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COAST OYSTER CO. v. UNITED STATES

August 13, 1958

COAST OYSTER COMPANY, a Washington corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BOLDT

Plaintiff is engaged in the business of planting, cultivating, harvesting, cleaning, grading, packing and processing oysters for sale to wholesalers. This action seeks recovery of approximately $ 32,000 in Federal Insurance contributions and Federal Unemployment taxes paid by plaintiff on its employees for the years 1950-54, inclusive. The claim for refund is asserted under two separate exemption provisions each appearing both in the FICA and FUTA taxing statutes: (1) the exemption of employees engaged in agricultural labor; *fn1" and (2) the exemption of employees in fishing activities. *fn2"

Inclusion of plaintiff's employees within the agricultural labor provisions would do violence to the plain and unequivocal language of the exemption and would require a strained and twisted construction of the statute. Moreover, having enacted a specific exemption applicable to employees in the fishing industry, it seems unlikely that Congress intended to exempt employees engaged in the same activities under a separate and different provision relating to agricultural workers.

 The material provisions of the fishing exemption are: 'The term 'employment' * * * shall not include * * * service performed by an individual in * * * taking, harvesting, cultivating, * * * shellfish * * * (including service performed by any such individual as an ordinary incident to any such activity) * * *' Of the ten stipulated classes of plaintiff's employees, *fn3" the quoted language plainly and expressly exempts oyster bed workers and harvesters. If the words 'ordinary incident to any such activity' in the exemption are given their natural and generally accepted meaning, it seems clear that all but office employees of the other eight classes of employees are also within the fishing exemption. Certainly the services of such workmen in the particular business in question are ordinarily and normally, if not necessarily, incidental to the activities specifically exempted by the statute.

 The regulations interpreting the statutes are far from clear. *fn4" The government contends that they are to be understood as restricting the scope of the statutory words 'ordinary incident' to a narrow construction greatly limiting the employees exempted. So construed, the regulations would be invalid because in conflict with the intent of Congress as clearly expressed in the statute.


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