United States v. Singer
82 U.S. 111 (1872)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Singer, 82 U.S. 15 Wall. 111 111 (1872)

United States v. Singer

82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 111

Syllabus

1. The 20th section of the Act of Congress of July 20, 1868, is as follows:

"That on the receipt of the distiller's first return in each month, the assessor shall inquire and determine whether said distiller has accounted in his returns for the preceding month for all the spirits produced by him; and to determine the quantity of spirits thus to be accounted for, the whole quantity of materials used for the production of spirits shall be ascertained, and forty-five gallons of mash or beer brewed or fermented from grain shall represent not less than one bushel of grain, and seven gallons of mash or beer brewed or fermented from molasses shall represent not less than one gallon of molasses. In case the return of the distiller shall have been less than the quantity thus ascertained, the distiller or other person liable shall be assessed for such deficiency at the rate of 50 cents for every proof gallon, together with the special tax of $1 for every cask of forty proof gallons, and the collector shall proceed to collect the same as in cases of other assessments for deficiencies; but in no case shall the quantity of spirits returned by the distiller, together with the quantity so assessed, be for a less quantity of spirits than eighty percentum of the producing capacity of the distillery, as estimated under the provisions of this act."

Held that the meaning of this section is that in no case shall the distiller be assessed for a less amount of spirits than 80 percent of the producing capacity of his distillery, and if the spirits actually produced by him exceed this 80 percent, he shall also be assessed upon the excess.

2. The law is constitutional. The tax imposed upon the distiller is in the nature of tin excise, and the only limitation upon the power of Congress in the imposition of taxes of this character is that they shall be "uniform throughout the United States." The tax here is uniform in its

Page 82 U. S. 112

operation -- that is, it is assessed equally upon all manufacturers of spirits wherever they are. The law establishes one rule for all distillers.

3. The 15th section of the Act of Congress of July 20, 1868, required every distiller to provide a warehouse for the storage of spirits manufactured by him and declared that such warehouse, when approved by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue on report of the collector, should be it bonded warehouse of the United States, and should be under the direction and control of the collector of the district and in charge of the internal revenue storekeeper assigned thereto by the commissioner. The 52d section of the same act enacted that the compensation of these storekeepers should be determined by the commissioner and be paid by the United States. The distillers in this case provided the warehouse directed, and the Commissioner of Internal Revenue assigned a storekeeper to take charge of it at a compensation of $5 a day, and he remained in charge of the warehouse from the 4th to the 25th of March, 1869, inclusive, for which service be was entitled to $110, and was paid that amount by the United States. Subsequently to this, and on the 29th of March, 1869, Congress passed a certain joint resolution to which was annexed a proviso that after the passage of that act, the proprietors of all internal revenue bonded warehouses should "reimburse to the United States the expenses and salary of all storekeepers or other officers in charge of such warehouses," and that the same should be paid into the Treasury and accounted for like other public moneys. Held that the official bond of the distillers and their sureties, in this case executed in January, 1869, does not bind them to make reimbursement of this money expended by the United States before the joint resolution was passed, 1st, because the joint resolution only contemplates the reimbursement of expenses and salary paid after its passage, and 2d, because the reimbursement to the United States of moneys paid by them to their own officers or agents, in pursuance of a law in existence when the bond was executed is not a duty so connected with or naturally belonging to the business of a distiller as to be within the reasonable contemplation of the parties to the bond at the time of its execution.

4. The official bond of parties covers not merely duties imposed by existing law, but duties belonging to and naturally connected with their office or business imposed by subsequent law, but the new duties must have some relation to or connection with such office or business, and not be disconnected from and foreign to both.

5. This case distinguished from that of United States v. Powell, 14 Wall. 493, in this, that there the moneys were expended by the United States, and one of the bonds in suit was executed after the passage of the joint resolution.

The 20th section of the Act of July 20, 1868, entitled

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"An act imposing taxes on distilled spirits and tobacco, and for other purposes," [Footnote 1] enacts:

"That on the receipt of the distiller's first return in each month, the assessor shall inquire and determine whether said distiller has accounted in his returns for the preceding month for all the spirits produced by him; and to determine the quantity of spirits thus to be accounted for, the whole quantity of materials used for the production of spirits shall be ascertained; and forty-five gallons of mash or beer brewed or fermented from grain shall represent not less than one bushel of grain, and seven gallons of mash or beer brewed or fermented from molasses shall represent not less than one gallon of molasses. In case the return of the distiller shall have been less than the quantity thus ascertained, the distiller or other person liable shall be assessed for such deficiency at the rate of fifty cents for every proof gallon, together with the special tax of four dollars for every cask of forty proof gallons, and the collector shall proceed to collect the same as in cases of other assessments for deficiencies; but in no case shall the quantity of spirits returned by the distiller, together with the quantity so assessed, be for a less quantity of spirits than eighty percentum of the producing capacity of the distillery as estimated under the provisions of this act."

The 15th section of the same act required every distiller to provide a warehouse for the storage of spirits manufactured by him, and declared that such warehouse, when approved by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, on report of the collector, should be a bonded warehouse of the United States, and should be under the direction and control of the collector of the district and in charge of the internal revenue storekeeper assigned thereto by the commissioner. The 52d section of the same act enacted that the compensation of these storekeepers should be determined by the commissioner and be paid by the United States. On the 29th of March, 1869, Congress passed a joint resolution, [Footnote 2] supplying omissions in the enrolment of certain appropriation acts, to which was annexed a proviso that after the

Page 82 U. S. 114

passage of the resolution, the proprietors of all internal revenue bonded warehouses should "reimburse to the United States the expenses and salary of all storekeepers or other officers in charge of such warehouses," and that the same should be paid into the Treasury and accounted for like other public moneys.

In this state of the statutory law, the United States brought suit against Singer and Bickerdike as principals and certain other persons as sureties on a distiller's bond which all the said parties had signed, and whereby they covenanted that the principals should

"in all respects, faithfully comply with the provisions of the law in relation to the duties and business of distillers, and pay all penalties incurred or fines imposed upon them for violation of any of the said provisions."

The government assigned as a breach that the said Singer and Bickerdike,

"during the month of November, 1868, manufactured spirits at their distillery, and made return for that month to the assessor of the First Collection District of the State of Illinois of spirits so manufactured, and the quantity of spirits so returned was less than 80 percent of the producing capacity of said distillery, as estimated under the provisions of the internal revenue law, and, that thereupon, the said assessor, to-wit, on the 10th day of February, A.D. 1869, proceeded to make an assessment against the said Singer and Bickerdike, for the deficiency in said return, which assessment, amounting to $26,089.60, the said Singer and Bickerdike had refused to pay."

Plea, that the said Singer and Bickerdike,

"before the commencement of this suit, fully paid and satisfied all assessments lawfully made against them for spirits produced at their said distillery since the date of the said bond."

The plaintiffs demurred, and thus raised the first point in the case.

By a second count the plaintiffs assigned as another breach of the bond that

"one C. W. Davis, an internal revenue storekeeper, appointed by the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, and assigned by the Commissioner of Internal

Page 82 U. S. 115

Revenue to the distillery warehouse of which said Singer and Bickerdike were proprietors, established by law, in connection with the said distillery, at a salary of $5 per day, had charge, as such storekeeper, of the said warehouse from the 4th to the 25th days, inclusive, of March, A.D. 1869, and became thereby entitled to the sum of $110 for the said services, which said last-named sum had been paid by the United States to the said Davis for his said services, and that it thereupon became the duty of Singer and Bickerdike, as such distillers and proprietors, to reimburse to the United States said sum; yet that though often requested, they had never paid it or any part of it."

To this count also the defendants demurred.

Judgment was given by the Circuit Court of the United States for the defendants, and this writ of error was brought, the United States assigning as error:

1st. That by the already-quoted 20th section of the Act of July 20, 1868, the defendants, Singer and Bickerdike, were liable to be taxed for a quantity of spirits equal to 80 percent of the producing capacity of their distillery, whether the amount actually manufactured equaled that quantity or not.

2d. That by the resolution of March 29, 1869, the defendants were bound to repay to the United States what the latter had paid to Davis as storekeeper.

Page 82 U. S. 118

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