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ESTATE OF MURPHY v. UNITED STATES

March 9, 1961

ESTATE of Harriet Long MURPHY, Deceased, Zachariah Belcher, Jr., et al., Executors, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES of America and John E. Manning, Former Collector of Internal Revenue, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARTSHORNE

This is a suit for the refund of Federal estate taxes. The facts have been stipulated and are on file with the Court. The parties thereupon submitted the case to this Court for decision, filing briefs for that purpose.

On March 12, 1948, Harriet Long Murphy died, leaving a charitable remainder to Princeton University. Subsequently, in 1949, the tax on the estate was paid without a deduction being taken for the Princeton bequest. After an audit, a deficiency was assessed in the amount of $ 15,199.14. The executors made payment on March 29, 1950 of $ 6,503.67, representing $ 6,207.98 deficiency and $ 295.69 interest. On October 6, 1950 the Collector of Internal Revenue granted a credit for New Jersey inheritance taxes in the amount of $ 8,991.16. On August 18, 1953 the executors filed a claim for refund based on the right to a deduction for the Princeton bequest. The District Director of Internal Revenue denied the claim on the ground that it was not filed within three years of payment, as required by Section 910 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939. The present action followed.

 Plaintiffs (the executors of the estate) contend that 26 U.S.C.A. § 3313, *fn1" which imposes a four year requirement for filing refund claims, governs rather than 26 U.S.C.A. § 910, *fn2" which has the three year clause. Their argument is that Section 910 applies only to that portion of the estate tax found in subchapter A (the basic estate tax) and that the refund they seek is for a tax imposed under subchapter B (the additional estate tax).

 The Government asserts that the additional estate tax merely supplements the basic estate tax, with certain changes, but retains the same statutory requirements for the administration of the additional tax as apply to the basic tax. To support this statutorily they cite 26 U.S.C.A. § 937. *fn3"

 The crucial language in Section 937 is '* * * and shall be subject to the same provisions of law.' The Government thus asks this Court to conclude that this means that Section 910 is applicable to subchapter B.

 There can no longer be any question that an erroneous or illegal assessment of taxes or a mathematical error in computation resulting in overpayment of taxes creates a distinction in determining the applicability of Section 910. Such a distinction does not exist. The language of the Supreme Court in Jones v. Liberty Glass Co., 332 U.S. 524, 68 S. Ct. 229, 92 L. Ed. 142, puts that issue to rest insofar as income taxes are concerned. Since Section 910 uses the words '* * * erroneously or illegally assessed' rather than the more ambiguous word 'overpayment', it is even clearer that the suggested distinction has no merit in the instant case. See Fawcett v. United States, D.C.N.D.Cal.1947, 70 F.Supp. 742, affirmed 9 Cir., 1947, 164 F.2d 696.

 While Liberty Glass put to rest the problem of which statute of limitations applies in the income tax area, it did not, nor could it, dispose of the estate tax angle. The crucial difference is the fact that Section 910 refers to 'this subchapter,' whereas the statute involved in Liberty Glass contains no such words of limitation.

 However, the Court in Liberty Glass, after a lengthy historical review of the many statutes in question, and their revisions, concludes as to income tax:

 'This arrangement is but part of the general plan evident in the Internal Revenue Code of providing separate treatment for the income profits, estate and gift taxes, as distinct from the miscellaneous taxes and the excise, import and temporary taxes.' 332 U.S. at page 533, 68 S. Ct. at page 233.

 This conclusion is largely due to the fact that Section 3313 applies 'except as otherwise provided by law in the case of income, war-profits, excess-profits, estate, and gift taxes.' The Court thereupon, after alluding to the fact that provisions are made 'otherwise' as to the income tax, so that Section 3313 does not apply thereto, adds:

 'Provisions are also made 'otherwise' in the case of the estate tax ( § 910 of the Code) and the gift tax ( § 1027 of the Code).' 332 U.S. at page 531, 68 S. Ct. at page 232.

 Thus, by its reasoning and by its words, our highest Court indicates that plaintiffs' contention that the four year statute applies is erroneous.

 Furthermore, in Rosenman v. United States, 323 U.S. 658, 65 S. Ct. 536, 89 L. Ed. 535, the Court applied Section 910 to the estate tax without considering the point here in question. At that time Section 910 applied to 'claims * * * imposed by this Title * * *,' referring to Title 1, and the additional estate tax was encompassed in Title 2. Thus the same conditions existed in Rosenman as do here, except the labelling has been changed from Title to subchapter.

 In affirming the Fawcett decision, the Ninth Circuit relied on Liberty Glass. Thus we have one Circuit directly applying Liberty Glass to estate taxes and we have the Supreme Court applying Section 910 to all estate taxes, ...


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