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Supplee v. Smith

decided: March 28, 1957.


Author: Biggs

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and McLAUGHLIN and STALEY, Circuit Judges.

BIGGS, Chief Judge.

The appeal at bar deals with the application of Section 1000(e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939, 26 U.S.C.A. (I.R.C.1939) ยง 1000(e).

The taxpayer, Supplee, created three individual trusts for his three children on December 23, 1935. It is agreed that Supplee retained power to change the beneficiaries or their interests in the res but retained no power to revest the property in himself. See Estate of Sanford v. Commissioner, 1939, 308 U.S. 39, 60 S. Ct. 51, 84 L. Ed. 20 and Rasquin v. Humphreys, 1939, 308 U.S. 54, 60 S. Ct. 60, 84 L. Ed. 77. It is clear also that the interests of beneficiaries could be changed by incidents not within the control of the settlor and physical enjoyment by the beneficiaries was postponed. See Fondren v. Commissioner, 1945, 324 U.S. 18, 65 S. Ct. 499, 89 L. Ed. 668, and Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Disston, 1945, 325 U.S. 442, 65 S. Ct. 1328, 89 L. Ed. 1720.

The settlor made gifts of property and cash to each of the trusts of the value of $4,657.13, $2,899.50, $4,129.50, $361.50, and $361.50 in the years 1936, 1937, 1938, 1939, and 1940, respectively. Gifttax returns were filed by the settlor for the years 1939 and 1940. He paid no gift taxes upon the transfers made in the years 1936, 1937 and 1938, nor were any taxes due from him, as he conceived the state of the law to be. He did not make any gift-tax returns for the three years last named.

Prior to the due dates for filing gift-tax returns for the three years, '36, '37 and '38 Supplee was advised by his former counsel that as each transfer was in an amount less than the exclusion provided for by Section 504(b) of the Revenue Act of 1932, 47 Stat. 247, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Acts, page 585, no returns were required for gift-tax purposes, and therefore no gift-tax returns were filed by Supplee for the three years.

In 1946 Supplee was advised by new counsel that because of the decision of the Supreme Court in Estate of Sanford v. Commissioner and Rasquin v. Humphreys, supra, the transfers of property by him to the trusts did not constitute completed gifts as the taxpayer had supposed and intended.

On August 1, 1946 Supplee executed the necessary instruments to terminate the trusts and the property within the trusts was transferred absolutely to the beneficiaries. Supplee filed gift-tax returns for the calendar year 1946 in which he reported the gifts as of the time of the termination of the trusts in 1946 and paid the tax then due.

On December 23, 1947 the taxpayer filed with the Commissioner an agreement pursuant to Section 1000(e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939 in which he consented to recognize the transfers made in 1936 through and including 1940 as being complete for all the purposes required by Chapter 4 of the Internal Revenue Code. The taxpayer then filed a claim for refund for the amount of the gift taxes paid by him for the calendar year 1946 on the ground that he was entitled to the refund provided for in Section 1000(e). The Commissioner disallowed Supplee's claim. Supplee then filed his complaint in the court below demanding the sum of $15,108.75 with interest from the date of payment. This amount represented the sum of the gift tax paid by him on $72,188.39, the value of the property in the trusts conveyed absolutely to the beneficiaries on August 1, 1946. Both Supplee and the Collector moved for summary judgment. The court below granted the taxpayer's motion and in its opinion*fn1 provided that its finding in favor of the taxpayer should be conditioned upon the filing of gift-tax returns and the payment of gift taxes with interest for 1936, 1937 and 1938. The adjusted amount of the judgment in favor of the taxpayer was $11,392.20. The Collector appealed.

Under Section 507(a) of the Revenue Act of 1932, 47 Stat. 248, 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Acts, page 588,*fn2 any individual who within the calendar year 1932 or any calendar year thereafter made any transfers by gift, except those which under Section 504 were not to be included in the total amount of gifts for each such year, was required to make a gift-tax return. Section 504(b) of the Revenue Act of 1932 provided that: "In the case of gifts (other than of future interests in property) made to any person by the donor during the calendar year, the first $5,000 of such gifts to such person shall not * * * be included in the total amount of gifts made during such year." Reading Section 504(b) and Section 507 together it will be observed that if the gift was less than $5,000 and was not of a future interest no return had to be made.

Until the decision of the Supreme Court in Sanford in 1939 the Treasury took the position, and it was generally regarded as the law, that where the settlor of an inter vivos trust reserved no power to return the res to himself, an irrevocable transfer in trust was complete even though the settlor had reserved the power to shift enjoyment among beneficiaries. The Treasury Regulations show this beyond possibility of successful contradiction.*fn3 Following Sanford many settlors of trusts inter vivos, like Supplee, found themselves in the position where gifts which they had thought, and had been advised, were complete could no longer be deemed to be so as a matter of law, and the settlors would be liable for gift taxes upon completion of the gifts.

Viewing the instant case only from the point of view of Sanford we come now to the provisions of Section 1000(e)*fn4 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1939 as the taxpayer seeks to apply them. Section 1000(e) was designed as a remedial statute. Its provisions are for the relief of taxpayers; its purpose, to obviate inequities that Congress concluded had resulted from the Sanford decision.*fn5 Section 1000(e) provides only that if relief is sought under it earlier transfers which would have been deemed to be complete, had it not been for Sanford, should be considered to have been complete, if the donor could bring himself within the provisions of the section.

It will be observed that two conditions are imposed in the alternative by the statute. It states that its provisions shall be applicable only if a gift tax was paid with respect to the transfer or if a gift-tax return on account of the transfer was made within the time prescribed. As we have stated Supplee did not pay any gift tax nor did he file any gift-tax return.*fn6 The Commissioner now asserts that because Supplee failed to make the returns he cannot bring himself within the purview of Section 1000(e) and therefore cannot procure for himself the benefits of the section. It is conceded by the Commissioner, insofar as the Sanford situation is concerned, that if Supplee had filed the returns he could avail himself of the provisions of Section 1000(e). The point that the Commissioner makes is indeed a narrow one but Congress has laid down very definite conditions under which the remedies of Section 1000(e) are operable. Those terms do not admit of judicial legislation. We are therefore, however reluctantly, forced to the conclusion that the court below erred in granting Supplee the relief which he seeks by his suit.

Moreover, other circumstances, which we may refer to here as the Fondren-Disston situation, arise to defeat the taxpayer's claim. Assuming arguendo that the court below was correct in its interpretation that the filing of returns are a condition for the application of the provisions of Section 1000(e) only where the law requires the filing of such returns, the literal language of the section being to the contrary in our view, Supplee still fails to bring himself within the provisions of the section so as to receive its benefits. It was the law in the taxable years with which we are concerned, in this circuit, prior to the decisions of the Supreme Court in the Fondren and Disston cases, that a gift to a trust, even if there was no immediate physical enjoyment by the beneficiaries, was not a gift of a future interest. We so held in Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Krebs, 3 Cir., 1937, 90 F.2d 880, criticized at least, if not overruled, by this court in 1939 in McBrier v. Commissioner, 108 F.2d 967. The Board of Tax Appeals had reached a result similar to that expressed in the Krebs decision on April 10, 1936 in Wells v. Commissioner, 34 B.T.A. 315, and ...

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