Moore v. Ruckgaber/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

184 U.S. 593

Moore  v.  Ruckgaber

 Argued: November 21, 1901. --- Decided: March 17, 1902

This case differs from the one just decided only in the fact that the will of the nonresident testatrix was executed in New York, November 6, 1890, during a temporary sojourn there, although, as in the preceding case, the testatrix was domiciled abroad, and bequeathed her personal property in New York to a daughter who was married and also lived abroad.

There can be no doubt whatever that, if Madame Pin ede had died intestate, the personal property would not have passed by the law 'of any state or territory' (using the words of the act), but by the laws of France. The question, then, is whether the condition is changed if the property pass under a will executed in this country. In United States v. Hunnewell, 13 Fed. 617, cited in the preceding case, the will was executed in France, but the decision of Mr. Justice Gray, holding that the tax was not payable, was not put upon the ground that the will was executed in a foreign country, but upon the broader ground that the legacy duty was payable only upon the estate of persons domiciled within the United States. In delivering the opinion he observed: 'Section 124 [of the similar act of 1864] imposes a duty on legacies or distributive shares arising from personal property 'passing from any person possessed of such property, either by will or by the intestate laws of any state or territory;' it does not make the duty payable when 'the person possessed of such property' dies testate, if it would not be payable if such person died intestate; and if Madame de la Valette had died intestate, her son would not have taken a distributive share 'by the intestate laws of any state or territory,' but, if at all, by the law of France, the domicil of his mother at the time of the death. And § 125, by requiring the executor or administrator to pay the amount of this duty 'to the collector or deputy collector of the district of which the deceased person was a resident,' leads to the same conclusion.'

The real question, then, is, as said by Mr. Justice Gray, whether the act makes the duty payable when the person possessed of such property dies testate, if it would not be payable if such person died intestate, although the actual question involved in this cause differs from the one there involved, in the fact that in the Hunnewell Case the will was executed abroad, while in the present case it was executed in this country.

Bearing in mind the fact that the tax in this case is not upon the property itself, but upon the transmission or devolution of such property, the question again recurs, as it did in the preceding case, whether the succession took effect in France or in New York. We are aided in the solution of this problem by the language of § 2694 of the New York Code of Civil Procedure, also cited in the preceding case, which is as follows: 'Except where special provision is otherwise made by law, the validity and effect of the testamentary disposition of any other [than real] property situated within the state, and the ownership and disposition of such property where it is not disposed of by will, are regulated by the laws of the state or country of which the decedent was a resident at the time of his death.' Now as, if Madame Pin ede had died without leaving a will, her property would have passed under the intestate laws of France and been exempt from this tax, it follows under the Hunnewell Case that it is equally exempt though it passed by will.

The will of Madame Pin ede is confined to her personal property in this country, and the record does not show whether she was possessed of other property in France or in any foreign country. If she had, that property would either pass by will executed there or under the intestate laws of her domicil. For reasons stated in the prior opinion, we do not think Congress contemplated by this act that the estates of deceased persons should be split up for the purposes of distribution or taxation, but that, so far as regards personal property, the law of the domicil should prevail.

A question somewhat to the converse of this arose in Re Romaine, 127 N. Y. 80, 12 L. R. A. 401, 27 N. E. 759, which was a proceeding to compel payment of an inheritance tax by the administrator of the estate of Romaine, who had died intestate in Virginia, leaving a brother and sister resident in New York, as his next of kin. The act of 1887 subjected to an inheritance tax 'all property which shall pass by will or by the intestate laws of this state, from any person who may died seised or possessed of the same while a resident of this state, or if such decedent was not a resident of this state at the time of his death, which property or any part thereof shall be within this state.' [N. Y. Laws 1887, chap. 713, § 1.] The question was whether the property of Romaine, who died in Virginia intestate, was subject to the tax. After deciding that the tax applied to two classes, namely, resident and nonresident decedents, the court observed: 'But does it apply to all persons belonging to these two classes? It is not denied that it applies to all resident decedents, and to all nonresident testators, but it is contended that it does not apply to nonresident intestates, because property 'which shall pass . . . by the intestate laws of this state' is expressly mentioned to the implied exclusion of property passing by the intestate laws of other states. This is the position of the appellant, whose learned counsel claims that the act in its present form was designed to meet cases of succession by will, but not of succession by intestacy, unless the intestate was a resident of this state. It is difficult, however, to see why the legislature should discriminate simply for the purposes of taxation between the property of a nonresident decedent who made a will, and of one who did not. It is not probable that there was an intention to tax the estates of nonresident testators and to exempt those of nonresident intestates, because there is no foundation for such a distinction . . . Property of the same kind, situated in the same place, receiving the same protection from the law, and administered upon in the same way, would naturally be required to contribute toward the expense of government upon the same basis, regardless of whether its last owner died testate or intestate.' By parity of reasoning, we think it follows that no discrimination was intended to be made between nonresidents who died testate, even though the will were made in this country, and those who died intestate; and as we have held in the preceding case that the law does not apply to nonresidents who died intestate, or testate under a will executed abroad, we think it follows that it does not apply to deceased persons domiciled abroad who left property by will executed in this country.

The questions certified must therefore be answered in the negative.

Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice McKenna concurred in the result.


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).