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LIPKE v. LEDERER, 259 U.S. 557 (1922)

U.S. Supreme Court

LIPKE v. LEDERER, 259 U.S. 557 (1922)

259 U.S. 557

LIPKE
v.
LEDERER, Collector of lnternal Revenue.
No. 596.

Argued March 21, 22, 1922.
Decided June 5, 1922.

Mr. Lincoln L. Eyre, of Philadelphia, Pa., for appellant.

Mrs. Assistant Attorney General Willebrandt, for appellee. [259 U.S. 557, 558]  

Mr. Justice McREYNOLDS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Relying upon Ketterer v. Lederer (D. C.) 269 Fed. 153, the court below dismissed the bill, upon motion, for want of equity (274 Fed. 493), and the cause is here by direct appeal.

The bill alleges:

That complainant, Lipke, paid all internal revenue taxes required by the laws of the United States for the year ending June 30, 1920, and he holds a retail liquor license issued by the court of quarter sessions, county of Philadelphia, for the year ending May 31, 1921. On December 29, 1920, he was arrested for selling liquor contrary to the National Prohibition Act (41 Stat. 305), and gave bail to appear and answer in the United States District Court. This prosecution is still pending.

That on March 18, 1921, complainant received a written communication from the defendant which stated:

The total assessment amounted to $557.29, made up of three items indicated thus:

That on March 31st he received a second written demand for $557.29, which penalty of 5 per cent. for failure to pay within prescribed time. And he was advised:

That:

That section 3244, U. S. Revised Statutes1 has no application; section 35 of the Prohibition Act confers no such power as the collector seeks to exercise; and he is undertaking to punish complainant by fine and penalty for an alleged criminal offense without hearing, information, indictment, or trial by jury, contrary to the federal Constitution. If the latter section has the meaning ascribed to it by defendant, it is unconstitutional.

The prayer is for an injunction restraining the defendant from proceeding to collect the sum demanded by warrant of seizure, distress, or sale, or otherwise, and requiring a cancellation of the so-called 'tax bills.'

Appellant maintains that the demand upon him was not for taxes, but for a penalty for an alleged criminal act; that the method adopted for enforcing his penalty is contrary to the federal Constitution; and that, if construed as appellee insists it should be, section 35 is unconstitutional.

Appellee maintains that the cause involves only questions of construction, and therefore the appeal should be [259 U.S. 557, 560]   dismissed; that section 3224, Revised Statutes (Comp. St. 5947),2 prohibits the relief prayed; that the bill states no ground for equitable relief; and that full, adequate, and complete remedy may be had at law.

The cause is properly here by direct appeal from the District Court. Appellant claimed that, as construed and sought to be enforced by the collector, section 35 of the Prohibition Act conflicts with the federal Constitution. The point is substantial, and sufficient to support our jurisdiction. Towne v. Eisner, 245 U.S. 418, 425 , 38 S. Sup. Ct. 158, L. R. A. 1918D, 254; Dahnke-Walker Milling Co. v. Bondurant, 257 U.S. 282 , 42 Sup. Ct. 106 (December 12, 1921); South Covington, etc., Ry. Co. v. Newport, 259 U.S. 97 , 42 Sup. Ct. 418, 66 L. Ed. -- (May 15, 1922).

The National Prohibition Act (41 Stat. 305, c. 85) is entitled:

... [259 U.S. 557, 561]   'Sec. 29. Any person who manufactures or sells liquor in violation of this title shall for a first offense be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned not exceeding six months, and for a second or subsequent offense shall be fined not less than $ 200 nor more than $2,000 and be imprisoned not less than one month nor more than five years.

...

The mere use of the word 'tax' in an act primarily designed to define and suppress crime is not enough to show that within the true intendment of the term a tax was laid. Bailey v. Drexel Furniture Co., 259 U.S. 20 , 42 Sup. Ct. 449, 66 L. Ed. -- (May 15, 1922). When by its [259 U.S. 557, 562]   very nature the imposition is a penalty, it must be so regarded. Helwig v. United States, 188 U.S. 605, 613 , 23 S. Sup. Ct. 427. Evidence of crime (section 29) is essential to assessment under section 35. It lacks all the ordinary characteristics of a tax, whose primary function 'is to provide for the support of the government' and clearly involves the idea of punishment for infraction of the law-the definite function of a penalty. O'Sullivan v. Felix, 233 U.S. 318, 324 , 34 S. Sup. Ct. 596.

The collector demanded payment of a penalty, and section 3224, which prohibits suits to restrain assessment or collection of any tax, is without application. And the same is true as to statutes granting the right to sue for taxes paid under protest. A revenue officer without notice has undertaken to assess a penalty for an alleged criminal act and threatens to enforce payment by seizure and sale of property without opportunity for a hearing of any kind.

Section 35 prescribes no definite mode for enforcing the imposition which it directs, and, if it be interpreted as above stated, we do not understand counsel for the United States claim that relief should be denied to the appellant. Before collection of taxes levied by statutes enacted in plain pursuance of the taxing power can be enforced, the taxpayer must be given fair opportunity for hearing; this is essential to due process of law. Central of Ga. Ry. v. Wright, 207 U.S. 127, 136 , 138 S., 142, 28 Sup. Ct. 47, 12 Ann. Cas. 463. And certainly we cannot conclude, in the absence of language admitting of no other construction, that Congress intended that penalties for crime should be enforced through the secret findings and summary action of executive officers. The guaranties of due process of law and trial by jury are not be forgotten or disregarded. See Fontenot v. Accardo (C. C. A.) 278 Fed. 871. A preliminary injunction should have been granted.

The decree of the court below must be reversed, and the cause remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion. [259 U.S. 557, 563]  

Mr. Justice BRANDEIS, dissenting, with whom Mr. Justice PITNEY concurs.

The suit is in equity. So far as appears, the plaintiff had a full, adequate, and complete remedy at law; and there was no danger of irreparable injury. The relief should therefore be denied, whatever the construction of section 35, tit. 2, of the Volstead Act, and even if it be deemed unconstitutional. Compare Bailey v. George, 259 U.S. 16 , 42 Sup. Ct. 419, 66 L. Ed. --, decided May 15, 1922

Plaintiff describes himself as a retail liquor dealer in Philadelphia, who had paid the federal special tax for the year ending June 30, 1920, and held a license under the Brooks Law which did not expire until May 31, 1921. On December 29, 1920, he was arrested, under section 2, tit. 2, of the Volstead Act, for illegally selling liquor, and the prosecution is still pending. On March 18, 1921, he received from the collector of internal revenue a 'Notice and Demand for Tax,' and on March 31, 1921, a second notice. By the latter he was informed that, if he did not pay the alleged tax within 10 days, collection would be made by seizure and sale of his property. The amount demanded is $557.29, made up of three items- one for $45.83 for double tax under said section 35; another of $11.46, called penalty, under section 3244 of the Revised Statutes; and a further amount of $500, 'special penalty,' under said section 35. This suit against the collector was commenced May 25, 1921. The plaintiff says that there is in law no authority to levy this alleged tax and the penalties; that the claim is in fact not for a tax, but for fines; that the so-called 'Notice and Demand for Tax' is in fact an attempt to inflict punishment without a hearing and without judicial trial; 'and that he is wholly without adequate remedy at law to prevent such seizure of his property.'

The claim is for a small sum. For aught that appears, plaintiff might readily pay it under protest and bring an [259 U.S. 557, 564]   action against the collector to recover the amount paid. If he does not wish to pay, he can let the distraint be made, and then sue for the trespass incident to wrongful distraint; and, if personal property should be seized, he may replevy it. There is in the bill no allegation that the plaintiff is unable to pay the small amount claimed by the government; nor of fraud or oppression or abuse of process on the part of the collector; nor that a cloud will be cast upon title to real estate; nor that the property subject to distraint is of such a character that if distrained it will be sacrificed; nor that a proceeding in equity is necessary to prevent multiplicity of suits.

If the sum assessed against the plaintiff is a tax legally due, distraint by the collector is a permissible and long-sanctioned method of collection. Revised Statutes, 3187-3216 Comp. St. 5909-5940); Hartman v. Bean, 99 U.S. 393 , 397; Blacklock v. United States, 208 U.S. 75 , 28 Sup. Ct. 228. Compare Scottish Union & National Insurance Co. v. Bowland, 196 U.S. 611, 632 , 25 S. Sup. Ct. 345. If it is in its nature a tax, but is claimed to be an unconstitutional one, still, particularly in view of Revised Statutes, 3224, suit will not lie to restrain its collection. Snyder v. Marks, 109 U.S. 189 , 3 Sup. Ct. 157; Dodge v. Osborn, 240 U.S. 118 , 36 Sup. Ct. 275. And if the contention is that the government's demand is not for a tax at all, but for a fine, and that, therefore, Congress lacks power to confer upon the collector authority to collect it by distraint, still equity should not grant relief, because the bill fails to allege any fact showing that the legal remedy would not be adequate or that there is danger of irreparable injury. 3 Whether the government's demand be deemed one for a fine or for a tax [259 U.S. 557, 565]   which is unconstitutional, legal remedies are available; and there is, therefore, lack of jurisdiction in equity. We have here, at the worst, the case of a threatened distraint, which it is contended will be wrongful, if made; a case not differing in substance from wrongful distraint by landlords, or other wrongful distraint by tax collectors, and not differing in substance from wrongful attachment. In all these cases, as has long been settled, the owner of the property of which seizure is threatened is not entitled to relief in equity, unless it appears that there is no plain, adequate, and complete remedy at law.

Whether the action of the government is lawful depends upon the construction of a statute, and on this question the lower courts have differed. As was said by this court in Arkansas Building & Loan Association v. Madden, 175 U.S. 269, 274 , 20 S. Sup. Ct. 119, 121 (44 L. Ed. 159):

If the government is proceeding without warrant in law, the plaintiff should, of course, have redress. An early determination of the constitutional question presented would be desirable. But, in my opinion, we cannot properly decide it in this case.

Footnotes

[ Footnote 1 ] Sec. 3244. Special taxes are imposed as follows:

...

Fourth. Retail dealers in liquors shall pay twenty-five dollars. Every person who sells, or offers for sale foreign or domestic distilled spirits or wines, in less quantities than five wine gallons at the same time, shall be regarded as a retail dealer in liquors.

[ Footnote 2 ] 2 Sec. 3224. No suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court.

[ Footnote 3 ] Compare Dows v. Chicago, 11 Wall. 108; Shelton v. Platt, 139 U.S. 591 , 11 Sup. Ct. 646; Pittsburgh, etc., Ry. v. Board of Public Works, 172 U.S. 32 , 19 Sup. Ct. 90; Arkansas Building & Loan Association v. Madden, 175 U.S. 269 , 20 Sup. Ct. 119; Indiana Manufacturing Co. v. Koehne, 188 U.S. 681 , 23 Sup. Ct. 452; Boise Artesian Water Co. v. Boise City, 213 U.S. 276 , 29 Sup. Ct. 426; Singer Sewing Machine Co. v. Benedict, 229 U.S. 481 , 33 Sup. Ct. 942.

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