MOFFITT V. KELLY, 218 U. S. 400 (1910)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Moffitt v. Kelly, 218 U.S. 400 (1910)

Moffitt v. Kelly

No. 37

Argued November 4, 1910

Decided November 28, 1910

218 U.S. 400


The Constitution of the United States does not, as a general rule, control the power of the states to select and classify subjects for taxation, and vested rights which cannot be impaired by subsequent legislation may still be classified for, and subjected to, taxation.

A state may classify for taxation estates passing by will or intestacy and include therein property held as community property by husband and wife at the time of the death of the husband and becoming completely vested in the wife, without violating either the

Page 218 U. S. 401

contract, due process, or equal protection provision of the Constitution; the mere fact that the wife had a preexisting right of property creates no exemption from taxation if the selection of that class of estates is legal.

In determining whether a tax imposed by a state is constitutional, this Court is not concerned with the designation of the tax or whether the thing taxed may or may not have been mistakenly brought within the law; it is confined solely to determining whether the state has power to levy a tax on the subject taxed.

The nature and character of the right of a wife in community property for the purpose of taxation is a peculiarly local question, and the determination of the state court in regard thereto is not reviewable by this Court.

The law of California of 1905, taxing all property passing by will or intestacy, having been construed by the highest court of that state as applying to the surviving wife's share of the community property, this Court holds that such tax is not in conflict with either the contract, due process or equal protection clause of the Constitution of the United States.

153 Cal. 359 affirmed.

James Moffitt was married in California in the year 1863, and there resided with his wife until his death on October 25, 1906. He left a large amount of property, all of which formed part of the community which existed between himself and his wife. By a will, duly admitted to probate, Moffitt disposed of all his estate to his wife and children in the same proportions as if he had died intestate.

The probate court held that "the interest of the widow in the community property of herself and her deceased husband" was subject to be taxed under a law of California of 1905, which taxed all property passing by will or in case of intestacy from any person who may die seised or possessed of the same. A tax of $26,684.57 was thereupon assessed as against Mrs. Moffitt's one-half interest in the estate, and an order was entered directing payment of the tax by the executors. An appeal was taken to the Supreme Court of California. The single

Page 218 U. S. 402

question presented by the appeal, as stated in the opinion of the supreme court, was "whether the surviving wife's share of the community property is subject to this inheritance tax." The question was answered in the affirmative. In an opinion denying an application for a rehearing, the court also adversely disposed of the contention that the enforcement of the tax would violate the contract clause or the equal protection and due process clauses of the Constitution of the United States. 153 Cal. 359. The case was then brought to this Court.

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