Biddle v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue Helvering v. Elkins

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation302 U.S. 573,58 S.Ct. 379,82 L.Ed. 431
Docket NumberNos. 55,505,s. 55
Decision Date10 January 1938

Mr. Frank J. Wideman, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner biddle.

Mr. J. Louis Monarch, of Washington, D.C., for Commissioner of Internal Revenue.

Mr. Wm. R. Spofford, of Philadelphia, Pa., for respondent Elkins.

[Argument of Counsel from page 574 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In their British income tax returns, stockholders in British corporations are required to report as income, in addition to the amount of dividends actually received, amounts which reflect their respective proportions of the tax paid by the corporation on its own profits. The principal question raised by these petitions is whether these amounts constitute 'income * * * taxes paid or accrued during the taxable year to (a) foreign country' so as to entitle the stockholders, if they are citizens of the United States, to credits of those amounts upon their United States income tax, by virtue of section 131(a)(1) of the Revenue Act of 1928, 26 U.S.C.A. § 131(a)(1) and note. A further question is whether any of the amounts not so available as a credit may be deducted from gross income under section 23(c)(2) of the act, 26 U.S.C.A. § 23 note, for the purpose of ascertaining the net income subject to tax.

Petitioner in No. 55 and respondent in No. 505, hereafter called the taxpayers, received cash dividends during the taxable years 1929 and 1931, respectively, on their stock in three British corporations. Each of the corporations having itself paid or become liable to pay the British tax on the profits thus distributed, no further exaction at the 'standard' (normal) rate was due the British government on account of the distribution from either the stock- holders or the corporation.1 Only in the case of individuals whose income exceeds a stated amount is a surtax levied. In these circumstances the corporations are directed to certify to shareholders, at the time of sending out warrants for the dividends, the gross amount from which the income tax 'appropriate thereto' is deducted, the rate and amount of the income tax appropriate to the gross amount, and the net amount actually paid.2

The tax 'appropriate' to the dividend is computed by applying the standard rate for the year of distribution, to the value of the money or other property distributed.3 The amount so computed will equal the tax paid at the standard rate by the corporation on its profits if, but only if, the tax rate is the same in the year when the profits are earned as in the year when they are distributed.

One of the companies availed itself of the statutory permission4 to declare a gross dividend, from which it deducted the tax before actual distribution, certifying to the taxpayers that the dividend would be paid 'less' income tax. The other two companies declared the dividend in the amount distributed to stockholders and certified that it was 'free of tax.' The certificates of the latter did not purport to show any deduction of tax from a gross dividend, but did indicate the amount of the tax appropriate to the dividend and showed the same net return to stockholders as if the tax had been deducted from a computed gross dividend.

In their returns transmitted to the Department of Inland Revenue of the British government, the taxpayers reported as income subject to surtax the amount of income taxes appropriate to their dividends, in addition to the money actually received, and paid surtaxes on that total sum. In their United States income tax returns for those years, the taxpayers included in gross income the entire sums so reported in the British returns. Up to the limit set by section 131 (b), 26 U.S.C.A. § 131 note, they claimed as credits against the tax payable to the United States the amount of British tax appropriate to the dividends as well as the amount of surtax paid. A deduction from gross income was claimed under section 23(c)(2), 26 U.S.C.A. § 23 note, for the amount by which the limit was exceeded.

Deficiency assessments of the taxpayers were brought to the Board of Tax Appeals for review. There the issues were narrowed to the questions now before us, whether the taxpayers, after adding to gross income the amounts included in the British returns as taxes appropriate to the dividends received, were then entitled to deduct those amounts from the tax as computed, to the extent permitted by section 131(b), and whether the excess was a permissible deduction from gross income.

The Board held that the sums in dispute should not have been included in gross income, because they represented neither property received by the taxpayers nor the discharge of any taxes owed by them to the British government. It held further that section 131(a)(1) of the Revenue Act of 1928, 26 U.S.C.A. § 131(a) (1) and note, which directs that the income tax be credited with 'the amount of any income, * * * taxes paid or accrued during the taxable year to any foreign county' is inapplicable because the United Kingdom fails to tax dividends at the normal rate, and hence the taxes appropriate to dividends were paid by the corporations rather than the taxpayer stockholders.

In No. 55 the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the determination of the board, 86 F.2d 718, since followed by that Circuit in F. W. Woolworth Co. v. United States, 91 F.2d 973, and the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in No. 505, reversed, 91 F.2d 534, following a decision of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in United Shoe Machinery Corp. v. White, 89 F.2d 363. We granted certiorari, 302 U.S. 664, 58 S.Ct. 10, 82 L.Ed. —-; 302 U.S. 677, 58 S.Ct. 147, 82 L.Ed. —-, to resolve this conflict of decision, and because of the importance of the question in the administration of the revenue laws.

At the outset it is to be observed that decision must turn on the precise meaning of the words in the statute which grants to the citizen taxpayer a credit for foreign 'income taxes paid.' The power to tax and to grant the credit resides in Congress, and it is the will of Congress which controls the application of the provisions for credit. The expression of its will in legislation must be taken to conform to its own criteria unless the statute, by express language or necessary implication, makes the meaning of the phrase 'paid or accrued,' and hence the operation of the statute in which it occurs depend upon its characterization by the foreign statutes and by decisions under them. Cf. Crew Levick Co. v. Pennsylvania, 245 U.S. 292, 294, 38 S.Ct. 126, 62 L.Ed. 295; Weiss v. Weiner, 279 U.S. 333, 337, 49 S.Ct. 337, 338, 73 L.Ed. 720; Burnet v. Harmel, 287 U.S. 103, 110, 53 S.Ct. 74, 77, 77 L.Ed. 199.

Section 131 does not say that the meaning of its words is to be determined by foreign taxing statutes and decisions, and there is nothing in its language to suggest that in allowing the credit for foreign tax payments, a shifting standard was adopted by reference to foreign characterizations and classifications of tax legislation. The phrase 'income taxes paid,' as used in our own revenue laws, has for most practical purposes a well-understood meaning to be derived from an examination of the statutes which provide for the laying and collection of income taxes. It is that meaning which must be attributed to it as used in section 131.

Hence the Board's finding, supported as it is by much expert testimony, that 'the stockholder receiving the dividend is regarded in the English income tax acts as having paid 'by deduction or otherwise' the tax 'appropriate' to the dividend,' is not conclusive. At most it is but a factor to be considered in deciding whether the stockholder pays the tax within the meaning of our own statute. That must ultimately be determined by ascertaining from an examination of the manner in which the British tax is laid and collected what the stockholder has done in conformity to British law and whether it is the substantial equivalent of payment of the tax as those terms are used in our own statute.

We are here concerned only with the 'standard' or normal tax. The scheme of the British legislation is to impose on corporate earnings only one standard tax, at the source, and to avoid the 'double' taxation of the corporate income as it passes to the hands of its stockholders, except as they are subject to surtax which the corporation does not pay. The corporation pays the standard tax and against it the remedies for nonpayment run. It has been intimated that the shareholder may be held to payment of the tax in the event of the corporation's default, Hamilton v. Commissioners of Inland Revenue, 16 British Tax Cases, 213, 236, but the contrary view finds more support in judicial opinion, Id. at 230; Dalgety & Co., Ltd., v. Commissioners of Inland Revenue, 15 British Tax Cases, 216 238; Neumann v. Commissioners of Inland Revenue, 18 British Tax Cases, 341, 345, 358, 362—363, 368, and was adopted by the taxpayers' expert.

Although the corporation, in the United Kingdom as here, pays the tax and is bound to pay...

To continue reading

Request your trial
128 cases
  • Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Shamberg's Estate, 394.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • August 24, 1944
    ...2 Cir., 77 F.2d 323, 324. 33 Helvering v. New York Trust Co., 292 U.S. 455, 468, 54 S.Ct. 806, 78 L.Ed. 1361; Biddle v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 573, 582, 58 S.Ct. 379, 82 L.Ed. 431. 34 The majority opinion of the Tax Court in the Shamberg case makes no reference to these 35 Respondents in th......
  • Farmers Cooperative Co. v. Birmingham, Civ. No. 537.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • October 8, 1949
    ...Angeles v. United States, 9 Cir., 1943, 135 F.2d 527, 529; Biddle v. Commissioner, 2 Cir., 1936, 86 F.2d 718, 721, affirmed 302 U.S. 573, 58 S.Ct. 379, 82 L.Ed. 431; United States v. Maryland Casualty Co., 7 Cir., 1931, 49 F.2d 556, 558; Continental Assurance Co. v. United States, 1934, 8 F......
  • Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Idaho Power Company 8212 263
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 24, 1974
    ...rulings not promulgated by the Secretary are of little aid in interpreting a tax statute . . .,' Biddle v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 302 U.S. 573, 582, 58 S.Ct. 379, 383, 82 L.Ed. 431. Indeed, each issue of the Internal Revenue Bulletin warns that 'Revenue Rulings reported in the Bu......
  • Coan v. State of California
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • April 19, 1974
    ...(Whitcomb Hotel, Inc. v. Cal. Emp. Com. (1944) 24 Cal.2d 753, 756--758, 151 P.2d 233, 236; Biddle v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (1937) 302 U.S. 573, 582, 58 S.Ct. 379, 82 L.Ed. 431.) Administrative construction is probably entitled to less weight where the question is whether the admi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 firm's commentaries
4 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Tax Executive Vol. 52 No. 5, September 2000
    • September 1, 2000
    ..."little aid" in interpreting the tax laws because they were not subject to Treasury Department review. See, e.g., Biddle v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 573, 582 (1938) (citing Helvering v. New York Trust Co., 292 U.S. 455, 468 (1934)). Most recently, in Commissioner v. Schleier, the Court consid......
  • Proposed "technical taxpayer" regulations shut down guardian and reverse hybrid structures.
    • United States
    • Florida Bar Journal Vol. 81 No. 2, February 2007
    • February 1, 2007
    ...(e.g., a withholding agent) remits such tax." This principle was first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Biddle v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 573 (4) Treas. Reg. [section]1.901-2(f)(3). (5) REG-124152-06. (6) Notwithstanding the Treasury's and the IRS' assertion in the preamble (the Prea......
  • Notice 95-14: check-the-box procedure for entity classification.
    • United States
    • Tax Executive Vol. 47 No. 4, July 1995
    • July 1, 1995
    ...benefit from a check-the-box procedure. (10) I.R.C. [sections] 7701; O'Neill u. United States, supra. (11) See Biddle v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 573, 578 (1938), holding that tax provisions should generally be read to incorporate domestic tax concepts, absent a clear congressional intent tha......
  • The Education, Jobs, and Medicaid Assistance Act of 2010.
    • United States
    • The Tax Adviser Vol. 42 No. 4, April 2011
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the IRS. The new rule was put in place to address perceived abuse and exploitation of the technical taxpayer rule established with Biddle, 302 U.S. 573 (1938). That rule provides that the taxes are considered paid by whomever foreign law imposes legal liability for such tax, even if another......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT