Pittway Corp. v. U.S., 96-1968

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation102 F.3d 932
Docket NumberNo. 96-1968,96-1968
Parties-7616, 97-1 USTC P 70,069 PITTWAY CORPORATION, and subsidiaries, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date18 December 1996

Todd F. Maynes (argued), Deborah Dunn, Kirkland & Ellis, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Richard Farber, Gary R. Allen, Joan I. Oppenheimer (argued), Dept. of Justice, Tax Division, Appellate Section, Washington, DC, Michele M. Fox, Office of the United States Attorney, Civil Division, Appellate Section, Chicago, IL, Richard J. Gagnon, Jr., Department of Justice, Tax Division, Washington, DC, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before WOOD, Jr., RIPPLE and MANION, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

Pittway Corporation inserted butane into containers as an aerosol propellant. Section 4661(a) of the Internal Revenue Code taxes the manufacturer of certain chemicals, among them butane. The IRS taxed Pittway for using the butane in the manufacturing of the various aerosol products. Pittway claims that its customers are the manufacturers who should pay the tax and seeks a refund of $236,056 in taxes it paid to the government under Section 4661(a). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the government. We affirm.

I. Background

Pittway was a "contract packager." Through a subsidiary, Pittway contracted with other companies to assemble and package those companies' consumer products. Many of the products it assembled and packaged required the addition of aerosol-grade isobutane as an ingredient. The isobutane served as a propellant in the aerosol containers.

Pittway purchased its own supply of isobutane from suppliers and maintained its supply in storage tanks at its packaging facilities. Pursuant to its customers' formulas, Pittway inserted isobutane, along with other ingredients, into the customers' trademarked containers. When Pittway had assembled and packaged the product, a common carrier delivered the product to Pittway's customers.

At issue are two sections of the Internal Revenue Code promulgated by the Hazardous Substance Response Revenue Act of 1980. Section 4661(a) states:

There is hereby imposed a tax on any taxable chemical sold by the manufacturer, producer, or importer thereof.

26 U.S.C. § 4661(a). Section 4662(b)(1) states:

Under regulations prescribed by the Secretary, methane or butane shall be treated as a taxable chemical only if it is used otherwise than as a fuel or in the manufacture or production of any motor fuel, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, or jet fuel (and, for purposes of section 4661(a), the person so using it shall be treated as the manufacturer thereof).

26 U.S.C. § 4662(b)(1) (emphases added).

Pittway paid a tax pursuant to Section 4661(a) in the amount of $236,056 and then filed this suit for a refund. Both Pittway and the government moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the government's motion and denied Pittway's. It concluded that by inserting isobutane into consumer products, Pittway "used" butane under Section 4662(b)(1). Pittway does not contest the determination that it used the butane. Rather, Pittway contends that even if it "uses" butane as set forth in Section 4662(b)(1), it did not "manufacture" the finished aerosol products within the meaning of Section 4661(a), and thus is not subject to the tax.

II. Analysis

All statutory interpretation begins with the language of the statute itself, and where "the statute's language is plain, 'the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms.' " United States v. Ron Pair Enterprises, Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241, 109 S.Ct. 1026, 1030, 103 L.Ed.2d 290 (1989) (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485, 37 S.Ct. 192, 194, 61 L.Ed. 442 (1917)). Therefore, the first issue is whether the sections of the Internal Revenue Code relied upon by the district court and the government to impose tax liability on Pittway (rather than on Pittway's contract customers) are plain and straightforward. 1

Section 4661(a) imposes a tax on certain chemicals sold by the "manufacturer thereof," e.g., the manufacturer of butane. Section 4662(b)(1) specifies, with exceptions not here relevant, that the person "using" butane is treated as the "manufacturer" for purposes of Section 4661(a). This statutory scheme is straightforward. The objective is to identify the entity that uses butane in a product for purposes other than fuel. Once found, the statute treats that entity as the chemical's manufacturer, and, if it sells that product, it pays the tax. Without question, Pittway used the butane when it inserted it into the aerosol cans of its customers. It does not contest the IRS position (approved by the district court) that "the insertion of isobutane into an aerosol canister during the manufacturing process constitutes the 'use' of isobutane." Pittway insists instead that since its customer--the manufacturer of the end product--directed that use, the customer, not Pittway, is the user who should incur the tax.

The district court approached the problem differently. It stated: "Whether Pittway is a manufacturer of butane is irrelevant where Congress imposed a tax on the 'use' of butane regardless of whether the 'user' is deemed a manufacturer, as in § 4662." This interpretation is not entirely correct. As a general matter the "user" of the butane is the manufacturer under the statutory definition, and the tax is imposed upon that manufacturer. Therefore, whether Pittway is a manufacturer of butane under the statute is certainly relevant to the issue of who pays the tax.

We glean three arguments from Pittway's briefs. First, Pittway asserts that it is not liable for the tax because courts have found other contract manufacturers or piece-rate assemblers not to be "manufacturers" for excise tax purposes. Pittway relies principally upon Charles Peckat Mfg. Co. v. Jarecki, 196 F.2d 849 (7th Cir.1952), which interpreted a section of the Code imposing an excise tax on automobile accessories "sold by the manufacturer." Peckat Mfg. Co., 196 F.2d at 850 (quoting former 26 U.S.C. § 3403). Peckat had contracted with another company to purchase assembled sun visors at a piece rate. The court determined that Peckat, as the patent-holder on the visors was the "manufacturer" under the statute even though another entity assembled the visors. See id. at 851 ("[I]t is not unusual in taxing statutes for the term 'manufacturer' to include one who has contracted with others to actually fabricate the product.").

Jarecki might be more persuasive if Section 4662(b)(1) did not specifically define "manufacturer." But it did. This court does not have to choose between Pittway and its customers to determine which "manufactured" the chemical butane "used" in this case. The statute states without equivocation that "for purposes of section 4661(a), the person so using [the butane otherwise than as a fuel] shall be treated as the manufacturer thereof." 26 U.S.C. § 4662(b)(1). Once Pittway acknowledged the obvious fact that it "used" the butane within the meaning of the statute by inserting the chemical propellant into its customers' aerosol containers, the tax became Pittway's to pay. 2

Pittway contends that it is not liable for the tax for a second reason: it did not manufacture the finished product (i.e., the product that Pittway's customers sell to the public). Once again, this argument conflicts with the language of the statute, which taxes the manufacturer of the chemical, not the finished product. See 26 U.S.C. § 4661(a) (imposing tax on "any taxable chemical sold by the manufacturer ... thereof") (emphasis added); 26 U.S.C. § 4662(b)(1) ("the person so using [the chemical] shall be treated as the manufacturer thereof"). As we conclude that Pittway is the manufacturer of the chemical in question (butane), it is liable for the tax under Section 4661(a).

Third, Pittway contends that the statute imposes a tax only when the taxable chemical is "sold by the manufacturer," and that it made no sale in this case. Pittway does not dispute that it assembles and packages consumer products, complete with the addition of butane as an ingredient, for a price. We therefore have little difficulty concluding that Pittway's relationship with its contract customers involves a "sale" under the statute.

What may be Pittway's best argument it makes only in passing: that the IRS dropped the ball by never issuing regulations interpreting Section 4662(b)(1) even though the statute explicitly stated that such regulations were forthcoming. Section 4662(b)(1) states that "[u]nder regulations prescribed by the Secretary, methane or butane shall be treated as a taxable chemical...." More than fifteen years after the statute's passage, there are no regulations.

This is not the first time that the government has sought to enforce a statute without having issued the interpretive regulations that the text of the statute requires. In First Chicago Corp. v. Commissioner, 842 F.2d 180 (7th Cir.1988), this court interpreted a section of the Code passed in 1969, 26 U.S.C. § 56(a), imposing a minimum tax on a taxpayer's tax-preference items (after certain deductions). Although the statute stated that the Treasury "shall prescribe regulations" interpreting the minimum tax, the Treasury never issued any regulations. This court noted that the dispute might have been avoided "if the Treasury Department had ever gotten around to promulgating regulations under section 58(h), as ordered to do by Congress, but it never did, blaming its default on a staggering workload caused by the number of tax bills that Congress has enacted in recent years." 842 F.2d at 182.

In this case, the government does not blame a staggering workload for its failure to issue the promised regulations. Instead, it attributes its noncompliance to the Tax Reform Act of 1986, as well as "efficiency and ...

To continue reading

Request your trial
38 cases
  • Bank One Corp. v. Comm'r of Internal Revenue
    • United States
    • United States Tax Court
    • May 2, 2003
    ...criticized the Treasury Department for failing to prescribe congressionally mandated regulations. E.g., Pittway Corp. v. United States, 102 F.3d 932, 935–36 (7th Cir.1996); First Chicago Corp. v. Commissioner, 842 F.2d 180, 181–182 (7th Cir.1988), affg. 88 T.C. 663, 1987 WL 49293 (1987); Es......
  • Henderson v. U.S.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Wisconsin
    • May 9, 2000
    ...within the Code's definition of that term. "When interpreting a statute, we look first to its language." Pittway Corp. v. U.S., 102 F.3d 932, 934 (7th Cir.1996). IRC § 6211's comparison of tax liability under the IRC and tax liability as reported by the taxpayer has no application to nonreb......
  • In re Fredman
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Seventh Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Illinois
    • May 31, 2012
    ...produces an absurd result. The Balint court stated: When we interpret a statute, we look first to its language. Pittway Corp. v. United States, 102 F.3d 932, 934 (7th Cir.1996). If that language is plain, our only function is “ ‘to enforce it according to its terms.’ ” United States v. Ron ......
  • Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Celadon Trucking Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana
    • June 30, 2015
    ...were otherwise qualified. "All statutory interpretation begins with the language of the statute itself." Pittway Corp. v. United States, 102 F.3d 932, 934 (7th Cir. 1996) (quoting United States v. Ron Pair Enters., Inc., 489 U.S. 235, 241 (1989)) (additional citations omitted). In interpret......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • IRS requests comments on disguised-sale prop. regs.
    • United States
    • The Tax Adviser Vol. 33 No. 1, January 2002
    • January 1, 2002
    ...statute; see Est. of Neumann, 106 TC 216 (1996), Est. of Maddox, 93 TC 228 (1989), Pelaez and Sons, 114 TC 473 (2000), and Pittway Corp., 102 F3d 932 (7th Cir. 1996). However, courts generally cannot substitute their own judgment in place of the Service when such power has expressly been gr......

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