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Stratmore v. United States

decided: January 6, 1970.

BENJAMIN A. STRATMORE AND HELEN STRATMORE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Staley, Seitz and Stahl, Circuit Judges. Stahl, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs, taxpayers, brought an action in the district court for a refund of income taxes for the year 1959, contending that $17,088.00 they paid as guarantors of the promissory notes of corporations of which they were officers and stockholders was fully deductible either as a loss incurred in a transaction entered into for profit though not connected with a trade or business under section 165(c) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, or, alternatively, a bad debt incurred in a trade or business, under section 166(a) and (d). The district court ruled against the taxpayers on the former contention but in favor of them on the latter. Stratmore v. United States, 292 F. Supp. 59 (D.N.J.1968). The Government appeals.

The case was decided by the district court on a stipulation of facts, which discloses the following. In 1959 and prior thereto the taxpayers, husband and wife, were officers and stockholders of B. B. Rider Corporation (Rider) and General Manufacturing Corporation (General), both functioning business enterprises. They acquired an interest in Rider in 1938 and were instrumental in forming General in 1950. Taxpayer, Benjamin A. Stratmore, was and still is president of both corporations. His primary duties during the past fifteen years have been to secure financing so that the corporations could meet their operational needs.

General commenced operations with a capitalization of $50,000.00, which it borrowed from Rider. Rider in turn had to borrow the money from certain individuals who would not lend the money directly to General because, at the time, General was without assets. When General's need for capital increased, Benjamin A. Stratmore had to seek additional financing for it.

After exhausting credit with banking institutions, Stratmore was compelled to borrow money for Rider and General from certain individuals. In the typical transaction, these individuals would lend money to one of the corporations but would require the taxpayers to personally guarantee the corporate promissory notes by endorsing them. Without these endorsements the loans could not have been obtained and the corporations would have ceased functioning.

Although the aggregate amount of such loans is not set forth in the stipulation, it is clear that very substantial sums were involved. Furthermore, it was stipulated that taxpayers gave their endorsements and lent their credit to the corporations "with the expectation that said corporations' use of these funds would provide them with increased receipts by way of salary and inhance [sic] the value of their proprietary interests in said corporations."

The taxpayers' endorsements were executed prior to August 1957, when Rider and General filed voluntary petitions in bankruptcy seeking reorganization under Chapter XI of the Bankruptcy Act. At the creditors' insistence, taxpayers did not file any claims. A plan of payment was approved whereby 25 per cent of the obligations owing creditors would be paid. The corporations were discharged from bankruptcy in December 1958, and thereafter, certain of the creditors demanded payment of the balance of the corporate debts from taxpayers as guarantors of the corporate notes. Taxpayers agreed to pay part of the debt owed these creditors in full settlement of their obligations as guarantors. We are concerned with the payment made by them in 1959.

On their original tax return for 1959, taxpayers treated the 1959 payment as a non-business bad debt, deductible only as a short-term capital loss. They later filed an amended return claiming that payment was entirely deductible under section 165(c) (2) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. In the district court, taxpayers contended that the amount they paid as guarantors of the corporate notes was either (1) a loss in a transaction entered into for profit though not connected with a trade or business, under section 165(c) (2), or (2) a bad debt incurred in a trade or business, under section 166(a) and (d).

We consider first the district court's ruling that the payment constituted a fully deductible business bad debt. Section 166(a) and (d) provide, insofar as here pertinent, that an individual taxpayer can deduct a bad debt in full only if it is created or acquired in connection with, or if the loss therefrom is incurred in, the taxpayer's trade or business. The test applied in resolving the issue of whether a loss is incurred in a trade or business is found in Treasury Regulation ยง 1.166-5(b) (2):

"For purposes of subparagraph (2) of this paragraph, the character of the debt is to be determined by the relation which the loss resulting from the debt's becoming worthless bears to the trade or business of the taxpayer. If that relation is a proximate one in the conduct of the trade or business in which the taxpayer is engaged at the time the debt becomes worthless, the debt comes within the exception [fully deductible] provided by that subparagraph."

See also Whipple v. Commissioner, 373 U.S. 193, 201, 83 S. Ct. 1168, 10 L. Ed. 2d 288 (1963).

The Government is willing to assume for purposes of this appeal that the 1959 payment by these taxpayers pursuant to their guarantees gave rise to a bad debt.*fn1 However, it contends that, contrary to the ruling of the district court and the contention of the taxpayers, the payment was not deductible as a business bad debt because the taxpayers failed to meet their burden of showing facts from which it could be found that the loss was proximately related to their positions as salaried corporate officers, rather than to their interests as investors in the corporation.

The Government does not challenge the proposition that one acting as a salaried corporate executive can be considered to be engaged in a trade or business for purposes of the statute. This then leaves for decision the extremely difficult practical problem as to whether the taxpayers demonstrated factually that their loss as guarantors was proximately related to their business of being corporate officials, or, more concretely, to the retention and enlargement of their salaries.

The Government contends that for a bad debt to be proximately related to the separate trade or business of a stockholder-employee, it is necessary to show that his interest as an employee was the primary motivation*fn2 for guaranteeing the corporate notes. The taxpayers, relying on Weddle v. Commissioner, 325 F.2d 849, 851 (2d Cir. 1963), argue that it only need be a "significant motivation." The district court did not explicitly state what test it was applying. The Government further contends that, in any event, the facts here meet neither test.

We agree with the Government that the taxpayers have not met their burden of showing even a significant motivation. Because of this view we take of the record, we find it unnecessary to decide whether the correct test is one of primary motivation or of significant motivation.

The heart of the district court's factual evaluation is found in the following portion of its opinion:

"Rider and General would have ceased to function but for the loans obtained for said corporations by plaintiffs. And those loans would not have been made without plaintiffs' guaranty. A cessation of business by the corporations would have resulted in a loss of plaintiffs' salaried positions. It has been stipulated that plaintiffs gave their indorsements and lent their credit to Rider and General with the expectation that the use of the borrowed and guaranteed loans by the corporations would provide plaintiffs 'with increased receipts by way of salary and ...


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