Evansville Bank v. Britton Britton/Opinion of the Court

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United States Supreme Court

105 U.S. 322

Evansville Bank  v.  Britton Britton

These are cross-appeals from a decree rendered in a suit in chancery, in which the Evansville National Bank was complainant, and Britton, as treasurer of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, was defendant.

The case is in all essential points analogous to that of Hills v. Exchange Bank, supra, p. 319, just decided.

The principal question of law is the same as that discussed and decided in Supervisors v. Stanley, supra, p. 305. In fact, the three cases were advanced out of their order, and heard consecutively, because they involved important questions concerning taxation by State statutes of the shares of national banks; and the argument, able and exhaustive throughout, has been almost wholly directed, on the part of the banks, to establish the proposition that, where the law of the State either makes or permits a discrimination operating only against a particular class of holders of national bank shares, in the manner of assessing those shares as regards other moneyed capital in the State, all the laws for such assessments are void, and all such assessments are absolutely void, and no tax on national bank shares can be collected in the State.

The brief of counsel in this case in various forms repeats the idea that the bill was brought, not so much to assert the rights of stockholders who may have been injured by the enforcement of the statute, as to obtain a judicial declaration of this court that the act is void, and the attempt to tax the shares of the bank equally so.

Having, in Supervisors v. Stanley, rejected this proposition, and given our reasons for it, we shall not repeat them here.

The objection made to the Indiana statute is the same as that made against the New York statute; namely, that it permits the taxpayer to deduct from the sum of his credits, money at interest, or other demands, the amount of his bona fide indebtedness, leaving the remainder as the sum to be taxed, while it denies the same right of deduction from the cash value of bank shares.

A distinction is attempted to be drawn between the Indiana statute and the New York statute, because the former permitted the deduction of the taxpayer's indebtedness to be made from the valuation of his personal property, while in Indiana he can only deduct it from his credits. And undoubtedly there is such a difference in the laws of the two States. But if one of them is more directly in conflict with the act of Congress than the other, it is the Indiana statute. In its schedule the subject of taxation from which the taxpayer may deduct his bona fide indebtedness is placed under two heads, as follows:-- '1. Credits or money at interest, either within or without the State, at par value.

'2. All other demands against persons or bodies corporate, either within or without this State.

'Total amount of all credits.'

The act of Congress does not make the tax on personal property the measure of the tax on bank shares in the State, but the tax on moneyed capital in the hands of the individual citizens. Credits, money loaned at interest, and demands against persons or corporations are more purely representative of moneyed capital than personal property, so far as they can be said to differ. Undoubtedly there may be much personal property exempt from taxation without giving bank shares a right to similar exemption, because personal property is not necessarily moneyed capital. But the rights, credits, demands, and money at interest mentioned in the Indiana statute, from which bona fide debts may be deducted, all mean moneyed capital invested in that way.

It is unnecessary to repeat the argument in People v. Weaver (100 U.S. 539) on this point. We are of opinion that the taxation of bank shares by the Indiana statute, without permitting the shareholder to deduct from their assessed value the amount of his bona fide indebtedness, as in the case of other investments of moneyed capital, is a discrimination forbidden by the act of Congress.

There is in the bill of complaint in this case the usual allegation, apart from the special matters we have just considered, that the assessing officers habitually and intentionally assess the shares of the national banks higher in proportion to their actual value than other property generally, and especially shares in other corporations. It is denied in the answer, and unsupported by proof.

It is also alleged that the bank is taxed a considerable sum for its real estate, and that in assessing the value of the shares no deduction is made on that account. The positive testimony of the assessor shows that such deduction was made.

It is alleged that the capital of the bank is almost entirely invested in the bonds and treasury notes of the United States, and the shares only represent this untaxable investment. Van Allen v. The Assessors (3 Wall. 573) settles the principle that under certain limitations the shares of the national banks are taxable with exclusive reference to their value and without regard to the nature of the property held by the bank as a corporation. The very point here made was expressly overruled in that case.

Acting upon these principles the Circuit Court decreed a perpetual injunction as to those shareholders who had proved in the case that at the time of the assessment they owed debts which should rightfully have been deducted. These were four in number, and the appeal of the collector, Britton, is from this injunction. The decree in that respect was right, and must be


The bank appeals from that part of the decree which dismissed the bill as to all the other shares. This was because no evidence was given that any other shareholders except the four above referred to owed any debts which could have been deducted from the value of the shares. In the case of Hills v. Exchange Bank we authorized the court on return of the case to permit the bank to show what shareholders had such indebtedness in some appropriate form. It is not necessary to consider whether this case ought to be reversed at the instance of the bank to enable that to be done now, for it is stated by the counsel of the bank in their printed brief that the offer was made to them to have a reference to a master to take testimony on this point before final decree, and they declined to accept the privilege. That branch of the decree is, on the appeal of the bank,




This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).