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WILLCUTS v. BUNN

decided: January 5, 1931.

WILLCUTS, COLLECTOR OF INTERNAL REVENUE
v.
BUNN



CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Hughes, Holmes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts

Author: Hughes

[ 282 U.S. Page 223]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondent, Charles W. Bunn, in the years 1919 and 1920, purchased for cash, as investments, bonds issued by various counties and cities in the State of Minnesota. In January, 1924, he sold these bonds, realizing a net profit of $736.26. Upon this net profit, less a net loss of $41.20 suffered by him on similar bonds held less than two years, the Commissioner of Internal Revenue determined an additional income tax in the amount of $85.44. The plaintiff paid this amount to the Collector, under protest, and claimed a refund upon the ground that the tax was illegal because assessed upon income from municipal bonds. The claim was rejected and this suit was brought against the Collector to recover the money paid.

The complaint, alleging these facts, charged that the Revenue Act of 1924, if thus applied, was unconstitutional and void in that the tax was laid upon the instrumentalities of States. Demurrer to the complaint was overruled by the District Court, and, the defendant having declined to plead further, judgment was entered for the plaintiff. The judgment was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals, and this Court granted a writ of certiorari.

The Revenue Act of 1924 (c. 234, sec. 213, 43 Stat. 253, 267, 268, U. S. C. Tit. 26, sec. 954) clearly authorized the

[ 282 U.S. Page 224]

     tax. The Act included in the term "gross income" the gains and profits derived from "sales, or dealings in property, whether real or personal." See Irwin v. Gavit, 268 U.S. 161, 166. The Act gave an express exemption to "interest upon the obligations of a State, Territory or any political subdivision thereof," but this exemption was not extended to profits realized on the sale of such obligations, and the statement of the Government is not challenged that it has been the uniform practice of the Treasury Department in administering the federal income tax acts to include in taxable income the gain derived from the sale of state and municipal bonds.

The authority of the Congress to lay a tax on the profit realized by an investor from the sale or conversion of capital assets in general is not open to dispute and is not disputed. That is a matter of governmental policy and not of constitutional power.*fn1 The question raised here is not because the securities sold were capital assets but because they were governmental in character.

The question is further limited by the fact that it does not appear that the securities were issued at a discount, so that the gain derived could be considered to be in lieu of interest. Whatever questions might arise in cases of that sort are not now before the court.*fn2 The present case is simply one of profit obtained from purchase and sale, without qualification by any special circumstances.

The well-established principle is invoked that a tax upon the instrumentalities of the States is forbidden by

[ 282 U.S. Page 225]

     the Federal Constitution, the exemption resting upon necessary implication in order effectively to maintain our dual system of government.*fn3 The familiar aphorism is "that as the means and instrumentalities employed by the General Government to carry into operation the powers granted to it are exempt from taxation by the States, so are those of the States exempt from taxation by the General Government." Ambrosini v. United States, 187 U.S. 1, 7. And a tax upon the obligations of a State or of its political subdivisions falls within the constitutional prohibition as a tax upon the exercise of the borrowing power of the ...


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