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PEARSON v. MCGRAW ET AL.

decided: December 4, 1939.

PEARSON, STATE TREASURER OF THE STATE OF OREGON
v.
MCGRAW ET AL., EXECUTORS



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF OREGON.

Hughes, McReynolds, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas

Author: Douglas

[ 308 U.S. Page 314]

 MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Hayes, respondents' decedent, died testate in 1936 and was at the time of his death a resident of and domiciled in Oregon. In earlier years when he had resided in the middle west he placed in possession of an Illinois trust company various stocks, bonds and other intangibles, which trust company acted as his agent in collecting principal and income on those securities and in the investment of his funds. When decedent established a domicile in Oregon in 1933, he continued that arrangement with the Illinois trust company, with the result that those securities were always physically present in Illinois, never in Oregon. August 8, 1935, about six months before decedent's death, he directed the Illinois trust company to sell and liquidate sufficient of his bonds held under that

[ 308 U.S. Page 315]

     agency arrangement in Illinois to procure a sum which, together with cash balances in his checking account with the trust company, would equal $450,000 and to purchase therewith, as his agent, federal reserve notes of the face amount of $450,000. Between August 8, 1935 and August 12, 1935, the Illinois trust company complied with decedent's directions*fn1 and prior to August 15, 1935, it purchased $450,000 of federal reserve notes and held them in Illinois as agent for decedent for a few days.

On August 15, 1935, decedent executed in Oregon a trust agreement under which the Illinois trust company was designated as trustee and by which decedent transferred to it as trustee the federal reserve notes. That trust was for the benefit of certain designated relatives and was irrevocable. Under it decedent retained no interest or power whatsoever. The trust company held those federal reserve notes under the trust agreement for about five days. Then from time to time after August 19, 1935, the Illinois trust company used the federal reserve notes, pursuant to the terms of the trust agreement, to purchase bonds and other personal property for the account of the trust.*fn2

[ 308 U.S. Page 316]

     Admittedly, Oregon had jurisdiction to tax but for the alleged prohibition in the Fourteenth Amendment, for the statute in question imposed a tax on intangibles as well as tangibles which passed by deed or gift made in contemplation of the death of the grantor.*fn3 But the Supreme Court of Oregon held that that constitutional prohibition was present since neither the securities or cash used to purchase the federal reserve notes nor the notes themselves were ever in Oregon but always in Illinois. Though admitting that intangibles would have been taxable by Oregon under such circumstances, the court in reliance on Blodgett v. Silberman, 277 U.S. 1, concluded that the federal reserve notes were tangibles. And since decedent had retained them in Illinois for a few days prior to August 15, 1935, without any intention of bringing them to Oregon, they had acquired a so-called business situs in Illinois which constitutionally prevented Oregon from exacting a tax for their transfer.*fn4 And this conclusion was reached though admittedly the transfer of the notes under the agreement of August 15, 1935, was made in contemplation of death. We granted certiorari

[ 308 U.S. Page 317]

     because of the importance of the constitutional question involved and of an alleged probable conflict with the principles underlying such decisions as Curry v. McCanless, 307 U.S. 357.

We disagree with the conclusion of the Supreme Court of Oregon. Oregon having jurisdiction to tax by reason of the statute was not deprived of it by the Federal Constitution.

On the facts of this case we believe that the various steps in the series must be considered as constituting but one integrated and indivisible transaction -- a transfer by decedent of intangibles in contemplation of death. And we reach this result though each step in the series was real and though none was camouflaged or concealed. For basically the sale of intangibles, the acquisition of federal reserve notes, and their transfer under the agreement of August 15, 1935, were interdependent. Cf. Groman v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 302 U.S. 82; Helvering v. Bashford, 302 U.S. 454, 458. From decedent's point of view, completion of the series of steps was necessary for consummation of his program to utilize $450,000 of his estate to provide for certain designated members of his family.*fn5 Any step short of the final transfer would not have done it. The mere sale of the intangibles and the acquisition of the federal reserve notes had no functional or business ...


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