Sims v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Calvert’s Tavern

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 359 US 108 (1959)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1959
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1959

Facts of the case


Media for Sims v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1959 in Sims v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 88, Edgar B. Sims versus United States of America.

Mr. Caplan.

Fred H. Caplan:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The petitioner, Edgar B. Sims, who was the auditor of the State of West Virginia, has been subjected to personal liability under the penal provisions of Section 6332 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Now, to better clarify the facts of this case, I respectfully direct the Court's attention to Sections 6331 and 6332 of the Internal Revenue Code which may be found in the petitioner's brief in the appendix on pages 1A or A1 and A2.

Section 6331 of the Code authorizes the Secretary the -- that is the Secretary of the Treasurer to collect delinquent taxes by levy upon all the property of the taxpayer.

Section 6332 provides for the surrender of that property, and there is a penalty provision in that section.

Because this entire case is based upon this particular section, I ask the Court's indulgence while I quote briefly from Section 6332.

It is stated therein in subsection (a) under requirement, “Any person in possession of or obligated with respect to property or rights to property subject to levy upon which a levy has been made shall, upon demand of the Secretary or his delegate, surrender such property or rights or discharge such obligation to the Secretary or his delegate.”

In (b) of that section entitled “Penalty for violation,” it stated, “Any person who fails or refuses as required by subsection (a) any property or rights to property, subject to levy, upon demand by the Secretary or his delegate, shall be liable in his own person and estate to the United States in a sum equal to the value of the property or rights not so surrendered.”

Now, the issue, the principle issue here at this time is whether this petitioner should be held personally liable for the consequences of his acts performed in the line of his official duties as auditor of the State of West Virginia.

There are, of course, many sub questions which must be discussed and answered.

It is the contention of the petitioner here this morning that the State is not a person, nor is this petitioner a person within the contemplation of Section 6332 and that he could not therefore be held personally and individually liable under the terms and provisions of that section.

It is further contended here by the petitioner that the broad general rule of law that a public officer should not be held personally liable for the consequences of his acts when performed in the official line of duties -- of his duties as such public officer.

Now, the lower courts --

The petition here is one of statutory construction or (Inaudible)

Fred H. Caplan:

Your Honor, it is my thought that the primary question here is of statutory construction.

Yes, sir.

The United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia held in effect that this petitioner and the State were included in the term person and therefore, entered a judgment against him.

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed this judgment.

And this Court granted certiorari thereafter.

The facts of this case are not complicated.

There was no hearing, they are stipulated and are found in the record.

But the fact show that certain state employees on the State of West Virginia were engaged in endeavors entirely separate on the part from their state employment.

That apparently was during the after-hours from such employment in -- well, it isn't shown in the record to clarify.

It appeared that certain state employees had engaged in catering services and that sort of thing after hours during the evening time.

That they gain -- earned incomes due to such outside employment and that they did not, apparently pay any federal income tax on this income so earned.

This is mentioned expressly for the purpose to show that no taxes on any income earned in their state employment is involved here.

That of course was withheld in accordance with law and was submitted to the Internal Revenue.