1. Remainder interests which vested after a state transfer tax
law was approved but before the time when, as construed by the
state supreme court, it became effective, but which nevertheless
Page 256 U. S. 223
subjected to it by that court upon the theory that the vesting
actually occurred after it became effective, are not to be regarded
as taxed thereby in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (even
assuming that such a tax may not be laid retroactively), since the
law might have been made applicable before the interest vested. P.
256 U. S.
2. A decision of a state court made upon ground having no
relation to any federal question and without purpose to evade a
federal issue, will be accepted by this Court, whether right or
wrong, when the case comes here for renew. P. 256 U. S.
43 Nev. 12 affirmed; petition for writ of certiorari denied.
Error to review judgments of the Supreme Court of Nevada
sustaining taxes laid under the state transfer tax act upon
remainder interests claimed to have vested before the effective
date of the statute. The facts are stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
The first of these suits was brought by the Controller of Nevada
to collect a transfer tax alleged to be due under a statute of
Nevada approved on March 26, 1913, to take effect thirty days from
that date. Nevada Stats. of 1913, c. 266, p. 411. The second suit
was brought to quiet title to the shares of stock in respect of
which the tax was assessed -- to establish that there was no lien
upon or claim against them for the tax. The two cases were
Page 256 U. S. 224
heard together in the state courts and here upon the same facts.
The Supreme Court of Nevada held that the tax was due, and decided
in favor of the state. The parties on the other side had set up and
claimed immunity under the Constitution of the United States,
especially the Fourteenth Amendment, and brought the cases here by
writ of error. By way of caution, they also filed a petition for
certiorari which has not yet been passed upon by this Court.
The facts are these: Henry Miller, a resident of California, was
the owner of 119,875.75 shares of the stock of Miller & Lux,
Incorporated, a Nevada corporation. Miller & Lux, Incorporated,
owned the stock of the Pacific Live Stock Company, a California
corporation, and the latter owned real estate and personal property
in Nevada appraised at $1,431,236.86. On April 17, 1913, after the
above-mentioned statute had been passed but before it went into
operation, Miller, in California, made a will, and at the same time
a deed of trust conveying his stock to the plaintiffs in error, in
trust for himself for life and after his death upon limitations
similar to those in his will -- any payment under the will to be in
satisfaction of the provisions both in the will and in the deed.
The deed contained no power of revocation. The stock was endorsed
and delivered to the trustees, and thereafter was retained by them.
Miller died on October 14, 1916. The statute imposes a tax upon the
transfer of all property which shall pass in trust or otherwise by
will or by statutes of inheritance or by deed or gift made without
valuable and adequate consideration in contemplation of the death
of the grantor or donor, or to take effect in possession or
enjoyment at or after such death.
The plaintiffs in error admit that, if the statute had been in
operation at the time of the transfer, the tax would have been due,
so that it is not necessary to go into further particulars about
the act. But they say that the
Page 256 U. S. 225
interest of the remaindermen after the death of Miller vested
upon the execution of the deed, and that therefore the statute did
not apply to them, and could not do so consistently with the
Constitution of the United States.
We shall not discuss the postulate of the argument for the
plaintiffs in error -- the notion that a tax upon transfers imposed
by a statute passed after the transfers had taken place would be
void. In this case, the statute was passed before the date of the
deed of trust, and therefore undeniably could have been drawn so as
to tax the transaction. Reading as it did, it possibly might have
been construed as doing so, notwithstanding the postponement of the
date for its going into operation, and, so construed, would have
been good as against constitutional objections.
But the plaintiffs in error say that what we pronounce possible
is not what the Supreme Court of Nevada did. The Supreme Court of
Nevada seems to have conceded that, if the interest of those who
took upon Miller's death was vested when the deed was delivered,
the statute did not, and perhaps could, not apply. They reached the
result by holding that the execution of the deed and will was one
transaction, and gave no vested right until Miller's death.
Thereupon the plaintiffs in error say that the above limitation to
the statute being admitted, the state court could not avoid the
supposed constitutional difficulty by assuming a view of the
instrument that is deemed to be plainly untenable, as held by the
Chief Justice, dissenting, and contrary to the law of California,
where the parties lived and the transfer was made. Nickel v.
179 Cal. 126. But the answer to this is that when, as
here, there can be no pretence that the Court adopted its view in
order to evade a constitutional issue, and the case has been
decided upon grounds that have no relation to any federal question,
this Court accepts the decision, whether right or wrong.
Page 256 U. S. 226
Irrigation District v. Farmers' Mutual Canal Co.,
243 U. S. 157
243 U. S. 164
And when, as here, the statute unquestionably might have made the
tax applicable to this transfer, we do not inquire very curiously
into the reasoning by which the statute is held to justify the
"As there was state power to tax . . . , the question whether or
not the . . . interest [of the plaintiffs in error] under the
circumstances was correctly subjected to the tax was a purely state
Moffitt v. Kelly, 218 U. S. 400
218 U. S. 405
The plaintiffs in error contend that this Court is "concerned . . .
solely with the effect and operation of the law as put in force by
the state." Corn Products Refining Co. v. Eddy,
249 U. S. 427
249 U. S. 432
The operation of the law, if construed to cover this case,
infringes no constitutional rights.
Writs of certiorari denied.
MR. JUSTICE McKENNA dissents.
MR. JUSTICE CLARKE took no part in the decision of this