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BENTON BROTHERS DRAYAGE & STORAGE COMPANY et al. v. MAYOR & ALDERMEN OF THE CITY OF SAVANNAH et al.
22065.
Petition for injunction, etc. Chatham Superior Court. Before Judge Harrison.
MOBLEY, Justice.
1. Trucks of a motor common carrier which are operated without as well as within the limits of a municipality are subject to the Motor Common Carriers Act and the trucks themselves and the right to operate them as a business are not amenable to the taxing powers of municipalities.
2. While equity will not take jurisdiction either to aid or to obstruct the administration of the criminal law, it will take jurisdiction to prevent irreparable injury to property rights even though an effect of the assumption of jurisdiction may be to enjoin the enforcement of criminal proceedings.
3. The petition states a cause of action for the relief sought.
Error is assigned upon the judgment of the trial court sustaining defendants' general demurrers and dismissing plaintiffs' amended petition.
The petition alleges: Plaintiffs are motor common carriers holding certificates of public convenience from the Georgia Public Service Commission and operating under the regulations and control of the Commission. Defendants are the Mayor, Aldermen, Acting Chief of Police, and Acting Marshal of the City of Savannah.
By a general revenue ordinance, the City of Savannah has placed a vehicle license tag tax upon trucks for hire engaged in the local business of pick up and delivery within the City of Savannah, and a license tax upon the right to operate such vehicles, the ordinance providing for punishment of violators by fine or imprisonment.
Using the identical trucks, personnel, and facilities as are engaged in hauling under the tends of the Motor Common Carriers Act, and licensed by the Georgia Public Service Commission, plaintiffs do a very small portion of their total business in intracity hauling. By reason thereof, defendants seeks to impose upon plaintiffs the taxes provided for in the ordinance.
In an effort to compel plaintiffs to pay the taxes, the City of Savannah has issued subpoenas against employees of certain plaintiffs charging criminal violations, and has indicated to other plaintiffs that criminal proceedings will be brought against their companies and employees. This action on the part of the City of Savannah subjects plaintiffs' businesses and property to irreparable damages for which they have no adequate remedy at law. Heretofore, the City of Savannah has also required plaintiffs to purchase business or occupation licenses for their warehouses and businesses.
Because the State of Georgia has preempted the right to tax and control motor common carriers under Code Ann. 68-623, the City of Savannah is prohibited from levying any excise, license, or occupation tax of any nature on said equipment, or the right to operate said equipment, or any incidents of said motor carrier business, or on a motor common carrier.
The petition prays for process, rule nisi, and general relief, and for temporary and permanent injunction against defendants' undertaking to levy or collect any of the aforementioned taxes from plaintiffs and against defendants' proceeding with any pending criminal actions concerning the nonpayment of such taxes by plaintiffs or the bringing of any new actions concerning the same.
1. Will the fact that a motor common carrier does a minor portion of its business in intra-city hauling using trucks which are principally used in inter-city hauling and which therefore must be registered with the Georgia Public Service Commission bring such motor common carrier within the exemptions of the Motor Common Carriers Act, Code Ch. 68-6, thus permitting a city to tax its trucks and charge a license fee for the right to operate its business?
As to State preemption of the right to tax motor vehicles which come within the provisions of the Motor Common Carriers Act, or to charge a business license fee for the right to operate such trucks, Code Ann. 68-623 provides in part: "No subdivision of this State, including cities, municipalities, villages, townships, or counties shall levy any excise, license, or occupation tax of any nature on said equipment, or the right to operate said equipment or any incidents of said motor carrier business, or on a motor common carrier." Numerous decisions of this court have established that any ordinance attempting to tax vehicles covered by the act or to charge a business license fee for the right to operate vehicles covered by the act is void. City of Albany v. Ader, 176 Ga. 391 (1) (168 SE 1); Mayor &c. of Savannah v. Ellington Co., 177 Ga. 149 (1, 2) (170 SE 83); Southeastern Greyhound Lines v. City of Atlanta, 177 Ga. 181 (1) (170 SE 43); Ellington Co. v. City of Macon, 177 Ga. 541 (1) (170 SE 813); Acme Freight Lines v. City of Vidalia, 193 Ga. 334 (18 SE2d 540); and see City of Waycross v. Bell, 169 Ga. 57 (1) (149 SE 641).
The differences between the original Code 68-602 (b) and paragraph (b) as amended by the act of 1958 are readily apparent and, as applied to trucks which operate without as well as within the defined limits, the inference could not be stronger that the General Assembly intended by the amendatory act to change the test by which their coverage under or exemption from the Motor Common Carriers Act, and hence their amenability to the taxing power of municipalities, will be determined. Under the original paragraph (b), a truck which operated both within and without the defined limits was exempt from the act if it generally operated exclusively within the defined limits, although it might occasionally go beyond those limits, provided it did not operate from fixed termini outside the limits. This was a test of exemption using the criterion of where--within or without the defined limits--a preponderance of the operation took place. Under the amended paragraph (b) a truck is exempt only if it operates within the defined limits, provided it does not operate from fixed termini outside the limits, which necessarily implies that if it operates outside those limits it is subject to the act. As the allegations of plaintiffs' petition affirmatively show that plaintiffs' trucks here in question operate without as well as within the limits of the City of Savannah, it being immaterial where they generally operate, the trucks are subject to the Motor Common Carriers Act and the trucks themselves and the right to operate them are not amenable to the taxing power of the City of Savannah. Code Ann. 68-602 (b); Code Ann. 68-623; Acme Freight Lines v. City of Vidalia, 193 Ga. 334, supra.
The City of Savannah strongly relies upon the reasoning of the Court of Appeals in Cherry v. City of Atlanta, 47 Ga. App. 719 (171 SE 463), affirmed by this court without opinion in Cherry v. City of Atlanta, 179 Ga. 249 (175 SE 563). The reasoning of that decision affirming defendant Cherry's conviction for doing business without a license can not be applied in the present case because the 1958 amendment to Code 68-602 (Ga. L. 1958, pp. 688-89) exempts trucks used as common carriers only if they never venture beyond the defined limits, whereas the former acts relating to common carriers provided exemptions for trucks which generally operated within defined limits although they occasionally might have gone beyond those limits.
2. The only other question presented is whether or not plaintiffs may enjoin the prosecution by the city of their agents and employees due to nonpayment of the taxes. The City of Savannah does not seriously contend, as indeed it should not, that Code 55-102, which prohibits equity's interference with the enforcement of the criminal law, applies in the case at bar, for it is clear that property rights of the plaintiff carriers are here being subjected to irreparable injury, and equity will take jurisdiction to protect these rights of property even though an effect of that assumption of jurisdiction might well be to enjoin the enforcement of the penal provisions of the city ordinance. Moultrie Milk Shed v. City of Cairo, 206 Ga. 348 (1) (57 SE2d 199).
3. As the petition states a cause of action for the relief sought, the trial court erred in sustaining the general demurrers to it.
Judgment reversed. All the Justices concur.
Alton D. Kitchings, contra.
John F. M. Ranitz, Jr., Joseph M. Oliver, Oliver & Maner, Pierce, Ranitz & Lee, for plaintiffs in error.
ARGUED JUNE 10, 1963 -- DECIDED JULY 3, 1963.
Friday May 22 22:07 EDT


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