Thomas v. Virginia

LOCATION: Circuit Court of Montgomery County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: State trial court

CITATION: 364 US 443 (1960)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1960
DECIDED: Nov 10, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for Thomas v. Virginia

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1960 in Thomas v. Virginia

Earl Warren:

Number 43, Harry M. Thomas, Executor Petitioner, versus Virginia.

Mr. Doherty.

Cornelius H. Doherty:

Mr. Chief Justice, associate Justices.

Earl Warren:

-- proceed with your argument.

Cornelius H. Doherty:

Certiorari has been granted in this case to the Circuit Court of Arlington County and is a state court and the appeal, but we do not have the appeal as a matter of right in Virginia and we had to apply it for an appeal, which was denied and certiorari was granted by this Court.

Now the facts in this matter are brief and very simple.

Crandal Mackey who was a member of this Court and had office in the District Columbia for a number of years and was domiciled in Virginia, Arlington County of Virginia, died in March of 1957 and at his death, they found that he had some $263,000 in cash currency, United States currency in a safe deposit box in the District of Columbia in his name.

Harry R. Thomas, who was the executor named in the will, was appointed his executor by the Circuit Court of Arlington County and thereafter and so the administration was taken out in the District of Columbia.

It was necessary to do that in order to take care of certain other properties in addition to the $263,000.

The taxing authorities in the District of Columbia ruled that this $263,000 among the other things that were in were a part of the estate of Crandal Mackey that it was tangible personal property and that it was taxable in the District of Columbia, relying entirely upon the Blodgett case which definitely made that statement and on the basis of that, the executor paid the tax that was due to the District of Columbia.

There after in making this return in the -- in the Commonwealth of Virginia, they set forth these various facts that it had paid or they had paid the amount of money due on this $263,000 in the District of Columbia, on the ground that it was tangible personal property.

And Virginia ruled that this $263,000 was intangible personal property and not tangible personal property and therefore, they have to pay the tax on that amount of money in the -- in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

An application was made by the executor to the Circuit Court of Arlington County on the basis of the law in Virginia which permits you to ask a relief from such an assessment and in that, it was set forth that the charging of this extra tax in Virginia was the taking of -- of property without due process of law, for the simple reason that it was tangible personal property and that Virginia did not have the right to tax it.

Judge Medley, now in the Circuit Court of Arlington County, wrote a memorandum opinion and the judge (Inaudible) stating that it was intangible personal property and assessed the tax as against the estate.

Now, the only real question we have here is whether or not, this money is tangible personal property or whether it's intangible personal property.

I don't believe that there's any question or whatever raised about the law as to where the tax should be paid, in the event that it's intangible personal property.

But if its tangible personal property, it should be taxed at the situs, which in this particular case, would be the District of Columbia.

Intangible personal property as referred to in the McKinley's case, the one of the cases cited in both our briefs, makes this statement, "The very different considerations both theoretically -- theoretical and practical, applied in the taxation of intangibles, that is rights which are not related to physical things.

Such rights are but relationships between persons, natural or corporate, which the law recognizes by attaching to them certain sanctions enforceable in courts, like a certificate of stock.

No matter what happens to that certificate of stock, you may lose it, someone may steal it, anything may happen and you only -- you have a right then to go to the corporation and say, "Well, that certificate was lost.

It was stolen or something.

I want a new one."

Now, -- and in the ordinary course of time, normal course of time, you will get another one and that's true of anything that's be -- just an evidence of a debt.

You have the right to go into court and to ask the court under those circumstances to give you a judgment or whatever the particular facts may be.

Now in the question of tangible personal property, it's contended of course and very definitely by the petitioner that currency, United States currency is a tangible -- is tangible property.

I can't conceive of anything that is more tangible than a $10 bill.

It maybe (Inaudible) certificate or gold certificate or maybe for the different bank or from any particular part of the country, once you get that, the normal person never looks at this certificate.

He doesn't know whether the certificate or what it maybe.

He knows he can get two $5 bills of that $10 or he can get ten $1s for it, but it's right there and present.

It's something that can be felt.