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Penn Mutual Indemnity Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

decided: April 7, 1960.


Author: Goodrich

Before GOODRICH, STALEY and FORMAN, Circuit Judges.

GOODRICH, Circuit Judge.

This is an income tax case in which the Tax Court has sustained the Commissioner as against the taxpayer, 1959, 32 T.C. 653. The petitioner, as statutory liquidator of the Penn Mutual Indemnity Company, contests the decision of the Tax Court which determined a deficiency in tax for the year 1952 of $12,566.76. The taxpayer was, during its business lifetime, a mutual insurance company engaged in insuring casualty risks in Pennsylvania. There are two questions in the case. The first has to do with the jurisdiction of the Tax Court. The second has to do with the constitutionality of the tax imposed by Section 207(a) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, 26 U.S.C. ยง 207(a) (2).

The jurisdictional question will not concern us long because the Commissioner, although raising the question in the Tax Court, has abandoned it here. It was, however, picked up by a dissenting opinion in the Tax Court and we think we ought to comment on it.

In making its tax return, the taxpayer set out on form 1120M the usual figures required, including the tax due; the amount of tax shown to be due is the amount in dispute here, namely, $12,566.76. The taxpayer's counsel attached to this form a letter to the Director of Internal Revenue at the Philadelphia office saying that the company "takes the position that the imposition of an income tax against this company * * * is invalid and unconstitutional." The letter goes on to say that the company will not, acting under counsel's advice, issue a check to the United States covering any part of what is claimed to be an invalid tax.

The statute permits a taxpayer to petition the Tax Court for a redetermination after the Commissioner has determined that there is a "deficiency"*fn1 and defines "deficiency" as the amount by which the tax due exceeds "the amount shown as the tax by the taxpayer upon his return."*fn2 Since what was "shown as the tax by the taxpayer" upon the 1120M form was this $12,566.76 item and since the form itself did not show any reservation of rights on the taxpayer's part, the Commissioner took the position that there was no "deficiency." The fact that attached to this form was a letter unmistakably disputing the validity of the tax and clearly declaring that it was not going to be paid, is, according to this argument, to be disregarded.

The Tax Court was right in not going along with this argument. It would be unfortunate indeed if a taxpayer's substantive rights depended upon whether he showed his claim upon the form itself or upon a document accompanying it, especially if the document is attached to his return. Even the formal requirements for a bill of exchange, which were, and still are, rather tight because of the special nature of such a document, permitted an indorsement to be either on the bill or an allonge attached thereto.*fn3 And this was for a document which was designed to pass from hand to hand in the commercial world, not, as is a tax return, to be securely filed in Government repositories provided for that purpose. The Tax Court, therefore, had jurisdiction to hear the taxpayer's case.

We now turn to petitioner's attack upon the imposition of the tax upon this company. The tax was imposed under Section 207 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939 and the appropriate portion of that section is one which imposes a one percent tax upon the taxpayer's "gross amount of income from interest, dividends, rents, and net premiums," minus dividends to policyholders and tax-exempt interest; "net premiums" are the total premiums written or received less return premiums.*fn4 This taxpayer, for the taxable year in question, did not profit by its business and ended up with underwriting losses $206,198.12 in excess of its "gross amount of income from interest, dividends, rents, and net premiums."

Petitioner's argument is that, since the tax-imposing provisions relied on here occur in the middle of an income tax statute and are labeled by Congress as "income tax" provisions, the sole test of their validity is whether they tax "income" within the meaning of the Sixteenth Amendment. A tax on receipts from sales without allowing a deduction for cost of goods sold, so the argument goes, is not a tax on "income," not even "gross income," but a tax on gross receipts; insurance premiums, it is contended, are a fund for the payment of loss claims and are, therefore, like sales with the loss claims analogous to cost of goods sold. Petitioner recognizes the principle that deductions are a matter of legislative grace, but contends that this principle only applies to deductions from gross income; a deduction of cost of goods sold from the receipts from sales, says petitioner, is not a matter of legislative grace but a matter of constitutional necessity.

Furthermore, says petitioner, the tax involved here is really a tax on various choses in action. A chose in action being property, a tax imposed thereon is a direct tax which, under the Constitution, must be apportioned amongst the States according to population. Admittedly this tax is not so apportioned. Therefore, says petitioner, the tax is unconstitutional.

We think petitioner's argument imposes tighter restrictions on the federal taxing power than a century and a half of court decisions warrant. The taxing power of Congress granted by Article I of the Constitution*fn5 "is exhaustive and embraces every conceivable power of taxation"*fn6 and is subject only to certain constitutional restrictions. One such restriction is found in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.*fn7 Other restrictions are, of course, found in Article I, Sections 2 and 9 requiring direct taxes to be apportioned according to population;*fn8 Section 8 requiring uniformity;*fn9 and Section 9 prohibiting export duties.*fn10

It did not take a constitutional amendment to entitle the United States to impose an income tax. Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co., 1895, 157 U.S. 429, 15 S. Ct. 673, 39 L. Ed. 759, Id., 158 U.S. 601, 15 S. Ct. 912, 39 L. Ed. 1108, only held that a tax on the income derived from real or personal property was so close to a tax on that property that it could not be imposed without apportionment.*fn11 The Sixteenth Amendment removed that barrier.*fn12 Indeed, the requirement for apportionment is pretty strictly limited to taxes on real and personal property and capitation taxes.*fn13

It is not necessary to uphold the validity of the tax imposed by the United States that the tax itself bear an accurate label.*fn14 Indeed, the tax upon the distillation of spirits, imposed very early by federal authority, now reads and has read in terms of a tax upon the spirits themselves, yet the validity of this imposition has been upheld for a very great many years.*fn15

It could well be argued that the tax involved here is an "excise tax" based upon the receipt of money by the taxpayer. It certainly is not a tax on property and it certainly is not a capitation tax; therefore, it need not be apportioned. We do not think it profitable, however, to make the label as precise as that required under the Food and Drug Act. Congress has the power to impose taxes generally,*fn16 and if the particular ...

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