Holywell Corp. v. Smith, 503 U.S. 47 (1992)

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OCTOBER TERM, 1991

Syllabus

HOLYWELL CORP. et al. v. SMITH et al.

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eleventh circuit

No. 90-1361. Argued December 4, 1991—Decided February 25, 1992*

Petitioner debtors, four affiliated corporate entities and Theodore B. Gould, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy petitions after one of the entities defaulted on a real estate loan. The Bankruptcy Court consolidated the cases and the debtors represented their own bankruptcy estates as debtors in possession. Creditors approved a Chapter 11 plan that provided, inter alia, for placement of the debtors' property into a trust and appointment of a trustee to liquidate all of the trust property and to distribute it to the creditors of the various bankruptcy estates. The plan said nothing about whether the trustee had to file income tax returns or pay any income tax due, but the United States did not object to the plan's confirmation. The plan took effect in October 1985. One of the corporate debtors filed a tax return for the fiscal year ending July 31, 1985, including as income capital gains earned in the postbankruptcy sale of certain properties in its estate, but requested respondent Smith, the appointed trustee, to pay the taxes owed. Neither the corporate debtors nor Smith filed income tax returns for succeeding fiscal years, in which there was capital gains and interest income. Over the objections of the United States and the debtors, the Bankruptcy Court granted Smith's request for a declaratory judgment that he had no duty under the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to file income tax returns or pay income taxes. Both the District Court and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Smith is required by the Code to file income tax returns and pay taxes on the income attributable to the property of both the corporate debtors and Gould. Pp. 52-59. (a) Smith is an "assignee" of "all" or "substantially all" of the "property . . . of a corporation" and therefore is required by 6012(b)(3) of the Code to file returns that the corporate debtors would have filed had their property not been assigned to him. The plan transferred the corporate debtors' estates to Smith as trustee, and it is undisputed that he meets the usual definition of the word "assignee" in both ordinary and legal usage. Nothing in 6012(b)(3) limits the definition of an "as-*Together with No. 90-1484, United States v. Smith et al., also on certiorari to the same court.

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