United States v. Generes, 405 U.S. 93 (1972)

Author: Justice Douglas

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United States v. Generes, 405 U.S. 93 (1972)

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

The Treasury Regulations 1.166-5(b)(2), which govern this case, provide that

the character of the debt is to be determined by the relation which the loss resulting from the debt’s becoming worthless bears to the trade or business of the taxpayer.

The Regulations do not use the words "primary and dominant." They state:

If that relation is a proximate one in the conduct of the trade or business in which the taxpayer is engaged at the time the debt becomes worthless,

the debt is deductible. Ibid.

The jury was instructed in the words of the Regulations:

Do you find from a preponderance of the evidence that the signing of the blanket indemnity agreement by Mr. Generes was proximately related to his trade or business of being an employee of the Kelly Generes Construction Company?

The jury unanimously answered "Yes."

There was evidence to support the finding. Generes was an officer of the company, and received a salary of $12,000 a year. His job as officer was to obtain the bonding credit needed by the company to perform the jobs on which it bid. To get the bond, Generes, the president, and Kelly, the vice-president, were required to sign personally an indemnity agreement.

The bond was essential if the company was to operate. Without the bond, the company could not obtain business and, if that happened, he, as an officer, would lose his job. It therefore seems to me that signing the bond had a "proximate" relation to his business as a salaried officer in the sense that it was directly related to the hoped-for success of that business.

Whether it was a prudent act is not our concern. Nor is it our concern whether, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now say that signing the bond entailed risks wholly disproportionate to the stake Generes had in maintaining a job with a $12,000-a-year salary.

Obtaining a bond was essential to the corporation, and it was only by keeping the business going that the salaried position of Generes could be made secure. If the Regulations do not meet the desires of the Treasury Department, they can be rewritten. See Helvering v. Wilshire Oil Co., 308 U.S. 90, 100-102.

I protest now what I have repeatedly protested, and that is the use of this Court to iron out ambiguities in the Regulations or in the Act, when the responsible remedy is either a recasting of the Regulations by Treasury or presentation of the problem to the Joint Committee on Internal Revenue Taxation, which is a standing committee of the Congress{1} that regularly rewrites the Act and is much abler than are we to forecast revenue needs and spot loopholes where abuses thrive.

As I said in Commissioner v. Lester, 366 U.S. 299, 307,

Resort to litigation, rather than to Congress, for a change in the law is too often the temptation of government, which has a longer purse and more endurance than any taxpayer.

(Concurring opinion.) And see Knetsch v. United States, 364 U.S. 361, 371 (dissenting opinion).

Had I voted to grant this petition, I would be in a position to vote to dismiss it as improvidently granted. But to give integrity to the "rule of four" by which certiorari is granted{2} the objectors must participate in a decision, as stated at length by the late Mr. Justice Harlan in Ferguson v. Moore-McCormack Lines, 352 U.S. 521, 559-562.

In that view, I cannot say that, on the facts of this case, the loss did not have a "proximate" relation to this corporate officer’s business of keeping the enterprise afloat. I would affirm the Court of Appeals, 427 F.2d 279.


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Chicago: Douglas, "Douglas, J., Dissenting," United States v. Generes, 405 U.S. 93 (1972) in 405 U.S. 93 405 U.S. 114–405 U.S. 116. Original Sources, accessed April 19, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D28DH4STAMDRUL7.

MLA: Douglas. "Douglas, J., Dissenting." United States v. Generes, 405 U.S. 93 (1972), in 405 U.S. 93, pp. 405 U.S. 114–405 U.S. 116. Original Sources. 19 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D28DH4STAMDRUL7.

Harvard: Douglas, 'Douglas, J., Dissenting' in United States v. Generes, 405 U.S. 93 (1972). cited in 1972, 405 U.S. 93, pp.405 U.S. 114–405 U.S. 116. Original Sources, retrieved 19 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=D28DH4STAMDRUL7.