Sur Pleadings and Proof
VAN DUSEN, District Judge
This case was tried to the late Senior Judge of this court, the Honorable Allan K. Grim, sitting without a jury. In accordance with the January 4, 1966, order of the Honorable Thomas J. Clary, Chief Judge, the case was assigned to the undersigned for decision. Argument was heard on February 25, 1966, as agreed to by the attached letters from counsel dated January 14 and January 20, 1966.
The plaintiff, Quaker City Iron Works, Inc., a Pennsylvania corporation with its principal place of business in Philadelphia, Pa., brought this action to recover $9,344.74 in Federal manufacturer's excise taxes (plus interest) which it has paid to the defendant, the United States of America. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1).
The excise taxes (plus interest) here sought to be recovered were assessed for the taxable period covering the first three calendar quarters of 1958. During that time, the plaintiff, in addition to other business, was engaged in the manufacture and sale of automobile bodies, truck trailers and similar trailer bodies within the meaning of § 4061(a), Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C. § 4061. All of the plaintiff's sales were made at retail. The plaintiff filed timely Federal excise tax returns for the period January 1, 1958, to September 30, 1958, inclusive, and paid $26,929.39 as manufacturer's excise tax on net sales of $357,365.14. The defendant assessed additional manufacturer's excise taxes on these net sales in the amount of $8,121.33, together with interest of $1,223.41, which totals $9,344.74. This amount ($9,344.74) was paid by plaintiff on February 10, 1961. On April 21, 1961, the plaintiff filed a claim for refund of the $9,344.74 in taxes and assessed interest, which was refused and is now the subject matter of this action.
The plaintiff corporation sells in the New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore areas and its principal customers are the major oil companies, truckers, and smaller oil companies (N.T. 12).
The principal competitors of the plaintiff in the sale of truck tanks and trailer tanks in the New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore areas have been the Fruehauf Trailer Company of Detroit (Fruehauf), the Heil Company of Milwaukee (Heil), and the Trailmobile Company of Cincinnati (Trailmobile) [N.T. 10]. Fruehauf and Heil, taken together, account for approximately 40% of the sales in this field (N.T. 13). Fruehauf and Heil have such huge facilities that either of them could supply the entire market (N.T. 31, 32). These two companies exercise price leadership in the field of retail sales of truck tanks and trailer tanks and it is clear that the plaintiff must follow their leadership in order to compete successfully (N.T. 16). But unlike the plaintiff, which sells only at retail, Fruehauf and Heil also sell their truck tanks and trailer tanks at wholesale for a price amounting to approximately 40% less than their retail list prices (N.T. 14, 15).
The competition in the field of truck tanks and trailer tanks has been so keen that Fruehauf operated at a loss in 1958 (N.T. 16), and plaintiff operated at a loss for six years beginning in April of 1958 (N.T. 49, 50).
It is clear that because of this competition the plaintiff could not have sold its truck tanks and trailer tanks at any price higher than it did sell them (N.T. 30, 31). The plaintiff, in order to compete successfully, has been forced to sell its products at from 10% to 30% less than the listed retail prices of Fruehauf and Heil (N.T. 30). The excise tax in question here was paid by the plaintiff-manufacturer and not passed on to the consumer (N.T. 40).
It is undisputed that the truck tanks and trailer tanks manufactured by the plaintiff in this case are subject to the provisions of § 4061 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (26 U.S.C., 1958 Ed.),
which imposes on a manufacturer a Federal excise tax of 10% of the price for which such products are sold.
Section 4216(b) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (26 U.S.C., 1958 Ed.),
directs the Secretary or his delegate to provide a "constructive sales price" which shall then be used as a base on which to compute the tax imposed under § 4061 (supra).
In accordance with the statutory authority of § 4216(b), the Commissioner of Internal Revenue inRevenue Ruling 54-61 (set out in its entirety in Exhibit B to this Memorandum) determined that the constructive sales price of truck and trailer tank bodies made by a manufacturer selling at retail only should be 75% of the established retail price.Revenue Ruling 54-61 provides further that in no event shall the constructive sales price of sales made at retail be lower than cost. It is this added limitation of cost which the plaintiff contends is invalid.
The District Director of Internal Revenue in the present case determined that the plaintiff was operating at a loss (which is admitted by the plaintiff)
and, hence, 75% of its retail price was below its cost. Therefore, relying onRevenue Ruling 54-61, the District Director refused to allow the plaintiff to use 75% of its retail price as a tax base. Accordingly, the District Director determined that the plaintiff should pay the tax based on its full retail price, since 75% of retail price was lower than cost.
It is noted that although Treasury Regulations and Revenue Rulings will normally be accepted and are always entitled to consideration and weight, they will be struck down if they are unreasonable or plainly inconsistent with the statute on which they are based. As the Supreme Court said in Manhattan General Equipment Co. v. Commissioner, 297 U.S. 129, 134, 80 L. Ed. 528, 56 S. Ct. 397 (1936):
"The power of an administrative officer or board to administer a federal statute and to prescribe rules and regulations to that end is not the power to make law, for no such power can be delegated by Congress, but the power to adopt regulations to carry into effect the will of Congress as expressed by the statute. A regulation which does not do this, but operates to create a rule out of harmony with the statute, is a mere nullity. [Citing cases.] And not only must a regulation, in order to be valid, be consistent with the statute, but it must be reasonable."
The statute involved here (§ 4216(b), set out in footnote 4) makes no mention of cost.
It isRevenue Ruling 54-61 that injects this element into the regulation purportedly promulgated under the statute. The statute itself states only that the tax be imposed on "the price for which such articles are sold, in the ordinary course of trade, by manufacturers or producers." That price, as is clearly shown by the legislative history, was ordinarily to be the wholesale price, which is apparent from an examination of the Report of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, 1939-1 C.B. (part 2) 457, at 480 (see "Report" attached to Document 29), where it was said:
"It is of utmost importance that the tax be imposed and administered uniformly and without discrimination. Each member of a competitive group must pay upon substantially the same basis as all his competitors, even though his sales methods may differ. Consequently, the bill requires that every effort be made to ascertain the manufacturers' or producers' price at the place of manufacture or production. In the case of commodities which are ordinarily sold at wholesale, this price will be the price at which the manufacturer sells to the wholesaler, even though the particular sale is at retail."
It is a matter of common knowledge that the price for which articles are sold by a manufacturer is not necesarily higher than the cost of production. There are many instances where a manufacturer will sell items below cost for a considerable period of time in order to maintain his markets or continue business operations in the hope that the market will ultimately swing in his favor.
The vice ofRevenue Ruling 54-61 is not apparent in the more usual situation where a manufacturer is selling retail items at a considerable profit, and the cost limitation, therefore, does not come into play. In the great majority of cases, the ruling operates to augment the Congressional intent. When, however, the manufacturer lowers his retail price below cost so that, underRevenue Ruling 54-61, he is no longer paying tax upon substantially the same basis as his competitors, the ruling becomes inconsistent with the statute. It seems clear that when Congress spoke of the "ordinary course of business," it contemplated not only good, but bad, times. For these reasons, Whattoff et al. v. United States, 8 Cir., 355 F.2d 473 (1966) [see copy of opinion attached to Document 30], relied on by the defendant, does not apply here since, in that case, there was no showing that sales were made below cost. In addition, Whattoff is further distinguishable from the present case since in that case the articles sought to be taxed were not manufactured by anyone except the taxpayer and, therefore, there was no established wholesale price for sales of such articles made in the ordinary course of trade.
It is pointed out by the Government that if the plaintiff prevails here, it will actually be paying less tax than its competitors on substantially similar sales. Although this may be true, any slight benefit to the plaintiff in this case appears to be considerably less than the detriment the plaintiff would otherwise suffer under this ruling, which, in its cost limitation, bears no relationship to the statutory language of § 4216(b). Furthermore, under other circumstances (i.e., when 75% of the retail price is higher than a competitor's wholesale price), the plaintiff will have to pay slightly more tax than its competitors.
The following examples, based on the testimony given at trial (N.T. 40-43) by Mr. Jenson, Vice President of the plaintiff corporation, are illustrative of this point:
Example 1 - Mr. Jenson testified that underRevenue Ruling 54-61 as it now stands, if the plaintiff and either Fruehauf or Heil sold a trailer tank to a major oil company at retail for $7500, the Government would impose a tax of $750.00 on the plaintiff (10% of $7500)
while imposing a tax of only $600. on either Fruehauf or Heil (10% of $6000.).