Crane v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 68

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtVINSON
Citation67 S.Ct. 1047,91 L.Ed. 1301,331 U.S. 1
Docket NumberNo. 68
Decision Date14 April 1947
PartiesCRANE v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE

331 U.S. 1
67 S.Ct. 1047
91 L.Ed. 1301
CRANE

v.

COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE.

No. 68.
Argued Dec. 11, 1946.
Decided April 14, 1947.

Page 2

Mr. Edward S. Bentley of New York City, for petitioner.

Mr. J. Louis Monarch, of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Chief Justice VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here is how a taxpayer who acquires depreciable property subject to an unassumed mortgage, holds it for a period, and finally sells it still so encumbered, must compute her taxable gain.

Page 3

Petitioner was the sole beneficiary and the executrix of the will of her husband, who died January 11, 1932. He then owned an apartment building and lot subject to a mortgage,1 which secured a principal debt of $255,000.00 and interest in default of $7,042.50. As of that date, the property was appraised for federal estate tax purposes at a value exactly equal to the total amount of this encumbrance. Shortly after her husband's death, petitioner entered into an agreement with the mortgagee whereby she was to continue to operate the property—collecting the rents, paying for necessary repairs, labor, and other operating expenses, and reserving $200.00 monthly for taxes—and was to remit the net rentals to the mortgagee. This plan was followed for nearly seven years, during which period petitioner reported the gross rentals as income, and claimed and was allowed deductions for taxes and operating expenses paid on the property, for interest paid on the mortgage, and for the physical exhaustion of the building. Meanwhile, the arrearage of interest increased to $15,857.71. On November 29, 1938, with the mortgagee threatening foreclosure, petitioner sold to a third party for $3,000.00 cash, subject to the mortgage, and paid $500.00 expenses of sale.

Petitioner reported a taxable gain of $1,250.00. Her theory was that the 'property' which she had acquired in 1932 and sold in 1938 was only the equity, or the excess in the value of the apartment building and lot over the amount of the mortgage. This equity was of zero value when she acquired it. No depreciation could be taken on a zero value.2 Neither she nor her vendee ever assumed

Page 4

the mortgage, so, when she sold the equity, the amount she realized on the sale was the net cash received, or $2,500.00. This sum less the zero basis constituted her gain, of which she reported half as taxable on the assumption that the entire property was a 'capital asset'.3

The Commissioner, however, determined that petitioner realized a net taxable gain of $23,767.03. His theory was that the 'property' acquired and sold was not the equity, as petitioner claimed, but rather the physical property itself, or the owner's rights to possess, use, and dispose of it, undiminished by the mortgage. The original basis thereof was $262,042.50, its appraised value in 1932. Of this value $55,000.00 was allocable to land and $207,042.50 to building.4 During the period that petitioner held the property, there was an allowable depreciation of $28,045.10 on the building,5 so that the adjusted basis of the building at the time of sale was $178,997.40. The amount realized on the sale was said to include not only the $2,500.00 net cash receipts, but also the principal amount6 of the mortgage subject to which the property was sold, both totaling $257,500.00. The selling price was allocable in the proportion, $54,471.15 to the land and $203,028.85 to the building.7 The Commissioner agreed that the land was

Page 5

a 'capital asset', but thought that the building was not.8 Thus, he dete mined that petitioner sustained a capital loss of $528.85 on the land, of which 50% or $264.42 was taken into account, and an ordinary gain of $24.031.45 on the building, or a net taxable gain as indicated.

The Tax Court agreed with the Commissioner that the building was not a 'capital asset.' In all other respects it adopted petitioner's contentions, and expunged the deficiency.9 Petitioner did not appeal from the part of the ruling adverse to her, and these questions are no longer at issue. On the Commissioner's appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, one judge dissenting.10 We granted certiorari because of the importance of the questions raised as to the proper construction of the gain and loss provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.11

The 1938 Act,12 § 111(a), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 111(a), defines the gain from 'the sale or other disposition of property' as 'the excess of the amount realized therefrom over the adjusted basis provided in section 113(b) * * *.' It proceeds, § 111(b), to define 'the amount realized from the sale or other disposition of property' as 'the sum of any money received plus

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the fair market value of the property (other than money) received.' Further, in § 113(b), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, § 113(b), the 'adjusted basis for determining the gain or loss from the sale or other disposition of property' is declared to be 'the basis determined under subsection (a), adjusted * * * ((1)(B)) * * * for exhaustion, wear and tear, obsolescence, amortization * * * to the extent allowed (but not less than the amount allowable) * * *.' The basis under subsection (a) 'if the property was acquired by * * * devise * * * or by the decedent's estate from the decedent', § 113(a)(5), is 'the fair market value of such property at the time of such acquisition.'

Logically, the first step under this scheme is to determine the unadjusted basis of the property, under § 113(a)(5), and the dispute in this case is as to the construction to be given the term 'property'. If 'property', as used in that provision, means the same thing as 'equity', it would necessarily follow that the basis of petitioner's property was zero, as she contends. If, on the contrary, it means the land and building themselves, or the owner's legal rights in them, undiminished by the mortgage, the basis was $262,042.50.

We think that the reasons for favoring one of the latter constructions are of overwhelming weight. In the first place, the words of statutes—including revenue acts—should be interpreted where possible in their ordinary, everyday senses.13 The only relevant definitions of 'property' to be found in the principal standard dictionaries14 are the two favored by the Commissioner, i.e., either that 'property' is the physical thing which is a subject of ownership, or that it is the aggregate of the owner's rights to control and dispose of that thing.

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'Equity' is not given as a synonym, nor do either of the foregoing definitions suggest that it could be correctly so used. Indeed, 'equity' is defined as 'the value of a property * * * above the total of the liens. * * *'15 The contradistinction could hardly be more pointed. Strong countervailing considerations would be required to support a contention that Congress, in using the word 'property', meant 'equity', or that we should impute to it the intent to convey that meaning.16

In the second place, the Commission's position has the approval of the administrative construction of § 113(a)(5). With respect to the valuation of property under that section, Reg. 101, Art. 113(a)(5)—1, promulgated under the 1938 Act, provided that 'the value of property as of the date of the death of the decedent as appraised for the purpose of the federal estate tax * * * shall be deemed to be its fair market value. * * *' The land and building here involved were so appraised in 1932, and their appraised value—$262,042.50—was reported by petitioner as part of the gross estate. This was in accordance with the estate tax law17 and regulations,18 which had always required that the value of decedent's property, undiminished by liens, be so appraised and returned, and that mortgages be separately deducted in computing the net estate.19 As the quoted provision of the Regula-

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tions has been in effect since 1918,20 and as the relevant statutory provision has been repeatedly reenacted since then in substantially the same form,21 the former may itself now be considered to have the force of law.22

Moreover, in the many instances in other parts of the Act in which Congress has used the word 'property', or expressed the idea of 'property' or 'equity', we find no instances of a misuse of either word or of a confusion of the ideas. 23 In some parts of the Act other than the gain and loss sections, we find 'property' where it is unmistakably used in its ordinary sense.24 On the other hand where either Congress or the Treasury intended to convey the meaning of 'equity,' it did so by the use of appropriate language.25

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A further reason why the word 'property' in § 113(a) should not be construed to mean 'equity' is the bearing such construction would have on the allowance of deductions for depreciation and on the collateral adjustments of basis.

Section 23(l) permits deduction from gross income of 'a reasonable allowance for the exhaustion, wear and tear of property * * *.' Sections 23(n) and 114(a), 26 U.S.C.A. Int.Rev.Code, §§ 23(n), 114(a), declare that the 'basis upon which depletion exhaustion, wear and tear * * * are to be allowed' is the basis 'provided in section 113(b) for the purpose of determining the gain upon the sale' of the property, which is the § 113(a) basis 'adjusted * * * for exhaustion, wear and tear * * * to the extent allowed (but not less than the amount allowable) * * *.'

Under these provisions, if the mortgagor's equity were the § 113(a) basis, it would also be the original basis from which depreciation allowances are deducted. If it is, and if the amount of the annual allowances were to be computed on that value, as would then seem to be required,26 they will represent only a fraction of the cost of the corresponding physical exhaustion, and any recoupment by the mortgagor of the remainder of that cost can be effected only by the reduction of his taxable gain in the year of sale.27 If, however,...

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  • Taproot Admin. Servs., Inc. v. Comm'r, No. 10–70892.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 21, 2012
    ...their ordinary, everyday senses.” Hanover Bank v. Comm'r, 369 U.S. 672, 687, 82 S.Ct. 1080, 8 L.Ed.2d 187 (1962) (quoting Crane v. Comm'r, 331 U.S. 1, 6, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301 (1947)); see also De Ganay v. Lederer, 250 U.S. 376, 381, 39 S.Ct. 524, 63 L.Ed. 1042 (1919) (“[S]tatutory w......
  • Title Ins. Co. of Minnesota v. State Bd. of Equalization, No. A045664
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 24, 1991
    ...to the mortgage, the benefit to him is as real and substantial as if the mortgage were discharged...." (Crane v. Commissioner (1947) 331 U.S. 1, 14, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 1055, 91 L.Ed. Further, in the more recent Diedrich case involving a gift of highly appreciated property conditioned on the don......
  • Southgate Master Fund ex rel. Montgomery v. U.S., Civil Action No. 3:06-CV-2335-K.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • August 18, 2009
    ...of Code sections could plausibly create tax losses that exceeded cash losses. As Professor Weisbach verified, citing Crane v. Comm'r, 331 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301 (1947), and Comm'r v. Tufts, 461 U.S. 300, 103 S.Ct. 1826, 75 L.Ed.2d 863 (1983), a scenario in which the tax losses......
  • City of Tucson, Ariz. v. C.I.R., No. 82-2187
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 24, 1987
    ...187, 197 (1962); Commisioner v. Korell, 339 U.S. 619, 627-628, 70 S.Ct. 905, 909, 94 L.Ed. 1108, 1114 (1950); Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1, 6, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 1051, 91 L.Ed. 1301, 1306 (1947); Helvering v. William Flaccus Oak Leather Co., 313 U.S. 247, 249, 61 S.Ct. 878, 880, 85 L.Ed. 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
498 cases
  • Taproot Admin. Servs., Inc. v. Comm'r, No. 10–70892.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 21, 2012
    ...their ordinary, everyday senses.” Hanover Bank v. Comm'r, 369 U.S. 672, 687, 82 S.Ct. 1080, 8 L.Ed.2d 187 (1962) (quoting Crane v. Comm'r, 331 U.S. 1, 6, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301 (1947)); see also De Ganay v. Lederer, 250 U.S. 376, 381, 39 S.Ct. 524, 63 L.Ed. 1042 (1919) (“[S]tatutory w......
  • Title Ins. Co. of Minnesota v. State Bd. of Equalization, No. A045664
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 24, 1991
    ...to the mortgage, the benefit to him is as real and substantial as if the mortgage were discharged...." (Crane v. Commissioner (1947) 331 U.S. 1, 14, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 1055, 91 L.Ed. Further, in the more recent Diedrich case involving a gift of highly appreciated property conditioned on the don......
  • Southgate Master Fund ex rel. Montgomery v. U.S., Civil Action No. 3:06-CV-2335-K.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • August 18, 2009
    ...of Code sections could plausibly create tax losses that exceeded cash losses. As Professor Weisbach verified, citing Crane v. Comm'r, 331 U.S. 1, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 91 L.Ed. 1301 (1947), and Comm'r v. Tufts, 461 U.S. 300, 103 S.Ct. 1826, 75 L.Ed.2d 863 (1983), a scenario in which the tax losses......
  • City of Tucson, Ariz. v. C.I.R., No. 82-2187
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • September 24, 1987
    ...187, 197 (1962); Commisioner v. Korell, 339 U.S. 619, 627-628, 70 S.Ct. 905, 909, 94 L.Ed. 1108, 1114 (1950); Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U.S. 1, 6, 67 S.Ct. 1047, 1051, 91 L.Ed. 1301, 1306 (1947); Helvering v. William Flaccus Oak Leather Co., 313 U.S. 247, 249, 61 S.Ct. 878, 880, 85 L.Ed. 1......
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