Bartels v. Birmingham Geer v. Birmingham

Decision Date23 June 1947
Docket NumberNos. 731 and 732,s. 731 and 732
Citation332 U.S. 126,172 A.L.R. 317,67 S.Ct. 1547,91 L.Ed. 1947
PartiesBARTELS et al. v. BIRMINGHAM et al. GEER et al. v. BIRMINGHAM
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Thomas B. Roberts and Clyde B. Charlton, both of Des Moines, Iowa, for petitioners.

Mr. Robert L. Stern, of Washington, D.C., for respondent Birmingham Collectors.

Mr. Robert A. Wilson, of Washington, D.C., for respondents Williams et al.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, operators of public dance halls, brought these actions, which were consolidated for trial, against the respondent Collector of Internal Revenue to recover taxes paid under the Social Security Act, Titles VIII and IX, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1001 et seq., 1101 et seq., and I.R.C., c. 9, subchaps. A and C, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, §§ 1400 et seq., 1600 et seq. Recovery depends on whether petitioners' arrangements for bands to play at the dance halls made the band leaders and other members of the bands employees of the petitioners or whether, despite the arrangements, the leaders were independent contractors and therefore themselves the employers of the other members. Several band leaders were allowed to intervene in the Bartels case as defendants to protect their own interests. After a recovery in the District Court, 59 F.Supp. 84, was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, Birmingham v. Bartels, 8 Cir., 157 F.2d 295, they sought certiorari which we granted because of the importance of the issue to the administration of the Act. 329 U.S. 711, 67 S.Ct. 494. See United States v. Silk and Harrison v. Greyvan Lines, 331 U.S. 704, 67 S.Ct. 1463.

These cases are not concerned with musicians hired by petitioners to play regularly for their dance halls but with 'name bands' hired to play for limited engagements at their establishments. These bands are built around a leader whose name, and distinctive style in the presentation and rendition of dance music, is intended to give each band a marked individuality. The leader contracts with different ballroom operators to play at their establishments for a contract price. Almost all of the engagements here involved were one-night stands, some few being for several successive nights. The trial court found, and there is no real dispute, that the leader exercises complete control over the orchestra. He fixes the salaries of the musicians, pays them, and tells them what and how to play. He provides the sheet music and arrangements, the public address system, and the uniforms. He employs and discharges the musicians, and he pays agents' commissions, transportation and other expenses out of the sum received from the dance hall operators. Any excess is his profit and any deficit his personal loss. The operators of the dance halls furnish the piano but not the other instruments.

The American Federation of Musicians, of which the leaders and the musicians are members, adopted a standard contract known as 'Form B.' The terms of this contract create the difficulties in the determination of this case. As compensation to the bands, some contracts call for a guaranteed sum, with the privilege to the bands to take a percentage of the gross. Other contracts are for a fixed sum, only, and others for a percentage of gross, not to exceed a fixed sum. The contract states that the ballroom operator is the employer of the musicians and their leader, and 'shall have complete control of the services which the employees will render under the specifications ofthis contr act.' The form paragraph, so far as pertinent, is set out in the margin. 1 The District Court found that the contract was adopted by the Union in order to shift the incidence of the social security taxes from the leader to the ballroom operator, and that it had no practical effect on the relations between the musicians, leader, and operator. The District Court held that the question of employment under the Act was one of fact, and that the contract was only one factor to be considered. Since the District Court believed that the contract was not entered into 'by fair negotiation' and that its purpose was to protect the leaders from taxes as employers, it concluded that the contract was of no effect and that the leader was an independent contractor employing the musicians.

The Circuit Court of Appeals thought otherwise. It concluded that the test of employment was the common law test of control, i.e., that one was an employer if he had the 'right' to direct what should be done and how it should be done. It concluded that the contract between the parties gave the ballroom operators the 'right' to control the musicians and the leader, whether or not the control was actually exercised. While the majority thought that such a contract was not binding on the Government, they thought it was binding on the parties and would control liability for employment taxes if the Bureau of Internal Revenue chose to accept the arrangement as valid. Birmingham v. Bartels, supra, 157 F.2d at page 300.

The Government here relies entirely on the contract, conceding that otherwise the bandleaders are independent contractors employing the musicians. On the other hand, the bandleaders involved contend also that though the contract be thought inconclusive, the leaders and musicians are employees of the operators. They rely upon the dependence of the orchestra members upon the ballroom operators judged in the light of the purposes of the Act.

In United States v. Silk, supra, we held that the relationship of employer-employee, which determines the liability for employment taxes under the Social Security Act was not to be determined solely by the idea of control which an alleged employer may or could exercise over the details of the service rendered to his business by the worker or workers. Obviously control is characteristically associated with the employer-employee relationship but in the application of social legislation employees are those who as a matter of economic reality are dependent upon the business to which they render service. In Silk, we pointed out that permanency of the relation, the skill required, the investment if the facilities for work and opportunities for profit or loss from the activities were also factors that should enter into judcial deter mination as to the coverage of the Social Security Act. It is the total stiuation that controls. These standards are as important in the entertainment field as we have just said, in Silk, that they were in that of distribution and transportation.

Consideration of the regulations of the Treasury and the Federal Security Agency, quoted in Silk at note 8, is necessary here. I.R.C., chap. 9, §§ 1429, 1609, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, §§ 1429, 1609. Under those regulations, the Government successfully resisted the effort of a leader of a 'name' band, like those here involved, to recover social security taxes paid on the wages of the members of his organization. Wil- liams v. United States, 7 Cir., 126 F.2d 129. The contract in that case was not 'Form B' and did not contain any corresponding control clause. Two years later, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue issued mimeographs 5638, 1944—5—11651, and 5767, 1944—22 11889, C.B. 1944, pp. 547—48. They were directed at the status of musicians and variety entertainers appearing in theatres, night clubs, restaurants and similar establishments. Collectors and others were therein advised that a 'Form B' or similar contract with the entertainers made operators of amusement places liable as employers under the Social Security Act. In the absence of such a contract, that is, in reality, the absence of the control clause...

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