Portland Golf Club v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue
United States Supreme Court
PORTLAND GOLF CLUB v. COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE
No. 89-530 Argued: April 17, 1990. --- Decided: June 21, 1990
As a nonprofit corporation that owns and operates a private social club, petitioner's income derived from membership fees and other receipts from members is exempt from income tax. However, all other income is non-exempt "unrelated business taxable income," defined in § 512(a)(3)(A) of the Internal Revenue Code as "the gross income (excluding any exempt function income), less the deductions allowed by this chapter which are directly connected with the production of the gross income (excluding exempt function income)." Petitioner has nonexempt income from sales of food and drink to nonmembers and from return on its investments. During its 1980 and 1981 tax years, petitioner offset net losses on nonmember sales against the earnings from its investments and reported no unrelated business taxable income. In computing its losses, petitioner identified two categories of expenses incurred in nonmember sales: (1) variable (direct) expenses, such as the cost of food, which, in each year in question, were exceeded by gross income from nonmember sales; and (2) fixed (indirect) overhead expenses, which would have been incurred whether or not sales had been made to nonmembers. It determined what portions of fixed expenses were attributable to nonmember sales by employing an allocation formula known as the "gross-to-gross method," based on the ratio that nonmember sales bore to total sales. The total of these fixed expenses and variable costs exceeded petitioner's gross income from nonmember sales. On audit, the Commissioner determined that petitioner could deduct expenses associated with nonmember sales up to the amount of receipts from the sales themselves, but could not use losses from those activities to offset its investment income because it had failed to show that its nonmember sales were undertaken with an intent to profit. Petitioner sought redetermination, and the Tax Court ruled in petitioner's favor, concluding that petitioner had adequately demonstrated that it had a profit motive, since its gross receipts from nonmember sales consistently exceeded the variable costs associated with those activities. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Tax Court had applied an incorrect legal standard in determining that petitioner had demonstrated an intent to profit, because profit in this context meant the production of gains in excess of all direct and indirect costs. The court remanded the case for a determination whether petitioner engaged in its nonmember activities with the required intent to profit from those activities.
Held: Petitioner may use losses incurred in sales to nonmembers to offset investment income only if those sales were motivated by an intent to profit, which is to be determined by using the same allocation method as petitioner used to compute its actual profit or loss. Pp. 160-171.
(a) The statutory scheme for the taxation of social clubs was intended to achieve tax neutrality by ensuring that members are not subject to tax disadvantages as a consequence of their decision to pool their resources for the purchase of social or recreational services, but was not intended to provide clubs with a tax advantage. Pp. 160-163.
(b) By limiting deductions from unrelated business income to those expenses allowable as deductions under "this chapter," § 512(a)(3)(A) limits such deductions to expenses allowable under Chapter 1 of the Code. Since only § 162 of Chapter 1 serves as a basis for the deductions claimed here, and since a taxpayer's activities fall within § 162's scope only if an intent to profit is shown, see Commissioner v. Groetzinger, 480 U.S. 23, 35, 107 S.Ct. 980, 987-988, 94 L.Ed.2d 25, petitioner's nonmember sales must be motivated by an intent to profit. Dispensing with the profit-motive requirement in this case would run counter to the principle of tax neutrality underlying the statutory scheme. Pp. 163-166.
(c) The Commissioner correctly concluded that the same allocation method must be used in determining petitioner's intent to profit as in computing its actual profit or loss. It is an inherent contradiction to argue that the same fixed expenses that are attributable to nonmember sales in calculating actual losses can also be attributed to membership activities in determining whether petitioner acted with the requisite intent to profit. Having chosen to calculate its actual losses on the basis of the gross-to-gross formula, petitioner is foreclosed from attempting to demonstrate its intent to profit based on some other allocation method. Pp. 166-170.
(d) Petitioner has failed to show that it intended to earn gross income from nonmember sales in excess of its total costs, where fixed expenses are allocated using the gross-to-gross method. P. 171.
876 F.2d 897, (CA9 1989) affirmed.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in which O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined except as to Parts III-B and IV. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 171.
Leonard J. Henzke, Jr., Washington, D.C., for petitioner.
Clifford M. Sloan, Washington, D.C., for respondent.
Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
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