United States v. Noland, 517 U.S. 535, 7 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 535 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

probable in the extreme. "Decisions about the treatment of categories of claims in bankruptcy proceedings . . . are not dictated or illuminated by principles of equity and do not fall within the judicial power of equitable subordination . . . ." Burden, 917 F. 2d, at 122 (Alito, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part).

Just such a legislative type of decision, however, underlies the Bankruptcy Court's reordering of priorities in question here, as approved by the District Court and the Court of Appeals. Despite language in its opinion about requiring a balancing of the equities in individual cases, the Court of Appeals actually concluded that "postpetition, nonpecuniary loss tax penalty claims" are "susceptible to subordination" by their very "nature." 48 F. 3d, at 218. And although the court said that not every tax penalty would be equitably subordinated, ibid., that would be the inevitable result of consistent applications of the rule employed here, which depends not on individual equities but on the supposedly general unfairness of satisfying "postpetition, nonpecuniary loss tax penalty claims" before the claims of a general creditor.

The Court of Appeals's decision thus runs directly counter to Congress's policy judgment that a postpetition tax penalty should receive the priority of an administrative expense, 11 U. S. C. 503(b)(1)(C), 507(a)(1), and 726(a)(1). This is true regardless of Noland's argument that the Bankruptcy Court made a distinction between compensatory and noncompensa-tory tax penalties, for this was itself a categorical distinction at a legislative level of generality. Indeed, Congress recognized and employed that distinction elsewhere in the priority provisions: Congress specifically assigned 8th priority to certain compensatory tax penalties, see 507(a)(8)(G), and 12th priority to prepetition, noncompensatory penalties, see 726(a)(1) and (4).3

3 Noland argues that "although the penalties at issue arose postpetition," this claim should be viewed as a prepetition penalty because a "reorganized debtor is in many respects similar to a prepetition debtor . . . [and]


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