[blocks in formation]

son was Congressional approval of those distinctions between the St. Louis Trust and the Klein cases to which four members of this Court could not give assent. By imputing to Congress a hypothetical recognition of coherence between the Klein and the St. Louis Trust cases, we cannot evade our own responsibility for reconsidering in the light of further experience, the validity of distinctions which this Court has itself created. Our problem then is not that of rejecting a settled statutory construction. The real problem is whether a principle shall prevail over its later misapplications. Surely we are not bound by reason or by the considerations that underlie stare decisis to persevere in distinctions taken in the application of a statute which, on further examination, appear consonant neither with the purposes of the statute nor with this Court's own conception of it. We therefore reject as untenable the diversities taken in the St. Louis Trust cases in applying the Klein doctrine-untenable because they drastically eat into the principle which those cases professed to accept and to which we adhere. In Nos. 110, 111, 112 and 183, the judgments are

Reversed. In No. 399, the judgment is


The CHIEF JUSTICE concurs in the result upon the ground that each of these cases is controlled by our decision in Klein v. United States, 283 U. S. 231.

in English law, see, inter alia, 2 Yorke, Life of Lord Chancellor Hardwicke, pp. 425, 498; Goodhart, Precedent in English and Continental Law, 50 L. Q. Rev. 40; Holdsworth, Case Law, ibid. 180; Lord Wright in Westminster Council v. Southern Ry. Co., [1936] A. C. 511, 562-63; Allen, Law in the Making, 3rd ed., pp. 224 et seq.


ROBERTS, J., dissenting.

MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS, dissenting.

There is certainly a distinction in fact between the transaction considered in Klein v. United States, 283 U. S. 231, and those under review in Helvering v. St. Louis Union Trust Co., 296 U. S. 39, and Becker v. St. Louis Union Trust Co., 296 U. S. 48. The courts, the Board of Tax Appeals, and the Treasury have found no difficulty in observing the distinction in specific cases. I believe it is one of substance, not merely of terminology, and not dependent on the niceties of conveyancing or recondite doctrines of ancient property law.

But if I am wrong in this, I still think the judgments in Nos. 110–112, and 183 should be affirmed and that in 399 should be reversed. The rule of interpretation adopted in the St. Louis Union Trust Company cases should now be followed for two reasons: First, that rule was indicated by decisions of this court as the one applicable in the circumstances here disclosed, as early as 1927; was progressively developed and applied by the Board of Tax Appeals, the lower federal courts, and this court, up to the decision of McCormick v. Burnet, 283 U. S. 784, in 1931; and has since been followed by those tribunals in not less than fifty cases. It ought not to be set aside after such a history. Secondly. The rule was not contrary to any treasury regulation; was, indeed, in accord with such regulations as there were on the subject; was subsequently embodied in a specific regulation, and, with this background, Congress has three times reënacted the law without amending § 302 (c) in respect of the matter here in issue. The settled doctrine, that reënactment of a statute so construed, without alteration, renders such construction a part of the statute itself, should not be ignored but observed.

ROBERTS, J., dissenting.

309 U.S.

1. The Revenue Act of 1926 lays a tax upon the transfer of the net estate of a decedent. That estate is defined to embrace the value of all his property, real or personal, tangible or intangible (less certain deductions), at the time of his death. As the Treasury Department stated in its earliest regulations: “The statute also includes only property rights existing in the decedent in his lifetime and passing to his estate." ? In all the treasury regulations, from the earliest to the one now in force, applicable to the relevant sections of the successive Revenue Acts defining the "gross estate” of a decedent the Treasury has used this language:

"The value of a vested remainder should be included in the gross estate. Nothing should be included, however, on account of a contingent remainder where [in the case] the contingency does not happen in the lifetime of the decedent, and the interest consequently lapses at his death." [Italics supplied.] The next sentence: "Nor should anything be included on account of a life estate in the decedent,” has been repeated in substance in the corresponding article of all subsequent regulations.

If by the will of his grandmother, A is given a life estate, with remainder to another, his executor is not bound to return anything on account of the life estate because, in respect of it, nothing passes on A's death. The estate simply ceases. The Treasury has never contended the contrary. If, however, A's grandmother gave a life estate to B, and the remainder to A, A has something which, at his death, will pass to someone else under his will, or under the intestate laws. The statute plainly taxes the value of the interest thus transferred at A's death.


$$ 300_303, 44 Stat. 69-72.
* Regulations 37, Art. 12 (1917).

* Regulations 37, Art. 12; Regulations 63, Art. 11; Regulations 68, Art. 11; Regulations 80, Art. 11.


ROBERTS, J., dissenting.

If A's grandmother, by her will, gave interests in succession to specific persons and then provided that if A should outlive all these persons the property should pass to him, A would have a chance to receive and enjoy the property. If he did so receive it, it would pass as part of his estate. If he died before the other beneficiaries named by his grandmother his death would deprive him of that chance. The chance would not pass to anyone else. No tax would be laid on the supposed value of his contingent interest or chance, because the chance cannot, at his death, pass by his will, or the intestate laws, to another. I do not understand the Government has ever denied this.

Subsection (c) of $ 302 lays down no different rule respecting similar interests created by irrevocable deed or agreement of the decedent. The subsection directs that there shall be included in the gross estate the value, at the time of the decedent's death, of any interest in property of which the decedent has at any time made a transfer “intended to take effect in possession or enjoyment at or after his death(excluding sales for adequate consideration).

A transfer can only take effect, within the meaning of the statute, by the shifting of possession or enjoyment from the decedent to living persons. The fact that the terms of the gift bring about some other effect at the decedent's death is immaterial. The fact that something may happen in respect of the beneficial enjoyment of the property conditioned upon the decedent's death is irrelevant so long as that something is not the shifting of possession or beneficial enjoyment from the decedent. This is made clear by Reinecke v. Northern Trust Co., 278 U. S. 339, 347.

If A makes a present irrevocable transfer in trust, conditioned that he shall receive the income for life and, at his death, the principal shall go to B, B is at once legally

ROBERTS, J., dissenting.

309 U.S.

invested with the principal. A's life estate ceases at his death. Nothing then passes. There is no tax imposed by the statute because there is no transfer any more than there would be in the case of a similar life estate given A by his grandmother. (This is May v. Heiner, 281 U. S. 238.) If, on the other hand, A creates an estate for years or for life in B, retaining the remaining beneficial interest in the property for himself, and, whether by the terms of the grant, or by the terms of A's will, or under the intestate law, that remainder passes to someone else at his death, such passage renders the transfer taxable. (This is Klein v. United States, supra.) If what A does is to transfer his property irrevocably, with provision that it shall be enjoyed successively by various persons for life and then go absolutely to a named person, but that if he, A, shall outlive that person, the property shall come back to him, and A dies in the lifetime of the person in question, A has merely lost the chance that the beneficial ownership of the property may revert to him. That chance cannot pass under his will or under the intestate laws. As there is no transfer which can become effective at his death by the shifting of any interest from him, no tax is imposed. (This is McCormick v. Burnet, supra, and Helvering v. St. Louis Union Trust Company, supra.)

2. These governing principles were indicated as early as 1927 * and were thereafter developed, in application to specific cases, in a consistent line of authorities.

In May v. Heiner, supra, it was held that a transfer in trust under which the income was payable to the transferor's husband for his life and, after his death, to the transferor during her life, with remainder to her children, was not subject to tax as a transfer intended to take effect

*Shukert v. Allen, 273 U. S. 545.

« ForrigeFortsett »