Billings v. United States,
232 U.S. 261 (1914)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Billings v. United States, 232 U.S. 261 (1914)

Billings v. United States

Nos. 66 and 625

Argued January 6, 7, 1914

Decided February 24, 1914

232 U.S. 261


The jurisdiction of this Court on direct writ of error is not confined to the constitutional questions, but embraces every issue in the case. Williamson v. United States, 207 U. S. 425. The circuit court of appeals has no power to ask instructions upon an issue which it has no right to decide, nor has this Court authority to instruct on such a subject. This Court cannot refuse to decide questions which are properly before it for judgment.

Where one party has taken a writ of error direct from this Court to the circuit court based on the constitutional question decided against

Page 232 U. S. 262

it, and the other party has obtained a writ of error from the circuit court of appeals as to other questions decided against it, which court has certified that question to this Court, and the record is in such condition as to enable this Court to decide the whole case, this Court may treat the writ of error from the circuit court of appeals as a cross-writ, and so determine all the issues involved.

Under § 37 of the Tariff Act of August, 1909, imposing a tax on the use of foreign-built yachts owned or chartered for more than six months by citizens of the United States, to be collected annually on September 1, the tax became due on the first day of September next occurring after the act became effective; further held that the six months' clause relates only to the chartering of the yachts, and the word "annually" indicates continuity and that the tax is not a sporadic one to cease after a single payment.

Where words are used in a statute in their every-day sense and not in a technical one, they should be so construed.

The use of a foreign-built yacht which renders the owner subject to the tax imposed by § 37 of the Tariff Act of 1909 is active and actual use, and not the potential use arising from the mere fact of ownership. See Pierce v. United States, p. 232 U. S. 290, post.

The fact that a tax statute operates retroactively does not necessarily cause it to be unconstitutional. Flint v. Stone Tracy Co., 220 U. S. 107.

The rule that statutes should be construed if possible so as not to operate retroactively does not authorize a judicial reenactment of the statute to save it from acting retroactively if Congress intended it so to do.

Section 37 of the Tariff Act of 1909, imposing a tax on foreign-built yachts, is not unconstitutional because it operates retroactively as to the tax levied for the year 1909, and the use of yachts within the meaning of the statute during the year 1909 renders the owner or charterer liable for the tax for that year.

The requirement of uniformity imposed by the Constitution on Congress in levying excise taxes is not intrinsic, but geographic.

The Constitution is not self-destructive -- it does not take away by one provision powers conferred by another, and the express authority to tax is not limited or restricted by subsequent provisions or amendments, especially the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. McCray v. United States, 195 U. S. 27.

The difference between things domestic and things foreign is recognized by the Constitution itself, and a classification for taxation of foreign-built

Page 232 U. S. 263

yachts is not so repugnant to justice as to amount to denial of due process of law because domestic-built yachts are not subject to the same tax; nor is § 37 of the Tariff Act of 1909, unconstitutional for lack of uniformity.

The state rule as to interest on taxes differs from the United States rule -- the former excludes interest unless the statute so provides; the latter allows interest unless forbidden by statute. This Court will not now apply the state rule, as to do so would repudiate settled principles and disregard the sanction expressly or impliedly given by Congress to the rule adopted by the federal courts.

The government is entitled to interest on taxes on use of foreign-built yachts under § 37 of the Tariff Act of 1909 from the date when the taxes become due, and may maintain an action against the owner or charterer therefor.

190 F. 359 modified and affirmed.

The facts, which involve the construction and constitutionality of § 37 of the Tariff Act of 1909, imposing a tax on the use of foreign-built yachts, are stated in the opinion.

Page 232 U. S. 276

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