Original Package Doctrine

Author:Edward L. Barrett

Page 1864

In BROWN V. MARYLAND (1827) the Supreme Court had before it a challenge to a state statute requiring all importers of goods from foreign countries to take out a $50 license. Instead of simply holding that such a license tax imposed only on importers from foreign countries violated the constitutional clause prohibiting states from laying "any IMPOSTS or duties on imports or exports," Chief Justice JOHN MARSHALL used the occasion to decide just when goods imported from abroad ceased being imports exempted from taxation by the states. He concluded that no tax could be imposed on the goods or their importer so long as the goods had not been sold and were held in the original packages in which they were imported. He also said the principles laid down "apply equally to importations from a sister state."

The original package DOCTRINE had a long career as applied to goods imported from abroad. In Low v. Austin (1872) the Court held that a state could not collect its uniform property tax on cases of wine which the importer held in their original package on tax day. Much later, in Hooven Allison Co. v. Evatt (1945), the Court applied the doctrine to immunize bales of hemp from state property taxation, so long as the importer held them in their original package?the bales. Along the way, not surprisingly, the Court struggled in many cases with such problems as what constitutes the original package, and when it is broken.

Finally, in MICHELIN TIRE CORP. V. WAGES (1976) the Court upheld the imposition of a nondiscriminatory property tax upon tires imported from abroad and held in their original packages. It discussed at length the decision in Low v. Austin, overruled it, and appeared to be saying that only taxes discriminating against FOREIGN COMMERCE will be held invalid. Hence, it appears that the rules governing taxation of imports will now be similar to those applied to taxing such goods from other states, with the original package doctrine playing no part in the decisions.

Marshall's suggestion in Brown v. Maryland that the original package doctrine applied to state taxation of goods imported from other states was early rejected. In WOODRUFF V. PARHAM (1869) the Court upheld a state sales tax applied to an auctioneer who brought goods from other states and sold them in the taxing state in the original and unbroken packages. The IMPORTEXPORT CLAUSE was determined to apply only to traffic with foreign nations, not to...

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