Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Unanimous Supreme Court Upholds Application of Penalty to Overstatement of Basis

Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court today unanimously reversed the Fifth Circuit and held (in accodrance with the First, Third, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits) that the § 6622 accuracy related penalty applies to overstated basis in a disallowed tax shelter.  United States v. Woods, No. 12-562 (Dec. 3, 2013).  Justice Scalia's opinion blasts the use of the Blue Book:

Woods contends, however, that a document known as the “Blue Book” compels a different result. See General Explanation of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 (Pub. L. 97–34), 97 Cong., 1st Sess., 333, and n. 2 (Jt.Comm. Print 1980). Blue Books are prepared by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation as commentaries on recently passed tax laws. They are “written after passage of the legislation and therefore d[o] not inform the decisions of the members of Congress who vot[e] in favor of the [law].” Flood v. United States, 33 F. 3d 1174, 1178 (CA9 1994). We have held that such “[p]ost-enactment legislative history (a contradiction in terms) is not a legitimatetool of statutory interpretation.” Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 17–18); accord, Federal Nat. Mortgage Assn. v. United States, 379 F. 3d 1303, 1309 (CA Fed. 2004) (dismissing Blue Book as “a post-enactment explanation”). While we have relied on similar documents in the past, see FPC v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div., 411 U. S. 458, 471–472 (1973), our more recent precedents disapprove of that practice. Of course the Blue Book, like a law review article, may be relevant to the extent it is persuasive. But the passage at issue here does not persuade. It concerns a situation quite different from the one we confront: two separate, non­overlapping underpayments, only one of which is attributable to a valuation misstatement.

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