Gitlitz v. Commissioner, 531 U.S. 206, 12 (2001)

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Cite as: 531 U. S. 206 (2001)

Opinion of the Court

be reduced, and the one at issue in this case, is the net operating loss. See 108(b)(2)(A). Section 108(d)(7)(B) specifies that, for purposes of attribute reduction, the shareholders' suspended losses for the taxable year of discharge are to be treated as the S corporation's net operating loss. If tax attribute reduction is performed before the discharge of indebtedness is passed through to the shareholders (as the Court of Appeals held), the shareholders' losses that exceed basis are treated as the corporation's net operating loss and are then reduced by the amount of the discharged debt. In this case, no suspended losses would remain that would permit petitioners to take deductions.7 If, however, attribute reduction is performed after the discharged debt income is passed through (as petitioners argue), then the shareholders would be able to deduct their losses (up to the amount of the increase in basis caused by the discharged debt). Any suspended losses remaining then will be treated as the S corporation's net operating loss and will be reduced by the amount of the discharged debt. Therefore, the sequence of the steps of pass-through and attribute reduction determines whether petitioners here were deficient when they increased their bases by the discharged debt amount and deducted their losses.

7 Under this scenario, the shareholders' losses would be reduced by the discharge of indebtedness. However, it is unclear precisely what would happen to the discharge of indebtedness. The Court of Appeals below stated that the discharged debt would be "absorbed" by the reduction to the extent of the net operating loss and that therefore only the excess excluded discharged debt would remain to pass through to the shareholders. 182 F. 3d 1143, 1149 (CA10 1999). In contrast, another Court of Appeals suggested, albeit in dictum, that the full amount of the discharge might still pass through to the shareholder and be used to increase basis; the discharged debt amount would reduce the net operating loss but would not be absorbed by it. Witzel v. Commissioner, 200 F. 3d 496, 498 (CA7 2000). We need not resolve this issue because we conclude that the discharge of indebtedness passes through before any attribute reduction takes place.


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