461 U.S. 300 (1983), 81-1536, C.i.r. v. Tufts

Docket Nº:No. 81-1536.
Citation:461 U.S. 300, 103 S.Ct. 1826, 75 L.Ed.2d 863
Party Name:COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Petitioner v. John F. TUFTS et al.
Case Date:May 02, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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461 U.S. 300 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 1826, 75 L.Ed.2d 863

COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Petitioner

v.

John F. TUFTS et al.

No. 81-1536.

United States Supreme Court.

May 2, 1983

Argued Nov. 29, 1982.

[103 S.Ct. 1827] Syllabus [*]

SYLLABUS

Section 752(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (IRC) provides that liabilities incurred in the sale or exchange of a partnership interest are to be treated "in the same manner as liabilities in connection with the sale or exchange of property not associated with partnerships." Under § 1001(a) of the IRC, the gain or loss from a sale or other disposition of property is defined as the difference between "the amount realized" on the disposition and the property's adjusted basis. Section 1001(b) defines the "amount realized" as "the sum of any money received plus the fair market value of the property (other than money) received." A general partnership formed by respondents in 1970 to construct an apartment complex entered into a $1,851,500 nonrecourse mortgage loan with a savings association. The complex was completed in 1971. Due to the partners' capital contributions to the partnership and income tax deductions for their allocable shares of ordinary losses and depreciation, the partnership's claimed adjusted basis in the property in 1972 was $1,455,740. Because of an unanticipated reduction in rental income, the partnership was unable to make the payments due on the mortgage. Each partner thereupon sold his interest to a third party, who assumed the mortgage. The fair market value on the date of transfer did not exceed $1,400,000. Each partner reported the sale on his income tax return and indicated a partnership loss of $55,740. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, however, determined that the sale resulted in a partnership gain of approximately $400,000 on the theory that the partnership had realized the full amount of the nonrecourse obligation. The United States Tax Court upheld the deficiencies, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: When a taxpayer sells or disposes of property encumbered by a nonrecourse obligation exceeding the fair market value of the property sold, as in this case, the Commissioner may require him to include in the "amount realized" the outstanding amount of the obligation; the fair [103 S.Ct. 1828] market value of the property is irrelevant to this calculation. Cf. Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301. Pp. 1829-1836.

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(a) When the mortgagor's obligation to repay the mortgage loan is canceled, he is relieved of his responsibility to repay the sum he originally received and thus realizes value to that extent within the meaning of § 1001(b). To permit the taxpayer to limit his realization to the fair market value of the property would be to recognize a tax loss for which he has suffered no corresponding economic loss. A taxpayer must account for the proceeds of obligations he has received tax-free and has included in basis. Nothing in either § 1001(b) or in this Court's prior decisions requires the Commissioner to permit a taxpayer to treat a sale of encumbered property asymmetrically, by including the proceeds of the nonrecourse obligation in basis but not accounting for the proceeds upon transfer of the property. Pp. 1829-1834.

(b) Section 752(c) of the IRC--which provides that for purposes of § 752 "a liability to which property is subject shall, to the extent of the fair market value of such property, be considered as a liability of the owner of the property"--does not authorize this type of asymmetrical treatment in the sale or disposition of partnership property. Rather, the legislative history indicates that the fair market value limitation of § 752(c) was intended to apply only to transactions between a partner and his partnership under §§ 752(a) and (b), and was not intended to limit the amount realized in a sale or exchange of a partnership interest under § 752(d). Pp. 1834-1836.

651 F.2d 1058 (5th Cir. 1981), reversed.

COUNSEL

Stuart A. Smith argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs wereSolicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Archer, Michael L. Paup, andGilbert S. Rothenberg.

Ronald M. Mankoff argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief wasCharles D. Pulman.*

* Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Louis Regenstein for the Empire Real Estate Board, Inc.; and by Wayne G. Barnett, pro se.

Stuart A. Smith, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Ronald M. Mankoff, Dallas, Tex., for respondents.

OPINION

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Over 35 years ago, in Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301 (1947), this Court ruled that a taxpayer, who sold property encumbered by a nonrecourse mortgage (the amount of the

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mortgage being less than the property's value), must include the unpaid balance of the mortgage in the computation of the amount the taxpayer realized on the sale. The case now before us presents the question whether the same rule applies when the unpaid amount of the nonrecourse mortgage exceeds the fair market value of the property sold.

I

On August 1, 1970, respondent Clark Pelt, a builder, and his wholly owned corporation, respondent Clark, Inc., formed a general partnership. The purpose of the partnership was to construct a 120-unit apartment complex in Duncanville, Tex., a Dallas suburb. Neither Pelt nor Clark, Inc., made any capital contribution to the partnership. Six days later, the partnership entered into a mortgage loan agreement with the Farm & Home Savings Association (F & H). Under the agreement, F & H was committed for a $1,851,500 loan for the complex. In return, the partnership executed a note and a deed of trust in favor of F & H. The partnership obtained the loan on a nonrecourse basis: neither the partnership nor its partners assumed any personal liability for repayment of the loan. Pelt later admitted four friends and relatives, respondents Tufts, Steger, Stephens, and Austin, as general partners. None of them contributed capital upon entering the partnership.

The construction of the complex was completed in August 1971. During 1971, each partner made small capital contributions to the partnership; in 1972, however, only Pelt made a contribution. The total of the partners' capital contributions was $44,212. In each tax year, all partners claimed as income tax deductions their allocable shares of ordinary losses and depreciation. The deductions taken by the partners in 1971 and 1972 totalled $439,972. Due to [103 S.Ct. 1829] these contributions and deductions, the partnership's adjusted basis in the property in August 1972 was $1,455,740.

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In 1971 and 1972, major employers in the Duncanville area laid off significant numbers of workers. As a result, the partnership's rental income was less than expected, and it was unable to make the payments due on the mortgage. Each partner, on August 28, 1972, sold his partnership interest to an unrelated third party, Fred Bayles. As consideration, Bayles agreed to reimburse each partner's sale expenses up to $250; he also assumed the nonrecourse mortgage.

On the date of transfer, the fair market value of the property did not exceed $1,400,000. Each partner reported the sale on his federal income tax return and indicated that a partnership loss of $55,740 had been sustained. 1 The Commissioner of Internal Revenue, on audit, determined that the sale resulted in a partnership capital gain of approximately $400,000. His theory was that the partnership had realized the full amount of the nonrecourse obligation. 2

Relying on Millar v. Commissioner, 577 F.2d 212, 215 (CA3), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 1046, 99 S.Ct. 721, 58 L.Ed.2d 704 (1978), the United States Tax Court, in an unreviewed decision, upheld the asserted deficiencies. 70 T.C. 756 (1978). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed. 651 F.2d 1058 (1981). That court expressly disagreed with the Millar analysis, and, in limiting Crane v. Commissioner, supra, to its facts, questioned the theoretical underpinnings of the Crane

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decision. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. 456 U.S. 960, 102 S.Ct. 2034, 72 L.Ed.2d 483 (1982).

II

Section 752(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, 26 U.S.C. § 752(d), specifically provides that liabilities incurred in the sale or exchange of a partnership interest are to "be treated in the same manner as liabilities in connection with the sale or exchange of property not associated with partnerships." Section 1001 governs the determination of gains and losses on the disposition of property. Under § 1001(a), the gain or loss from a sale or other disposition of property is defined as the difference between "the amount realized" on the disposition and the property's adjusted basis. Subsection (b) of § 1001 defines "amount realized": "The amount realized from the sale or other disposition of property shall be the sum of any money received plus the fair market value of the property (other than money) received." At issue is the application of the latter provision to the disposition of property encumbered by a nonrecourse mortgage of an amount in excess of the property's fair market value.

A

In Crane v. Commissioner, supra, this Court took the first and controlling step toward the resolution of this issue. Beulah B. Crane was the sole beneficiary under the will of her deceased husband. At his death in January 1932, he owned an apartment building that was then mortgaged for an amount which proved to be equal to its fair market value, as determined for federal estate tax...

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