MICHIGAN V. UNITED STATES, 317 U. S. 338 (1943)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan v. United States, 317 U.S. 338 (1943)

Michigan v. United States

No. 214

Argued December 9, 10, 1942

Decided January 4, 1943

317 U.S. 338




A federal tax lien on private real estate, securing a federal estate tax, takes precedence over later liens securing state taxes. P. 317 U. S. 340.

127 F.2d 64 affirmed.

Certiorari, post, p. 607, to review a judgment affirming a judgment of the District Court, 41 F.Supp. 41, enforcing a federal estate tax lien.

Page 317 U. S. 339

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a companion case to Detroit Bank v. United States, ante, p. 317 U. S. 329. It involves the lien for estate taxes asserted by the Government and considered in our opinion in that case.

Petitioners, the City of Detroit, the County of Wayne, and the Michigan, assert liens for city, county and state taxes on the real estate in question, accruing subsequent to the federal estate tax lien. As defendants in the suit brought by the Government to foreclose the lien, they attack it on all the grounds considered and rejected in our opinion in the Detroit Bank case. They also contend that the state liens are given superiority over the federal lien by virtue of state statutes. Section 3429 of the Compiled Laws of Michigan 1929, as amended by Act No. 38 of the Extra Session of 1934, declares that taxes shall "become a lien upon such real property" on specified dates following their assessment and, as construed by petitioners, states that they shall be a "first lien, prior, superior and paramount." Section 3746 authorizes the filing of notice of liens as provided in R.S. § 3186, in the office of registers

Page 317 U. S. 340

of deeds in the counties of Michigan. Petitioners contend that these and other statutory provisions, as construed by Michigan courts, give superiority to state tax liens over other unrecorded liens, including the present estate tax lien of the federal Government.

We do not stop to inquire whether this construction of the state statutes is the correct one, for we think the argument ignores the effect of a lien for federal taxes under the supremacy clause of the Constitution. The establishment of a tax lien by Congress is an exercise of its constitutional power "To lay and collect Taxes." Article I, § 8 of the Constitution. United States v. Snyder, 149 U. S. 210. And laws of Congress enacted pursuant to the Constitution are by Article VI of the Constitution declared to be

"the supreme Law of the Land, and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding."

"It is of the very nature and essence of a lien that, no matter into whose hands the property goes, it passes cum onere." 38 U. S. 483; 25 U. S. 179; Howard v. Railway Co., 101 U. S. 837, 101 U. S. 845. Hence, it is not debatable that a tax lien imposed by a law of Congress, as we have held the present lien is imposed, cannot, without the consent of Congress, be displaced by later liens imposed by authority of any state law or judicial decision. United States v. Snyder, supra; United States v. City of Greenville, 118 F.2d 963. Similarly, we held that the priority of payment commanded by R.S. § 3466 could not be set aside by state legislation. United States v. Texas, 314 U. S. 480, 314 U. S. 486; Spokane County v. United States, 279 U. S. 80; New York v. Maclay, 288 U. S. 290; cf. Missouri v. Ross, 299 U. S. 72.

As the federal lien with which we are here concerned attached to private property prior to the acquisition of

Page 317 U. S. 341

any interest in that property by the state, we need not consider the extent to which Congress may give, or intended by § 315(a) to give, priority to a federal lien over a previously perfected state lien. Compare New York v. Maclay, supra, 288 U. S. 292; Spokane County v. United States, supra, 279 U. S. 95; United States v. Texas, supra, 314 U. S. 484, 314 U. S. 486.


MR. JUSTICE MURPHY took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

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