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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Chamberlin, 219 U.S. 250 (1911)

United States v. Chamberlin

No. 77

Argued December 16, 1910

Decided January 3, 1911

219 U.S. 250


An action lies by the United States to recover the amount of a stamp tax upon execution of a conveyance, payable under the War Revenue Act of June 13, 1898, c. 448, 30 Stat. 448, 470, and the penalties provided in such act for noncompliance therewith are not exclusive of collection of the amount by suit.

A tax may or may not be a debt under a particular statute, according to the sense in which the word is found to be used. But whether the government may recover a personal judgment for a tax depends upon the existence of the duty to pay for the enforcement of which another remedy has not been made exclusive.

Whether an action for debt is maintainable depends not upon who is plaintiff, or how the obligation was incurred, but the action lies wherever there is due a sum either certain or readily reduced to certainty. Stockwell v. United States, 13 Wall. 42.

Nothing in the nature of a stamp tax negatives per se either the personal obligation to purchase and affix the stamps or the collection of the amount by action; nor do provisions for penalties necessarily exclude personal liability.

Penalties may be provided to induce payment of the tax, and not as a substitute for such payment, and it will not be presumed that Congress intends by penalizing delinquency to deprive the government of suitable means of enforcing the collection of revenue.

This case comes here on certiorari. The action was brought by the United States, in the district court of

Page 219 U. S. 251

the United States for the district of Colorado, against the executors of the estate of Winfield Scott Stratton, deceased, to recover the amount of stamp taxes claimed to be payable under the War Revenue Act of June 13, 1898.

The plaintiff alleged that in May, 1899, Stratton had conveyed to a corporation known as Stratton's Independence, Limited, certain lands in the State of Colorado by deed reciting a consideration of $4,850,000; that internal revenue stamps of the value of $4,850 were affixed to the deed, whereas the actual consideration of the conveyance and the value of the lands was $9,733,000, and by reason thereof there became due and payable to the United States from Stratton a revenue tax amounting to $9,733, of which the sum of $4,833 remained unpaid, internal revenue stamps therefor not having been attached to the deed or cancelled; that the Collector of Internal Revenue of the United States for the district of Colorado had reported the facts to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue, who had determined that the sum of $9,733 should have been paid, and demand for payment having been made and refused, the said Commissioner had directed suit be instituted.

The district court sustained a general demurrer to the complaint, and its judgment was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals.

The applicable provisions of the War Revenue Act of June 13, 1898, chapter 448 (30 Stat. pp. 448-470; R.S. Supp. pp. 779-804), are set forth in the margin, together with the amendment to § 13, made by the Act of March 2, 1901, chapter 806, 31 Stat. 941. *

Page 219 U. S. 258

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