CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT.
Hughes, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo, Black
MR. JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question for decision is whether a purported sale by a corporation to its stockholders, of shares of stock issued by and acquired from another corporation, the sale being effected by means of an issue to the stockholders of rights to purchase the stock at a named price, is to be
treated as a distribution of corporate earnings taxable as a dividend to the stockholders when received, within the reach of §§ 22 and 115 of the Revenue Act of 1928, c. 852, 45 Stat. 791.
In January, 1929, The American Superpower Company, of which petitioner was a stockholder, acquired through consolidation of public utility corporations, in one of which it in turn was a stockholder, a large amount of the securities of The United Corporation, the latter being received in exchange for stock of the consolidated corporations owned by Superpower. The securities received included shares of the preference stock of United, 2,210,583 shares of its common stock, and 1,000,000 rights to subscribe for United common stock at any time for $27.50 a share. United was incorporated January 7, 1929. The consolidation was effected January 12th, when Superpower became entitled to its allotment of the securities. On January 23, 1929, the board of directors of Superpower, pursuant to a plan to strengthen its cash position and to create a wide market for the stock of United, adopted a resolution offering to its common stockholders of record January 26, 1929, the privilege of purchasing, at $25 a share, one-half share of United for each share of their common stock in Superpower. The privilege was evidenced by negotiable certificates distributed to stockholders about January 31. By their terms they were to become void unless the privilege was exercised by February 15, 1929. On that date petitioner exercised the privilege by purchasing his allotment of 3,198 shares of United at $25 a share. In its books, records and accounts, Superpower treated the transaction as a sale of the United stock, resulting in no change in its net assets or earnings.
The prices received by Superpower for shares distributed to its stockholders represented a substantial profit
to it over cost of the securities which it had exchanged for them. It reported the profit in its 1929 income tax return and paid the tax on it for that year. In computing the tax the commissioner, in allocating the cost of the three classes of securities received from United by Superpower, found it necessary to determine the value of each class of security when received. He did this by finding the total value of the securities and allocating to the common stock a value of $25 a share. On or about January 9th, bankers who were active in promoting the consolidation purchased from United 400,000 shares of its stock at $22.50 per share. Shortly after the adoption by Superpower, on January 23rd, of the plan for distribution of the United stock, an active market developed on the New York Curb Exchange for the sale of subscription rights. On January 25th, 11,000 rights were sold at prices ranging from 11 5/8 to 12 3/8, making the cost per share to purchasers of the rights, upon their exercise, about $50. On January 28th, 44,000 of them were dealt in on the exchange at prices ranging from 12 5/8 to 17 1/2, with a corresponding cost of the shares of from $50 to $60. On January 29th, 30th and 31st, Superpower sold about 9,200 shares of its United stock on the open market at from $50 to $63 per share.
On May 1, 1929, a like privilege to purchase one-fourth of a share of stock of United at $30 a share for each share of Superpower was extended to the stockholders of the latter, as of May 8, 1929, which petitioner similarly exercised on May 24, 1929. On June 5, 1929, a like privilege was given to the common stockholders of Superpower as of June 18, 1929, to purchase stock of Commonwealth and Southern Corporation at $15 a share, which petitioner exercised on July 2, 1929.
Petitioner did not, in 1929, sell or otherwise dispose of any of the shares for which he subscribed, or report their receipt in his income tax ...