ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND.
MR. JUSTICE PITNEY delivered the opinion of the court.
Defendant in error, a corporation organized under the laws of Maryland and authorized to act as guardian, was on January 30, 1919, appointed by the Orphans Court guardian of Frank R. Brown, an infant whose father had died intestate about a year before. The son as next of kin became entitled to 35 shares of the stock of the Hartford Fire Insurance Company, and they were transferred to defendant in error as such guardian, and still are held by it in that capacity.At that time the capital stock of the insurance company issued and outstanding consisted of 20,000 shares of the par value of $100 each. Later in the year that company, under statutory authority, increased its capital stock to 40,000 shares of the same par value. The resolution of the stockholders sanctioning the increase provided that the right to subscribe to the new issue should be offered to the stockholders at the price of $150 per share, in the proportion of one share of new stock to each share of stock held by them; subscriptions to be payable in instalments and the directors to have power to dispose of shares not so subscribed and paid for in such manner as they might determine to be for the best interests of the company. In July, 1919, defendant in error, pursuant to an order of the Orphans Court, sold the subscription right to 35 shares owned by its ward for $12,546.80, equivalent to $358.48 per share. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, holding that this entire amount was income for the year, under the provisions of the Act approved February 24, 1919, C. 18, 40 Stat. 1057, assessed and plaintiff in error collected a tax amounting to $1,130.77 by reason of it. Defendant in error, having paid this under protest and unavailingly appealed to the Commissioner, claiming that none of the amount so received
was income within the meaning either of the act or of the Sixteenth Amendment, brought this action against the collector to recover the entire amount of tax so assessed and paid. The case was tried before the District Court without a jury on stipulated facts and evidence. Plaintiff's extreme contention that the subscription right to new stock and also the proceeds of the sale of the right were wholly capital and not in any part subject to be taxed as income, was overruled upon the authority of Merchants' Loan & Trust Co. v. Smietanka, 255 U.S. 509, then recently decided. The trial court, in the second place, held that, of the proceeds of the sale of the subscription rights, so much only as represented a realized profit over and above the cost to plaintiff of what was sold was taxable as income. In order to compute the amount of the profit, the court commenced with the value of the old shares prior to authorization of the stock increase, which upon the basis of evidence contained in the stipulation was taken to be what they were assessed at by the United States for purposes of the estate tax at the death of the ward's father, viz., $710 per share, and added the $150 necessary to be paid by a stockholder or his assignee in order to obtain a share of the new stock, making the cost of two shares (1 old and 1 new) $860 and half of this the cost of one share.
The sale of the subscription rights at $358.48, the purchaser to pay the issuing company $150 per share, was treated as equivalent to a sale of the fully-paid shares at $508.48 each, or $78.48 in excess of the $430 which represented their cost to plaintiff; and this difference multiplied by 35, the number of shares or rights sold, yielded $2,746.80 as the gain realized out of the entire transaction. Upon this the court held plaintiff to have been properly taxable, and upon nothing more; no income tax being assessable with respect to the 35 shares still retained, because although they were considered worth more, exrights,
than the $430 per share found to be their cost, the difference could not be regarded as a taxable profit unless or until realized by actual sale. 273 Fed. 822. To review the final judgment entered pursuant to the findings and opinion, which sustained only in part plaintiff's demand for a refund of the tax paid, the collector of internal revenue prosecuted a direct writ of error from this court under § 238 Judicial Code, because of the constitutional questions involved.
There is but one assignment of error, based upon a single exception, which denied that plaintiff was entitled to recover anything whatever; hence the correctness of the particular recovery awarded is not in form raised; but the trial judge, having the complete facts before him, almost of necessity passed upon them in their entirety in order to determine, according to truth and substance, how much of what plaintiff received was, and how much was not, income in the proper sense; as is proper in a case involving the application of the Sixteenth Amendment (Eisner v. Macomber, 252 U.S. 189, 206; United States v. Phellis, 257 U.S. 156); and in order to review the judgment, it will be proper for us to analyze the reasoning upon which it was based.
It is not in dispute that the Hartford Fire Insurance Company is a corporation of the State of Connecticut and that the stock increase in question was made under authority of certain acts of the legislature and certain resolutions of the stockholders, by which the right to subscribe to the new issue was offered to existing stockholders upon the terms mentioned. It is evident, we think, that such a distribution in and of itself constituted no division of any part of the accumulated profits or surplus of the company, even of its capital; it was in effect an opportunity given to stockholders to share in contributing additional capital, not to participate in distribution. It was a recognition
by the company that the condition of its affairs warranted an increase of its capital stock to double the par value of that already outstanding, and that the new stock would have a value to the recipients in excess of $150 per share; a determination that it should be issued pro rata to the existing stockholders, or so many of them as would pay that price. This privilege of itself was not a fruit of stock ownership in the nature of a profit; nor was it a division of any part of the assets of the company.
The right to subscribe to the new stock was but a right to participate, in preference to strangers and on equal terms with other existing stockholders, in the privilege of contributing new capital called for by the corporation -- an equity that inheres in stock ownership under such circumstances as a quality inseparable from the capital interest represented by the old stock, recognized so universally as to have become axiomatic in American corporation law. Gray v. Portland Bank, 3 Mass. 364; Atkins v. Albree, 12 Allen, 359, 361; Jones v. Morrison, 31 Minn. 140, 152-153; Eidman v. Bowman, 58 Ill. 444, 447; Humboldt Driving Park Association v. Stevens, 34 Neb. 528, 534; Electric Co. v. Electric Co., 200 Pa. St. 516, 520-523, 526; Wall v. Utah Copper Co., N.J. Eq. 17, 28, et ...