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First Trust and Savings Bank of Taylorville v. United States

decided: February 13, 1980.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Springfield Division. No. 77-C-3110 -- J. Waldo Ackerman, Judge.

Before Tone, Wood and Cudahy, Circuit Judges.

Author: Cudahy

The issue on this appeal is whether appellant bank realized income under the tax benefit rule when personal property taxes it had paid on behalf of its shareholders and deducted from its income for federal income tax purposes in 1972 were subsequently refunded in 1973. The district court held, on facts stipulated by the parties, that the refunded taxes were income. We affirm.

Plaintiff-appellant, First Trust and Savings Bank of Taylorville (the "Bank"), is a banking corporation doing business in Taylorville, Illinois. The Bank reports income and expenses on the accrual method of accounting, and its tax returns are filed on a calendar year basis.

Prior to 1971, stockholders of any incorporated bank located within Illinois were subject to personal property tax on the value of their shares, in the taxing district where the bank was located. Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 120, § 557. In order to satisfy the mandate of Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 120, § 558, which required banks to retain dividends sufficient to pay all such personal property taxes assessable against their shares, banks customarily paid these taxes on their stockholders' behalf.

The Illinois Constitution was amended effective January 1, 1971, to prohibit taxation of personal property owned by individuals. Ill.Const. art. IX-A. But, in Lake Shore Auto Parts Co. v. Korzen, 49 Ill.2d 137, 273 N.E.2d 592 (1971), this amendment was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court as violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The case was then taken by writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

To provide for the treatment of personal property taxes collected in the interim between the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling in Lake Shore and the then anticipated resolution of the issue by the U. S. Supreme Court, the Illinois legislature, enacted Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 120, § 676.01, effective July 27, 1972. This statute directed that the disputed property taxes be deposited in an interest-bearing escrow account and that full repayment be made to taxpayers "for whom such tax payments (were) placed in escrow" if the taxes were "ultimately held to be invalid."

Against this background, on July 28, 1972, the Bank paid under protest $38,867.64 in personal property taxes on behalf of its shareholders. On its 1972 tax return, the Bank claimed and was allowed a deduction for these tax payments pursuant to I.R.C. § 164(e).*fn1

In February, 1973, in Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 93 S. Ct. 1001, 35 L. Ed. 2d 351 (1973), the United States Supreme Court reversed the Illinois Supreme Court and upheld the validity of the amendment to the Illinois Constitution barring imposition of personal property taxes on property owned by individuals. Accordingly, the $38,867.64 in taxes previously paid by the Bank became refundable. The County Collector of Christian County, Illinois, refunded the erroneously collected taxes in July of 1973 together with $1,173.80 in accrued interest. The refund checks were made payable jointly to the Bank and to its shareholders. Thereafter, the Bank endorsed each of the checks and forwarded them to its shareholders on August 1, 1973.

The Internal Revenue Service determined that, applying the tax benefit rule, the Bank realized income in 1973 at the time of the refund. An additional $19,219.89 in income taxes for 1973, payable with respect to the refund, was therefore assessed against it. The Bank paid this amount and brought the present suit for refund.

The tax benefit rule provides that "if an amount deducted from gross income in one taxable year is recovered in a later year, the recovery is income in the later year." 1 J. Mertens, Law of Federal Income Taxation, § 7.34, at 111 (1974 ed.). The rule is of judicial origin*fn2 but has been indirectly acknowledged and sanctioned by Congress in Section 111 of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C.), which makes specific reference to bad debts, prior taxes, and delinquency amounts.*fn3 This court has long held that the tax benefit rule encompasses the recovery of previously deducted taxes and that refunds of such taxes are to be treated as income in the year received. Union Trust v. Commissioner, 111 F.2d 60 (7th Cir. 1940), cert. denied, 311 U.S. 658, 61 S. Ct. 12, 85 L. Ed. 421 (1940); Universal, Inc. v. Commissioner, 109 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1940); Nash v. Commissioner, 88 F.2d 477 (7th Cir. 1937), cert. denied, 301 U.S. 700, 57 S. Ct. 930, 81 L. Ed. 1355 (1937). See also Rothensies v. Electric Battery Co., 329 U.S. 296, 298, 67 S. Ct. 271, 91 L. Ed. 296 (1946).

The Bank concedes that it benefited from the deduction taken in 1972. But it argues that the refunds do not constitute taxable income because it neither received them nor was legally entitled to them, citing Lincoln National Bank v. Cullerton, 18 Ill.App.3d 953, 958-59, 310 N.E.2d 845, 849 (1974). In Lincoln National Bank, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the refunds of personal property taxes (on corporate bank shares) made necessary by the United States Supreme Court's decision in Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., supra, and Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 120, § 676.01 belonged to the individual shareholders and not to the banks, regardless of who had actually paid the taxes. Because the Bank was, therefore, obligated to endorse the refund checks over to its stockholders, it contends that it was not the recipient (and beneficiary) of the refunds and thus did not "recover" the deducted taxes. In short, the Bank claims it served merely as a conduit for the transmittal of the refunds to its shareholders without having realized a "recovery" within the meaning of the tax benefit rule.

The Bank's construction of the tax benefit rule is too narrow. As the United States Board of Tax Appeals observed more than 40 years ago in a decision affirmed by this court:

The question of whether recoveries of amounts previously deducted from income are to be taken into income of the year of ...

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