

It is not to be assumed that the state courts will make findings dictated solely by fiscal advantages to their states. The contrary assumption must be made -- and the assumption rests on adjudicated experience -- e.g., Matter of Trowbridge, 266 N.Y. 283, 194 N.E. 756. To the extent that there is danger that, out of the same events, four state courts will spell four different domiciles, it is inherent in the search for a domiciliary status. The result is arrived at not through ascertainment of an external fact, but by attributions made as a matter of law to satisfy the supposed abstract legal requirement of a single domicile no matter what the actualities of human behavior may be. Even a small change of portions in the admixture of factors which, in combination, yield the legal concept of domicile may place the domicile in one state rather than another, and thereby give estate duties to this state rather than that. But the state treasuries are not alone under powerful motives to exploit the doctrine of domicile. The tax systems of different states have varying degrees of attraction for those in control of an estate, and it is to their natural interest to seek a single inclusive disposition of the elusive issue of domicile by having the original jurisdiction of this Court invoked.

It is hardly an answer that this Court can protect itself against feigned controversies. The difficulty is that, in these modern multiple residence situations, the issue of domicile is too often an inherently feigned issue. Two state courts can very legitimately find two different domiciles, in that two equally competent tribunals utilizing the same outward facts in the alembic of the same common law concept of domicile may easily distil contradictory conclusions. Merely to avoid such a conflict is not enough to give jurisdiction.{4} The variant that this case presents is the allegation that, if the claims of all four states prevail, the estate would be more than eaten up, and Texas would lose her potential right. This added requirement -- the absorption of the entire estate by having numerous states stake out claims -- is too readily supplied.

To extend the neat procedural device of interpleader to such a situation is another illustration of transferring a remedy from one legal environment to circumstances qualitatively different. To settle the interests of different claimants to a single res where these interests turn on narrow and relatively few facts and where conflicting claims cannot have equal validity in experience is one thing; it is a wholly different thing to bring into court in a single suit all states which even remotely might assert domiciliary claims against a decedent and where one state court might with as much reason as another find domicile within its state. Certainly when the claim of the moving state is so obviously without basis as this Court has now found in the case of Texas, the linchpin of jurisdiction is gone, and the other states should be remitted to appropriate remedies outside this Court. Such a disposition would be a real safeguard against the construction of a suit to give this Court jurisdiction over matters which, as such, this Court has already held, are not within our province.{5} To find that the decedent could not, on self-serving grounds, elect to make his home in Texas "where he in fact had no residence," and yet to retain the bill and dispose of it on its merits, amounts, in effect, to a declaration of rights on behalf of the estate which could not be adjudicated otherwise than through the screen of a controversy between states.

In this case, we do not even have substantial translation into effective legal action of the assertions by the four states of their domiciliary claims. To be sure, the Master has found, as summarized in the Court’s opinion, "that each of the four states in good faith asserts that the decedent was domiciled within it at his death." This is a natural attitude of prudence on the part of law officers of states in the case of decedents who had scattered their lives, as well as their holdings. But to give this Court the extraordinary jurisdiction which is invoked, there ought to be more than these caveats. There should be manifestation of that hard determination to press a state’s claim which is implied in setting the tax collecting machinery of a state in motion. Allegation, affirmative proof, and finding of such attempts by the various states are lacking. And New York denies without contradiction that its procedure for tax levy and collection has been set in operation.{6} These circumstances are therefore not comparable to the issues in a conventional interpleader suit brought to forestall conflicting actions. Initiation of litigation is, of course, not a prerequisite to an ordinary interpleader. This only serves to emphasize the inappropriateness of utilizing a remedy invented to settle private controversies of limited scope to the resolution of conflicting governmental interests.

Jurisdictional doubts inevitably lose force once leave has been given to file a bill, a master has been appointed, long hearings have been held, and a weighty report has been submitted. And so, were this the last, as well as the first, assumption of jurisdiction by this Court of a controversy like the present, even serious doubts about it might well go unexpressed. But, if experience is any guide, the present decision will give momentum to kindred litigation and reliance upon it beyond the scope of the special facts of this case. To be sure, the Court’s opinion endeavors to circumscribe carefully the bounds of jurisdiction now exercised. But legal doctrines have, in an odd kind of way, the faculty of self-generating extension. Therefore, in pricking out the lines of future development of what is new doctrine, the importance of these issues may make it not inappropriate to indicate difficulties which I have not been able to overcome, and potential abuses to which the doctrine is not unlikely to give rise.

I am authorized to say that MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in these views and in the conclusion that the bill should be dismissed.

On May 15, 1939, the following decree was entered in the above-entitled case:

DECREE

This cause came on to be heard on the pleadings, evidence, and the exceptions filed by the parties to the Report of the Special Master, and was argued by counsel.

The Court having dismissed Mabel Harlow Green as a party defendant to the suit on January 17, 1938 (302 U.S. 662), pursuant to the stipulation filed by the parties, it is now here ordered, adjudged, and decreed as follows:

1. The Report of the Special Master is confirmed.

2. The domicile of Edward Howland Robinson Green at the time of his death, June 8, 1936, was in fact and in law within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and not within the State of Texas, the State of Florida, or the State of New York.

3. The cause will be retained upon the docket for such further action as may be necessary and proper and the parties or any of them may at any time hereafter apply for relief as they may be advised.

And it is further ordered that the costs in this case, including the compensation and expenses of the Special Master shall be paid one-fifth each by the State of Texas, State of Florida, State of New York, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green Wilks.

1. The spirit in which interstate litigation should be approached has been thus expressed by Mr. Chief Justice Fuller in Louisiana v. Texas, 176 U.S. 1, 15:

But it is apparent that the jurisdiction is of so delicate and grave a character that it was not contemplated that it would be exercised save when the necessity was absolute, and the matter, in itself, properly justiciable.

2. Interstate Commission on Conflicting Taxation, Conflicting Taxation (1935) 88 et seq.; compare League of Nations Documents, E.F.S. 16 A. 16.1921; E.F.S. 73 F. 19. 1923; C. 368. M. 115.1925. II; C. 216. M. 85.1927. II; C. 345. M. 102.1928. II; C. 562. M. 178.1928. II; C. 345. M. 134, 1929. II; C. 585. M. 263.1930. II; C. 791. M. 385.1931. IIA; C. 618. M. 291.1933. IIA; C. 118. M. 57.1936. IIA.

3. In re Dorrance’s Estate, 309 Pa. 151, 163 A. 303, cert. denied sub nom., Dorrance v. Pennsylvania, 287 U.S. 660, 288 U.S. 617; New Jersey v. Pennsylvania, 287 U.S. 580; In re Dorrance, 113 N.J.Eq. 266, 166 A. 177, 115 N.J.Eq. 268, 170 A. 601, 116 N.J.Eq. 204, 172 A. 503, aff’d sub nom. Dorrance v. Thayer-Martin, 176 A. 902, 13 N.J.Misc. 168, aff’d, 116 N.J.L. 362, 184 A. 743, cert. denied, 298 U.S. 678; Hill v. Martin, 296 U.S. 393.

4. The principle is thus formulated in the present case:

That two or more states may each constitutionally assess death taxes on a decedent’s intangibles upon a judicial determination that the decedent was domiciled within it in proceedings binding upon the representatives of the estate, but to which the other states are not parties, is an established principle of our federal jurisprudence.

Ante, p. 410. The decision of the Court therefore binds the states upon an issue of state law which this Court could not consider upon appeal from the state courts, and on which this Court would be bound to follow state law in all other proceedings instituted in the federal courts.

5. Seenote 4, supra.

6.

As yet, no one of the States has assessed and levied any death tax against the estate, and, if the matter were left to the ordinary procedure for the assessment of such taxes in the various States, it is highly improbable that determinations would be made in all of the States that Green was domiciled therein. In New York State, the only administrative official who has authority to determine whether or not the estate tax is assessable on the theory that Green was a resident of the State is the Surrogate of one of the counties, and thus far no Surrogate has acted in this respect.

Brief for the New York, p. 2.

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Chicago: Frankfurter, "Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion," Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1039) in 306 U.S. 398 306 U.S. 429–306 U.S. 435. Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHCGZWAQGLYPSSV.

MLA: Frankfurter. "Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion." Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1039), in 306 U.S. 398, pp. 306 U.S. 429–306 U.S. 435. Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHCGZWAQGLYPSSV.

Harvard: Frankfurter, 'Frankfurter, J., Separate Opinion' in Texas v. Florida, 306 U.S. 398 (1039). cited in 1039, 306 U.S. 398, pp.306 U.S. 429–306 U.S. 435. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=LHCGZWAQGLYPSSV.