157 U.S. 429 (1895), 898, Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company

Docket Nº:No. 898
Citation:157 U.S. 429, 15 S.Ct. 673, 39 L.Ed. 759
Party Name:Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company
Case Date:April 08, 1895
Court:United States Supreme Court

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157 U.S. 429 (1895)

15 S.Ct. 673, 39 L.Ed. 759



Farmers' Loan and Trust Company

No. 898

United States Supreme Court

April 8, 1895

Argued March 7, 8. 11, 12, 13, 1895




A court of equity has jurisdiction to prevent a threatened breach of trust in the misapplication or diversion of the funds of a corporation by illegal payments out of its capital or profits.

Such a bill being filed by a stockholder to prevent a trust company from voluntarily making returns for the imposition and payment of a tax claimed to be unconstitutional, and on the further ground of threatened multiplicity of suits and irreparable injury, and the objection of adequate remedy at law not having been raised below or in this court, and the question of jurisdiction having been waived by the United States so far as it was within its power to do so, and the relief sought being to prevent the voluntary action of the trust company, and not in respect to the assessment and collection of the tax, the court will proceed to judgment on the merits.

The doctrine of stare decisis is a salutary one, and is to be adhered to on proper occasions, in respect of decisions directly upon points in issue; but this court should not extend any decision upon a constitutional question if it is convinced that error in principle might supervene.

In the cases referred to in the opinion of the court in this case, beginning with Hylton v. United States, 3 Dall. 171, (February Term, 1796) and ending with Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586 (October Term, 1880), taxes on land are conceded to be direct taxes, and in none of them is it determined that a tax on rent or income derived from land is not a tax on land.

A tax on the rents or income of real estate is a direct tax within the meaning of that term as used in the Constitution of the United States.

A tax upon income derived from the interest of bonds issued by a municipal corporation is a tax upon the power of the State and its instrumentalities to borrow money, and is consequently repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.

So much of the act "to reduce taxation, to provide revenue for the government, and for other purposes," 28 Stat. 509, c. 349, as provides for levying taxes upon rents or income derived from real estate, or from the interest on municipal bonds, is repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, and is invalid.

Upon each of the other questions argued at the bar, to-wit: 1, whether the void provision as to rents and income from real estate invalidates

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the whole act? 2, whether, as to the income from personal property a such, the act is unconstitutional as laying direct taxes? 3, whether any part of the tax, if not considered as a direct tax, is invalid for want of uniformity on either of the grounds suggested? -- the Justices who heard the argument are equally divided, and, therefore, no opinion is expressed.

[15 S.Ct. 674] This was a bill filed by Charles Pollock, a citizen of the State of Massachusetts, on behalf of himself and all other stockholders of the defendant company similarly situated against the Farmers' Loan and Trust Company, a corporation of the State of New York, and its directors, alleging that the capital stock of the corporation consisted of one million dollars, divided into forty thousand shares of the par value of twenty-five dollars each; that the company was authorized to invest its assets in public stocks and bonds of the United States, of individual States, or of any incorporated city, or county, or in such real or personal securities as it might deem proper, and also to take, accept, and execute all such trusts of every description as might be committed to it by any person or persons or any corporation, by grant, assignment, devise, or bequest, or by order of any court of record of New York, and to receive and take any real estate which might be the subject of such trust; that the property and assets of the company amounted to more than five million dollars, of which at least one million was invested in real estate owned by the company in fee; at least two millions in bonds of the city of New York, and at least one million in the bonds and stocks of other corporations of the United States; that the net profits or income of the defendant company during the year ending December 31, 1894, amounted to more than the sum of $300,000 above its actual operating and business expenses, including losses and interest on bonded and other indebtedness; that, from its real estate, the company derived an income of $50,000 per annum, after deducting all county, state, and municipal taxes, and that the company derived an income or profit of about $60,000 per annum from its investments in municipal bonds.

It was further alleged that, under and by virtue of the powers

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conferred upon the company, it had from time to time taken and executed, and was holding and executing, numerous trusts committed to the company by many persons, copartnerships, unincorporated associations, and corporations, by grant, assignment, devise, and bequest, and by orders of various courts, and that the company now held as trustee for many minors, individuals, copartnerships, associations, and corporations, resident in the United States and elsewhere, many parcels of real estate situated in the various States of the United States, and amounting, in the aggregate, to a value exceeding five millions of dollars, the rents and income of which real estate collected and received by said defendant in its fiduciary capacity annually exceeded the sum of two hundred thousand dollars.

The bill also averred that complainant was and had been since May 20, 1892, the owner and registered holder of ten shares of the capital stock of the company, of a value exceeding the sum of $5,000; that the capital stock was divided among a large number of different persons who, as such stockholders, constituted a large body; that the bill was filed for an object common to them all, and that he therefore, brought suit not only in his own behalf as a stockholder of the company, but also as a representative of and on behalf of such of the other stockholders similarly situated and interested as might choose to intervene and become parties.

It was then alleged that the management of the stock, property, affairs, and concerns of the company was committed under its acts of incorporation to its directors, and charged that the company and a majority of its directors claimed and asserted that, under and by virtue of the alleged authority of the provisions of an act of Congress of the United States entitled, "An act to reduce taxation, to provide revenue for the government, and for other purposes," passed August 15, 1894, the company was liable, and that they intended to pay to the United States before July 1, 1895, a tax of two percentum on the net profits of said company for the year ending December 31, 1894, above actual operating and business expenses, including the income derived from its real estate and

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its bonds of the city of New York, and that the directors claimed and asserted that a similar tax must be paid upon the amount of the incomes, gains, and profits, in excess of $4000, of all [15 S.Ct. 675] minors and others for whom the company was acting in a fiduciary capacity. And further, that the company and its directors had avowed their intention to make and file with the collector of internal revenue for the second district of the city of New York a list, return, or statement showing the amount of the net income of the company received during the year 1894 as aforesaid, and likewise to make and render a list or return to said collector of internal revenue, prior to that date, of the amount of the income, gains, and profits of all minors and other persons having incomes in excess of $300, for whom the company was acting in a fiduciary capacity.

The bill charged that the provisions in respect of said alleged income tax incorporated in the act of Congress were unconstitutional, null, and void, in that the tax was a direct tax in respect of the real estate held and owned by the company in its own right and in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid by being imposed upon the rents, issues, and profits of said real estate, and was likewise a direct tax in respect of its personal property and the personal property held by it for others for whom it acted in its fiduciary capacity as aforesaid, which direct taxes were not in and by said act apportioned among the several States as required by section 2 of article I of the Constitution, and that, if the income tax so incorporated in the act of Congress aforesaid were held not to be a direct tax, nevertheless its provisions were unconstitutional, null and void in that they were not uniform throughout the United States as required in and by section of article I of the Constitution of the United States, upon many grounds and in many particulars specifically set forth.

The bill further charged that the income tax provisions of the act were likewise unconstitutional in that they imposed a tax on incomes not taxable under the Constitution and likewise income derived from the stocks and bonds of the States of the United States and counties and municipalities therein,

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which stocks and bonds are among the means and instrumentalities employed for carrying on their respective governments, and are not proper subjects of the taxing power of Congress, and which States and their counties and municipalities are independent of the general government of the United States, and the respective stocks and bonds of which are, together with the power of the States to borrow in any form, exempt from Federal taxation.

Other grounds of unconstitutionality were assigned, and the violation of articles IV...

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