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LOGAN COUNTY v. UNITED STATES. *FN1

decided: February 21, 1898.

LOGAN COUNTY
v.
UNITED STATES.*FN1



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF CLAIMS.

Author: PECKHAM

[ 169 U.S. Page 256]

 MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM delivered the opinion of the court.

This application was made to recover taxes heretofore paid, and, like the one in the preceding case, it is based upon the statement that the tax could not be imposed as against the county of Logan, because it was a municipal corporation, and not subject to taxation by Congress upon its municipal revenues. United States v. Railroad Company, 17 Wall. 322. Therefore, if it appear that the railroad company has deducted from the dividend due the county the amount of any tax paid to the Government on a stock dividend issued by the company, the appellants are entitled to recover. The facts are quite simple.

On the 14th of March, 1894, the appellants filed their petition in the Court of Claims for the refunding of taxes which they claimed to be entitled to under the act of February 25, 1893, c. 165, 27 Stat. 477. The act is set out in full in the margin in the preceding case of United States v. City of Louisville, ante, p. 249. The claim made herein was for internal revenue taxes alleged to have been illegally assessed, and amounting to the sum of $17,606.14. Under the provisions of the statute above cited the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury, audited and adjusted this claim at the sum of $15,397.75, and in due course of procedure it came to the Comptroller of the Treasury, who directed a warrant to issue for the sum of but $9533.54 (the total amount withheld from the county on account of taxes on cash dividens), and he refused to include in the warrant the sum of $5864.21, being the balance of the $15,397.75 which had been audited and adjusted as above mentioned, because, as the Comptroller held, the claim for taxes paid on account of stock dividends was illegal and unauthorized, and this suit is brought to recover the sum which was rejected by the Comptroller, and which he refused to pay. The Court of Claims gave judgment in favor of the Government and dismissed the petition of claimants, who have appealed to this court from the judgment of dismissal.

The point first made by the counsel for the claimants is

[ 169 U.S. Page 257]

     that the audit and adjustment made by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and approved by the Secretary of the Treasury, under the act of Congress of 25th of February, 1893, was an award having all the force of a judgment which could not be questioned either by the Comptroller of the Treasury or by the courts, except for fraud or mistake. The cases of United States v. Kaufman, 96 U.S. 567, and United States v. Saving Bank, 104 U.S. 728, and cited for the purpose of showing the conclusiveness of the action of the officers above named.

All that those cases hold is, that where in a case somewhat similar to this the claim had been allowed by the officers named in the statute, "the allowance may be used as the basis of an action against the United States in the Court of Claims, where it will be prima facie evidence of the amount that is due, and put on the Government the burden of showing fraud or mistake. This burden is not overcome by proving that some other officer in the subsequent progress of the claim through the department declined to do what the law of Treasury regulations required of him before payment could be obtained. The fact of fraud or mistake must be established by competent evidence, the same as any other fact in issue.An allowance by the commissioner in this class of cases is not the simple passing of an ordinary claim by an ordinary accounting officer, but a statement of accounts by one having authority for the purpose under an act of Congress." United States v. Savings Bank, 104 U.S. 728, at 733. The question of the conclusiveness of the action of the officers of the Government under their general powers is also referred to in Wisconsin Central Railroad v. United States, 164 U.S. 190, and it is there held that the Government is not bound by the act of its officers in making an unauthorized payment under misconstruction of the law. However, the act of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and the Secretary of the Treasury in approving the claim may be assumed to be prima facie evidence that the amount so approved by them was due the claimant from the Government, and the burden therefore rested upon the Government of showing that the allowance of

[ 169 U.S. Page 258]

     the amount claimed in this proceeding was made through a mistake on the part of those officials. Unless this mistake is made apparent by the findings of the court below, its judgment in refusing to give effect to the allowance of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, approved by the Secretary of the Treasury, might have to be reversed. If, however, the findings show that those officials did make a mistake in allowing that portion of the claim made which is now in suit, the judgment of the court below, so far as this point is concerned, must be affirmed.

The defence made by the Government upon the merits is based on the provisions of the statute of 1893, and upon the allegations that the findings of the court below substantially show there were no taxes paid upon any stock dividends declared in 1867 or 1868. It is added that the claim on the part of the county of Logan was not in reality for any taxes actually paid on "dividends in scrip" or "stock dividends" issued to appellants, but that it was for a certain proportion of the taxes paid by the railroad company on that part of its profits which were not distributed in dividends, and which in fact constituted what the internal revenue acts of 1864 and 1866 called "profits carried to the account of any fund or used for construction," and which funds were taxable under those acts, as the property of the corporation.

Counsel insists that a tax upon undistributed profits in the treasury or belonging to the corporation is like a tax on gross earnings, a tax on the corporation on account of its own property, and not to be thereafter recovered by this claimant, either under the act of 1893 or under those sections of the United States Revised Statutes therein alluded to.

It must be remembered that the Court of Claims under the act of 1893 was simply given jurisdiction to examine a claim which was otherwise barred by the statute of limitations. The act gave no other right and created no claim against the Government not otherwise existing. The right of recovery for an illegal tax had been provided for by the Revised Statutes of the United ...


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