« ForrigeFortsett »
52 N. Y. 118; Warner v. Durant, 76 N. Y. 133; Monargue v. Monargue, 80 N. Y. 320; Radley v. Kuhn, 97 N. Y. 26; Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 111 N. Y. 178; Goebel v. Wolf, 113 N. Y. 405; Campbell v. Stokes, 142 N. Y. 23. The cases cited by. plaintiff in error can be distinguished. The interests were taxed according to their clear value.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.
The four questions certified are as follows:
"I. Is the tax imposed by sections 29 and 30 of the act of Congress of June 13, 1898, entitled 'An act to provide ways and means to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes,' with respect to Alfred G. Vanderbilt's interest under the seventeenth clause of the will of Cornelius Vanderbilt, a tax upon the transmission to and receipt by the trustees of the property passing to them as trustees under the legacy out of which such interest arises?
"II. If the preceding question is answered in the negative, is the tax imposed under said act with respect to Alfred G. Vanderbilt's interest under said seventeenth clause a tax upon the transmission to and receipt by said Alfred G. Vanderbilt of his beneficial interest in the property passing under such legacy?
"III. Did sections 29 and 30 of said act authorize the assessment and collection of a tax with respect to any of the rights. or interests of Alfred G. Vanderbilt as a residuary legatee of the personal estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt under the seventeenth clause of the will, with the exception of his present right to receive the income of such estate until he attains the age of thirty years, prior to the time when, if ever, such rights or interests shall become absolutely vested in possession or enjoyment?
"IV. If the tax under sections 29 and 30 of said act was presently assessable and collectible upon all the interests of
Alfred G. Vanderbilt in said legacy, was the clear value of all such interests, for the purposes of computing the tax, equal to the full value of the property comprised in the legacy out of which such interests arose?"
Whilst the questions, apparently, present distinct matters, yet underlying and involved in them all is the fundamental consideration whether the burden imposed by the war revenue act was confined to the interest of which Alfred G. Vanderbilt had the beneficial right of immediate enjoyment, or whether that burden also bore upon the right to the residue which Alfred G. Vanderbilt might possess or enjoy in the future, if he lived to the ages specified in the will, upon the theory that the right so to possess or enjoy in the future was technically vested. To avoid repetition we therefore come at once to the consideration of this subject in order that when we have disposed of it we may be able, in the light of the correct construction of the statute, to respond to the questions propounded, in so far as it may be found necessary to do so.
Before coming to the statute we put aside as not directly decisive of the question here presented a case referred to by both parties, that is, Knowlton v. Moore, 178 U. S. 41. Whilst that case involved the constitutionality of the act of Congress, with whose meaning we are here concerned, it required a construction of that act only to the extent necessary to enable it to be decided what was the subject upon which the law levied the tax, and whether the statute required the tax levied to be progressively increased by reference to the whole amount of the estate of the decedent, or alone by reference to the particular legacy or distributive share upon the right to succeed to which the tax bore. The case did not, therefore, pass on the controversies here arising.
To state briefly the conflicting contentions of the parties as to the meaning of the statute may serve to accentuate and narrow the question for decision. The proposition of the Government is thus stated in the argument:
"First, vested remainders are taxed by the law of June 13,
necessitated a change in this ruling, and on July 20, 1901, this office ruled that reversionary interests which are vested are taxable on their present worth."
The case therefore reduces itself to this: Did the amendatory act of 1901 enlarge the act of 1898 so as to cause that act to embrace subjects of taxation which were not included prior to the amendment? The amendatory act, so far as necessary to be considered for the purposes of this question, reënacted sections 29 and 30 of the original act. The amendments which the administrative officers decided made subject to taxation vested interests where the right of immediate possession or enjoyment had not accrued, and which had been treated as not taxable prior to the amendment were that the tax or duty should be due and payable in one year after the death of the person from whom the estate had passed, and that the executor, administrator or trustee should make return of the estate in his control within thirty days after taking charge thereof. Giving to these provisions their natural import, they imply only that a uniform period was fixed within which the obligation should arise of paying the tax authorized to be levied by the original act, that is, the obligation of paying the duty on each beneficial interest which in effect had vested in possession or enjoyment. The amendments, therefore, did not, in our opinion, justify the construction that Congress intended by adopting them to cause death duties to become due within one year as to legacies and distributive shares which were not capable of being immediately possessed or enjoyed, and were therefore not subject to taxation under the original act. This conclusion irresistibly follows when it is observed that no word is found in the amendatory act importing an intention to change the administrative construction which had theretofore prevailed from the beginning. On the contrary, the amendatory act reiterated without alteration the provisions found in the original act as to possession or enjoyment and beneficial interest and clear value. Indeed the amendatory act contained new provisions not expressly found in the original act,
supporting and adding cogency to the prior administrative construction, such as the proviso at the close of section 30, as follows:
Any tax paid under the provisions of sections twenty-nine and thirty shall be deducted from the particular legacy or distributive share on account of which the sum is charged;" a provision plainly importing a practically contemporaneous right to receive the legacy or distributive share, and one which would be impracticable of execution if the tax was to be as sessed and collected before the beneficiary and the rate of tax could certainly be ascertained.
Further elucidation as to the meaning of the amendatory act of 1901 is unnecessary in view of the subsequent legislation of Congress. By the act of April 12, 1902, 32 Stat. 96, section 29 of the act of 1898, as amended on March 2, 1901, was repealed to take effect on July 1, 1902. The repealing act, however, saved "All taxes or duties imposed by section 29 of the act of June 13, 1898, and the amendments thereof, prior to the taking effect of this act." On June 27, 1902, 32 Stat. 406, an act was adopted, the third section of which reads as follows:
"SEC. 3. That in all cases where an executor, administrator, or trustee, shall have paid, or shall hereafter pay, any tax upon any legacy or distributive share of personal property under the provisions of the act approved June thirteenth, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, entitled 'An act to provide ways and means to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes,' and amendments thereof, the Secretary of the Treasury be, and he is hereby, authorized and directed to refund, out of any money in the Treasury, not otherwise appropriated, upon proper application being made to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, under such rules and regulations as may be prescribed, so much of said tax as may have been collected on contingent beneficial interests which shall not have become vested prior to July first, nineteen hundred and two., And no tax shall hereafter be assessed or imposed under said act,
approved June thirteenth, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, upon or in respect of any contingent beneficial interest which shall not become absolutely vested in possession or enjoyment prior to said July first, nineteen hundred and two."
In view of the provision for refunding we see no escape from the conclusion that this statute was in a sense declaratory of what we hold was the true construction of the act of 1898, and which, as we have seen, had prevailed prior to the amendment of March 2, 1901, and which was only departed from by the administrative officer under a misconception of the import of that amendatory act. There is no suggestion, that any prior practice prevailed in the enforcement of the act of 1898, calling for the enacting of the refunding clause, except the mistaken construction placed on the amendatory act of 1901. The act of 1902 was, therefore, a legislative affirmance of the construction given to the act of 1898, prior to the amendment of 1901. It follows that the act of 1902 was, moreover, a legislative repudiation of the construction of the act of 1898, now insisted on by the Government. It is, we think, incon-trovertible that the taxes which the third section of the act of 1902 directs to be refunded and those which it forbids the collection of in the future are one and the same in their nature. Any other view would destroy the unity of the section and cause its provisions to produce inexplicable conflict. From this it results that the taxes which are directed in the first sentence to be refunded, because they had been wrongfully collected on contingent beneficial interests which had not become vested prior to July 1, 1902, were taxes levied on such beneficial interests as had not become vested in possession or enjoyment prior to the date named, within the intendment of the subsequent sentence. In other words, the statute provided for the refunding of taxes collected under the circumstances stated and at the same time forbade like collections in the future.
In view of the text of the act of 1898 and the other considerations to which we have referred, we have not deemed it