Pacific National Insurance v. United States

Decision Date01 June 1970
Docket NumberNo. 22490.,22490.
Citation422 F.2d 26
PartiesPACIFIC NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

George H. Koster (argued), of Koster, Kohlmeier & Graham, San Francisco, Cal., for appellant.

Richard L. Carico (argued), Asst. U. S. Atty., Cecil F. Poole, U. S. Atty., San Francisco, Cal., Chester C. Davenport, Elmer J. Kelsey, Lee A. Jackson, Attys., Mitchell Rogovin, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for appellee.

Before MADDEN,* Judge of the United States Court of Claims, and MERRILL and BROWNING, Circuit Judges.

Certiorari Denied June 1, 1970. See 90 S.Ct. 1838.

BROWNING, Circuit Judge:

Pacific National Insurance Company, as surety, wrote payment and performance bonds on six government construction contracts awarded to Central States Construction and Equipment Company. Central exhausted its operating funds and requested Pacific's assistance. Arrangements were made to finance Central's operating expenses from May to September 8, 1955, when Central formally defaulted. During this period Central filed quarterly returns of income and social security taxes withheld from the wages of its employees, but the taxes were not paid over to the United States.

The district court held that Pacific was liable to the United States for an amount equal to the taxes reported as withheld from Central's employees because, in the circumstances of this case, Pacific was a "person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over" the taxes and "willfully" failed to do so, within the meaning of 26 U.S.C. § 6672.1 270 F. Supp. 165 (N.D.Cal.1967). We affirm.

We recognize that this interpretation of section 6672 is disputable. It is therefore advisable to note that the problem with which we deal is of no importance so far as wages paid on or after January 1, 1967, are concerned. As to such wages, section 105(b) of the Federal Tax Lien Act of 1966, 80 Stat. 1139 (1966), 26 U.S.C. § 3505(b), explicitly requires the result which we reach under section 6672.2

A brief outline of the events which followed exhaustion of Central's funds will provide a useful background for consideration of the language and purpose of section 6672.3 Late in April 1955 Central explained its situation to Pacific, and Pacific offered to advance the moneys necessary to enable Central to continue its work under the construction contracts. The district court found (and the finding is unchallenged) that at all relevant times thereafter Pacific knew that Central had no funds to pay the taxes which Central was required by law to withhold from wages paid to its employees, except funds made available by the arrangements which we now describe.

During May 1953 Central prepared payrolls showing the gross wages, deductions for income and social security taxes, and net wages of its employees; and drew checks on its own account in the amount of each employee's net wages. Pacific's representatives examined the payroll and individual checks, and had each employee endorse his check. They then carried the endorsed checks to the bank, deposited the net amount of the total payroll to Central's account, cashed the employees' checks, returned to the job site with the cash, and paid the employees. Central signed a note to Pacific for the amount deposited. Although Central requested that Pacific deposit the amount shown on the payroll as withheld taxes. Pacific declined to do so.

The procedure was changed in June in order to subject progress payments due Central under the construction contracts to Pacific's control. A bank loan in the estimated amount of these payments was made to Central and guaranteed by Pacific; the proceeds were deposited in a bank account subject to Pacific's exclusive control. A "Special Account" was established for each of Central's construction jobs. Progress payments under the construction contracts were assigned to the bank, but Pacific retained the power to decide whether these payments would be added to the Special Accounts or applied to reduce Central's loan from the bank.4

The basic procedures followed in paying Central's operating expenses remained the same under the June arrangements. Central prepared payrolls showing gross pay, taxes withheld and net pay, and individual checks for the net pay due each employee. Pacific's representatives came to the job site, checked the documents, secured endorsements on the checks, carried the checks to the bank, deposited an amount sufficient to cover the checks, cashed the checks immediately, returned with the cash to the job, and paid Central's employees.5

Central understood that it was part of the June arrangements that Pacific would approve payment of taxes required to be withheld from the wages of Central's employees. The trial court found that "Central States would not have placed all of its potential income under the control of Pacific if it had known that Pacific would not release funds to pay and provide for withholding taxes." Nonetheless, when Central asked Pacific to approve payment of the withheld taxes reflected in each payroll, Pacific declined to do so, stating that it wished to postpone the matter.

During this period Central's non-payroll expenses were paid as follows. Central prepared and forwarded to Pacific a list of expenses together with a check and a letter of transmittal in Central's name to each creditor. Pacific decided which creditors would be paid, and transferred sufficient funds from the appropriate Special Account to Central's account to cover the total. Pacific then certified Central's checks and mailed them with Central's letters of transmittal to the selected creditors.

The district court concluded that Pacific "exercised complete dominion and control over funds belonging to Central States and was the person who decided which creditors of Central States were to be paid and when."

We turn to an examination of section 6672, under which the district court imposed liability upon Pacific.

Pacific argues for a narrow interpretation of this provision. It reasons as follows. Section 6672 imposes liability only upon the "person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over" the tax in question. The person required to collect and pay over income and social security taxes imposed upon the wages of employees is their employer, and no other. 26 U.S.C. §§ 3101, 3102, 3402, and 3403. Section 6671(b), defining "person"6 as used in section 6672, merely specifies those individuals whose function it is to perform these acts when the employer is a corporation or partnership. Since it was stipulated, and the district court found, that Pacific was not the employer of Central's employees, and since Pacific obviously was not an individual officer or employee of Central, Pacific is not liable under section 6672.

We think Pacific reads sections 6672 and 6671(b) too narrowly. Briefly, it is our conclusion that the language of these provisions is broad enough to reach an entity which assumes the function of determining whether or not an employer will pay over taxes withheld from its employees; that this reading of the language serves the evident purpose of the statute; and that the district court's finding that Pacific performed this function with respect to Central is fully justified by the record.

The first point to be made is that it is not the purpose of section 6672 to impose liability upon the employer for the taxes collected from his employees; that liability is imposed by other sections of the Code. 26 U.S.C. §§ 3102(b) & 3404. Section 6672 imposes a liability separate and distinct from the employer's liability for the withheld taxes, and it imposes that liability upon persons other than the employer.7

The definition of "persons" in section 6671(b) indicates that the liability imposed by section 6672 upon those other than the employer is not restricted to the classes of persons specifically listed — officers or employees of corporations and members or employees of partnerships. "By use of the word `includes' the definition suggests a calculated indefiniteness with respect to the outer limits of the term" defined. First National Bank In Plant City, Plant City, Florida v. Dickinson, 396 U.S. 122, 90 S.Ct. 337, 24 L.Ed.2d 312 (1969).8 As we said in United States v. Graham, 309 F.2d 210, 212 (9th Cir. 1962): "The term `person' does include officer and employee, but certainly does not exclude all others. Its scope is illustrated rather than qualified by the specified examples."9

The language is broad enough to reach corporations and other artificial entities, as well as natural beings. The Code expressly provides that unless "otherwise distinctly expressed or manifestly incompatible with the intent * * The term `person' shall be construed to mean and include an individual, a trust, estate, partnership, association, company or corporation." 26 U.S.C. § 7701(a) (1). And since artificial entities commonly provide operating, accounting, and management services for independent businesses, it is not "manifestly incompatible" with the intent of section 6672 to include them within its reach.

We may assume that when the employer is a corporation the statutory language does limit liability under section 6672 to those who exercise the corporation's power to determine whether or not to pay over the withheld tax. But the definition of "persons" does not require that they be formally vested with the office or employed in the position normally charged with this function; the definition simply "includes" such persons.10 Indeed, the language itself does not require that they be officers or employees of the corporation at all, so long as they are in fact responsible for controlling corporate disbursements.11 As we held in Graham,supra, 309 F.2d at 212, "the section must be construed to include all those so...

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