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Demkowicz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


argued: January 13, 1977.

WALTER DEMKOWICZ AND DOROTHY DEMKOWICZ, APPELLANTS
v.
COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES TAX COURT (Tax Court Docket No. 8480-72).

Gibbons, Garth, Circuit Judges, and Bechtle,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Bechtle

Opinion OF THE COURT

BECHTLE, District Judge.

This appeal is from a decision of the Tax Court upholding a determination by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue ("Commissioner") of a deficiency in the amount of income tax paid by the taxpayers for tax year 1966. For the reasons stated below, we will reverse.

Walter Demkowicz ("taxpayer")*fn1 was the principal stockholder in Walter Demkowicz, Inc. ("W.D., Inc."), a New Jersey corporation primarily engaged in the construction business. W.D., Inc., constructed and owned a building located at 28-32 North Avenue, Elizabeth, New Jersey. The building was mortgaged for a $122,500 loan from the Elizabeth Federal Savings and Loan Association. On August 12, 1965, W.D., Inc., borrowed $54,000 from David Checinski. This loan was secured by a second mortgage, executed by W.D., Inc., on the 28-32 North Avenue property. The net amount of the Checinski loan, $46,600 after reduction for points and other costs, was deposited on August 13, 1965, into a W.D., Inc., account at the National State Bank located in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Prior to April 15, 1967, Walter and Dorothy Demkowicz filed a joint return for tax year 1966. The Commissioner, in a statutory Notice of Deficiency, determined that, during 1966, Walter Demkowicz diverted $44,000 of the Checinski loan to his personal use, and that the diverted funds were taxable to Demkowicz as dividend income, under Sections 301 and 316 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C. ยงยง 301, 316. Thereafter, taxpayer petitioned the Tax Court for a redetermination of the deficiency. The Tax Court upheld the Commissioner's determination. This appeal followed.*fn2

Taxpayer contends that the Tax Court's determination that he diverted the proceeds of the Checinski loan to his personal use and that the loan, therefore, was taxable to him as dividend income during 1966 is erroneous for two different, yet overlapping, reasons. First, he argues that the Tax Court improperly disregarded his uncontradicted documentary and testimonial evidence. Specifically, taxpayer introduced a monthly bank statement (Exhibit 33) from the National State Bank which shows that the proceeds of the Checinski loan were withdrawn from the W.D., Inc., account in a series of checks and that, as of August 24, 1965, all that remained was $251.44.*fn3 Taxpayer then testified that the Checinski loan proceeds were used by W.D., Inc., to satisfy corporate debts incurred in the construction of a building, and that he never personally used any of the proceeds. Alternatively, taxpayer argues that, even if he did divert the funds to his personal use, the diversion occurred in 1965, rather than in 1966, as found by the Commissioner and the Tax Court. Again, taxpayer relies upon Exhibit 33, which discloses that almost all of the proceeds of the Checinski loan were withdrawn from the W.D., Inc., account by August 24, 1965, and, hence, could not have been dividend income in 1966.*fn4

We begin with the settled principles that the Commissioner's deficiency determination is entitled to a presumption of correctness and that the burden is on the taxpayer to prove the incorrectness of that determination. Helvering v. Taylor, 293 U.S. 507, 515, 79 L. Ed. 623, 55 S. Ct. 287 (1935); Welch v. Helvering, 290 U.S. 111, 115, 78 L. Ed. 212, 54 S. Ct. 8 (1933); Baird v. Commissioner, 438 F.2d 490, 492 (3d Cir. 1971); Hoffman v. Commissioner, 298 F.2d 784, 788 (3d Cir. 1962); Tax Court Rule 142(a). Once the taxpayer overcomes the presumption by presenting "competent and relevant credible evidence," Baird v. Commissioner, supra, 438 F.2d at 493, which is sufficient to establish that the Commissioner's determination was erroneous, Silverman v. Commissioner, 538 F.2d 927, 931 (2d Cir. 1976), then the Commissioner has the burden of going forward with the evidence. Baird v. Commissioner, supra, 438 F.2d at 493; Cory v. Commissioner, 126 F.2d 689, 694 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 317 U.S. 642, 87 L. Ed. 517, 63 S. Ct. 34 (1942). But see Silverman v. Commissioner, supra, 538 F.2d at 931; Bernuth v. Commissioner, 470 F.2d 710, 714 (2d Cir. 1972); Cohen v. Commissioner, 266 F.2d 5, 11 (9th Cir. 1959).

There is no question that taxpayer's uncontradicted testimony*fn5 was sufficient to establish that the Commissioner's determination that taxpayer had received dividend income was erroneous.*fn6 However, the Tax Court was not bound to accept taxpayer's uncontradicted testimony if it found the testimony to be improbable, unreasonable or questionable. Lovell and Hart, Inc. v. Commissioner, 456 F.2d 145, 148 (6th Cir. 1972) (per curiam); MacGuire v. Commissioner, 450 F.2d 1239, 1244 (5th Cir. 1971); Baird v. Commissioner, supra, 438 F.2d at 493; Banks v. Commissioner, 322 F.2d 530, 537 (8th Cir. 1963). Accordingly, the issue presented is whether the Tax Court rejected taxpayer's testimony as being improbable, unreasonable or questionable.

In its opinion, the Tax Court stated the following with respect to the evidence presented by taxpayer:

"Except for the $44,000 loan from Checinski to W.D., Inc., which petitioner claims was used by W.D., Inc., for construction costs, petitioners have offered little evidence to refute [the Commissioner's] numerous other determinations. To support his testimony regarding the use of the Checinski loan, petitioner submitted a W.D., Inc., bank statement disclosing deposit of the loan proceeds which, although disclosing withdrawals, does not identify the payee or purpose of the withdrawals. . . . Accordingly, we find the $44,000 . . . to be [a] constructive [dividend]." Appendix at 214.

We do not believe that the above-quoted language either explicitly or implicitly rejects taxpayer's testimony that he did not divert the proceeds of the Checinski loan to his personal use and that the proceeds were used by W.D., Inc., to satisfy construction debts. At most, the Tax Court only concluded that taxpayer's testimony, in the absence of corroborative evidence, was not sufficient to overcome the presumption of correctness. Since we believe that taxpayer was not required to "corroborate" his testimony in order to meet his burden,*fn7 and since the Tax Court did not reject taxpayer's testimony as being improbable, unreasonable or questionable, the decision of the Tax Court must be reversed.

Assuming, arguendo, that the Tax Court was correct in its determination that taxpayer received dividend income via the Checinski loan, the decision still cannot stand due to the erroneous determination that taxpayer received such income in tax year 1966, rather than in tax year 1965. The Commissioner, in the stipulation of facts, admitted that the proceeds from the Checinski loan were deposited in the National State Bank on August 13, 1965. The monthly bank statement, Exhibit 33, showed that, as of August 24, 1965, only $251.44 of the Checinski loan remained in the W.D., Inc., account. As mentioned above, the only comment made by the Tax Court with respect to Exhibit 33 was to the effect that, although it disclosed withdrawals, it did not identify the payee or purpose of the withdrawals. Regardless of whether the bank statement failed to identify the payee or purpose of the withdrawals, the fact remains that, as of August 24, 1965, all but $251.44 of the Checinski loan, which the Commissioner contends was diverted to taxpayer's personal use, had been expended. Accordingly, the Tax Court erroneously determined that taxpayer received dividend income in tax year 1966.

The decision of the Tax Court will be reversed.

Disposition

The decision of the Tax Court will be reversed.


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