COMMISSIONER V. TUFTS, 461 U. S. 300 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Commissioner v. Tufts, 461 U.S. 300 (1983)

Commissioner v. Tufts

No. 81-1536

Argued November 29, 1982

Decided May 2, 1983

461 U.S. 300


Section 72(d) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 (IRC) provides that liabilities involved 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 market value of the property is irrelevant to this calculation. Cf. Crane v. Commissioner, 331 U. S. 1. Pp. 461 U. S. 304-317.

Page 461 U. S. 301

(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. 461 U. S. 304-319.

(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. 461 U. S. 314-317.

651 F.2d 1058, reversed.

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