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UNITED STATES v. HENRY PRENTISS & CO.

decided: January 9, 1933.

UNITED STATES
v.
HENRY PRENTISS & CO., INC.



CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Cardozo

[ 288 U.S. Page 79]

 MR. JUSTICE CARDOZO delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent (the plaintiff in the court below) brought suit against the United States in a District Court to recover overpayments of income and excess-profits taxes for the years 1918 and 1920. The overpayments had come about, so it was claimed, from the undervaluation by the Commissioner of the respondent's invested capital, with a consequent exaggeration of the profits to be taxed. Two items or classes of property were the subject of the controversy.

[ 288 U.S. Page 80]

     In each year there has been an omission to include the full value of the real estate; indeed the parties have stipulated that the value of the real estate was greater by the sum of $46,371.08 than the sum allowed in the assessment. In each year also there had been an omission to include the value of intangible property, and particularly good will. The District Court held that there could be no relief in respect of either item for the year 1918 because the claim for refund filed with the Commissioner did not comply with the statute and the Treasury Regulations. In respect of both items, real estate and intangibles, relief was granted to the taxpayer to the extent of overpayments for the year 1920. The result was a judgment in favor of the respondent for $7,975.21. Cross-appeals followed to the Court of Appeals for the second circuit. Upon the taxpayer's appeal, the decision was that the defective refund claim for 1918 had been made good by amendment, and that the tax for that year, as well as for 1920, had been overpaid as to the real estate. Upon the government's appeal, the decision was that the item of intangibles should have been excluded for both years. 57 F.2d 676. A writ of certiorari, designed to bring up the ruling as to the amendment of the claim for 1918, was granted by this court on the petition of the government. No petition for a writ was submitted by the taxpayer.

On June 16, 1919, respondent filed its income and excess profits tax return for the year 1918, showing a total tax of $535,144.20, which it paid. On December 28, 1920, it paid for the year 1918 an additional tax of $119,191.19, as the result of an additional assessment, receiving back, however, $9,559.19 on the completion of the audit. Within the time prescribed by law there was filed with the Commissioner, on March 14, 1924, a claim for refund. In this claim, the respondent demanded the repayment of $200,000. It stated in substance as the ground for this demand

[ 288 U.S. Page 81]

     that owing to abnormal conditions affecting its invested capital and income, there could be no fair computation of the tax by the appraisal of the cash value of its property in accordance with § 326 of the Revenue Act of 1918 (c. 18, 40 Stat. 1057, 1091, 1092, 1093), and that it should have the benefit of a special assessment under §§ 327 and 328.

Section 327 of the Act provides in subdivision (d) that the tax shall be determined in accordance with § 328 "where upon application by the corporation the Commissioner finds and so declares of record that the tax if determined without benefit of this section would, owing to abnormal conditions affecting the capital or income of the corporation, work upon the corporation an exceptional hardship evidenced by gross disproportion between the tax computed without benefit of this section and the tax computed by reference to the representative corporations specified in Section 328."

Section 328 provides in effect that in cases covered thereby the tax shall be computed without reference to the value of the invested capital and shall be determined by the ratio which the average tax of representative corporations engaged in a like or similar trade or business bears to their average net income.

The respondent's claim for refund, with the specification of the erroneous denial of a special assessment as the statement of its grievance, was filed, as we have seen, in March, 1924. On May 14 of that year, the respondent received from the Commissioner a letter acknowledging the filing and notifying the claimant of the procedure to be followed. "No consideration," it was there written, "may be given under the provisions of Sections 327 and 328 until statutory net income and invested capital are definitely determined. It is ...


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