Davis v. United States

PETITIONER: Davis
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: San Jose, California

DOCKET NO.: 89-98
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 495 US 472 (1990)
ARGUED: Mar 26, 1990
DECIDED: May 21, 1990

ADVOCATES:
Rex E. Lee - on behalf of the Petitioners
Shirley D. Peterson - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Davis v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 26, 1990 in Davis v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in Number 89-98, Harold Davis v. the United States.

Mr. Lee.

Rex E. Lee:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

At issue in this case is the Federal income tax deductibility of contributions by the parents of Mormon missionaries made directly to the missionaries for the sole purpose of supporting the missionary efforts.

It is common ground that payments to support missionary work of a church that qualifies as charity, such as the Mormon church does, are in general deductible.

And the sole issue here concerns the means by which those payments are made.

The crucial language of the statute requires that in order to be deductible payments must be made to or for the use of the church.

The government's position that any method other than undifferentiated payments to the church itself can never, regardless of any other circumstances, be for the use of the church, not only ignores the plain language of the statute, but it also reflects, as does the government's entire brief, a profound failure to recognize even the most fundamental principles and operational aspects of Mormon missionary work as they are reflected in the record in this case, which must in any event be viewed in a light most favorable to Petitioners, against whom summary judgment was entered.

The only reason that the petitioners Harold and Enid Davis--

William H. Rehnquist:

When you say that the record must be viewed in the light most favorable but the petitioners, you just mean any factual evidence that could have been drawn?

Rex E. Lee:

--Excuse me, record, the factual record, yes, yes.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

And on that point, Mr. Lee, can we take this case as one in which the donations or the payments would not have been made but for the parent-child relation?

Rex E. Lee:

Oh no, no.

You can take it as one that would not have been made but for the fact that they were missionaries.

But these very petitioners have made contributions to missionary work other than to their sons, and it most assuredly is not the case that they would not have been made but for the fact that they are their own sons.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, if... suppose we had had a trial, and as a factual matter the parents said well, I just want it understood that of course I supported the church and its doctrines and the missionary movement, but the only reason I made these particular payments was the fact that it was my boy that was doing the missionary work.

Rex E. Lee:

It would be--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Would that be, then, a different case?

Rex E. Lee:

--I don't think so.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

So motive isn't irrelevant?

Rex E. Lee:

Well--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Or isn't relevant?

Rex E. Lee:

--The motive to support the church's efforts is very relevant, because it demonstrates that the payments are for the use of the church.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, then, suppose there is a mixed motive?

Rex E. Lee:

Then I think you look to what the Tenth Circuit said, what was the, who was the primary beneficiary.

It is not so much motive that--

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Well, is it the primary motive or the primary beneficiary?

Rex E. Lee:

--It's the primary beneficiary.

It's not so much motive, Justice Kennedy, it is who is the beneficiary, for whose use is it.

And the fact of the matter is--