TRASK, Circuit Judge:
This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court denying appellant's claim for refund of tax in the amount of $3734.24 collected from him by the Internal Revenue Service pursuant to 26
In 1960, appellant was president and, along with his wife, principal stockholder of the Dudley Industrial Corporation, a manufacturer of ceramic bathroom fixtures with plants in Hollister and Hemet, California. The corporation failed to collect and pay over to the IRS employment and withholding taxes in the amount of $12,992.61 for the first two quarters of 1960, as required by Sections 3102 and 3402 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C. §§ 3102, 3402. The corporation was experiencing financial difficulties at the time. An involuntary petition in bankruptcy was filed against it on or about September 15, 1960, and it was adjudicated a bankrupt on November 27, 1961. The IRS filed a claim in bankruptcy for the taxes due, but received no payment. In 1964, the IRS assessed penalties in the amount of the taxes due against appellant as the person who was required to pay over the taxes but who willfully failed to do so, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6672.
Appellant brought suit in the District Court for a refund of monies seized from him by the IRS in partial satisfaction of that assessment. His grounds were that he did not "willfully" fail to pay over the tax and that he was not the "person" required to pay over the tax.
This circuit has defined willfulness as used in Section 6672 to mean the "voluntary, conscious, and intentional act to prefer other creditors of the corporation over the United States." There need not be present an evil motive or intent to defraud the United States. Bloom v. United States, 272 F.2d 215, 223 (9th Cir. 1959), cert. denied, 363 U.S. 803, 80 S.Ct. 1236, 4 L.Ed.2d 1146 (1960). See also Turner v. United States, 423 F.2d 448, 450 (9th Cir. 1970); Pacific National Ins. Co. v. United States, 422 F.2d 26, 33 (9th Cir. 1970); United States v. Leuschner, 336 F.2d 246, 247-248 (9th Cir. 1964).
We fail to find that appellant Dudley willfully or intentionally preferred other creditors over the United States. On May 1 or 2, 1960, he sent a check to the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of the corporation's withholding tax due for the first calendar quarter of 1960.
This check was received by IRS but for some reason never satisfactorily explained it was not presented to the bank for payment until on or about June 10, 1960. (R.T. 624-625). It was then dishonored by the drawee bank and was returned
Moreover, the bank statements of the corporation account with the Bank of America disclosed that there had been a deposit of $9500 on May 27, 1960. Likewise deposits were made in the corporation account at the American Trust Company in excess of $15,000 during May, 1960, which could have been used to pay the IRS check in question had Dudley been made aware that the check had been or was about to be dishonored. Had Dudley or the corporation received any notice that the IRS check had been or was to be dishonored the sums represented by these deposits could have been devoted to the payment of this check.
It is unclear whether O'Brien unilaterally decided to cease his apparent course of dealing — if not a "blanket arrangement" — of paying all checks, or whether he acted upon the order of D. Jersey Grut who was in the process of replacing Dudley as the responsible officer of the corporation in May and June of 1960, or whether the check was dishonored for some other reason not advanced at trial. But it is clear that Dudley had neither actual nor constructive knowledge that the check would be dishonored at the time he wrote it. On the contrary, he had
This case is different from Bloom v. United States, 272 F.2d 215 (9th Cir. 1959), upon which appellee relies. The defendant against whom the penalty assessment was there made, knew that the taxes had not been paid and deliberately elected in the face of that knowledge to use available corporate funds to pay other creditors. Explained the court at page 222:
This case is akin to United States v. Leuschner, 336 F.2d 246, 248 (9th Cir. 1964), where the court held:
The question of willfulness is one of fact. Wilson v. United States, 250 F.2d 312, 325 (9th Cir. 1958). Here the evidence is clear that Dudley had no knowledge that the taxes were not paid. He believed that they had been paid. Dudley may have been guilty of negligence but negligence is not willfulness. We agree with appellee that the tender of a check which is dishonored by the drawee bank does not relieve the taxpayer of its liability. But where the taxpayer and its responsible official had reason to believe the check had been paid, and had not been notified to the contrary, it would under the circumstances shown here dispel a finding of willfulness under the statute.
The factual situation in Moody v. United States, 275 F.Supp. 917 (E.D.Mich. 1967), is analogous to the instant case. There, a check sent to the IRS by the president of a "mortally afflicted" corporation in payment of withholding tax was returned. The court found that the president lacked willfulness under the statute, saying:
The court in Wiggins v. United States, 188 F.Supp. 374 (E.D.Tenn.1960), stated:
Dudley was not relieved of liability by tendering the dishonored check. 26 U.S.C. § 6311(b) (1). From the time that he learned of the bank's refusal to pay the check, it can be said that he willfully failed to pay over the tax due to the IRS. He also willfully failed to pay the corporation's withholding tax for the second calendar quarter of 1960 which became due on July 31, 1960. We find, however, that beginning at a time before Dudley received knowledge that the May 2 check had been dishonored, Dudley had ceased being the "person" in the corporation "required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over" the withholding taxes, as defined in 26 U.S.C. §§ 6671(b) and 6672. This court has defined the "person" responsible for the payment of the tax as that individual who "had the final word as to what bills should or should not be paid, and when." Wilson v. United States, supra, 250 F.2d at 316. See also Pacific National Ins. Co. v. United States, supra, 422 F.2d at 31; Bloom v. United States, supra, 272 F.2d at 222; White v. United States, supra, 372 F.2d at 516, 518. "Final" means "significant, rather than exclusive control." Turner v. United States, supra, 423 F.2d at 449. "[T]he section must be construed to include all those so connected with a corporation as to be responsible for the performance of the act in respect of which the violation occurred." United States v. Graham, 309 F.2d 210, 212 (9th Cir. 1962).
Although Dudley retained the title of corporation president during the period in question, the holding of corporate office does not, per se, impose liability upon the officeholder. Monday v. United States, supra, 421 F.2d at 1214; Campbell v. Nixon, 207 F.Supp. 826, 829 (E.D.Mich.1962). The court in Campbell stated: "If, having the duty to make payment, plaintiff was prevented from discharging it by the actions of other persons in the corporation, he must be relieved of liability." 207 F.Supp. at 830.
Dudley testified at trial that his authority in the corporation began to diminish in May, 1960. On June 20, he made an agreement with D. Jersey Grut which gave Grut greater control over the company. On or about June 22, Dudley was locked out of one of the plants upon the apparent order of a creditor.
Another principal creditor, Fireside Thrift, wrote Dudley under date of June 7, 1960, in part:
Its attorneys wrote the corporation under date of June 22, 1960, accelerating the company's obligation to it of $75,672.31 and declaring the same immediately due and saying:
The trial court found that while there was evidence of ouster, the contrary was more persuasive and that
Were this a question of substantial conflict in the evidence, we would be bound by the trial court's finding. It appears, however, that there was no real conflict and that the evidence of almost complete
Dudley may well have been in control of some facets of the operation of Dudley Industrial Corporation on June 20, 1960, but he did not have control over the payment of checks. The testimony of Richard O'Brien, the Bank of America manager, revealed that he, either of his own volition or acting under the order of D. Jersey Grut or creditors of the corporation or both, exercised full control over the payment of checks in June, 1960. He paid "the most important" checks. (R.T. 618) There was no evidence that he ever elicited Dudley's advice as to which checks were "the most important." Dudley's desire to satisfy the corporation's tax obligations if he had the capacity to do so is evidenced by his self-initiated meeting with the IRS on August 11, 1960, at which time he informed the IRS of the deteriorated financial condition of the corporation.
The purpose of Section 6672 is "to cut through the shield of organizational form and impose liability upon those actually responsible for an employer's failure to withhold and pay over the tax." Pacific National Ins. Co. v. United States, supra, 422 F.2d at 31. The purpose of the section is not served by imposing liability upon a corporate officer who had neither actual nor constructive knowledge of the nonpayment of tax until such time as he was unable, through circumstances beyond his control, to pay the tax.
We hold that, under the circumstances where appellant had no knowledge of his failure to pay the tax imposed upon his corporation by 26 U.S.C. §§ 3102 and 3402 until such time as he no longer had significant control over the corporation or the final word as to what bills should be paid, he is not personally liable for payment under 26 U.S.C. § 6672. To the extent that this holding may be factually inconsistent with the District Court's finding of fact, we hold that its findings are clearly erroneous. Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Duberstein, 363 U.S. 278, 291, 80 S.Ct. 1190, 4 L.Ed.2d 1218 (1960).
The judgment is reversed and the case remanded to the District Court with instructions to grant appellant's claim for refund in the amount of $3734.24 plus interest and to dismiss appellee's counterclaim.
I respectfully dissent. The able and experienced trial judge had an opportunity to see and hear the witnesses, including the appellant. The judge made a specific finding that the corporation's check in payment of the taxes was dishonored due to insufficient funds and that appellant did not have a prior agreement with the bank to pay overdrafts. This finding, in my judgment, is supported by substantial evidence.
Moreover, in my opinion, there is substantial evidence supporting the finding that appellant was a responsible officer of the corporation at the time of the issuance of the check, its presentment for payment and thereafter during the period in question. True enough, there is a conflict in the testimony as to appellant's status. But the weight to be given testimony depends upon the credibility of the witnesses. The judge's findings on willfulness are shored by solid evidence. In these circumstances, I would not overturn the findings of the lower court.
I would affirm.
"Any person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over any tax imposed by this title who willfully fails to collect such tax, or truthfully account for and pay over such tax, or willfully attempts in any manner to evade or defeat any such tax or the payment thereof, shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be liable to a penalty equal to the total amount of the tax evaded, or not collected, or not accounted for and paid over. No penalty shall be imposed under section 6653 for any offense to which this section is applicable."