CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS.
Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart; Frankfurter took no part in the decision of the case; White took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
We are called upon to determine whether the Treasury Regulations creating a right of survivorship in United States Savings Bonds pre-empt any inconsistent Texas community property law by virtue of the Supremacy Clause, Article VI, Clause 2, of the Constitution.
The petitioner is the widower of Mrs. Mary Ida Free, and the respondent is her son by a previous marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Free were domiciled in Texas. That State follows the community property system; except in certain instances not here material, all property acquired by either spouse during marriage belongs to the community of the husband and wife.*fn1 Property purchased with community property retains a community character. See Love v. Robertson, 7 Tex. 6. Although each spouse owns an undivided one-half interest in the community property, the husband is the sole authorized manager.*fn2 During the years 1941 to 1945, petitioner Free, using community property, purchased several United States Savings Bonds, series "E" and "F." The bonds were all issued to "Mr. or Mrs." Free. Under the Treasury Regulations promulgated under 31 U. S. C. § 757c (a) which govern bonds issued in that form, when either co-owner
dies, "the survivor will be recognized as the sole and absolute owner." 31 CFR § 315.61. After Mrs. Free passed away in 1958, this controversy arose between the husband, who claimed exclusive ownership by operation of the Treasury Regulations, and the son, who, as the principal beneficiary under his mother's will, claimed an interest in the bonds by virtue of the state community property laws. Respondent son demanded either one-half of the bonds or reimbursement for the loss of Mrs. Free's community half interest in the bonds which was converted into petitioner's separate property by operation of the federal regulations.
In order to resolve the controversy, petitioner Free filed suit in the District Court of Upshur County, Texas, against the respondent individually and as the executor of Mrs. Free's estate. Respondent Bland filed a counterclaim. On the petitioner's motion for summary judgment, the trial court awarded full title to the bonds to the petitioner by virtue of the federal regulations but awarded reimbursement to the respondent by virtue of the state community property laws, making the bonds security for payment. The petitioner appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals. That court affirmed the trial court's award of full title to the petitioner but reversed the award of reimbursement to the respondent,*fn3 relying upon Smith v. Ricks, 159 Tex. 280, 318 S. W. 2d 439, in which unconditional effect was given to the survivorship provisions of the federal regulations governing savings bonds.
While respondent's writ of error was pending in the Supreme Court of Texas, that court overruled the Ricks case in Hilley v. Hilley, 161 Tex. 569, 342 S. W. 2d 565. After holding that married couples in Texas would not be permitted to agree to any survivorship provision with
regard to community property, the court dismissed the argument that the Supremacy Clause would compel recognition of the survivorship provisions in United States Savings Bonds with:
"It is clear that the Federal regulations do not override our local laws in matters of purely private ownership where the interests of the United States are not involved. Bank of America National Trust & Savings Ass'n v. Parnell, 352 U.S. 29." 161 Tex., at 577, 342 S. W. 2d, at 570.
Subsequently, respondent Bland's writ of error was granted, and the Supreme Court of Texas, acting under the authority of the Hilley case, reversed the Court of Civil Appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court in a per curiam opinion. Bland v. Free, ...