United States v. Mitchell

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 403 US 190 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 07, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1971 in United States v. Mitchell

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Number 798, United States against Mitchell and others.

Mr. Bray.

William Terry Bray:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

These combined income taxes cases are here on certiorari to the Fifth Circuit.

They involved the Louisiana community property system.

In each case, a husband and wife living in Louisiana realized community income of which each own one-half under the Louisiana law.

No federal income tax returns were filed by either spouse, either separately or jointly.

The marriages were subsequently dissolved and the Government separately assessed each wife for the income taxes on her share of the realized but unreported community income.

The cases present a single question whether where no returns have been filed a Louisiana wife must report and pay the federal income taxes on the one-half share of community income which under the laws of that state she owns.

In each of these cases, the Fifth Circuit held that she need not do so where she neither expressly accepts liability for those taxes nor receives any benefits from the community property upon the dissolution of the community.

We believe that in doing so, that court failed to perceive an important distinction.

One which we feel underlies the decision in this case, that is the distinction between imposition of the tax on one hand and collection of the tax from the individual owing it on the other.

William O. Douglas:

Mr. Bray, could you tell me one detail, is the income of the community on which the deficiency was determined due to the wife’s earnings or income from her property at all?

William Terry Bray:

In the Mitchell case, it was partially due to her earnings.

In the Angello case, the record indicates that all of the community income was due to the husband’s earnings.

In neither case, was any significant amount of income due to the wife’s individual separate efforts.

This however, we do not believe determines the case since regardless of who generates the income, under the Louisiana law, each spouse owns an undivided one-half interest of it from the very moment it comes into being.

William O. Douglas:

This has to be your position necessarily.

It’s rather reminiscent to the old embezzlement cases, isn’t it?

William Terry Bray:

Yes, sir and even before that, the split income cases in the 1930 term of this Court.

To that, we think those cases decide this case and compel the result for which we here content.

Our position is that this case involves only the imposition of the tax and that because the wife owns her share of community income, she is tax on it.

While we recognize that our position may result in hardships in certain instances to why as residing in community property states.

Yet, we think the law is clear and compels the position that we take.

At least as the statutory law presently exist.

In some, we argue that it is now and for many years prior to this well established that the federal statutes imposed the tax against the owner of the income.

That under Louisiana law, the wife owns outright her one-half interest in community income as of the very moment that it comes into existence.

And that it follows that she must report and pay taxes on her half.

On the other hand, as regards to the collection of these taxes, we think there is no real dispute on our position here.

The state laws exempting the Louisiana wife from community obligations and we would here acknowledge that taxes -- federal income taxes, all community income are indeed a community obligation.