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M. W. WOOD ENTERPRISES v. UNITED STATES

May 7, 1982

M. W. WOOD ENTERPRISES, INC.
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 Shortly after its incorporation plaintiff issued Milton W. Wood 50,000 shares of common and 50,000 shares of preferred stock; Mr. Wood also received 467 of plaintiff's $ 1,000 debt instruments. In exchange for the notes and stock issued to Mr. Wood, plaintiff received all 180 of the common shares of M.W. Wood, Inc., and all 150 shares of M.W. Catering Service, Inc. *fn1"

 Defendant, United States, subsequently audited plaintiff and disallowed its interest payment deduction on the debenture notes and asserted that, in reality, such payments constituted a non-deductible preferential dividend paid to the debenture holders. Plaintiff subsequently paid the assessed tax and instituted this action for a refund. Both parties now move for summary judgment upon a record of stipulated facts. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

 Determination of the question whether interest paid by plaintiff on its 6% debenture bonds represents a non-deductible "preferential dividend" or actual indebtedness requires reference to the following factors, first articulated in Fin Hay Realty Co. v. United States, 398 F.2d 694, 696 (3d Cir. 1968) and further discussed in Trans-Atlantic Co. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 469 F.2d 1189 (3d Cir. 1972):

 
(1) the intent of the parties; (2) the identity between creditors and shareholders; (3) the extent of participation in management by the holder of the instrument; (4) the ability of the corporation to obtain funds from outside sources; (5) the 'thinness' of the capital structure in relation to debt; (6) the risk involved; (7) the formal indicia of the arrangement; (8) the relative position of the obligees as to other creditors regarding the payment of interest and principal; (9) the voting power of the holder of the instrument; (10) the provision of a fixed rate of interest; (11) a contingency on the obligation to repay; (12) the source of the interest payments; (13) the presence or absence of a fixed maturity date; (14) a provision for redemption by the corporation; (15) a provision for redemption at the option of the holder; and (16) the timing of the advance with reference to the organization of the corporation.

 Importantly, none of the factors are determinative and they are not all entitled to equal weight; rather, each case must turn upon an analysis of the specific facts at bar. In fact, the Fin Hay test merely serves as a guide to focus and delineate the Court's inquiry as it considers the "ultimate question [of] whether the investment, analyzed in terms of its economic reality, constitutes risk capital... or represents strictly a debtor-creditor relationship. Fin Hay Realty Co. v. United States, 398 F.2d at 697.

 The nest two factors, identity of creditors and shareholders and the degree of management participation by the debenture holders, weigh heavily in favor of the Government. Mr. Wood owned 100% of M.W. Wood, Inc. and W. W. Wood Catering Services, Inc., *fn3" before the creation of plaintiff. After plaintiff was created, Mr. Wood owned 100% of it, and through it he still controlled the two "related" Wood corporations.

 The next two factors, the corporation's ability to obtain outside funds and the thinness of the capital structure in relation to the debt, weigh in favor of plaintiff. The undisputed facts are that plaintiff, at the time of the transaction, could have obtained funds from a local bank and that the corporate debt to equity ratio was in excess of two parts equity to one part debt. However, the weight which we place on these factors is minimized because plaintiff did not actually receive a cash infusion in exchange for the debt instruments. As such, its ability to obtain outside capital and the debt-equity ratio loses some importance since plaintiff did not apparently need or acquire any capital.

 The risk involved is a neutral factor. True, by subordinating the notes to general creditors, noteholders, arguably, faced some risk. However, plaintiff's sound financial condition, coupled with the critical fact that debenture holders failed to actually transfer capital to the corporation, compels the conclusion that the risk involved is neutral.

 The formal indicia of the arrangement, the next factor, favor plaintiff. There is no argument that appropriate formalities were not observed in creating the debentures. Where, as here, a corporation is closely held, the formalities of the debt instrument may lose some importance as "form does not necessarily correspond to the intrinsic economic nature of the transaction". Fin Hay Realty Co. v. United States, 398 F.2d at 697.

 The eighth Fin Hay factor, the relative position of the obligees to other corporate creditors regarding the payment of interest and principal, weighs in favor of defendant since rights of debenture holders are subordinate to all other creditors.

 The voting rights of the noteholders, the next factor, is not strongly implicated in the case at bar as no such rights exist absent a ...


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