331 U.S. 704 (1947), 312, United States v. Silk

Docket Nº:No. 312
Citation:331 U.S. 704, 67 S.Ct. 1463, 91 L.Ed. 1757
Party Name:United States v. Silk
Case Date:June 16, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 704

331 U.S. 704 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 1463, 91 L.Ed. 1757

United States



No. 312

United States Supreme Court

June 16, 1947

Argued March 10, 1947




1. In determining whether particular workers are independent contractors or "employees" within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the same rules are applicable as were applied by this Court to the National Labor Relations Act in Labor Board v. Hearst Publications, 322 U.S. 111. Pp. 713-714.

2. Unloaders of coal who provide their own tools, work only when they wish to work, and are paid an agreed price per ton to unload coal from railroad cars, held, in the circumstances of this case, to be "employees" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Pp. 706, 716-718.

3. Truck drivers who own their own trucks, pay the expenses of their operation, employ and pay their own helpers, and receive compensation on a piecework or percentage basis, held, in the circumstances of these cases, to be independent contractors, and not "employees" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Pp. 706-710, 718-719.

155 F.2d 356 affirmed in part and reversed in part. 156 F.2d 412 affirmed.

No. 312. The District Court granted respondents a judgment for a refund of social security taxes. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 155 F.2d 356. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 702. Affirmed in part and reversed in part, p. 719.

No. 673. The District Court granted respondent a judgment for a refund of social security taxes. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. 156 F.2d 412. This Court granted certiorari. 329 U.S. 709. Affirmed, p. 719.

Page 705

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

We consider together the above two cases. Both involve suits to recover sums exacted from businesses by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue as employment taxes on employers under the Social Security Act.1 In both instances, the taxes were collected on assessments made administratively by the Commissioner because he concluded the persons here involved were employees of the taxpayers. Both cases turn on a determination as to whether the workers involved were employees under that Act, or whether they were independent contractors. Writs of certiorari were granted, United States v. Silk, 329 U.S. 702, and Harrison v. Greyvan Lines, 329 U.S. 709, because of the general importance in the collection of social security taxes of deciding what are the applicable standards for the determination of employees under the Act. Varying standards have been applied in the federal courts.2

Page 706

Respondent in No. 312, Albert Silk, doing business as the Albert Silk Coal Co., sued the United States, petitioner, to recover taxes alleged to have been illegally assessed and collected from respondent for the years 1936 through 1939 under the Social Security Act. The taxes were levied on respondent as an employer of certain workmen, some of whom were engaged in unloading railway coal cars and the others in making retail deliveries of coal by truck.

Respondent sells coal at retail in the city of Topeka, Kansas. His coal yard consists of two buildings, one for an office and the [67 S.Ct. 1465] other a gathering place for workers, railroad tracks upon which carloads of coal are delivered by the railroad, and bins for the different types of coal. Respondent pays those who work as unloaders an agreed price per ton to unload coal from the railroad cars. These men come to the yard when and as they please, and are assigned a car to unload and a place to put the coal., They furnish their own tools, work when they wish, and work for others at will. One of these unloaders testified that he worked as regularly "as a man has to when he has to eat," but there was also testimony that some of the unloaders were floaters who came to the yard only intermittently.

Respondent owns no trucks himself, but contracts with workers who own their own trucks to deliver coal at a uniform price per ton. This is paid to the trucker by the respondent out of the price he receives for the coal from the customer. When an order for coal is taken in the company office, a bell is rung which rings in the building used by the truckers. The truckers have voluntarily

Page 707

adopted a call list upon which their names come up in turn, and the top man on the list has an opportunity to deliver the coal ordered. The truckers are not instructed how to do their jobs, but are merely given a ticket telling them where the coal is to be delivered and whether the charge is to be collected or not. Any damage caused by them is paid for by the company. The District Court found that the truckers could, and often did, refuse to make a delivery, without penalty. Further, the court found that the truckers may come and go as they please, and frequently did leave the premises without permission. They may and did haul for others when they pleased. They pay all the expenses of operating their trucks, and furnish extra help necessary to the delivery of the coal and all equipment except the yard storage bins. No record is kept of their time. They are paid after each trip at the end of the day or at the end of the week, as they request.

The Collector ruled that the unloaders and truckers were employees of the respondent during the years 1936 through 1939 within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and he accordingly assessed additional taxes under Titles VIII and IX of the Social Security Act and Subchapters A and C of Chapter 9 of the Internal Revenue Code. Respondent filed a claim for a refund, which was denied. He then brought this action. Both the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals3 thought that the truckers and unloaders were independent contractors, and allowed the recovery.

Respondent in No. 673, Greyvan Lines, Inc., a common carrier by motor truck, sued the petitioner, a Collector of Internal Revenue, to recover employment taxes alleged to have been illegally assessed and collected from it under similar provisions of the Social Security Act involved in

Page 708

Silk's case for the years or parts of years 1937 through the first quarter of 1942. From a holding for the respondent in the District Court, petitioner appealed. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The chief question in this case is whether truckmen who perform the actual service of carrying the goods shipped by the public are employees of the respondent. Both the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals4 thought that the truckmen were independent contractors.

The respondent operates its trucking business under a permit issued by the Interstate Commerce Commission under the "grandfather clause" of the Motor Carrier Act. 32 M.C.C. 719, 723. It operates throughout thirty-eight states and parts of Canada, carrying largely household furniture. While its principal office is in Chicago, it maintains agencies to solicit business in many of the larger cities of the areas it serves, from which it contracts to move goods. As early as 1930, before the passage of the Social Security Act, the respondent adopted the system of relations with the truckmen here concerned which gives rise to the present issue. The system was based on contracts [67 S.Ct. 1466] with the truckmen under which the truckmen were required to haul exclusively for the respondent and to furnish their own trucks and all equipment and labor necessary to pick up, handle, and deliver shipments, to pay all expenses of operation, to furnish all fire, theft, and collision insurance which the respondent might specify, to pay for all loss or damage to shipments, and to indemnify the company for any loss caused it by the acts of the truckmen, their servants, and employees, to paint the designation "Greyvan Lines" on their trucks, to collect all money due the company from shippers or consignees, and to turn in such moneys at the office to which they report after delivering a shipment, to post bonds with the

Page 709

company in the amount of $1,000 and cash deposits of $250 pending final settlement of accounts, to personally drive their trucks at all times or be present on the truck when a competent relief driver was driving (except in emergencies, when a substitute might be employed with the approval of the company), and to follow all rules, regulations, and instructions of the company. All contracts or bills of lading for the shipment of goods were to be between the respondent and the shipper. The company's instructions covered directions to the truckmen as to where and when to load freight. If freight was tendered the truckmen, they were under obligation to notify the company so that it could complete the contract for shipment in its own name. As remuneration, the truckmen were to receive from the company a percentage of the tariff charged by the company varying between 50 and 52% and a bonus up to 3% for satisfactory performance of the service. The contract was terminable at any time by either party. These truckmen were required to take a short course of instruction in the company's methods of doing business before carrying out their contractual obligations to haul. The company maintained a staff of dispatchers who issued orders for the truckmen's movements, although not the routes to be used, and to which the truckmen at intervals reported their positions. Cargo insurance was carried by the company. All permits, certificates, and franchises "necessary to the operation of the vehicle in the service of the company as a motor carrier under any Federal or State Law" were to be obtained at the company's expense.

The record shows the following additional undisputed facts, not contained in the findings. A manual of instructions, given by the respondent to the truckmen, and a contract between the company and Local No. 711 of the International Brotherhood of...

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