Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co, No. 384

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation68 S.Ct. 695,333 U.S. 496,92 L.Ed. 831
PartiesCOMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE v. SOUTH TEXAS LUMBER CO
Decision Date29 March 1948
Docket NumberNo. 384

333 U.S. 496
68 S.Ct. 695
92 L.Ed. 831
COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE

v.

SOUTH TEXAS LUMBER CO.

No. 384.
Argued Jan. 14, 1948.
Decided March 29, 1948.
Rehearing Denied May 3, 1948.

Mr. Lee A. Jackson, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. Charles C. MacLean, Jr., of New York City, for respondent.

Page 497

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises a question as to respondent's liability for the taxable year 1943 under the Excess Profits Tax of 1940, as amended. 54 Stat. 975, 26 U.S.C. § 710 et seq., 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 710 et seq. The law was passed to tax abnormally high profits due to large governmental expenditures about to be made from appropriations for national defense.1 The excess profits tax was a graduated surtax upon a portion of corporate income, and was imposed in addition to the regular income tax. It applied to all corporate profits and gains over and above what Congress deemed to be a fair and normal return for the corporate business taxed.

Under the controlling 1943 law the amount of income subject to this excess profits tax is computed by subtracting from the net income subject to regular income tax the amount of earnings Congress deemed to be a taxpayer's normal and fair return.2 This deductible amount, called the excess profits credit, was to be computed in one of two ways, whichever resulted in the lesser tax. § 712. The first, not used here, permits a deduction of an amount equal to the company's average net income for the taxable years 1936 to 1939 inclusive. § 713. The second, used here, permits a deduction of an amount equal to 8 per centum of the taxpayer's invested capital for the taxable year.3 § 714. An includable element of the 'invested capital' is the 'accumulated earnings and profits as of the beginning of such taxable year.' § 718. It thus appears that by this method Congress intended, with minor exceptions not here relevant, to impose the excess profits tax on all annual net income in excess of 8% of a

Page 498

corporation's working capital, including its accumulated profits. The controversy here is over the taxpayer's claim that in computing its 1943 tax the statute allows it to include in this 8% deduction its 'accumulated profits' from certain installment sales, which profits the tapayer, in accordance with an option conferred upon him, had elected not to report as a part of its taxable income in prior years.

Beginning in 1937 and extending over a four-year period, respondent sold parcels of real estate, gave deeds, and took installment notes, which were secured by mortgages and vendors liens. It kept its books generally on a calendar year accrual basis of accounting, a basis under which all obligations of a company applicable to a year are listed as expenditures, whether paid that year or not, and all obligations to it incurred by others applicable to the year are set up as income on the same basis. Under 26 U.S.C. § 41, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 41, an income taxpayer may report income and expenditures either on an accrual basis, or on a cash basis—under which latter method annual net income is measured by the difference between actual cash received and paid out within the taxable year. In any event, the basis used must, in the language of § 41, 'clearly reflect the income.'

Respondent did not report the value of its land installment notes as income on the accrual basis as it could have done under § 41. Instead, from 1937 up to and including 1943, it has consistently reported its annual income from the installment sales on a third, or 'installment' basis, expressly authorized for certain types of installment sales by 26 U.S.C. § 44, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 44. That section permits a taxpayer to return as taxable income for a given year only 'that proportion of the installment payments actually received in that year which the gross profit realized or to be realized when payment is completed, bears to the total contract price.' Thus respondent's install-

Page 499

ment income has actually been reported for taxes all along substantially on a modified cash receipts basis, and the taxpayer's net income, which is subjected both to the normal income tax and to the excess profits tax, has not in any of these years reflected the unpaid balances on the installment notes, or any part of them. On the contrary, these balances were listed on respondent's tax returns during these years as 'Unrealized Profit Installment Sales.'

On its 1943 excess profits tax return respondent nevertheless reported as 'accumulated earnings and profits' the amount of 'Unrealized Profit Installment Sales' shown on its books at the end of 1942,4 and included this amount in 'invested capital.' It thus sought to deduct 8% of its theretofore designated 'unrealized profit' in computing its excess profits tax. The Commissioner redetermined the tax for 1943 after eliminating this item from 'invested capital.' The Tax Court sustained the Commissioner's redetermination, 7 T.C. 669, relying on its opinion in Kimbrell's Home Furnishings, Inc., v. Commissioner, 7 T.C. 339.5 The Circuit Court of Appeals, 5 Cir., 162 F.2d 866, with one justice dissenting, reversed on the authority of its decision in Commissioner v. Shenandoah Co., 5 Cir., 138 F.2d 792. The Government's petition for certiorari alleged that the result reached by the Circuit Court of Appeals was counter to the Commissioner's regulations and to longstanding tax practices recognized by statutes and judicial opinions, under which practices a taxpayer normally cannot report taxable income on one accounting basis and adjustments of that income on another. The

Page 500

questions thereby raised are of importance in tax administration and we granted certiorari to consider them.

A Treasury regulation, set out in part below,6 applicable to both the normal income tax and the excess profits tax,7 specifically prv ides that 'a corporation computing income on the installment basis as provided in section 44 shall, with respect to the installment transactions, compute earnings and profits on such basis.'8 Since respondent computed its taxable income from installment sales on the installment or modified cash receipts basis, but computed its earnings and profits from these same sales on another basis, the accrual, it contends that the regulation is invalid because inconsistent with the governing code provisions. Validity of the regulation is therefore the crucial question.

Page 501

This Court has many times declared that Treasury regulations must be sustained unless unreasonable and plainly inconsistent with the revenue statutes and that they constitute contemporaneous constructions by those charged with administration of these statutes which should not be overruled except for weighty reasons. See, e.g., Fawcus Machine Co. v. United States, 282 U.S. 375, 378, 51 S.Ct. 144, 145, 75 L.Ed. 397.

This regulation is in harmony with the long-established congressional policy that a taxpayer generally cannot compute income taxes by reporting annual income on a cash basis and deductions on an accrual basis. Such a practice has been uniformly held inadmissible because it results in a distorted picture which makes a tax return fail truly to reflect net income. This has been the construction given income, estate, and previous excess profits tax laws by administrative officials, the Board of Tax Appeals, and the courts.9

The regulation's reasonableness and consistency with the statutes which impose the excess profits tax on...

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644 practice notes
  • American Automobile Association v. United States, No. 288
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1961
    ...for all other items. Schlude v. Commissioner, 8 Cir., 283 F.2d 234, 239. Cf. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 698, 92 L.Ed. 831. For taxpayers generally the enforcement of such a hybrid accounting method may result in a gross disto......
  • Farmers Cooperative Co. v. Birmingham, Civ. No. 537.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • October 8, 1949
    ...unless unreasonable or plainly inconsistent with revenue statutes. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co., 1948, 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 92 L.Ed. 831; rehearing denied 334 U.S. 813, 68 S.Ct. 1014, 92 L.Ed. 1744; Boehm v. Commissioner, 1945, 326 U.S. 287, 291, 29......
  • Barnett v. Weinberger, No. 81-2122
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 15, 1987
    ...v. Estate of Sternberger, 348 U.S. 187, 199, 75 S.Ct. 229, 235, 99 L.Ed. 246, 256 (1955); Commissioner v. South Tex. Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 698, 92 L.Ed. 831, 836 71 Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367, 381, 89 S.Ct. 1794, 1802, 23 L.Ed.2d 371, 384 (1969), q......
  • Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. United States, No. 07-648T
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • January 30, 2012
    ...inconsistent with the revenue statutes.'" Comm'r v. Portland Cement Co., 450 U.S. 156, 169 (quoting Comm'r v. South Texas Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501 (1948)). The Supreme Court elaborated that courts "must defer to Treasury Regulations that 'implement the congressional mandate in some rea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
643 cases
  • American Automobile Association v. United States, No. 288
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1961
    ...for all other items. Schlude v. Commissioner, 8 Cir., 283 F.2d 234, 239. Cf. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 698, 92 L.Ed. 831. For taxpayers generally the enforcement of such a hybrid accounting method may result in a gross disto......
  • Farmers Cooperative Co. v. Birmingham, Civ. No. 537.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • October 8, 1949
    ...unless unreasonable or plainly inconsistent with revenue statutes. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co., 1948, 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 92 L.Ed. 831; rehearing denied 334 U.S. 813, 68 S.Ct. 1014, 92 L.Ed. 1744; Boehm v. Commissioner, 1945, 326 U.S. 287, 291, 29......
  • Barnett v. Weinberger, No. 81-2122
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • May 15, 1987
    ...v. Estate of Sternberger, 348 U.S. 187, 199, 75 S.Ct. 229, 235, 99 L.Ed. 246, 256 (1955); Commissioner v. South Tex. Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501, 68 S.Ct. 695, 698, 92 L.Ed. 831, 836 71 Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 395 U.S. 367, 381, 89 S.Ct. 1794, 1802, 23 L.Ed.2d 371, 384 (1969), q......
  • Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. United States, No. 07-648T
    • United States
    • Court of Federal Claims
    • January 30, 2012
    ...inconsistent with the revenue statutes.'" Comm'r v. Portland Cement Co., 450 U.S. 156, 169 (quoting Comm'r v. South Texas Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 501 (1948)). The Supreme Court elaborated that courts "must defer to Treasury Regulations that 'implement the congressional mandate in some rea......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Administering the National Environmental Policy Act
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 45-4, April 2015
    • April 1, 2015
    ...a court in an Article III case, garner a presumption of validity, see e.g. , Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. South Texas Lumber Co., 333 U.S. 496, 498 (1948), might be inclined to announce its interpretations in whatever format was optimal for that agency’s present purposes. See Elizabe......

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