I. J. Knight Realty Corp., In re

Decision Date31 July 1974
Docket NumberNo. 73-2008,73-2008
Citation501 F.2d 62
Parties74-2 USTC P 9615 In the Matter of I. J. KNIGHT REALTY CORP., Bankrupt. Appeal of UNITED STATES of America, Claimant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Scott P. Crampton, Asst. Atty. Gen., Meyer Rothwacks, Crombie J. D. Garrett, Karl Schmeidler, Attys. Tax Div. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C. for claimant; Robert E. J. Curran, U.S. Atty., of counsel.

P. J. DiQuinzio, Stephen P. Dicke, Dechert Price & Rhoads, Philadelphia, Pa., for bankrupt; Gordon W. Gerber, Arthur E. Newbold, III, Dechert, Price & Rhoads, Philadelphia, Pa., of counsel.

Before ADAMS, HUNTER and GARTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ADAMS, Circuit Judge:

Is a 'non-operating' trustee of a bankrupt corporation liable for the payment of federal taxes on income generated during the liquidation and distribution of the bankrupt estate? That is the primary question presented on this appeal. 1

I.

The facts of the case are undisputed. I. J. Knight Realty Corporation, the bankrupt, owned as its principal asset a building located in Philadelphia. Its sole business was the leasing of space in the building, and the provision of maintenance services to its tenants.

Knight filed a petition for an arrangement under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act in November of 1962. A receiver was appointed and authorized to continue operation of Knight's business. Shortly thereafter, in January of 1963, Knight's building was destroyed by fire; consequently, no business remained for the receiver to operate.

In May of 1963, Knight was adjudicated a bankrupt, and a trustee was appointed. At that time, the bankrupt's assets consisted of the following: (1) claims against various insurance companies in the amount of $1,440,000; (2) the land on which Knight's building had stood; and (3) cash in the amount of $2,030.11. 2 The City of Philadelphia, in September of 1963, instituted condemnation proceedings against the land owned by Knight, and the trustee was subsequently awarded $130,000. plus interest for the land. In November of 1963, the bankruptcy referee approved a settlement in the amount of $800,000. for Knight's claim against one of the insurance companies. In March of 1964, the trustee, pursuant to authorization by the Bankruptcy Court, paid $162,789.45 out of the insurance proceeds to satisfy an outstanding mortgage on Knight's building. Later that same month, the trustee deposited $500,000. of the insurance proceeds in interest-bearing accounts, and in fiscal year 1966 deposited another $65,000.

Counsel for the trustee, in February of 1967, filed with the District Director of Internal Revenue the trustee's federal income tax returns for the fiscal years 1963 through 1966. Each return was filed on a corporate income tax Form 1120, and each set forth various items of income and deductions, including interest earned on bank deposits. Based on the trustee's computations, each return showed no taxable income, and hence no tax due, after giving effect to net operating loss carryovers. 3 Returns for the fiscal years 1967 through 1970 were filed in due course, and also showed no taxable income for the years in question.

The Commissioner in 1971 conducted an audit of the trustee's returns for the years 1963 through 1970. Various adjustments in the trustee's computations were made by the Commissioner and resulting deficiencies were determined.

In March of 1973, the Commissioner filed a proof of claim against the trustee in the bankruptcy proceeding, asserting that the trustee was liable for payment of corporate income taxes, personal holding company taxes, and penalties and interest in the total amount of $366,736.05 for various of the years 1963 through 1970. The income in question was claimed to have been derived by the trustee from a capital gain on the condemnation sale of the land, and from interest on the insurance proceeds that had been deposited in interest-bearing accounts.

Upon cross-motions for summary judgment the district court, 366 F.Supp. 450, held that a 'non-operating' trustee is not liable for payment of federal income taxes, and entered judgment for the trustee. The Commissioner has appealed.

II.

Whether a trustee in bankruptcy is liable to pay federal income taxes on the bankrupt's income is determinable, certainly in the first instance, by reference to the Internal Revenue Code. Section 61 of the Code sweepingly defines 'gross income' (the base for calculating taxable income) as 'all income from whatever source derived.' 4 However, section 61 does not purport to establish the tax liability of particular classes of individuals. Rather, that task is accomplished by the sections grouped under Subtitle F of the Code. 5 Section 6012(b) 6 provides in part as follows:

(b) Returns Made by Fiduciaries and Receivers-- (3) Receivers, trustees and assignees for corporations-- In a case where a . . . trustee in bankruptcy . . ., by order of a court of competent jurisdiction, by operation of law or otherwise, has possession of or holds title to all or substantially all the property or business of a corporation, whether or not such property or business is being operated, such . . . trustee . . . shall make the return of income for such corporation in the same manner and form as corporations are required to make such returns.

Section 6151, 7 part of the same Code Subtitle, states that:

'Except as otherwise provided in this section, when a return of tax is required under this title or regulations, the person required to make such a return shall . . . pay such tax . . . at the time and place fixed for filing the return . . ..'

There is no provision in the Code that explicitly exempts a trustee in bankruptcy from the duty imposed by section 6151. Thus, application of the plain terms of that section require that a trustee in bankruptcy-- provided he is required to file a return under section 6012-- must pay taxes on the income generated by a bankrupt estate. Since the trustee here concedes that he 'had possession of or (held) title to all or substantially all (of Knight's) property' within the meaning of section 6012, it would appear that he was required to file returns for the years 1963 through 1970, and so is liable for the taxes levied on Knight's income for those years.

The taxpayer mounts a multifaceted attack on this conclusion. His first contention is that a literal reading of section 6151 does not result in the imposition of any tax liability upon a non-operating trustee. This argument appears, at first, to draw sustenance from a difference in the terminology used in sections 6012 and 6151. Section 6012 provides that a non-operating trustee in the taxpayer's circumstances must file a 'return of income,' while section 6151 speaks in terms of a 'return of tax.' Consequently, argues the taxpayer, the obligation to pay (to file a 'return of tax') established by 6151 does not automatically befall all those who are required by section 6012 to file a 'return of income.' The taxpayer maintains that, before concluding that section 6151 results in any tax liability to a trustee, we must find in the Code an explicit direction to non-operating trustees to file 'returns of tax.' Not surprisingly, the Code is devoid of such a direction. The final step in the trustee's syllogism is that a non-operating trustee is not liable for the payment of taxes on the bankrupt's income.

The appeal of this argument is quickly deflated by a glance at the realities of taxation and of the underlying schema of the Code. The 'return of income' required to be filed under section 6012 is, for a trustee of a bankrupt corporation, Form 1120. 8 A trustee in bankruptcy need file no other basic federal income return on behalf of the corporation, except perhaps informational returns setting out the amount of distributions in liquidation. 9 Form 1120 provides space for the listing of the bankrupt's income, its deductions, and significantly the 'tax due' for the taxable year.

Therefore, the 'return of income' required by section 6012 is, we think, precisely the same 'return of tax' to which reference is made by section 6151. 10 Accordingly, we reject on a terminological basis the taxpayer's argument that sections 6012 and 6151 cannot be read in pari materia. 11 The two statutory sections, read in conjunction, impose tax liability on one who, like this taxpayer, is required to file a 'return of income' and who, in fact, has had taxable income.

The taxpayer seeks to resuscitate and buttress his interpretation of sections 6012 and 6151 by referring to their statutory predecessors. Section 52(a) of the 1939 Code, for instance, imposed an obligation to file an income tax return and to pay any tax due only upon trustees in bankruptcy who were actually operating the business of the bankrupt. Similar provisions were in the revenue laws since the Revenue Act of 1916. 12 Cases interpreting these early statutes uniformly denied that a non-operating trustee had any obligation to file a return or to pay tax on the income of the bankrupt estate, 13 despite a contrary implication in the corresponding Treasury Regulations. 14 Section 6012(b)(3) was enacted in 1954 and altered prior law at least to the extent of imposing upon certain non-operating trustees the duty of filing returns. However, argues the taxpayer, there is a positive indication in the legislative history of that section that Congress had no intention in 1954 of subjecting a non-operating trustee to a payment obligation, an obligation that had clearly not existed under prior law.

Taxpayer's expositional odyssey through sections 6012 and 6151 relies heavily on section 960 of the Judicial Code, 15 which provides as follows:

'Any officers and agents conducting any business under authority of a united States court shall be subject to all Federal, State and local taxes applicable to such business to the same extent as if it were conducted...

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