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Cannelton Sewer Pipe Co. v. United States

June 15, 1959


Author: Hastings

Before DUFFY, Chief Judge, and HASTINGS and KNOCH, Circuit Judges.

HASTINGS, Circuit Judge.

Taxpayer, Cannelton Sewer Pipe Company, brought this suit in the district court for a refund of income tax paid in 1951. The sole question before us is what constitutes the proper basis for the computation of percentage depletion to which taxpayer is entitled. At all times relevant to this proceeding, taxpayer was engaged, near Cannelton, Indiana, in the mining of fire clay and shale and the manufacture of vitrified clay sewer pipe and related products. Under provisions of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939*fn1 taxpayer was permitted a percentage depletion on its fire clay of 15% and, on its shale of 5% of "the gross income from the property during the taxable year * * *." 26 U.S.C.A. ยง 114(b)(4)(A) (1939 I.R.C.). The district court held that taxpayer could compute its deduction for depletion on the basis of its gross income from the sale of its finished products. The Government contends such holding is erroneous.*fn2

Section 114(b)(4)(B) of the Code provided, in pertinent part, that:

"The term 'mining' as used herein shall be considered to include not merely the extraction of the ores or minerals from the ground but also the ordinary treatment processes normally applied by mine owners or operators in order to obtain the commercially marketable mineral product or products * * *." (Emphasis added.)

It is taxpayer's position that the processes by which it produced vitrified sewer pipe and related products from its raw fire clay and shale qualify as "ordinary treatment processes" within the meaning of the above statutory language since it had no market for its minerals in crude form and such processes were of necessity applied by it in order to obtain the first commercially marketable products. The Government urges that, in 1951, there was an existing substantial market for raw fire clay and shale in Indiana and in the area surrounding taxpayer's mine; and, that, in light of this fact, raw fire clay and shale were taxpayer's first commercially marketable products.

Taxpayer contends that the sole question on this appeal is whether there is substantial evidence to support the trial court's finding that vitrified sewer pipe and other finished products were taxpayer's first commercially marketable products. We do not agree that the issues are so limited. An overriding consideration is whether the trial court applied the correct legal criteria in making such a determination. The record clearly bears out the Government's assertion that there existed in Indiana, during 1951, a substantial market for fire clay and shale. At the same time, it is also apparent from the record that taxpayer could not have sold its fire clay and shale in that market at a profit because of prohibitively high mining and transportation costs. The question squarely presented is thus whether the statutory language which defines, as a part of "mining", "all ordinary treatment processes normally applied by mine owners" to produce "the commercially marketable mineral product or products", includes all processes necessary by a taxpayer to obtain a product which can be sold by it at a profit. The Government urges that "mining" includes only the processes necessary for a taxpayer to produce a product which, with the least processing, is "marketable", i.e., for which there is a market; and that it is not material whether or not it is economically feasible for a taxpayer to sell in that market. This theory presupposes that there would be a marketable or "depletable" product for each raw or crude mineral, and that the depletion allowance would be computed on this marketable or depletable product.*fn3

The Government has attempted, in a number of cases and with conspicuous lack of success, to limit the scope of the definition of mining contained in Section 114(b)(4)(B) here before us. Courts of Appeals in four different federal judicial circuits have uniformly and unhesitatingly rejected such endeavors to narrow the application of the provision's language. In United States v. Cherokee Brick & Tile Company, 5 Cir., 1955, 218 F.2d 424, the Government urged unsuccessfully that since burnt brick and tile were manufactured rather than mineral products, the processes by which raw brick and tile clay were transformed into burnt brick and tile could be no part of mining for depletion purposes. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the processes used to produce the burnt brick and tile were the ordinary treatment processes needed to produce the first commercially marketable products. That court has since reaffirmed its holding in the Cherokee case in United States v. Merry Brothers Brick & Tile Company, 5 Cir., 1957, 242 F.2d 708 and, indeed, therein expressly rejected the Government's request that, upon reconsideration and re-examination, it should reverse its previous ruling. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, citing the Cherokee case, similarly held against the Government in a case also involving brick and tile clay. United States v. Sapulpa Brick & Tile Corporation, 10 Cir., 1956, 239 F.2d 694. In Dragon Cement Company v. United States, 1 Cir., 1957, 244 F.2d 513, the Government contended that cement was a manufactured product which was chemically different in composition from the depletable product, cement rock, and that, therefore, the taxpayer could not use the gross income from sale of cement as its basis for computing percentage depletion. This was rejected by the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. Finally, in Townsend v. The Hitchcock Corporation, 4 Cir., 1956, 232 F.2d 444, it was held that the grinding and bagging of talc and the cutting of talc into crayons were ordinary treatment processes by which mine owners obtained the commercially marketable products, even though the final products were manufactured.

In all the above cases, the Government's basic contention was that manufacturing processes could not be "ordinary treatment processes" within the meaning of the Code. Likewise, in each of these cases, the Government readily admitted that each taxpayer had no market, or a market for only a negligible quantity, of the particular raw mineral involved; but urged that this fact was of no consequence since the overriding consideration was that depletion could not be allowed on the sale of manufactured products.

That argument has definitely been laid to rest; the Government has not renewed it before this court. The courts in the above cases uniformly held that the prime consideration was whether taxpayer applied the normal processes necessary to produce the first commercially marketable product, even though what are usually considered manufacturing processes were applied; and the question was treated as one of fact.*fn4

The Government contends that the trial court misinterpreted the above cases as holding that a taxpayer could take depletion on its finished product regardless of whether it was the first commercially marketable product. As it points out, in this case it did not admit the nonmarketability of fire clay and shale. Indeed, the Government's evidence indicates that large quantities of fire clay and shale were sold during the tax year, 1951. Thus, in Indiana, of 82 companies engaged in the production or consumption of fire clay and shale, 32 purchased fire clay or shale, or both, for use in their manufacturing operations. Seven producers of fire clay and two producers of shale in Indiana engaged in nonintegrated operations, that is, strictly in the extraction of the raw fire clay and shale and not in further processing. These companies necessarily took depletion on the raw fire clay and shale which they sold. Taxpayer's own expert witness, Haydn H. Murray, admitted, on cross-examination, that over 300,000 short tons of fire clay (of some 500,000 short tons produced) were sold in Indiana in 1951 rather than used by the producer in integrated manufacturing operations.

The taxpayer points out that a good percentage of the clay and shale, actually sold, was sold in the Brazil, Indiana area at prices ranging from $1.60 to $1.90 per ton delivered in the Brazil area.Taxpayer's mining costs alone, ignoring for the moment the transportation costs which would be an added expense if it sought to sell its raw clay and shale, amounted to $2.41 per ton. Those companies selling fire clay in Indiana concerning which the Government introduced evidence fall into two categories. There are those operators who engage primarily in strip mining of coal and, who, during their operations, strip bare so-called underclay which they sell as a byproduct. Secondly, there are those which mine underclay which has already been laid bare by previous strip mining operations. The mining costs of such operators would be considerably below those of taxpayer which operated an underground mine. Further, several of the operators of those mines discussed above could not find a market for all the clay which they had available for sale.

We agree with the taxpayer that it did not have a commercially marketable product in its fire clay and shale. We are unable to accept the theory that a taxpayer's depletion allowance is to be computed on the basis of a representative market or field price for a product which taxpayer could not sell at a profit. To do so would be to deprive of all meaning the words "commercially marketable" as used in the Code provision here considered.*fn5 The integrated operations of taxpayer in this case (that is, combined mining and manufacture) were certainly not unique. The evidence the Government used to establish the existence of a market for taxpayer's fire clay indicates, in fact, that the integrated miner-manufacturer was the rule rather than the exception in Indiana, in 1951. The fact that certain operators of strip mines found it economically feasible to extract and sell fire clay primarily in a limited area near Brazil, Indiana does not alter this picture. Finally, there is no contention that taxpayer applied other than ordinary treatment processes in obtaining its finished products.

In line with its theory that there must be one depletable or commercially marketable product for each mineral, the Government urges that if raw fire clay and shale are not those products for this taxpayer, this case should nevertheless be remanded for further evidence to determine if some other products could have been, with much less processing, the depletable products for this taxpayer. It is suggested that such products could be common brick and ground fire clay.*fn6 The short answer to this is that we do not agree that it was intended that the depletion allowance for each mineral be reduced to the common denominator represented by a conceivable product most cheaply produced from each mineral. In United States v. Cherokee Brick & Tile Company, supra, and United States v. Sapulpa Brick & Tile Corporation, ...

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