Commissioner v. Pittson Company
252 F.2d 344 (1958)

  • Pittston was in the business of selling coal. They made a deal with a mining company called Russell. Pittson loaned $250k to Russell, and in addition to repaying the loan Russell agreed to sell coal to Pittson at an 8% discount for 10 years.
    • Even after the loan was repaid, Russell was still obligated to sell discounted coal to Pittston, so it was a pretty sweet deal for Pittson.
  • After a few years they made a new deal where Pittston took $500k to terminate the agreement to sell discounted coal.
  • When they filed their taxes, Pittston claimed the $500k as a capital gain. The IRS disagreed and assessed a deficiency.
    • Pittston argued that they were not in the business of selling contract rights to discounted coal. Therefore they were simply selling a capital asset.
    • The IRS argued that since Pittson made money by selling coal, the amount of ordinary income they made was related to the buy price of the coal. Therefore the 8% discount represented 8% more ordinary income.
      • Therefore Pittston hadn't sold a capital asset at all, they just collected a lot of ordinary income at once instead of over the next several years.
      • See Hort v. Commissioner (313 U.S. 28 (1941)).
  • The Tax Court found for Pittson. The IRS appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and found that the $500k should be taxed as ordinary income.
    • The Appellate Court found that since the contract represented nothing more than the right to collect more future ordinary income, it was a naked contract right.
    • The Court found that when a payment is realized to terminate a naked contract right, that payment is considered ordinary income.