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SLACK V. TUCKER & CO., 90 U. S. 321 (1874)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Slack v. Tucker & Co., 90 U.S. 23 Wall. 321 321 (1874)

Slack v. Tucker & Co.

90 U.S. (23 Wall.) 321

Syllabus

1. Under the seventy-ninth section of the Internal Revenue Act of 1864, as amended by the Act of July 13, 1866, 14 Statutes at Large, persons who sell goods in their own name at their own store on commission and have possession of the goods as soon as the sales are made, and who deliver or send them off to their customers -- such sales being to an extent chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 90 U. S. 322

exceeding $25,000 per annum -- are to be taxed as "wholesale dealers" not less than persons who sell to that amount on their own account.

2. The fact that the manufacturers of the goods paid the five percent. known as the "manufacturers' tax" does not change the case.

3. Persons selling goods in the way stated in the first paragraph above are not "commercial brokers" within the fourteenth clause of the said section. Such brokers are those persons who, as brokers merely, negotiate sales or purchases for others, and not in their own names nor on their own account.

Error to the Circuit Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Tucker & Co., partners, sued in the said court, Slack, collector of internal revenue in the City of Boston to recover the amount of certain taxes paid by them under protest and which they alleged to have been illegally assessed. The court, having tried the cause without a jury, held the tax illegal, and a recovery was had. This writ of error was brought by the collector to reverse the judgment.

The tax was assessed against Tucker & Co. as "wholesale dealers" under the seventy-ninth section of the Internal Revenue Act of June 30th, 1864, as amended by the Act of July 13, 1866. [Footnote 1]

It was agreed on the trial that if upon the facts the court should decide that the plaintiffs were not liable to the tax as "wholesale dealers," but were liable to a tax of one-half the amount as "commercial brokers" under the fourteenth clause of the seventy-ninth section, and under the ninety-ninth section as amended, judgment should be rendered in their favor for half the amount claimed and interest, subject to the defendant's exceptions.

The statutory provisions referred to and on the construction of which the case principally depended were expressed in the following terms:

1st. As to wholesale dealers, the seventy-ninth section, as amended, enacted thus:

"Wholesale dealers, whose annual sales do not exceed $50,000, shall pay $50, and if their annual sales exceed $50,000, for every

Page 90 U. S. 323

additional $1000 in excess of $50,000, they shall pay $1. . . . Every person shall be regarded as a wholesale dealer whose business it is, for himself or on commission, to sell or offer to sell any goods, wares, or merchandise of foreign or domestic production, not including wines, spirits, or malt liquors, whose annual sales exceed $25,000."

An exception was made in favor of manufacturers selling their own goods, by section seventy-four, as amended by the Act of July 13, 1866: [Footnote 2]

"But nothing herein contained shall require a special tax for . . . the sale by manufacturers or producers of their own goods, wares, and merchandise, at the place of production or manufacture, and at their principal office or place of business, provided no goods, wares, or merchandise shall be kept except as samples at said office or place of business."

2d. As to commercial brokers, the fourteenth clause of the seventy-ninth section, as amended in 1866, enacts as follows: [Footnote 3]

"Commercial brokers shall pay $20. Any person or firm whose business it is, as a broker, to negotiate sales or purchases of goods, wares, or merchandise, or to negotiate freights and other business for the owners of vessels or for the shippers or consignors or consignees of freight carried by vessels, shall be regarded a commercial broker."

And section ninety-nine, as amended, provides: [Footnote 4]

"And there shall be paid monthly on all sales by commercial brokers of any goods, wares, or merchandise, a tax of one-twentieth of one percentum upon the amount of such sales."

Under these statutes, the plaintiffs contended first that the sales made by them were made as mere agents of the manufacturers at their principal office and place of business, and therefore came under the exemption provided in section seventy-four, above quoted; secondly that, at most, they were commercial brokers, and therefore liable for only one-half the amount for which they were assessed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 90 U. S. 324

The facts on which they relied in support of these positions sufficiently appeared from the bill of exceptions taken by the collector on the trial of the cause. It was shown -- the testimony of the plaintiffs themselves showing this -- that four manufacturing corporations, two of them having their factories at Nashua, New Hampshire, and chartered by that state, and two of them having their factories at Waltham and Clinton, in Massachusetts, and chartered by the latter state, and all manufacturing cotton goods had the same general office in Boston, where they held their meetings, transacted their business, and kept their records, and where they kept a common clerk and a common treasurer. The latter was the chief executive officer, buying all the raw material and making the other purchases for the corporations, taking care of their finances, and under the respective boards (which consisted of substantially the same persons) managing and controlling the affairs of the several corporations, their agents and servants.

Between these corporations respectively and the plaintiffs, who were a mercantile firm, transacting business in Boston, under the name of Tucker & Co., there were separate agreements, either in writing or by parol, that the plaintiffs should sell all the goods manufactured by each corporation, for a fixed percentage on the amount of sales, and the course of business of the plaintiffs under and in pursuance of these agreements was as follows, that is to say, the plaintiffs had a store in Boston, which they hired in their own names, and for which they paid the rent, with clerks, bookkeepers, and other servants whom they employed and paid. In this store was a counting room in which their business was transacted and chambers where samples of goods manufactured by the corporations were kept. No goods except sample bales and packages were there kept, unless occasionally some goods which had been mis-sent or for some reason had not been accepted by a customer, found their way there.

The plaintiffs were known to be the agents of these corporations to sell their goods, and they sold only the goods of these corporations, and their course of business was as chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 90 U. S. 325

follows: they were kept informed daily of what was manufactured at the several mills, and made sales to purchasers as opportunity offered. They kept in their office a different set of books for each of the corporations, and when a sale of any of the goods of any of the corporations was effected, an entry of the fact was made in the books of that corporation, and they informed the manufacturing agent at the mill of such corpora