315 U.S. 510 (1942), 238, United States v. New York

Docket Nº:No. 238
Citation:315 U.S. 510, 62 S.Ct. 712, 86 L.Ed. 998
Party Name:United States v. New York
Case Date:March 02, 1942
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 510

315 U.S. 510 (1942)

62 S.Ct. 712, 86 L.Ed. 998

United States

v.

New York

No. 238

United States Supreme Court

March 2, 1942

Argued February 2, 1942

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Under §§ 801 and 802 of Title VIII of the Social Security Act, an employer is required to collect the tax laid on the wage incomes of his employees, but is liable for its payment whether or not he collects it. P. 515.

2. This liability of the employer is a tax, and a claim thereon is entitled to priority as for a tax under § 64(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Act. P. 515.

3. A tax, for the purposes of § 64(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Act, includes any pecuniary burden upon individuals or property for the purpose of supporting the Government. P. 515.

Page 511

4. The provision of 902 of Title IX of the Social Security Act allowing the employer to credit against his tax, under § 901, the amount of his contributions to state unemployment funds up to 90% of the tax, does not make the tax to that extent a penalty, within the meaning of § 57(j) of the Bankruptcy Act, as applied to an employer who has failed to make such contributions. P. 516.

5. In determining the amounts distributable to the United States on its tax claim and to the State for its unemployment fund, under §§ 901 and 902 of Title IX of the Social Security Act, from a bankrupt estate whose assets were insufficient to satisfy these and other claims of priority, held that the allowance to be made for the state fund should be credited against the total tax claim of the United States under § 901, rather than against the amount actually available for such claim. P. 520.

118 F.2d 537 reversed.

Certiorari, 314 U.S. 592, on cross-petitions, to review a judgment reversing part of an order of the District Court, 38 F.Supp. 976, for the distribution of assets of a bankrupt estate.

BYRNES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BYRNES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States and the State of New York seek review of a judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversing in part a District Court order for the distribution of the assets of a bankrupt estate. The Independent Automobile Forwarding Corporation was adjudicated a bankrupt on April 26, 1938. A total of $3,053.20 eventually became available for distribution.

Page 512

This amount was insufficient even to meet those claims of the federal and state governments which were assertedly entitled to priority as taxes under § 64(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Act.1 The federal claims of this character were for amounts due under §§ 801 and 802 of Title VIII and under § 901 of Title IX of the Social Security Act,2 and for certain taxes as to which no question is raised in this case. The state claims were for payments due its unemployment insurance fund, and for taxes not in issue here.

The state's appeal from the District Court's first order of distribution was discontinued by agreement of the

Page 513

parties because the Social Security Act had been extensively amended while the appeal was pending.3 A second order was thereupon entered by the District Court. The state again appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals. It contended that the share of the assets granted to the federal government was excessive for three reasons: (1) the claim based on § 801 of Title VIII of the Social Security Act was a claim for a debt, rather than for taxes, and thus was not entitled to priority under § 64(a)(4) of the Bankruptcy Act; (2) no more than 10% of the claim based on § 901 of Title IX of the Social Security Act was entitled to allowance because the balance constituted a claim for a penalty, rather than a tax, and thus fell within the prohibition of [62 S.Ct. 714] § 57(j) of the Bankruptcy Act;4 and (3) the credit against the Title IX claim provided for in § 902, was incorrectly calculated. The Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the state's contention with respect to the Title VIII claim and reversed to that extent the order of the District Court, but rejected the state's arguments with respect to the claim under Title IX.

First. The claim based on Title VIII. Section 801 bears the heading "Income tax on employees," and provides for a tax "upon the income of every individual" equal to 1 percentum of the wages received by him with respect to employment during 1937.5 Section 802(a) provides that this tax "shall be collected by the employer of the taxpayer by deducting the amount of the tax from the wages as and when paid." The employer is made

Page 514

liable for the payment of the tax. By regulation, pursuant to Title VIII,6 the Treasury Department has explicitly ruled that the tax may be assessed against the employer regardless of whether he has in fact deducted it from the employee's wages. The Circuit Court of Appeals held that the employer was liable "only as an agent bound to pay whether its duty to collect was performed or not," and that his liability was for a debt, rather than for taxes.

As authority for this view, it relied upon its decision of the same date in City of New York v. Feiring, 118 F.2d 329. The city sales tax involved in that case was laid upon receipts from sales of personal property. The vendor was required to collect the amount of the tax from the vendee separately from the sales price. He was obliged to report periodically concerning his receipts from sales, and to turn over to the City Comptroller the taxes due, whether or not he had actually collected them from the purchasers. If the vendor failed to collect the tax, the vendee was required to report the transaction and to pay the tax directly. Thus, the procedure contemplated was that the purchaser should bear the burden of the tax, but that the seller should collect and transmit it to the Comptroller. If the seller did not obtain it from the purchaser, however, the Comptroller was authorized to proceed to collect it from either of them. The Circuit Court of Appeals held that the claim of the City against a bankrupt vendor for the amount of the sales tax outstanding was a claim for a debt, and not for taxes, within the meaning of § 64(a)(4). We reversed this decision and held that the burden imposed upon the seller by the city taxing act had "all the characteristics of a tax entitled to priority" under § 64(a)(4). 313 U.S. 283.

Page 515

We think that our decision in the Feiring case is controlling here. The New York City sales tax involved in that case and the obligation imposed by §§ 801 and 802 of Title VIII of the Social Security Act cannot be distinguished in any material respect. It was observed in the Feiring case that, while the sales tax was intended to rest upon the purchaser "in its normal operation,"

both the vendor and the vendee are made liable for payment of the tax in invitum . . . , and the tax may be summarily collected by distraint of the property of either the seller or the buyer.

313 U.S. 283, at 287. The burden of the tax provided for by §§ 801 and 802 likewise will normally rest upon the employee, but the Commissioner of Internal Revenue may proceed to collect it from the employer whether or not he has deducted it from the wages of the employee.

Two distinctions between the cases are urged by the State. One is that § 802(a) of Title VIII provides that the [62 S.Ct. 715] tax "shall be collected by the employer of the taxpayer," and thus reveals a Congressional intent that only a claim against the employee should be treated as one for a tax. The other asserted distinction is that Title VIII in its entirety is designed to impose two distinct taxes; § 801 imposes an "income tax" upon the employee, while § 804 imposes an "excise tax" upon the employer.7 But a tax for purposes of § 64(a)(4) includes any "pecuniary burden laid upon individuals or property for the purpose of supporting the government," by whatever name it may

Page 516

be called. New Jersey v. Anderson, 203 U.S. 483, 492. Although he may not be referred to in §§ 801 and 802 as the taxpayer, and although he may also be subject to the "excise tax" prescribed by § 804, the plain fact is that the employer is liable for the § 801 tax whether or not he has collected it from his employees. We therefore hold that the Title VIII claim of the United States against the estate of this bankrupt employer is entitled to the priority afforded by § 64(a)(4).

Second. The claim under Title IX. Section 901 imposes upon this employer, in addition to the obligations discussed above, an "excise tax" equal to 2 percentum of the total wages payable by him during...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP