Clarke v. Haberle Crystal Springs Brewing Co.
280 U.S. 384 (1930)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Clarke v. Haberle Crystal Springs Brewing Co., 280 U.S. 384 (1930)

Clarke v. Haberle Crystal Springs Brewing Co.

No. 68

Argued January 9, 1930

Decided January 27, 1930

280 U.S. 384

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Under § 234(a)(7) of the Revenue Act of 1918, which provides that, in computing the net income of corporations, there shall be allowed as a deduction "a reasonable allowance for the exhaustion, wear, and tear of property used in the trade or business, including a reasonable allowance for obsolescence," a brewing company is not entitled to a deduction for the fiscal year ending May 31, 1919,

Page 280 U. S. 385

on account of "exhaustion" or "obsolescence" of its goodwill, although it became certain prior to that period that the goodwill of the company would be destroyed by January 16, 1920, because of prohibition legislation. P. 280 U. S. 386.

2. When a business is extinguished as noxious under the Constitution, the government incur no liability for compensation to the owners. P. 280 U. S. 386.

3. It will not be presumed that Congress intended to provide partial compensation to the owners of a business extinguished as noxious under the Constitution by an allowance to them, under § 234(a)(7) of the Revenue Act of 1918, of deductions on account of the "exhaustion" or "obsolescence" of the goodwill of the business. P. 280 U. S. 386.

30 F.2d 219 reversed.

Certiorari, 279 U.S. 832, to review a judgment of the circuit court of appeals which reversed a judgment of the district court, 20 F.2d 540, dismissing the complaint in a suit to recover money exacted and paid as income taxes.

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

A writ of certiorari was granted in this case on May 13, 1929 on account of a conflict between the judgment below, 30 F.2d 219 (reversing 20 F.2d 540) and Red Wing Malting Co. v. Willcuts, 15 F.2d 626 (cert. denied, 273 U.S. 763), the latter case having been followed by Landsberger v. McLaughlin, 26 F.2d 77, and Renziehausen v. Commissioner, 31 F.2d 675, now pending here.

Page 280 U. S. 386

This is a suit brought by the respondent to recover income and profits taxes paid under protest on the ground, as stated by its counsel, that it was not allowed to deduct from gross income

"a reasonable allowance for the exhaustion, including obsolescence, of its goodwill . . . , it having become certain prior to that period that the useful life of the goodwill would be terminated by January 10, 1920, because of prohibition legislation."

The question turns of the Revenue Act of 1918 (Act of February 24, 1919), c. 18, § 234(a)(7), 40 Stat. 1057, 1078, allowing as deductions, inter alia,

"A reasonable allowance for the exhaustion, wear and tear of property used in the trade or business, including a reasonable allowance for obsolescence."

The good will was that of a brewery, and is found to have been destroyed by prohibition legislation. The deduction claimed is for the fiscal year ending May 31, 1919, it having been apparent early in 1918 that prohibition was imminent, and the officers having taken steps to prepare for the total or partial liquidation of the company. The amount of the deduction to be made is agreed upon if any deduction is to be allowed.

We shall not follow counsel into the succession of regulations or the variations in the law before the date of the Act that we have to construe. In our opinion, the words now used cannot be extended to cover the loss in this case, and it is needless to speculate as to what other cases it might include. It seems to us plain, without help from Mugler v. Kansas,123 U. S. 623, that, when a business is extinguished as noxious under the Constitution, the owners cannot demand compensation from the government, or a partial compensation in the form of an abatement of taxes otherwise due. It seems to us no less plain that Congress cannot be taken to have intended such a partial compensation to be provided for by the words "exhaustion" or "obsolescence." Neither word is apt to describe

Page 280 U. S. 387

termination by law as an evil of a business otherwise flourishing, and neither becomes more applicable because the death is lingering, rather than instantaneous. It is incredible that Congress, by an Act approved on February 24, 1919, should have meant to enable parties to cut down their taxes on such grounds because of an amendment to the Constitution that it had submitted to the legislatures of the states in 1917 and that had been ratified by the legislatures of a sufficient number of states the month before the present Act was passed.

Judgment reversed.

MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS and MR. JUSTICE STONE concur in the result.

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