Murdock v. Ward
178 U.S. 139 (1900)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Murdock v. Ward, 178 U.S. 139 (1900)

Murdock v. Ward

No. 468

Argued December 5-7, 1899

Decided May 14, 1900

178 U.S. 139

Syllabus

Knowlton v. Moore, ante,178 U. S. 41, followed in this case as to the points there decided.

Plummer v. Coler, ante,178 U. S. 116, affirmed and followed in this case.

As the parties below proceeded upon a mutual mistake of law in construing and applying the statute, the Court thinks that the practical injustice that might result from an affirmance of the judgment may be avoided by reversing it at the cost of the plaintiff in error and sending the cause back to the circuit court with directions to proceed therein according to law.

In October, 1899, George T. Murdock, as executor of the last will and testament of Jane H. Sherman, brought an action in the supreme court of the State of New York against John Ward, Collector of Internal Revenue for the Fourteenth District of the State of New York, wherein the plaintiff sought to recover the sum of $36,827.53, which the plaintiff alleged had been unlawfully exacted from him as executor of said estate.

On petition of the defendant, the cause was removed into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District on New York.

The complaint contained the following allegations:

"I. Jane H. Sherman, late of the Village of Port Henry, in the County of Essex and State of New York, died on about the 30th day of September, 1898, leaving certain property, and also leaving a last will and testament, in and by which said will this

Page 178 U. S. 140

plaintiff, George T. Murdock, was appointed to be, and by due order of the Surrogate of the County of Essex, in the State of New York, to whom jurisdiction in that behalf pertained, he has become and is, the sole executor of the said last will and testament of said Jane H. Sherman."

"II. The plaintiff further alleges and states that the said Jane H. Sherman, deceased, upon her death left a very considerable amount of personal property, amounting to upwards of one million of dollars."

"III. That the defendant, John G. Ward, at all the times mentioned in this complaint, was and he is Collector of Internal Revenue for the Fourteenth District of the State of New York, having his office and official place of residence at the City of Albany, in the State of New York."

"IV. That said John G. Ward, assuming to act as such collector and assuming and pretending to act under and by virtue of the laws of the United States, which he assumed conferred authority upon him therefor, and particularly under and in pursuance of the provisions of an act of the Congress of the United States commonly known as the 'War Revenue Law' of June 13, 1898, and being an act to provide ways and means to meet war expenditures, and for other purposes, passed by the Congress of the United States, and becoming a law on the 13th day of June, 1898, did, on or about the fourth day of April, 1899, by force and duress, exact, demand, and collect from this plaintiff and from the estate represented by him as such executor the sum of thirty-six thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven dollars and fifty-three cents ($36,827.53) and upon the claim and under the pretext that the same was a lawful assessment as an internal revenue tax upon the estate of said deceased and against this plaintiff, as executor of said deceased, on account of the legacies or distributive shares arising from personal property, being in charge or trust of this plaintiff, as such executor as aforesaid, the properties assumed to be assessed for such tax being properties passing from the said Jane H. Sherman."

"V. That on or about the eighth day of April, 1899, this plaintiff, under protest, and protesting that he was not, nor was the estate represented by him, liable to pay said tax, involuntarily

Page 178 U. S. 141

and under duress, because of the illegal demand made upon by said defendant, did pay to the said defendant as such collector, as aforesaid, the said sum of $36,827.53."

"VI. That thereafter, believing the imposition of said tax and its collection to be unlawful, this plaintiff did appeal to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and to the Treasury Department of the United States of America from the action and decision of said defendant in holding this plaintiff to be liable for the payment of said tax and in collecting the said tax in manner aforesaid, and did state and represent to said Commissioner that the collection of said tax was unlawful, and that the amount thereof should be refunded for the following reasons:"

" First. The imposition of said tax was unconstitutional, unlawful, and void."

" Second. The imposition and collection of said tax deprived this deponent of his property and the estate represented by him of its property without due process of law."

" Third. That the law imposing said tax is not uniform, and does not afford equal protection of the laws to persons throughout the United States."

" Fourth. That the law imposing said tax denied and does deny to persons throughout the United States and within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

" Fifth. That the law under which said tax was imposed denies to this deponent the equal protection of the laws."

" Sixth. The tax so imposed is a direct tax, and is void because not apportioned among the states in proportion to their population and in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of the United States."

" Seventh. If said tax is an impost, excise, or duty, the law imposing the same is unconstitutional and void because the tax levied is not uniform throughout the United States, as required by the Constitution of the United States; and"

" Eighth. It is not within the province of the constitutional powers of the United States to levy a tax upon a right of inheritance or disposition by will, provided for by the laws of the State of New York. "

Page 178 U. S. 142

"And this plaintiff did, in and by such appeal, claim that he was entitled to have the sum of money so paid and the amount thereof refunded, and he did then and there ask and demand the return of the same moneys to him, and did appeal from the act of said defendant, as such collector, in imposing said tax and exacting from plaintiff payment of the amount thereof."

"VII. On the 21st day of October, 1899, the said Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and the Treasury Department of the United States, represented by the said Commissioner of Internal Revenue, did disallow the appeal of this plaintiff in the behalf above stated, and did reject the claim of the plaintiff to have refunded the amount of the tax paid as aforesaid."

"VII. A very large proportion and at least one-third of the personal estate upon account of which said tax was exacted from and paid by this plaintiff consisted in the bonds and interest-bearing evidences of debt issued by the government of the United States, and which by contract between the United States and the holders thereof were and are not subject or liable to assessment or taxation; nor was or is this plaintiff subject or liable to assessment or taxation by means of his ownership or holding, as executor, as aforesaid, or otherwise, of such bonds and certificates of indebtedness."

"IX. This plaintiff claims and charges that, by reason of the premises, the amount of said tax has been unlawfully exacted from him as executor of said estate; that each and every of the grounds stated by him in the above-mentioned appeal to the said Commissioner of Internal Revenue states and represents a true and lawful reason why the imposition of said tax is unlawful, and why the said tax should be refunded."

"Wherefore this plaintiff demands judgment against the said defendant for the sum of thirty-six thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven dollars and fifty-three cents ($36,827.53) with interest from the 8th day of April, 1899, with the costs of this action."

The defendant, appearing by Henry L. Burnett, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, demurred to the complaint upon the ground that the complaint did not state facts to constitute a cause of action.

Page 178 U. S. 143

On November 14, 1899, after hearing, the circuit court sustained the demurrer and ordered the complaint to be dismissed, with costs to the defendant. Thereupon a writ of error was allowed to the judgment, and the cause was brought to this Court.

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