Thompson v. Kentucky
209 U.S. 340 (1908)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Thompson v. Kentucky, 209 U.S. 340 (1908)

Thompson v. Kentucky

No. 160

Argued March 9, 1908

Decided April 6, 1908

209 U.S. 340

Syllabus

Due process of law does not assure to taxpayers that the court will sustain the interpretation given to a statute by executive officers or relief from the consequences of misinterpretation by either such officers or the court; one acting under a statute must take his chances that such action will be in accord with the final decision as to its proper interpretation; this is a hazard under every law, from which there is no security.

It is within the power of the state to tax spirits in bonded warehouses and require the warehouseman to pay the same with interest after the taxes due to the United States government have been paid, and if the warehouseman is given a lien on the spirits for the taxes and interest paid by him, he is not deprived of his property without due process of law.

The fact that a warehouseman paid taxes without interest on spirits in bond under a mistaken interpretation of the statute by the state officers and subsequently permitted the spirits to be withdrawn does not estop the state to recover from the warehouseman interest due on such taxes under the statute, and a judgment therefor does not deprive the warehouseman of his property without due process of law within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, and so held as to the tax statutes of Kentucky.

A classification of distilled spirits in bond, as distinct from other property in regard to payment of interest on taxes, does not constitute a discrimination amounting to a denial of equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

94 S.W. 654 affirmed.

This is an action to collect interest on deferred taxes assessed for the years 1898 to 1902, both inclusive, on distilled spirits which were stored in the warehouse of plaintiff in error.

The petition of the commonwealth contains a cause of action for each year, and it is alleged in each that plaintiff in error was the owner or proprietor of a bonded warehouse in which distilled spirits were stored, and, as required by law, reported the quantity of spirits on which the government tax had been paid or was then due, and the amount of spirits theretofore removed since the preceding report, showing the years in which

Page 209 U. S. 341

such spirits were assessed for taxation and the number of packages and their value as assessed. And it is alleged that, by such reports, which were verified as the law directs, there was shown to be due the Commonwealth of Kentucky, "as taxes, exclusive of any interest, the sum of ___ dollars" for the particular year. It is further alleged that

"the sum so reported as taxes due was incorrect in that there was not included accumulated interest on the taxes due while the spirits remained in the bonded warehouse."

The amount for each year is alleged. The petition was amended by order of the court and made specific as to the tax rate assessed by the commonwealth for the period of years covered by the petition. The amendment also stated the valuation fixed by the state board of valuation on distilled spirits, and the time when the spirits were placed in bond, when withdrawn, spirits were placed in bond, when withdrawn, by plaintiff in error.

The answer of the defendant, plaintiff in error here, is very voluminous. It denies that plaintiff in error was indebted to the commonwealth for taxes and interest for any of the years mentioned in the petition, beyond that which was duly paid to the commonwealth and duly credited by it, "as set out in the petition," denies that there is due any interest "from any date whatever," or any penalty or penalties. It is alleged with much circumstantiality that plaintiff in error made reports required of him by the law of the state upon blank forms furnished by the auditor of public accounts, who was charged with the duty of supervising the collection of all taxes on distilled spirits, and adjusting and settling the claims and accounts therefor, and that that officer verified and approved the reports, and accepted the amounts of taxes paid with the reports, and issued receipts for and on behalf of the commonwealth. And it is alleged that, the auditor and treasurer having accepted the principal sum of taxes without any interest or penalty, in full satisfaction of the commonwealth's claim, to permit it to recover any other or further sum "would be inequitable, unconscionable, and unjust," and that any recovery

Page 209 U. S. 342

would be a total loss to plaintiff in error. That the law was construed by all the officers of the state government since its enactment in 1892 to only require the payment of the principal sum of the taxes. And that such officers have so construed the law and the subsequent act, known as the revenue law, which was enacted March 29, 1902, in such manner that no interest or penalties were exacted of plaintiff in error or any other owner or proprietor of a bonded warehouse. It is also alleged that plaintiff in error was not the owner of said spirits, but that they were owned by nonresidents of the state; that, under the law, the person who paid the taxes thereon was entitled to a lien to secure the amount so paid, and would have been entitled to a lien for the payment of interest and penalties if any had been exacted, and, to enforce the same, possession could have been taken; but, relying upon the construction placed upon the law as aforesaid, and believing that all claims of the state had been fully satisfied, plaintiff in error permitted the owner thereof to withdraw the same and ship it out of the State of Kentucky without the payment of any interest or penalties; that such spirits have long since been consumed, and the lien thereon lost. And it is alleged that some of the owners are insolvent and others dead, and hence any recovery against plaintiff in error will be a total loss to him.

There are a number of argumentative allegations that the spirits, while in the bonded warehouse, were in the possession of the United States, and not therefore in the possession of plaintiff in error, or within the jurisdiction of the State of Kentucky, or subject to taxation by that state or any of the municipalities, or subject to any process of the courts of the state. And it is further alleged or argued that, if the law be construed as the state in this action seeks to construe it, such law would be an "unwarranted interference with the scheme and plan of the United States government, which has been in force for forty years," and would deprive plaintiff in error and all owners of distilled spirits "of the rights and privileges secured and guaranteed by the Constitution of the United

Page 209 U. S. 343

States," and rights secured by the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides that

"No state shall . . . abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor . . . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

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