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Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. White's Estate

August 24, 1944


Petition to Review a Decision of the Tax Court of the United States.

Author: Hand

Before AUGUSTUS N. HAND, CHASE, and FRANK, Circuit Judges.

AUGUSTUS N. HAND, Circuit Judge.

This proceeding involves deficiencies in income taxes assessed against Caroline White, deceased, and paid under protest. The Tax Court held that she had overpaid such taxes to the extent of $2,308.59 for 1938, and $1,995.52 for 1939.

The question raised by this petition to review the determination of the Tax Court is whether interest on the bonds of the Triborough Bridge Authority owned by the decedent were exempt from income tax under Section 22 (b) (4) of the Revenue Act of 1938, 26 U.S.C.A. Int. Rev. Code, § 22 (b) (4). A majority of the Tax Court held that they were exempt and for that reason that the decedent had overpaid her taxes for 1938 and 1939. In our opinion in Commissioner v. Estate of Shamberg, 144 F.2d 998, filed herewith, we sustained the ruling of the Tax Court that interest on the bonds of the Port of New York Authority is exempt under the above statute. Our discussion in that opinion requires us to say little, if anything, more as to Section 22 (b) (4) of the Revenue Act and Treasury Regulations 101, Art. 22 (b) (4)-1 which seem to render the interest on the Triborough bonds exempt from income tax like the bonds of the Port of New York Authority in the other case.

The Triborough Bridge Authority was created by Chapter 145 of the Laws of 1933, as amended by Chapter 3 of the Laws of 1937, of the State of New York as a "body corporate and politic constituting a public benefit corporation." By the New York General Corporation Law, Section 3 (4), Consol. Laws N.Y.c. 23, a public benefit corporation is "a corporation organized to construct or operate a public improvement wholly or partly within the state, the profits from which enure to the benefit of this or other states, or to the people thereof."

The Act creating the Authority provides:

"It is hereby found, determined and declared that the creation of the authority and the carrying out of its corporate purposes is in all respects for the benefit of the people of the state of New York, for the improvement of their health and welfare, and for the increase of their traffic and prosperity, and is a public purpose, and that the project is an essential part of the public highway system, and that the authority will be performing an essential governmental function in the exercise of the powers conferred upon it by this act, * * * ." Laws N.Y. 1933, c. 145, § 13, as amended by Laws N.Y. 1937, c. 3, § 11.

The Authority owns and operates two public bridges which form a vital part of the New York State and City Highway System, are wholly within the State of New York and carry intrastate traffic as part of that system. They are constructed pursuant to plans approved by the War Department because they are across navigable rivers but, since they are fully within a single state, the Secretary of War had no right to prescribe the tolls.

Under the state law creating the Authority it acquired the power to construct, maintain and operate bridges connecting three Boroughs of the City of New York, to acquire necessary property, with the city's consent, in the name of the city either by purchase or condemnation, to make use of city agents, employees and facilities and to issue bonds for constructing the bridges. The statute under which it was organized also provided that the bonds should be legal investments for fiduciaries, should be exempt from state taxation other than transfer and estate taxes, should not be debts of the city or state and should be payable only out of funds of the Authority. It also provided that the state would not alter the right of the Authority to collect the tolls necessary to fulfill the terms of the bonds.

The bridges were built by the city. It financed their construction from its Tax Note Fund in the amount of $218,721.34 and from the proceeds of sales of its longterm corporate stock in the amount of $5,162,509. On April 28, 1933, the Mayhor of New York appointed the three members of the Authority, who were subject to removal by him for cause. The Authority issued all of its bonds by virtue of the state statute under which it was organized and pursuant to resolution adopted by its members. The bonds were never approved by the electors of the state at any election and the Comptroller of the City of New York has never included them in any of his statements of the indebtedness of the city. After the Authority was organized in 1933 the engineering force of the City Bureau of Plant and Structure, which had theretofore been engaged in the construction work, and all records relating to the bridges were transferred to the Authority.In 1933 it applied to the Federal Emergency Administrator of Public Works for a loan and grant, the application was granted, and the United States, through the Administrator, made a grant of $9,200,000 and a loan of $35,000,000 by purchasing bonds of the Authority in that amount under an agreement dated September 1, 1933, which required the Authority to furnish an opinion by bond counsel that the bonds and interest would be exempt from all taxes imposed by the United States under the Constitution or by the State of New York. Such an opinion was furnished.

The bonds involved in this proceeding were issued in 1937 to the amount of $53,000,000 and were used in part to refund the $35,000,000 bonds issued in 1933 and 1937 held by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.When the Authority issued its 1937 bonds it asked the Commissioner for a ruling and was advised by him that the interest was exempt from income tax. He said in a letter to Robert Moses, Chairman of the Authority (dated February 17, 1937), the following:

"It is believed that the Triborough Bridge Authority is in effect an instrumentality of the City of New York, a political subdivision of the State of New York; that the bonds issued by such Authority will be, in effect, bonds of the city issued in the exercise of its borrowing power; and that interest on such bonds will, therefore, be exempt from Federal income tax."

The Authority is plainly a subdivision of state government empowered to exercise governmental functions on behalf of the City of New York which acquired through state legislation the right to delegate its powers to operate and maintain the toll bridges. The Authority is in essence a Department of the city but so organized as not to involve the city in direct liability to persons holding Triborough bonds. Its functions are as traditional and primary state functions as any one can imagine except those of enacting and enforcing general laws. Under the decisions its activities would universally be regarded as state functions. Graves v. People of State of New York ex rel. O'Keefe, 306 U.S. 466, 477, 59 S. Ct. 595, 83 L. Ed. 927, 120 A.L.R. 1466; Brush v. Commissioner, 300 U.S. 352, 372, 57 S. Ct. 495, 81 L. Ed. 691, 108 A.L.R. 1428; Kansas City Bridge Co. v. Alabama State Bridge Corp., 5 ...

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