176 F.Supp. 168 (S.D.Miss. 1959), Civ. A. 2690, Williams Packing & Nav. Co. v. Enochs

Docket Nº:Civ. A. 2690
Citation:176 F.Supp. 168
Party Name:Williams Packing & Nav. Co. v. Enochs
Case Date:July 03, 1959
Court:United States District Courts, 5th Circuit, Southern District of Mississippi

Page 168

176 F.Supp. 168 (S.D.Miss. 1959)

WILLIAMS PACKING & NAVIGATION CO., Inc.,

v.

J. L. ENOCHS, District Director of Internal Revenue.

Civ. A. No. 2690.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi

July 3, 1959

Page 169

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 170

Stanford E. Morse, Sr., W. E. Logan, Gulfport, Miss., for plaintiff.

Clarence J. Nickman and Stanley f. Krysa, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Robert E. Hauberg, U.S. Atty., and Edwin R. Holmes, Jr., Asst. U.S. Atty., Jackson, Miss., for defendant.

MIZE, District Judge.

This is a controversy between the Williams Packing & Navigation Co., Inc., and J. L. Enochs, District Director of the Internal Revenue and arises as a result of a determination of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue that the persons upon whose compensation the taxes involved were assessed were employees of the plaintiff within the meaning of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act and the Federal Unemployment Tax Act. An assessment was made by the director against the plaintiff for the years 1953, 1954 and 1955 in the total sum of $41,568.57. The main question posed for solution is whether or not the captains and crewmen who performed fishing services aboard trawlers of which the plaintiff was the owner or the lessee, were employees within the meaning of Sections 1426 and 1607 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, 26 U.S.C.A. §§ 1426, 1607, and Sections 3121 and 3306 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C.A. §§ 3121, 3306. If the relationship of employer-employee existed, then the tax was properly assessed. If the relationship of employer-employee did not exist, then the levy was unlawful.

The corporation leases boats to a captain who employs his own crew and each captain has complete control over the boat and crew and no right of control is reserved by the corporation. The captain and crew determine when they shall depart for fishing waters and where to go. The catch is returned and sold, and the proceeds are divided up by the captain after one share is deducted for the boat.

This case, like so many other cases, depends upon the individual facts as brought out here and not upon methods of other similar concerns engaged in like business. No uniform pattern covering the entire United States can be formulated except where the facts are identically the same. The judgment to be rendered in this case must be determined from the facts of this particular case, including all the exhibits and reasonable inferences therefrom and the conduct of the parties so far as it may have probative force upon the issues. The law must be determined from the Acts of Congress, the judicial interpretations by the courts and the Treasury Regulations insofar as the Treasury Regulations are made within the scope of the powers granted to it by Congress.

The record is a lengthy one and there are some conflicts in the testimony, but on the whole the testimony is practically undisputed as to the manner in which the plaintiff conducts its business. The plaintiff, Williams Packing & Navigation Co., Inc., is a Louisiana corporation and was organized in June of 1944 and granted a charter by the State of Louisiana and is qualified to do business in Mississippi. Elmer Williams, Carroll Williams, Jr., and Lucius Frieberger, citizens of Mississippi, were the incorporators, with Elmer Williams, president, owning nineteen shares, Carroll Williams, Jr., secretary-treasurer, nineteen shares, and Lucius Frieberger two shares. The purpose of the corporation was to engage in the seafood packing business, to own, operate, lease, manage and control boats, machinery, appliances and tackle for the purposes of engaging in the fishing operations, fishing for, dredging and catching oysters, shrimp, crabs and other species of fish.

It has operated under its charter continuously from year to year since the date of its incorporation and is a bona fide

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corporation existing under the laws of the State of Louisiana. It was not organized for the purpose of evading the payment of any taxes of any type and at the time of its incorporation, as well as now and continuously since its incorporation, was to engage in a legitimate business, which it has done. If it were to operate for oysters in the waters of the State of Louisiana it was necessary and imperative that it incorporate in that state, insofar as oysters were concerned. Other than catching shrimp, oysters and other fish in the State of Louisiana, its principal place of business is at Biloxi, Mississippi. In the conduct of its business it leased the greater part of the time from the DeJean Packing Company, a partnership, some eighteen or twenty shrimp trawlers, and in March, 1952 bought from the DeJean Packing Company two additional fishing vessels which were built by the DeJean Shipyard Company in Biloxi. These two vessels were resold in 1957 to the DeJean Packing Company.

Elmer Williams, the president of the corporation, is the General Manager, including business manager and looking after the details of carrying on the work, particularly within the past few years. Carroll Williams, Jr., at the time of the trial of the lawsuit, was in bad health and had been for several years, but participated in the discussions frequently with Elmer as to the methods of carrying on the business. Lucius Frieberger was and is the bookkeeper and attends to the major part of the office details of the business. A fairly accurate set of books is kept on behalf of the corporation, but because of the nature of the business not such a set of books as could be characterized as a full and complete set of records. Among other things that Frieberger keeps is an account of the trip expenses for each boat and the catch made by each boat. He handles the financing and banking details of the corporation, issues the checks to the captains of the boats after having computed how much is due for a catch and turns the check over to the captain, who cashes it and pays off the men employed by the captain to assist him in the operation of the boat.

It has been the custom on the Coast of Mississippi since the seafood packing industry started that fishing vessels have operated upon a share or lay basis, but the details of this customary way varied between some of the packers and that is the reason that it is necessary to determine how the corporation in this particular case conducted its business.

This corporation retained no control over the captain or his men after a vessel had been let to a captain upon his application for a boat or to one selected by Elmer Williams and picked by him to operate the boat. There was no fixed time usually for which a boat would be let to a captain. Occasionally it would be for a trip, but usually and customarily for a season. Elmer Williams, the president, the record shows, knew practically all of the fishermen along the Coast of Mississippi and knew the capable and competent ones to whom he safely could entrust a boat owned by the corporation or leased by it and they would reach an agreement by which the boat would be let to the captain for either trips or for the season. The corporation, acting through Elmer Williams, reserved no right of control over the captain, but leased or let the boat to the captain with the distinct understanding that the captain would hire all of his men or helpers and could fire them without any right whatsoever on the part of the corporation to hire or fire any of the employees of the captain. The transaction partook very much of the nature of a contract. The corporation could not fire the captain, but if the captain were guilty of a breach of a contract, just as in any other contractual relationship, the inference is from the testimony that the corporation could then require the captain to return the boat because of a breach of contract, but not because of any retained right of control over the captain.

When the captain takes possession of the boat he takes the papers to the office of the Bureau of Customs, where he obtains

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the necessary statutory endorsement on the papers as captain of that boat. Then it is that the captain employs the number of fishermen necessary to complete the crew as may be determined by the captain; in the industry here on the Coast the crew is usually two for shrimping and four for dredging oysters. A voyage may last from ten days to two weeks, depending upon the weather and the type of seafood for which they are looking. The boat and crew are then completely under the supervision and control of the captain, who leaves port when he desires, fishes where he pleases and returns when he pleases. The captain procures the fuel, groceries and ice, and determines for himself the amount that will be needed for his voyage. The captain may purchase his fuel and groceries wherever he desires, but usually purchases his fuel at the DeJean docks and his groceries at the grocery store of Leon Hall. Leon Hall is the son-in-law of Elmer Williams and operates successfully a...

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