Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transportation Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Tax Law
  • Date Filed: July 1, 2014
  • Case #: 13-553
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 720 F.3d 863 (11th Cir. 2013)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a state commits discrimination when it requires industrial and commercial businesses, including rail carriers, to pay sales-and-use-tax, but exempts rail carriers’ competitors from the tax, and whether other aspects of the state’s taxation should be considered in addition to the tax provision challenged.

Alabama charges 4% sales tax on gross receipts of retail business and a use tax of 4% on personal property. Respondent pays the 4% sales tax on diesel fuel it purchases in the state, but its main competitors, motor and water carriers, do not pay the tax.

Respondent filed suit with the District Court alleging the tax was discriminatory; the District Court dismissed the case and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal, holding that Respondent could not bring suit claiming the tax was discriminatory. The Supreme Court overruled the Eleventh Circuit, holding that Respondent could bring suit claiming the tax was discriminatory under 49 USC §11501(b)(4). The District then held the tax was non-discriminatory, and the Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that enforcing the sales tax against Respondent while exempting Respondent’s primary competitors was discriminatory.

Petitioner argued that the Supreme Court should grant cert because there is a circuit split, with the Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits on one side, and the Eighth and Eleventh Circuit, plus the Minnesota Supreme Court on the other. In addition, the current case is the perfect vehicle to resolve the split because the question is presented cleanly, the outcome of the case turns entirely on the question presented, and the Eleventh Circuit’s decision is wrong.

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