Newark Morning Ledger Co. v. United States, 507 U.S. 546, 26 (1993)

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Cite as: 507 U. S. 546 (1993)

Souter, J., dissenting

Justice Souter, with whom The Chief Justice, Justice White, and Justice Scalia join, dissenting.

Newark Morning Ledger seeks a depreciation 1 deduction under 26 U. S. C. 167(a) for an intangible asset it variously refers to as "paid subscribers," see Brief for Petitioner 4-5, or "subscriber relationships," see Tr. of Oral Arg. 3. The Court of Appeals rejected Ledger's claim on the authority of a Treasury regulation providing (a) that an intangible asset may be depreciated only if it has a limited useful life "the length of which can be estimated with reasonable accuracy," and (b) that "[n]o deduction for depreciation is allowable with respect to goodwill." 26 CFR 1.167(a)-3 (1992); see 945 F. 2d 555, 558, 567-569 (CA3 1991). Ledger claims the regulation raises no bar to a deduction, arguing that (1) the asset is not goodwill, because (2) it has a limited useful life actually estimated with reasonable accuracy. Ledger is wrong on both counts. Ledger's asset is unmistakably a direct measurement of goodwill, and Ledger's expert testimony failed to show any particular lifespan for the goodwill Ledger acquired.


When The Herald Company (now merged with Newark Morning Ledger) bought and liquidated the stock of Booth Newspapers, Inc., it allocated $67.8 million of the stock's adjusted basis to an asset called "paid subscribers." Although, as will appear, this label is misdescriptive, it need not confuse anyone about the true nature of the asset, since Ledger has explained clearly how it determined the asset's value. Ledger got to the $67.8 million figure by predicting the fu-1 Black's Law Dictionary tells us that intangible assets are amortized, while tangible assets are depreciated. Black's Law Dictionary 83, 441 (6th ed. 1990); see also Gregorcich, Amortization of Intangibles: A Reassessment of the Tax Treatment of Purchased Goodwill, 28 Tax Law. 251, 253 (1975) ("Amortization is the commonly accepted way of referring to depreciation of intangible property"). The statute and the regulations, however, use only the term depreciation.


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