Allied-Signal, Inc. v. Director, Div. of Taxation, 504 U.S. 768, 18 (1992)

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Cite as: 504 U. S. 768 (1992)

Opinion of the Court

profits entry on a financial statement, but that state of mind sheds little light on the question whether in pursuing maximum profits they treated particular intangible assets as serving, on the one hand, an investment function, or, on the other, an operational function. See Container Corp., supra, at 180, n. 19. That is the relevant unitary business inquiry, one which focuses on the objective characteristics of the asset's use and its relation to the taxpayer and its activities within the taxing State. It is an inquiry to which our cases give content, and which is necessary if the limits of the Due Process and Commerce Clauses are to have substance in a modern economy. In short, New Jersey's suggestion is not in accord with the well-established and substantial case law interpreting the Due Process and Commerce Clauses.

Our precedents are workable in practice; indeed, New Jersey conceded as much. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 37-38 (Apr. 22, 1992). If lower courts have reached divergent results in applying the unitary business principle to different factual circumstances, that is because, as we have said, any number of variations on the unitary business theme "are logically consistent with the underlying principles motivating the approach," Container Corp., supra, at 167, and also because the constitutional test is quite fact sensitive.

Indeed, if anything would be unworkable in practice, it would be for us now to abandon our settled jurisprudence defining the limits of state power to tax under the unitary business principle. State legislatures have relied upon our precedents by enacting tax codes which allocate intangible nonbusiness income to the domiciliary State, see App. to Brief for Petitioner on Reargument 1a-7a (collecting statutes). Were we to adopt New Jersey's theory, we would be required either to invalidate those statutes or authorize what would be certain double taxation. And, of course, we would defeat the reliance interest of those corporations that have structured their activities and paid their taxes based upon the well-established rules we here confirm. Difficult ques-


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