CIR v. Rankin, 12800

Decision Date09 September 1959
Docket NumberNo. 12800,12801.,12800
Citation270 F.2d 160
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

John A. Reilly, Chester, Pa. (Edward D. McLaughlin, Chester, Pa., on the brief), for Robert L. Rankin.

Charles B. E. Freeman, Washington, D. C. (Charles K. Rice, Asst. Atty. Gen., Lee A. Jackson, Harry Baum, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., on the brief), for Commissioner of Internal Revenue.

Lloyd Goman, Chester, Pa., for Bessie N. Rankin.

Before McLAUGHLIN, KALODNER and STALEY, Circuit Judges.

KALODNER, Circuit Judge.

Does a "support and maintenance" order of a Quarter Sessions Court of Pennsylvania entered against a husband at his wife's instance, effect their "legal separation" under Pennsylvania law?

The question is presented by these petitions for review of decisions of the Tax Court of the United States which answered them in the negative. It arises by reason of the fact that applicable Federal revenue laws1 provide that "periodic payments" to a wife "who is divorced or legally separated from her husband under a decree of divorce or of separate maintenance" shall be includible in the wife's gross income and not that of the husband.

The facts, as stipulated and found by the Tax Court, may be summarized as follows:

Robert L. Rankin and Bessie N. Rankin were married on October 2, 1919. Bessie left Robert on August 16, 1951 and they have lived separate and apart since that date. They never entered into a separation agreement nor did either of them ever institute divorce proceedings. On October 19, 1951 Bessie instituted an action for support against Robert in the Court of Quarter Sessions of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, pursuant to the provisions of the Pennsylvania Act of June 24, 1939, P.L. 872 § 733, 18 P.S. § 4733. The Delaware County Court the same day ordered Robert to pay $125.00 weekly to Bessie for her support and maintenance.2

During the taxable years involved, 1952, 1953 and 1954, Robert made the payments ordered to Bessie and in his individual income tax returns for the years stated deducted them from his gross income. The Commissioner disallowed the deductions with respect to each year and his action was sustained by the Tax Court. Bessie, in her individual income tax returns for the years involved, did not include in her gross income the support payments made by Robert, but the Commissioner did. The Tax Court held that the support payments were includible in Robert's gross income and that the Commissioner erred in including them in Bessie's gross income.

Robert's petition for review relates to the Tax Court's decision in his case.3 The Commissioner's protective petition for review of the Tax Court's decision in Bessie's case4 was filed to protect the revenue in the event this Court should reverse in Robert's case inasmuch as the support payments are necessarily taxable to Bessie if they are deductible by Robert.

The sum of Robert's contention here is that the Pennsylvania Quarter Sessions Court's Order effected a "legal separation" and constituted a "decree of separate maintenance" within the meaning of the applicable federal revenue laws. Its premise is that the Quarter Sessions Court, in granting the order, found that Bessie "* * * was justified in separating herself from her husband because of his mistreatment and abuse", and that it follows that the separation thereby became a "legal separation."

We cannot subscribe to Robert's contention.

As earlier stated, Bessie's action for support in the Delaware County Quarter Sessions Court was pursuant to the provisions of Section 733 of the Pennsylvania Penal Code of June 24, 1939.

The law is well-settled in Pennsylvania that in support actions under the Penal Code, and predecessor legislation, "Maintenance is the sole object of the act Act".5 As was stated in Commonwealth ex rel. Rankin v. Rankin, 1952, 170 Pa.Super. 570, 572, 87 A.2d 799, 800, where the order of the Quarter Sessions Court was affirmed:

"The function of a court in a proceeding for support such as this is * * * to fix an amount which is `reasonable and proper for the comfortable support and maintenance of * * * his wife\'".

In Commonwealth v. George, 1948, 358 Pa. 118, 123, 56 A.2d 228, 231, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania succinctly defined the sweep of Section 733 as follows:

"The legislature intended Section 733, and prior statutes from which it was derived, to provide the method by which a wife who has been wrongfully deserted by the husband or who has been deprived of support by the neglect of the husband, could seek judicial assistance in securing a reasonable allowance for the support of herself and family. * * *" (Emphasis supplied.)

Section 733 is a "quasi-criminal statute", Commonwealth ex rel. O'Brien v. O'Brien, 1956, 182 Pa.Super. 584, 586, 128 A.2d 164 and a proceeding under it in the quarter sessions court is "quasi-criminal in nature", Commonwealth v. Shaffer, 1954, 175 Pa.Super. 100, 109, 103 A.2d 430, 435. In the latter case it was stressed that "* * * the obligation of a husband to support * * * is a liability imposed by law as an incident of the marital status" (175 Pa. Super. at page 108, 103 A.2d at page 434), and that "The Commonwealth has an interest in all support cases, if only to recapture a part of the large sum, said to amount to $200,000,000 a year, spent by the states in supporting deserted families."

In proceedings in quarter sessions courts in Pennsylvania under Section 733 the Commonwealth is the plaintiff at the relation of the wife seeking a support order and the wife is only a witness, albeit an interested one. The Section is "remedial in nature" and effectuates the public policy of the Commonwealth.

An exhaustive review of Pennsylvania cases establishes that Robert's contention that a support order of a quarter sessions court under Section 733 operates to effect a "legal separation" of spouses is utterly without basis. It may be noted parenthetically that Robert has failed to cite any Pennsylvania authority which even remotely supports his contention.

"Legal separation" of spouses may be effected in Pennsylvania by statutory enactment only by an absolute divorce from the bonds of matrimony — a vinculo matrimonii — or a divorce from bed and board — a mensa et thoro. Section 10 of The Divorce Law of Pennsylvania, Act of May 2, 1929, P.L. 1237, as amended by the Act of March 19, 1943, P.L. 21, § 1, 23 P.S. § 1 et seq. provides for absolute divorces; Section 11 of The Divorce Law for divorces from bed and board. A decree of absolute divorce terminates the husband's obligation to support a former spouse, Commonwealth v. Petrosky, 1951, 168 Pa.Super. 232, 241, 77 A.2d 647 while "A divorce from bed and board is no more than a judicial separation" in which the court may allow permanent alimony under Section 47 of The Divorce Law. McFarland v. McFarland, 1954, 176 Pa.Super. 342, 346, 107 A.2d 615, 617.

The Divorce Law, in Section 15, specifically provides that "the several courts of common pleas of this Commonwealth shall have original jurisdiction of cases of divorce from the bonds of matrimony, from bed and board, and in the annulment of marriages under the provisions of this act. * * *"

While Section 15 does not by its terms confer exclusive jurisdiction in divorce cases upon Pennsylvania's common pleas courts the exclusiveness of such jurisdiction has never been challenged. See 1 Goodrich-Amram Civil Practice, "Jurisdiction in Divorce Actions" §§ 1121-22, where it was said:

"Jurisdiction to grant divorces from the bonds of matrimony and from bed and board is vested exclusively in the courts of common pleas of the Commonwealth. * * *"

Moreover, in Pennsylvania, "The jurisdiction of the Court of Quarter Sessions `is fixed by the common law and the statutes declaring its powers' * * *". Commonwealth v. Bertram, 1940, 143 Pa. Super. 1, 5, 16 A.2d 758, 760. The Pennsylvania Act of March 31, 1860, P.L. 427, § 32, 17 P.S. § 361 specifies the "Jurisdiction of quarter sessions" and the "powers of its judges". The jurisdiction conferred relates to "* * * all crimes, misdemeanors and offenses whatsoever against the laws of this commonwealth, which shall be triable in the respective county", excluding felonies, which are triable in Pennsylvania in its courts of oyer and terminer.

Pennsylvania courts have time and again emphasized the distinction between nonsupport proceedings under the Penal Code and "separation and support" cases, holding that jurisdiction as to the former was vested in quarter sessions courts6 and as to the latter in common pleas courts.7

For example, it has long been settled in Pennsylvania that courts of quarter sessions cannot enforce husband and wife separation agreements and that a court of common pleas is the "proper forum" in such actions. Commonwealth ex rel. Kurniker v. Kurniker, 1929, 96 Pa.Super. 553, 556.

The line of demarcation between nonsupport cases under the Penal Code in quarter sessions courts and separate maintenance orders in divorce proceedings in common pleas courts is sharply drawn by the Pennsylvania decisions.

Thus in Commonwealth ex rel. Davidoff v. Davidoff, 1955, 178 Pa.Super. 549, 551, 115 A.2d 892, 893, it was held that "* * * the fact that the wife has filed a complaint in divorce does not bar her right to support" by order of the Municipal Court of Philadelphia which exercises the jurisdiction conferred upon quarter sessions courts by the Penal Code of 1939 in other counties of the Commonwealth. To the same effect see Commonwealth ex rel. Maroney v. Maroney, 1935, 121 Pa.Super. 489, 184 A. 289.

Again, in Wick v. Wick, 1944, 155 Pa. Super. 528, 39 A.2d 304, it was stated that a wife could be awarded a support order in a proper case even though she was not entitled to a divorce from bed and...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16 cases
  • Chaney v. Chaney
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • May 31, 1985
    ...because such divorces were merely judicial separations and did not terminate the obligated spouse's duty of support. Commissioner v. Rankin, 270 F.2d 160 (3d Cir.1959); Commonwealth ex rel. Rubin v. Rubin, 230 Pa.Super. 591, 326 A.2d 578 (1974). Except in the case of an insane spouse, the d......
  • Pittsburgh Nat'l Bank v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue (In re Estate of Iversen)
    • United States
    • U.S. Tax Court
    • November 25, 1975 pay alimony after a decree of absolute divorce. In Re Estate of Erwin, 430 Pa. 431, 243 A.2d 420 (1968); Commissioner v. Rankin, 270 F.2d 160, 164 (3d Cir. 1959), affg. a Memorandum Opinion of this Court; Dixon v. Commissioner, supra. In our view the characterizing of Robert's payments a......
  • Legget v. CIR
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • March 20, 1964
    ...Keleher v. C. I. R., 25 T.C. 1154 (1956) District of Columbia; Boettiger v. C. I. R., 31 T.C. 477 (1958) New Jersey; C. I. R. v. Rankin, 270 F.2d 160 (3 Cir. 1959) Pennsylvania; Fuqua v. Patterson, 193 F.Supp. 313 (N.D.Ala.), aff'd per curiam, 295 F.2d 509 (5 Cir. 1961) Alabama. Such decisi......
  • Weinkrantz v. Weinkrantz
    • United States
    • New Jersey Superior Court — Appellate Division
    • June 10, 1974
    ...husband and deprived of support by his neglect could seek judicial assistance for her support and that of her children. In C.I.R. v. Rankin, 270 F.2d 160 (3 Cir. 1959), the court held that a husband who had made payments to his wife under such a support order was not entitled to exclude suc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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