Sherwood v. United States

Decision Date07 April 1964
Docket Number63-C-805.,No. 62-C-896,62-C-896
Citation228 F. Supp. 247
PartiesOgden M. SHERWOOD, Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES of America and Thomas E. Scanlon, District Director of Internal Revenue for the Eastern District of New York, Defendants. UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. John MULLER and Leonardo Casanova, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York

M. Francis Bravman, New York City, for plaintiff Ogden M. Sherwood (Charles L. Kades, New York City, of counsel).

Joseph P. Hoey, U. S. Atty., Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn, N. Y., for defendants United States of America and Thomas E. Scanlon, District Director of Internal Revenue for Eastern District of New York, and for plaintiff United States of America (Stanley F. Meltzer, Asst. U. S. Atty., and James N. McCune, Atty., Department of Justice, Washington, D. C., of counsel).

John F. Woog, Garden City, L. I., N. Y., for defendant John Muller.

Candee & Wolf, New York City, for defendant Leonardo Casanova (Atwood C. Wolf, Jr., New York City, of counsel).

BARTELS, District Judge.

Motion by plaintiff Ogden M. Sherwood during trial to dismiss the Government's claim upon the ground that the assessment against him for the failure to collect and pay over certain income and Social Security taxes required to be withheld by a corporation of which he was an officer, was a penalty.

Sherwood was secretary-treasurer of a corporation known as Gillmors, Inc. which was forced to discontinue business in July, 1957. During the first and second quarters of that year the corporation withheld from the wages of its employees the required Federal income taxes and F.I.C.A. (Social Security) taxes but failed to pay the same to the Internal Revenue Service. Section 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C.A. (Code) provides that any person who is required to collect or account for or pay over such taxes and wilfully fails to do so shall in addition to other penalties provided by law, "be liable to a penalty equal to the total amount of the tax" not collected, accounted for or paid over. Section 6671 of the Code defines an officer or employee of a corporation as a person required to collect, account for and pay over such taxes, who as such officer or employee "is under a duty to perform the act in respect of which the violation occurs."

On November 15, 1957, Sherwood filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy in this court and was discharged on June 17, 1959. The Government did not file any proof of claim and the petition in bankruptcy stated that there were no taxes due to the United States. In October, 1959, and again in December, 1960, Sherwood was notified by the Internal Revenue Service of a proposed 100% penalty assessment. On March 3, 1961, the Internal Revenue Service assessed a 100% penalty against Sherwood as well as against the president and the chairman of the board of directors and the major stockholders of Gillmors, Inc. pursuant to Section 6672. Sherwood then instituted an action seeking the recovery of $47.14, representing the Social Security taxes for the first and second quarters of 1957 imposed upon wages of one of the employees of Gillmors, Inc. and also seeking the removal of a cloud upon Sherwood's title to his property resulting from a lien and levy asserted by the Government in order to enforce the penalty assessment. The Government served a counterclaim in the sum of $40,528.64, representing the amount allegedly remaining unpaid pursuant to the aforesaid penalty assessment.

One of the crucial issues raised in this case as far as Sherwood is concerned is whether he was released from his liability for the penalty assessment pursuant to Section 6672 by reason of his prior discharge in bankruptcy. The resolution of this issue depends upon the construction of Section 63, sub. a, Section 57, sub. j and Section 17 of the Bankruptcy Act, 11 U.S.C.A. §§ 103, 93, 35 (the Act).

Section 63, sub. a refers to debts which may be proved and allowed against the bankrupt's estate but does not include any reference to penalties.

Section 57, sub. j reads as follows:

"Debts owing to the United States or to any State or any subdivision thereof as a penalty or forfeiture shall not be allowed, except for the amount of the pecuniary loss sustained by the act, transaction, or proceeding out of which the penalty or forfeiture arose, with reasonable and actual costs occasioned thereby and such interest as may have accrued on the amount of such loss according to law."

Section 17 sets forth debts which are not affected by discharge and provides in part:

"A discharge in bankruptcy shall release a bankrupt from all of his provable debts, whether allowable in full or in part, except such as (1) are due as a tax levied by the United States, or any State, county, district, or municipality".

In essence, plaintiff claims that the Government's assessment was in the nature of a penalty involving a pecuniary loss and that such penalty was an allowable claim under Section 57, sub. j and as such, was a provable claim and dischargeable under Section 17. It is well established that if the assessment were a penalty in the true sense of the word, it would not be allowable under Section 57, sub. j and would not be dischargeable under Section 17.1 There is an apparent inconsistency between Section 63, sub. a and Section 57, sub. j in that the former omits reference to the provability or non-provability of claims for fines and penalties. As stated in 3 Collier, Bankruptcy, § 63.12: "The Bankruptcy Act makes specific provision only for the disallowance of governmental claims for penalties and forfeitures. It does not expressly say that a fine or penalty claim asserted by the United States or any state or subdivision thereof is not provable, and considering that such a penalty claim may be based on a `judgment' in the broad sense of the term, it might seem that a fine or penalty imposed by a judgment would be provable and allowable under § 63a(1), notwithstanding § 57j. The courts have rightly decided otherwise. * * *"

The courts have solved this inconsistency from the standpoint of dischargeability rather than provability. The theory is that the Government would be frustrated in the enforcement of its edicts if the debtor could escape liability for his penalties by simply filing a petition in bankruptcy and shifting the burden to his creditors. To prevent the debtor from thus discharging his penalties and transferring his punitive liability to his innocent creditors, he has been denied a discharge of such penalties in his bankruptcy proceeding. Since such true penalties, whether or not secured by a lien, are clearly not dischargeable, it follows that they are not provable. Simonson v. Granquist, 1962, 369 U.S. 38, 82 S.Ct. 537, 7 L.Ed.2d 557; In re Parchem, D.C.Minn.1958, 166 F. Supp. 724; Matter of Abramson, supra; 3 Collier, Bankruptcy, § 63.12.

True penalties and forfeitures being unprovable and reference being made only to allowability of pecuniary loss penalties in Section 57, sub. j, the question is still left open whether such pecuniary loss penalties are provable. Collier in speaking of Section 57, sub. j says: "The subdivision has no direct bearing on either provability under § 63 or dischargeability of debts under § 17. It deals with allowance exclusively (`* * * shall not be allowed * * *') and permits, therefore, of no inference that certain claims may not be proved or cannot be discharged." 3 Collier, Bankruptcy, § 57.22. The authors further make a distinction between provability and allowability stating that "The court may disallow a claim because it does not constitute a debt provable under § 63 * * *". Id., § 63.05. As indicated in Matter of Abramson, supra, the provisions of the Act are not "wholly harmonious". From this omission concerning provability an argument might be made that no penalty debts of any kind including a pecuniary loss penalty allowable under Section 57, sub. j, are provable under Section 63, sub. a. From this it might be concluded that being only...

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