Poe v. Seaborn - 282 U.S. 101 (1930)


U.S. Supreme Court

Poe v. Seaborn, 282 U.S. 101 (1930)

Poe v. Seaborn

No. 15

Argued October 21, 1930

Decided November 24, 1930

282 U.S. 101

Syllabus

1. In §§ 210(a) and 211(a) of the Revenue Act of 1926, which lay a tax upon the "net income of every individual," the use of the word "of" denotes ownership and, in the absence of further definition by Congress, a broader significance should not be imputed to the phrase. P. 282 U. S. 109.

2. The question whether the interest of a wife in community income amounts to ownership, and is therefore taxable and returnable under the Revenue Act of 1926 apart from the interest of the husband, is to be determined by the state law of community property. P. 282 U. S. 110.

3. By the law of the Washington, the wife has a vested property right, equal to that of her husband, in the community property and in the income of the community, including salaries or wages of either husband or wife, or both. P. 111.

4. Although, by the Washington law, the husband has broad power of control with limited accountability to the wife, this power is conferred on him as agent of the community; it does not make him the owner of all the community property and income, nor negative the wife's present interest therein as equal co-owner. Id.

5. Section 1212 of the Revenue Act of 1926, providing that

"Income from any period before January 1, 1925, of a marital community

Page 282 U. S. 102

in the income of which the wife has a vested interest, as distinguished from an expectancy, shall be held to be correctly returned if returned by the spouse to whom the income belonged under the state law applicable to such marital community for such period,"

and that

"any spouse who elected so to return such income shall not be entitled to any credit or refund on the ground that such income should have been returned by the other spouse,"

was not intended to open for the future the question whether, in community property states other than California, the wife is entitled to make return of one-half the community income, as had been decided in the affirmative by executive construction; the purpose was merely to prevent a serious situation as to resettlements, etc., that would follow if this Court should overturn that executive construction. P. 282 U. S. 114.

6. Joint Resolution No. 88, 71st Congress (46 Stat. 589), extending the time for the assessment, refund, and credit of income taxes for 1927 and 1928, in the case of any married individual where such individual or his or her spouse filed a separate income tax return for such taxable year and included therein income which, under the laws of the state, upon receipt became community property, was intended to save the government's right of settlement in the event that its test suits should be decided in favor of its contention that, under the Revenue Act of 1926 community income in other community property states, as in California, is returnable as the husband's income. P. 282 U. S. 115.

7. Where the language of a statute is ambiguous, the Court would be constrained to follow a long and unbroken line of executive construction, applicable to words which Congress repeatedly reemployed in Acts passed subsequent to such construction and has refused to change. P. 282 U. S. 116.

8. The constitutional requirement of uniformity in taxation is not intrinsic, but geographic, and differences of state law, which may bring a person within or without the category designated by Congress as taxable, may not be read into the Revenue Act to spell out a lack of uniformity. P. 282 U. S. 117.

32 F.2d 916 affirmed. United States v. Robbins, 269 U. S. 315; Corliss v. Bowers, 281 U. S. 376, and Lucas v. Earl, 281 U. S. 111, distinguished.

Certificate from the circuit court of appeals upon an appeal from a judgment of the district court for the taxpayer in an action to recover from the Collector of

Page 282 U. S. 103

Internal Revenue an amount paid under protest on account of income taxes for 1927. This Court ordered the entire record to be sent up. The case is one of four cases instituted by the government to determine whether, under the Revenue Act of 1926, in the States of Washington, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana, married taxpayers are entitled each to return for income tax one-half of the community income. It was argued with the other cases (see post, pp. 282 U. S. 118, 282 U. S. 122 and 282 U. S. 127) and the arguments, insofar as they related to the construction of the federal statute, were the same in all.

Page 282 U. S. 108



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