Newark Morning Ledger Co. v. United States, 507 U.S. 546, 19 (1993)

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Opinion of the Court



Although acknowledging the "analytic force" of cases such as those discussed above, the Court of Appeals in the present case characterized them as "no more than a minority strand amid the phalanx of cases" that have adopted the Government's position on the meaning of goodwill. 945 F. 2d, at 565.12 "In any case, consistent with the prevailing case law, we believe that the [IRS] is correct in asserting that, for tax purposes, there are some intangible assets which, notwithstanding that they have wasting lives that can be estimated with reasonable accuracy and ascertainable values, are nonetheless goodwill and nondepreciable." Id., at 568. The Court of Appeals concluded further that in "the context of the sale of a going concern, it is simply often too difficult for the taxpayer and the court to separate the value of the list qua list from the goodwill value of the customer relationships/structure." Ibid. We agree with that general observation. It is often too difficult for taxpayers to separate depreciable intangible assets from goodwill. But sometimes they manage to do it. And whether or not they have been successful in any particular case is a question of fact.

The Government concedes: "The premise of the regulatory prohibition against the depreciation of goodwill is that, like stock in a corporation, a work of art, or raw land, good-12 At least one commentator has taken issue with the Court of Appeals' characterization of the recent cases as nothing but a "minority strand." See Avi-Yonah, Newark Morning Ledger: A Threat to the Amortizability of Acquired Intangibles, 55 Tax Notes 981, 984 (1992) (of the 14 cases cited by the Third Circuit that were decided after Houston Chronicle in 1973, the IRS has prevailed in only 6 of them; "hardly an 'overwhelming weight of authority' in the IRS' favor, especially given that two of the IRS victories, but none of the taxpayers,' were only at the district court level"). Regardless of whether the cases discussed in Part IV, supra, are characterized as a "minority strand" or as a "modern trend," we find their reasoning and approach persuasive.

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