Friday, September 21, 2007
I previously have blogged (here, here, here, and here) the fate of the venerable Glenshaw Glass Company, known to generations of tax professors, lawyers, and students as the party in the seminal Supreme Court case on the definition of income profiled in Chapter 1 of our Tax Stories book. (My summary of the chapter in Tax Archaeology, my Introduction to the book, is reproduced below the fold.) I am pleased to report that the Glenshaw Glass Company is back in business thanks to a private equity firm.
Joseph M. Dodge’s opening chapter focuses on perhaps the central question in the nascent income tax: the nature of income subject to tax. Yet the the tax law struggled with this question for over forty years before the Supreme Court decided Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass in 1955. The narrow holding in the case -- that punitive damages recovered by a plaintiff in commercial litigation constitutes gross income -- seems quite obvious to us with the benefit of hindsight. Indeed, the doctrine emerging from Glenshaw Glass –- that "windfall gains" are included in gross income -– also strikes us today as the only sensible outcome. But Professor Dodge unearths the great doctrinal and theoretical uncertainty faced by the parties in Glenshaw Glass as they struggled to give content to the Code's use of the phrase "gross income." The Court’s opinion established two enduring principles of the income tax: (1) that the Code, not language in judicial opinions, is the ultimate source of tax law; and (2) that the term "gross income" in the Code is a catch-all phrase that reaches all accessions to wealth, regardless of source, and not specifically excluded elsewhere in the Code. In addition, Glenshaw Glass set the income tax on a modern footing, "free of the clutter and distractions inherited from the nineteenth century and early twentieth century."