United States v. Robbins

Decision Date04 January 1926
Docket NumberNo. 493,493
Citation46 S.Ct. 148,70 L.Ed. 285,269 U.S. 315
PartiesUNITED STATES v. ROBBINS et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. W. D Mitchell, Sol. Gen., and Robert P. Reeder, both of Washington, D. C., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 316-321 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Lloyd M. Robbins and Peter F. Dunne, both of San Francisco, Cal., for defendants in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 321-325 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit to recover $6,788.03 income tax for the year 1918, paid by R. D. Robbins, late of California. Mr Robbins was married and the income taxed came from community property in California, acquired before 1917, when some changes were made in the law, and from the earnings of R. Robbins. He was required by the Treasury Department to return and pay the tax upon the whole income, against the effort of Mr. and Mrs. Robbins to file returns each of one-half. The result was that he had to pay the amount sued for, above what would have had to be paid if his contention had been allowed. The District Court found the facts as agreed by the parties and upon them ruled that the plaintiffs, the executors of Robbins, were entitled to recover as matter of law. Robbins v. United States, 5 F.(2d) 690. A writ of error was taken by the United States, before the Act of February 13, 1925, c. 229, 43 Stat. 936, went into effect. Greenport Basin & Construction Co. v. United States, 260 U. S. 512, 514, 43 s. Ct. 183, 67 L. Ed. 370.

Elaborate argument was devoted to the question whether the interest of a wife in community property has the relatively substantial character in California that it has in some other States. That she has vested rights has been determined by this Court with reference to some jurisdictions, Warburton v. White, 176 U. S. 484, 20 S. Ct. 404, 44 L. Ed. 555; Arnett v. Reade, 220 U. S. 311, 31 S. Ct. 425, 55 L. Ed. 477, 36 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1040; and the Treasury Department has carried those rights to the point of allowing a division in the return of community income in other States where the community system prevails. Regulations 65 relating to the Invome Tax under the Revenue Act of 1924, art. 31. Its adoption of a different rule for California was based, we presume, upon the notion that in that State a wife had a mere expectancy while the husband was alive.

If on the whole this notion seems to us to be adopted by the California courts it is our duty to follow it, so far as material, even if contrary expressions should be found here or there in the books; and it is no concern of ours whether the prevailing decision is a legitimate descendant from its parent the Spanish law or otherwise. We can see no sufficient reason to doubt that the settled opinion of the Supreme Court of California, at least with reference to the time before the later statutes, is that the wife had a mere expectancy while living with her husband. The latest decision that we have seen dealing directly with the matter explicitly takes that view, says that it is a rule of property that has been settled for more than 60 years, and shows that Arnett v. Reade, 220 U. S. 311, 31 S. Ct. 425, 55 L. Ed. 477, 36 L. R. A. (N. S.) 1040, would not be followed in that State. Roberts v. Wehmeyer, 191 Cal. 601, 611, 614, 218 P. 22. In so doing it accords with the intimations of earlier cases, and does no more then embody the commonly prevailing understanding with regard to California law as shown by commentators and the action of the Treasury Department, as well as by the declarations of the Court. McKay, Community Property, section ...

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198 cases
  • United States v. Mitchell
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1971
    ...husband or wife, or both.' Id., at 111, 51 S.Ct., at 59. It noted that, in contrast, in an earlier case, United States v. Robbins, 269 U.S. 315, 46 S.Ct. 148, 70 L.Ed. 285 (1926), the opposite result had been reached under the then California law. 'In the Robbins case, we found that the law......
  • Coolidge v. Long 1930
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • February 24, 1931
    ...clause of the Constitution or the due process or equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In United States v. Robbins, 269 U. S. 315, 326, 46 S. Ct. 148, 149, 70 L. Ed. 285, this court considered the character of the wife's estate during the existence of the community, and said:......
  • Untermyer v. Anderson
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 9, 1928
    ...which taxed incomes for the calendar year 1918, was applied, without question as to its constitutionality, in United States v. Robbins, 269 U. S. 315, 46 S. Ct. 148, 70 L. Ed. 285, and numerous other The Corporation Tax Act of August 5, 1909, c. 6, § 38, 36 Stat. 11, 112 (Comp. St. § 7280),......
  • Fernandez v. Wiener
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • December 10, 1945
    ...California courts later held that the wife's interest in community property in that state is not so vested. Cf. United States v. Robbins, 269 U.S. 315, 46 S.Ct. 148, 70 L.Ed. 285 with United States v. Malcolm, 282 U.S. 792, 51 S.Ct. 184, 75 L.Ed. 714. The Moffitt case was decided upon the a......
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