« AnteriorContinuar »
Opinion of the Court.
and his answer put forward the deprivation of property without due process of law; the abridgment of privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States; and the denial of the equal protection of the laws, as the violations of constitutional safeguards relied on. Of these the first only is pressed upon our attention and needs to be considered, and that raises the question whether the laws of the State of Minnesota, as expounded by the Supreme Court of that State, in authorizing this judgment, amounted to the taking of property without due process of law.
In the course of the administration of the estate of Cyrus Jefferson, deceased, in the probate court of the County of Washington, Minnesota, a claim was presented in March, 1884, against the estate for unpaid taxes for the years 1882 and 1883, on credits secured by mortgages, amounting to about $122,000, and the claim was allowed. The executors appealed to the district court where the order of the probate court was affirmed. The case was then carried by the executors to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which, on May 26, 1886, affirmed the judgment. In re Jefferson, 35 Minnesota, 215. It was objected "that taxes are not debts which can be proved against the estate of deceased persons;" but the court overruled the objection, saying: "It is not material whether a personal tax is a debt, in the sense that an action against the person may be maintained to recover it. It is at least a claim against the property which survives the death of the person against whom it is levied, and remains a claim against his estate. The statute regards it as a debt to be paid out of the estate. In prescribing the order of preference in which debts shall be paid, where the estate is not sufficient to pay all, it provides (Gen. St., 1878, c. 53, §38) that, after paying the necessary expenses of the funeral, last sickness and administration, the executor or administrator shall pay the debts against the estate in the following order. . . . Second, public rates and taxes.' This, we think, is conclusive that, for the purpose of proof and payment out of the estate, a personal tax is a debt." The court further held that a tax list or tax duplicate, duly certified by the county auditor, as required by statute, was prima facie evidence of the
Opinion of the Court.
due levy of the taxes in it. The main question in the case was whether credits due to a resident of another State, from residents within Minnesota, for moneys loaned and invested by, and which credits were managed and controlled by, an agent of the creditor, resident within Minnesota, could be taxed in Minnesota under existing statutes, and the court held that they could. The court, after referring to the provisions of the statute that all personal property in the State was subject to taxation, and that all moneys and credits should be listed by the owner or his agent, where one or the other resided, said: "It is to be taken, therefore, as the intent of the statute, that credits, to whomsoever owing, are taxable here if they can be regarded as personal property in this State; that is, situated in this State. To justify the imposition of tax by any State, it must have jurisdiction over the person taxed, or over the property taxed. As Jefferson was not a resident of this State, there was no jurisdiction over him. But if the property on account of which these taxes were unpaid was within this State, the State had jurisdiction to impose them as it might impose a tax upon tangible personal property permanently situated here, and to enforce the taxes against the property. The authorities which we cite in support of the proposition that the credits taxed had a situs here, fully sustain this.
"For many purposes the domicil of the owner is deemed the situs of his personal property. This, however, is only a fiction, from motives of convenience, and is not of universal application, but yields to the actual situs of the property when justice requires that it should. It is not allowed to be controlling in matters of taxation. Thus, corporeal personal property is conceded to be taxable at the place where it is actually situated. A credit, which cannot be regarded as situated in a place merely because the debtor resides there, must usually be considered as having its situs where it is owned,-at the domicil of the creditor. The creditor, however, may give it a business situs elsewhere; as where he places it in the hands of an agent for collection or renewal, with a view to reloaning the money and keeping it invested as a permanent business." After citing Catlin v. Hall, 21 Vermont, 152; People v. Smith, 88 N. Y. 576; Wilcox v.
Opinion of the Court.
Ellis, 14 Kansas, 588; Board of Supervisors v. Davenport, 40 Illinois, 197, and many other cases, the opinion continued thus: "The obligation to pay taxes on property for the support of the government arises from the fact that it is under the protection of the government. Now, here was property within this State, not for a mere temporary purpose, but as permanently as though the owner resided here. It was employed here as a business by one who exercised over it the same control and management as over his own property, except that he did it in the name of an absent principal. It was exclusively under the protection of the laws of this State. It had to rely on those laws for the force and validity of the contracts on the loans, and the preservation and enforcement of the securities. The laws of New York never operated on it. If credits can ever have an actual situs other than the domicil of the owner, can ever be regarded as property within any other State, and as under obligation to contribute to its support in consideration of being under its protection, it must be so in this case."
It was thus ruled that the tax list of personal property was prima facie evidence of the due levy of the taxes; that such taxes could be proven against decedents' estates; and that credits secured by mortgages, the result of the business of investing and reinvesting moneys in the State, were subject to taxation as having their situs there.
Admonished as to the law of the State in these particulars, Mrs. Bristol, Mr. Jefferson's daughter, continued the business of investing and reinvesting in the same way and through the same agency until her own death in August, 1894. The state statute required every person being a resident of the State to list his personal property, including moneys, credits, etc., for taxation and "moneys and other personal property invested, loaned or otherwise controlled by him as the agent or attorney or on account of any other person or persons ;" and in cases of failure to obtain a statement of personal property from any cause, it was made the duty of the assessor to ascertain its amount and value and assess the same at such amount as he believed to be the true value thereof. Stat. 1894, c. 11, §§ 1515, 1546; Stat. 1878, c. 11, §§ 7, 38. No question arises here in respect of the
Opinion of the Court.
regular listing of these investments for taxation from 1883 until and including 1894, nor in respect of the valuation thereof.
Mrs. Bristol had invested some $18,000 of her own money, belonging to her prior to her father's death, in the same way and by the same agency, and invested and reinvested in the same manner that money and moneys derived from notes and mortgages held by the agent for Mr. Jefferson, which passed to her on his death. And these investments were taxable and were taxed year by year during all this period according to the statutes of the State and the decision of the Supreme Court from which we have quoted.
It is insisted, however, that this is not so, because in 1885, which was after the presentation of the claim against the father's estate in the probate court, though before the decision by the Supreme Court, the notes then in the hands of the agents were delivered to Mrs. Bristol, and thereafter all new notes taken in the business were sent to her and kept by her in her home in New York. But these notes were payable as before at the office of the agents in Minnesota; the mortgages securing the notes were retained by the agents, and the notes were returned to the agents from time to time, whenever required by them, for the purpose of renewal, collection or foreclosure of securities; the agents continued to collect the money due on the notes, and to make loans in the name of Mrs. Bristol, sometimes under her husband's direction, but generally on their own judgment; and they remitted money to Mrs. Bristol whenever she called for the same, while what was not received by her was invested in new loans. It also appeared that Mrs. Bristol had given the agents a power of attorney empowering them to satisfy or discharge, or to sell and assign, any and all mortgages in her name in the States of Minnesota and Wisconsin, but that she revoked this instrument after the death of one of the agents, and about November, 1890, thereafter executing satisfactions of mortgages herself.
Nevertheless the business of loaning money through the agency in Minnesota was continued during all these years just as it had been carried on before, and we agree with the Circuit Court that the fact that the notes were sent to Mrs. Bristol in New
Opinion of the Court.
York, and the fact of the revocation of the power of attorney, did not exempt these investments from taxation under the statutes as expounded in the decision to which we have referred. And we are unable to perceive that any rights secured by the Federal Constitution were infringed by the statutes as thus interpreted so far as the situs of these loans and mortgages was concerned.
In New Orleans v. Stempel, 175 U. S. 309, certain taxes were levied on money on deposit, and also on money loaned on interest, credits and bills receivable, and it was held by this court that the statutes of Louisiana, as interpreted by the courts of that State, in authorizing such assessment, did not violate the Constitution of the United States. There the money, notes and evidences of credits were in fact in Louisiana, though their owners resided elsewhere. Still under the circumstances of the case before us, we think, as we have said, that the mere sending of the notes to New York and the revocation of the power of attorney did not take these investments out of the rule.
Persons are not permitted to avail themselves for their own benefit of the laws of a State in the conduct of business within its limits, and then to escape their due contribution to the public needs through action of this sort, whether taken for convenience or by design.
In New Orleans v. Stempel it was remarked: "With reference to the decisions of this court it may be said that there has never been any denial of the power of a State to tax securities situated as these are, while there have been frequent recognitions of its power to separate for purposes of taxation the situs of personal property from the domicil of the owner. In Tappan
v. Merchants' National Bank, 19 Wall. 490, the ruling was that although shares of stock in national banks were in a certain sense intangible and incorporeal personal property, the law might separate them from the persons of their owners for purposes of taxation, and give them a situs of their own. See also Pullman's Car Company v. Pennsylvania, 141 U. S. 18, 22, where the question of the separation of personal property from the person of the owner for purposes of taxation was discussed at length. As also the case of Savings Society v. Multnomah