OCTOBER TERM, 1991
certiorari to the supreme court of wisconsin
No. 91-119. Argued January 22, 1992—Decided June 19, 1992
During 1973-1978, respondent chewing gum manufacturer, which is based in Chicago, sold its products in Wisconsin through a sales force consisting of a regional manager and various "field" representatives, all of whom engaged in various activities in addition to requesting orders from customers. Wisconsin orders were sent to Chicago for acceptance, and were filled by shipment through common carrier from outside the State. In 1980, petitioner Wisconsin Department of Revenue concluded that respondent's in-state business activities during the years in question had been sufficient to support imposition of a franchise tax. Respondent objected to the assessment of that tax, maintaining that it was immune under 15 U. S. C. § 381(a), which prohibits a State from taxing the income of a corporation whose only business activities within the State consist of "solicitation of orders" for tangible goods, provided that the orders are sent outside the State for approval and the goods are delivered from out of state. Ultimately, the State Supreme Court disallowed the imposition of the tax.
Held: Respondent's activities in Wisconsin fell outside the protection of
§ 381(a). Pp. 220-235. (a) In addition to any speech or conduct that explicitly or implicitly proposes a sale, "solicitation of orders" as used in § 381(a) covers those activities that are entirely ancillary to requests for purchases—those that serve no independent business function apart from their connection to the soliciting of orders. The statutory phrase should not be interpreted narrowly to cover only actual requests for purchases or the actions that are absolutely essential to making those requests, but includes the entire process associated with inviting an order. Thus, providing a car and a stock of free samples to salesmen is part of the "solicitation of orders," because the only reason to do it is to facilitate requests for purchases. On the other hand, the statutory phrase should not be interpreted broadly to include all activities that are routinely, or even closely, associated with solicitation or customarily performed by salesmen. Those activities that the company would have reason to engage in anyway but chooses to allocate to its in-state sales force are not covered. For example, employing salesmen to repair or service the company's products is not part of the "solicitation of orders," since there isPage: Index 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Next
Last modified: October 4, 2007