MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner, an orthodontist by profession, on January 31, 1969, purchased the stock and assumed the management of three corporations engaged in the food vending business. The corporations were indebted at the time of the purchase for approximately $250,000 of taxes, including federal wage and Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) taxes withheld from employees' wages prior to January 31. The sums withheld had not been paid over when due, however, but had been dissipated by the previous management before petitioner acquired the businesses. After petitioner assumed control, the corporations acquired funds sufficient to pay the taxes, but petitioner used the funds to pay employees' wages, rent, suppliers, and other creditors, and to meet other day-to-day expenses incurred in operating the businesses. The question to be decided is whether, in these circumstances, petitioner is personally liable under § 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U. S. C. § 6672—which imposes personal liability for taxes on "[a] ny person required to collect, truthfully account
The case arose from the filing by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of a claim for the taxes in a proceeding instituted by petitioner in July 1969 for a real property arrangement under Chapter XII of the Bankruptcy Act. The facts determined after hearing by the bankruptcy judge, 74-2 USTC ¶ 9719 (ND Ohio 1974), are not challenged. Petitioner purchased and assumed managerial control of the Tas-Tee Catering, Tas-Tee Vending, and Charles Corporations on January 31, 1969. When he bought the stock, petitioner understood, and the purchase agreement reflected, that the corporations had an outstanding obligation for taxes in the amount of $250,000 due for payment on January 31, including withheld employee wage and FICA taxes (hereinafter trust-fund taxes). During the purchase negotiations, the sellers represented to petitioner that balances in the various corporate checking accounts were sufficient to pay these taxes as well as bills due other creditors. Relying on the representation, petitioner, on Saturday, February 1, sent four checks to the IRS in payment of the taxes.
Petitioner immediately advised the IRS that the corporations had no funds with which to pay the taxes, and solicited guidance concerning how the corporations should proceed. App. 36. There was evidence that IRS officials advised petitioner that they had no objection to his continuing operations so long as current tax obligations were met, and that petitioner agreed to do so and to endeavor to pay the arrearages as soon as possible. Tr. 37-38. The IRS never represented that it would hold petitioner harmless under § 6672 for the back taxes, however.
To continue operations, petitioner deposited personal funds in the corporate acount, and, to obtain inventory, agreed with certain suppliers to pay cash upon delivery. During petitioner's tenure, from January 31 to July 15, 1969, the corporations' gross receipts approximated $130,000 per week for the first few months but declined thereafter. The corporations "established a system of segregating funds for payment of withheld taxes and did, in fact, pay withheld taxes during the period February 1, 1969, to July 15, 1969." App. 30. The bankruptcy judge found, and the IRS concedes, that the $249,212 in taxes paid during this period was approximately sufficient to defray current tax obligations. No taxes owing for periods prior to February 1, were paid, however, and in July 1969 the corporations terminated operations and filed for bankruptcy.
Several provisions of the Internal Revenue Code require third persons to collect taxes from the taxpayer. Among the more important are 26 U. S. C. §§ 3102 (a) and 3402 (a) (1970
An employer who fails to pay taxes withheld from its employees' wages is, of course, liable for the taxes which should have been paid, §§ 3102 (b) and 3403. The IRS has several means at its disposal to effect payment of the taxes so withheld.
Third, penalties may be assessed against the delinquent employer. Section 6656 of the Code imposes a penalty of 5% of the underpayment of any tax required to be deposited, and 26 U. S. C. §§ 7202 and 7215 provide criminal penalties respectively for willful failure to "collect or truthfully account for and pay over" trust-fund taxes, and for failure to comply with the requirements of § 7512, discussed supra, regarding special accounting requirements upon notice by the Secretary.
Finally, as in this case, the officers or employees of the employer responsible for effectuating the collection and payment
Section 6671 (b) defines "person," for purposes of § 6672, as including "an officer or employee of a corporation, or a member or employee of a partnership, who as such officer, employee, or member is under a duty to perform the act in respect of which the violation occurs." Also, § 7202 of the Code,
When the same individual or individuals who caused the delinquency in any tax quarter are also the "responsible persons"
Petitioner concedes that he was subject to personal liability under § 6672 as a person responsible for the collection, accounting, and payment of employment taxes required to be withheld between January 31, 1969, when he assumed control of the corporations, and July 15, 1969, when he resigned. Tr. of Oral Arg. 8. His contention is that he was not, however, a responsible person within § 6672 with respect to taxes withheld prior to his assumption of control and that § 6672 consequently imposed no duty upon him to pay the taxes collected by his predecessors. Petitioner argues that this construction of § 6672 follows necessarily from the statute's limitation of personal liability to "[a]ny person required to collect, truthfully account for and pay over any tax imposed by this title," who willfully fails to discharge those responsibilities (emphasis added). He argues that since the obligations are phrased in
Sections 6672 and 7202 were designed to assure compliance by the employer with its obligation to withhold and pay the sums withheld, by subjecting the employer's officials responsible for the employer's decisions regarding withholding and payment to civil and criminal penalties for the employer's delinquency. If § 6672 were given petitioner's construction, the penalties easily could be evaded by changes in officials' responsibilities prior to the expiration of any quarter. Because the duty to pay over the tax arises only at the quarter's end, a "responsible person" who willfully failed to collect taxes would escape personal liability for that failure simply by resigning his position, and transferring to another the decisionmaking responsibility prior to the quarter's end.
That this result, obviously at odds with the statute's purpose to assure payment of withheld taxes, was not intended is buttressed by the history of the provision. The predecessor of § 6672, § 1308 (c), Revenue Act of 1918, 40 Stat. 1143, provided, inter alia: "Any person who willfully refuses to pay, collect, or truly account for and pay over [taxes enumerated in § 1308 (a)] shall ... be liable to a penalty of the amount of the tax evaded or not paid, collected, or accounted for and paid over ...."
We conclude therefore that the phrase "[a]ny person required to collect, truthfully account for, and pay over any tax imposed by this title" was meant to limit § 6672 to persons responsible for collection of third-party taxes and not to limit it to those persons in a position to perform all three of the enumerated duties with respect to the tax dollars in question.
We turn then to the Government's contention that petitioner was subject to personal liability under § 6672 when during the period in which he was a responsible person, the corporations generated gross receipts sufficient to pay the back taxes, but used the funds for other purposes.
Although at the time petitioner became a responsible person the trust-fund taxes had been dissipated and the corporations had no liquid assets, the Government contends that § 6672 imposed civil liability upon petitioner because sums received from sales in carrying on the businesses after January 31, 1969, were impressed with a trust in favor of the United States for the satisfaction of overdue employment taxes, and petitioner's willful use of those funds to pay creditors other than the United States, violated the obligation to "pay over" imposed by § 6672. The Government does not argue that the statute requires a "responsible person" to liquidate corporate assets to pay the back taxes upon assuming control, however; it argues only that a trust was impressed on all cash received by the corporations. Tr. of Oral Arg. 26, 28-29, 30-31, 32. We think that that construction of § 6672 would not advance the statute's purpose and, moreover, is inconsistent with the context and legislative history of the provision and its relation to the Code's priority rule applicable to collection of back taxes.
The Government argues that its construction of the statute is necessary to effectuate the congressional purpose to assure collection and payment of taxes. Although that construction might in this case garner tax dollars otherwise uncollectible, its long-term effect arguably would more likely frustrate than aid the IRS's collection efforts.
At the time petitioner assumed control, the corporations owed back taxes, were overdue on their supplier accounts, and had no cash. To the extent that the corporations had assets unencumbered by liens superior to a tax lien, the IRS could satisfy its claim by levy and sale. But as will often be the case, the corporations here apparently did not have such assets. The
Thus, although it is in the IRS's interest to encourage the responsible person to continue operation with the hope of receiving payment of the back taxes, if the attempt fails and the taxes remain unpaid, the IRS insists that the § 6672 personal-liability penalty attached upon payment of the first dollar to a supplier. The practical effect of that construction of the statute would be that a well-counseled person contemplating
As noted in the previous section, § 6672 as construed by the Government would, in effect, make the responsible person
Section 6672 cannot be read as imposing upon the responsible person an absolute duty to "pay over" amounts which should have been collected and withheld. The fact that the provision imposes a "penalty" and is violated only by a "willful failure" is itself strong evidence that it was not intended to impose liability without personal fault. Congress, moreover, has not made corporate officers personally liable for the corporation's tax obligations generally, and § 6672 therefore should be construed in a way which respects that policy choice. The Government's concession—that § 6672 does not impose a duty on the responsible officer to use personal funds or even to liquidate corporate assets to satisfy the tax obligations— recognizes that the "pay over" requirement does not impose an absolute duty on the responsible person to pay back taxes.
Recognizing that the statute cannot be construed to impose liability without fault, the Government characterizes petitioner's use of gross receipts for payment of operating expenses as a breach of trust, arguing that a trust was impressed on all after-acquired cash. Nothing whatever in § 6672 or its legislative history suggests that the effect of the requirement to "pay over" was to impress a trust on the corporation's after-acquired cash, however. Moreover, the history of a related section, 26 U. S. C. § 7501,
Since the very reason for adding § 7501 was, as the Senate Report states, that "the liability of the person collecting and withholding the taxes . . . is merely a debt" (emphasis added), § 6672, whose predecessor section was enacted in 1919 while the debt concept prevailed, hardly could have been intended to impose a trust on after-acquired cash.
We further reject the argument that § 7501, whose trust concept may be viewed as having modified the duty imposed under § 6672,
We developed in Part II, supra, that the Code affords the IRS several means to collect back taxes, including levy, distraint, and sale. But the IRS is not given the power to levy on property in the hands of the taxpayer beyond the extent of the taxpayer's interest in the property,
We hold that a "responsible person" under § 6672 may violate the "pay over" requirement of that statute by willfully failing to pay over trust funds collected prior to his accession to control when at the time he assumed control the corporation has funds impressed with a trust under § 7501, but that § 7501 does not impress a trust on after-acquired funds, and that the responsible person consequently does not violate § 6672 by willfully using employer funds for purposes other than satisfaction of the trust-fund tax claims of the United States when at the time he assumed control there were no
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, concurring.
I join the Court's opinion and write separately only to emphasize that part of it which I think is critical to the disposition of this case. Both petitioner and the Government have available to them arguments, based upon two different clauses of § 6672, which, if accepted, would enable them to prevail on the literal language of the clause alone without further consideration of other factors. Petitioner argues with considerable cogency that the portion of § 6672 phrased conjunctively, ante, at 245, fails to include him within the class of persons liable for the penalty imposed by that section. If his argument were to be accepted, that would be the end of the case. I agree with the Court that his argument should be rejected, because its appeal based on the literal language of the clause is more than outweighed by the fact that the clause was added in 1954 very probably to narrow the class of
Having won this point the Government could then rely on the disjunctive literal language of the statute and its predecessors and argue that petitioner, a responsible corporate official at some point in time, is liable for all taxes which he failed to collect or, as is the case here, pay over. But the Government does not advance this argument, realizing, no doubt, that it is foreclosed largely for the reasons given by the Court in Part III-B (2) of its opinion. I fully agree with the Court's conclusion in this respect, stressing in addition only the fact that both the language and history of § 6672 make it perfectly clear that liability for this penalty cannot be imposed in the absence of a willful failure and the word "willful," used as it is in this context in conjunction with the word "penalty," requires some action that tends to impede collection of the corporation's trust-fund taxes before liability can attach. For example, even the Government concedes that a responsible officer need not use personal funds or liquidate corporate assets to satisfy past tax obligations which have arisen under the withholding provisions before the official assumed responsibility. Ante, at 254. It should be apparent from the Court's opinion, however, that this notion of "fault" may have little to do with other sections of the Tax Code. Its importation into § 6672 is compelled by the normal canons of statutory construction, but those canons may speak differently as to the meaning of the word "willful" or the concept of "fault" in other sections of the Code. Indeed, the interpretation of § 6672 we adopt today is limited by the very factors which caused us to adopt it.
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, dissenting in part.
The Court recognizes, as even petitioner concedes, that 26 U. S. C. § 6672 makes those individuals who are "required to
Although the Court concedes that the construction of § 6672 adopted by the Court of Appeals in this case and urged by the United States "might . . . garner tax dollars otherwise uncollectible" in cases such as this, ante, at 251, it rejects this construction in favor of one which permits corporations to escape their tax obligations through change of ownership or management primarily because of its belief that the free enterprise system is best promoted by the use of tax funds to subsidize the takeover of financially beleaguered companies. The majority deems it desirable to encourage "changes of ownership and management of financially troubled corporations and the infusion of equity or debt funding," ante, at 253, and construes the statute in a manner it believes to be consistent with this goal. Apparently, in the Court's view, tax funds are better used to subsidize such takeovers than to meet other social needs for which Congress has specifically appropriated tax funds. But I believe that the Court exceeds its mandate by construing the statute so as to conform to its conclusions concerning the best use of tax dollars collected from American employees. Section 6672 is not an appropriations statute or even a law, like the bankruptcy statute, designed to accomplish substantive ends. The statute lends no support to the Court's conclusion that an insolvent corporation with unpaid withholding taxes should be permitted to continue its business under the aegis of a successor officer, even at the cost of the United States' tax claim. It is, purely and simply, a tax collection statute which is designed to do nothing more than assure that taxes withheld from employees find their way to the United States to be spent for those purposes defined by Congress. In my view, it is error to construe the statute in a way which permits the diversion of these funds from the uses determined by Congress to be in the public interest to ends which in the Court's view would better promote the general welfare.
Moreover, it is far from clear that permitting employers to use funds acquired subsequent to their assumption of control for purposes other than the satisfaction of the withholding tax claims of the United States will serve primarily as an aid to financially troubled concerns rather than as an invitation to defraud the Treasury. The Court holds that a person who assumes control must satisfy the business' pre-existing trust-fund tax obligations if the concern has funds available at the time he assumes control. Apparently, neither it nor the IRS would require the sale of the business' assets in order to meet such obligations. It is clear, however, that there will be a great number of companies which do not have cash available at the time of a change in ownership and management but are nevertheless viable, ongoing enterprises not in need of Government subsidization. Furthermore, any businessman with a minimum of acumen could in most circumstances make sure that the financial affairs of the company are so arranged
The Court next makes the remarkable suggestion that § 6672 cannot be read as imposing an absolute duty upon "responsible persons" to use after-acquired funds to pay over amounts which should have been withheld because to do so would be to impose liability without personal fault which, according to the Court, is precluded by the statutory requirement of a "willful failure." As the concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST suggests, the term "willful" in our jurisprudence, particularly in connection with tax matters, normally connotes nothing more than a conscious act or omission which violates a known legal duty. In this case, there can be no doubt that petitioner acted willfully because with full knowledge that the corporations in question had outstanding tax obligations he chose to apply gross receipts received subsequent to his purchase to purposes other than payment of these taxes. It may be that the Court believes that the requirement of a "willful failure" is satisfied only by a showing of conduct which is immoral in some undefined sense. This view, however, is not only unsupported by evidence of legislative
Ultimately, the Court is reduced to arguing that nothing in the legislative history of § 6672 indicates that the statute requires "responsible persons" to pay over after-acquired cash to meet outstanding tax obligations. Ante, at 254. I would have supposed that the burden of proof for a statutory construction as extraordinary as that adopted by the Court today is at the very least on its proponents. All that the Court is able to offer, however, is a brief excerpt from the legislative history of an entirely separate statute enacted some 15 years after the predecessor of § 6672 which, with all respect, has nothing to do with the question to be decided.
Finally, the Court purports to find support for its construction of § 6672 from the fact that priority rules applicable to the collection of back taxes in some cases subordinate tax liens to certain other interests in the property. Although this discussion may be of some educational value, it has absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand or the proper construction of § 6672. In the first place, as petitioner conceded at oral argument, the funds which came into his corporations subsequent to his assumption of control were unencumbered by liens. Tr. of Oral Arg. 4-5. Moreover, the conclusion which the Court draws from its exploration of priority rules for tax liens that "Congress did not intend § 6672 to hammer the responsible person with the threat of heavy civil and criminal penalties to pay over proceeds in which the Code does not assert a priority interest," ante, at 259, again proves far too much. If the mere possibility that others might have interests superior to a tax lien in proceeds which should under
Because I believe that the Court has, without justification, created yet another means of impeding the collection of taxes for purposes designated by Congress, I dissent from Parts III-B and IV of the Court's opinion.
"Any person required under this title to collect, account for, and pay over any tax imposed by this title who willfully fails to collect or truthfully account for and pay over such tax shall, in addition to other penalties provided by law, be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both, together with the costs of prosecution."
The House Report is nearly identical.
"(a) General rule.
"Whenever any person is required to collect or withhold any internal revenue tax from any other person and to pay over such tax to the United States, the amount of tax so collected or withheld shall be held to be a special fund in trust for the United States. The amount of such fund shall be assessed, collected, and paid in the same manner and subject to the same provisions and limitations (including penalties) as are applicable with respect to the taxes from which such fund arose.
"For penalties applicable to violations of this section, see sections 6672 and 7202."
"The lien imposed by section 6321 shall not be valid as against any purchaser, holder of a security interest, mechanic's lienor, or judgment lien creditor until notice thereof which meets the requirements of subsection (f) has been filed by the Secretary."
The local law applicable is, in 49 States and the District of Columbia, the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC); and 26 U. S. C. § 6323, as amended by the Federal Tax Lien Act of 1966, Pub. L. No. 89-719, § 101, 80 Stat. 1125, was in large part adopted in order to "conform the lien provisions of the internal revenue laws to the concepts developed in [the] Uniform Commercial Code." H. R. Rep. No. 1884, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 1 (1966).
Under the UCC, a perfected security interest is superior to a judgment lien creditor's claim in the property, see UCC §§ 9-301, 9-312. Perfection of a security interest in inventory or accounts receivable occurs only when a financing statement is filed, UCC § 9-302, and when it has attached. UCC § 9-303 (1). Attachment requires an agreement, value given by the secured party, and that the debtor have rights in the collateral. UCC § 9-204. Thus when a security agreement exists and filing has occurred prior to the filing of a tax lien to secure advances made after the tax filing, perfection is, at the least, achieved when the secured party makes the advance. When that occurs after the tax lien has been filed, § 6323 (d) protects the secured party from the federal tax lien if the advance is made not later than 45 days after the filing of the tax lien or upon receipt of actual notice of the tax lien filing, whichever is sooner. For a more detailed explanation of these provisions see Coogan, The Effect of the Federal Tax Lien Act of 1966 Upon Security Interests Created Under the Uniform Commercial Code, 81 Harv. L. Rev. 1369, 1403-1413 (1968).
In enacting the Federal Tax Lien Act of 1966, Congress intended to preserve this priority, H. R. Rep. No. 1884, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 4 (1966), and the IRS has since formally accepted that position. Rev. Rul. 68-57, 68-1 Cum. Bull. 553; see also IRS General Counsel's Op. No. 13-60, 7 CCH 1961 Stand. Fed. Tax Rep. ¶ 6307 (1960).