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Klebanow v. Glaser

Decided: May 22, 1978.


On appeal from a final decision of the Director of the Division of Taxation in the Department of the Treasury.

Lora, Seidman and Milmed. The opinion of the court was delivered by Milmed, J.A.D.


This appeal brings up for review the constitutionality of the retroactive feature of the Tax on Capital Gains and Other Unearned Income Act (the act), L. 1975, c. 172, as amended, N.J.S.A. 54:8B-1 et seq. The legislation, which has since been repealed,*fn1 was approved August 4, 1975 and by its terms took effect immediately and was made "applicable with respect to unearned income earned, received or constructively accrued or credited to the taxpayer on or after January 1, 1975." Section 25.

Plaintiff Bernard Klebanow lived in New York until November 1974, when he moved to Fort Lee in Bergen County. He asserts that in making this change of residence he "specifically relied upon the fact that in November, 1974, New Jersey did not impose any capital gains tax upon its residents." It appears that on January 8, 1975 he sold certain corporate stocks*fn2 held by him for a total of $12,000,000, realizing long-term capital gains thereon of $11,879,000. He maintains that he effected the sale of this stock "in specific reliance upon the non-existence of a New Jersey tax on capital gains and would not have sold that stock while a resident of the State of New Jersey if, at the time of the sale, a New Jersey capital gains tax had been in effect." He contends "that the retroactive nature of the tax, as applied to him in his unique facts and circumstances, is unconstitutional." He applied to the Director of the Division of Taxation (Director) for a refund of the $945,322 tax,*fn3 attributable to the January 8, 1975 sale,

which he paid to the State under protest, with interest on that sum from April 15, 1976, the due date of his tax return for the calendar year 1975. Upon his review of the matter the Director denied the claim for refund, holding that the sale "resulted in a taxable capital gain as contemplated by the Act." This appeal followed. We affirm.

Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the retroactive application of the act to his January 8, 1975 sale of stock infringes the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and "the related guarantees" of Art. I, par. 1, of our State Constitution of 1947. He does not claim that the tax imposed by the act is unconstitutional per se. He does, however, urge that its application to him, in the facts and circumstances of the case, "runs afoul of the Due Process Clause," basically because it imposed a new tax "upon voluntary acts where the taxpayer relied upon the existing statutory structure and was not forewarned of retroactivity." We find no merit in the contention.

When plaintiff sold his shares of stock on January 8, 1975 there were pending in the Legislature Assembly Bills 1883 and 1949, introduced July 8 and July 15, 1974, respectively, each of which, if adopted, would have imposed a tax "at the rate of 6% on all interest, dividends and gains from the sale or exchange of capital assets occurring after December 31, 1974, which have been earned, received in fact or constructively, accrued or credited to the taxpayer during his taxable year * * *," subject to certain exemptions. In the circumstances, plaintiff could not safely assume that the capital gains derived from the January 8, 1975 sale would not be reached by a tax measure subsequently enacted during the calendar year 1975. See N.J. Const. (1947), Art. IV, ยง I, para. 3.

When the Capital Gains and Other Unearned Income Tax Act was adopted in the summer of 1975, the State was in the throes of a fiscal crisis. The need for revenue to finance existing state programs was obvious. The tax measure

under review was accordingly included*fn4 in a "revenue package" designed to "finance" supplemental appropriations totalling $267,820,931 for the fiscal year which had begun on July 1, 1975. See the 1975-76 supplemental appropriations law, L. 1975, c. 173, approved August 4, 1975, and the Statement by Governor Brendan Byrne, issued the same day, regarding it and the revenue-raising package.*fn5

Retroactive application of income tax legislation has been sustained on the basis of "the Government's need for adequate revenue and the fact that taxes are not a penalty or contractual obligation, but a means of spreading the costs of government to those who benefit from it." Shanahan v. United States , 447 F.2d 1082, 1083 (10 Cir. 1971). And, in Welch v. Henry , 305 U.S. 134, 149-150, 59 S. Ct. 121, 127, 83 L. Ed. 87, 94-95 (1938), Justice Stone, in his opinion for a majority of the court, pointed out that

The equitable distribution of the costs of government through the medium of an income tax is a delicate and difficult task. In its performance experience has shown the importance of reasonable opportunity for the legislative body, in the revision of tax laws, to distribute increased costs of government among its ...

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