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UNITED STATES v. AMERICAN COLLEGE PHYSICIANS

decided: April 22, 1986.

UNITED STATES
v.
AMERICAN COLLEGE OF PHYSICIANS



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FEDERAL CIRCUIT.

Marshall, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Burger, C. J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Powell, J., joined, post, p. 850.

Author: Marshall

[ 475 U.S. Page 835]

 JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

A tax-exempt organization must pay tax on income that it earns by carrying on a business not "substantially related" to the purposes for which the organization has received its exemption from federal taxation. The question before this Court is whether respondent, a tax-exempt organization,

[ 475 U.S. Page 836]

     must pay tax on the profits it earns by selling commercial advertising space in its professional journal, The Annals of Internal Medicine.

I

Respondent, the American College of Physicians, is an organization exempt from taxation under § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.*fn1 The purposes of the College, as stated in its articles of incorporation, are to maintain high standards in medical education and medical practice; to encourage research, especially in clinical medicine; and to foster measures for the prevention of disease and for the improvement of public health. App. 16a. The principal facts were stipulated at trial. In furtherance of its exempt purposes, respondent publishes The Annals of Internal Medicine (Annals), a highly regarded monthly medical journal containing scholarly articles relevant to the practice of internal medicine. Each issue of Annals contains advertisements for pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and equipment useful in the practice of internal medicine, as well as notices of positions available in that field. Respondent has a longstanding policy of accepting only advertisements containing information about the use of medical products, and screens proffered advertisements for accuracy and relevance to internal medicine. The advertisements are clustered in two groups, one at the front and one at the back of each issue.

In 1975, Annals produced gross advertising income of $1,376,322. After expenses and deductible losses were subtracted, there remained a net income of $153,388. Respondent reported this figure as taxable income and paid taxes on it in the amount of $55,965. Respondent then filed a timely claim with the Internal Revenue Service for refund of these

[ 475 U.S. Page 837]

     taxes, and when the Government demurred, filed suit in the United States Claims Court.

The Claims Court held a trial and concluded that the advertisements in Annals were not substantially related to respondent's tax-exempt purposes. 3 Cl. Ct. 531 (1983). Rather, after finding various facts regarding the nature of the College's advertising business, it concluded that any correlation between the advertisements and respondent's educational purpose was incidental because "the comprehensiveness and content of the advertising package is entirely dependent on each manufacturer's willingness to pay for space and the imagination of its advertising agency." Id., at 535. Accordingly, the court determined that the advertising proceeds were taxable.

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed. 743 F.2d 1570 (1984). It held clearly erroneous the trial court's finding that the advertising was not substantially related to respondent's tax-exempt purpose. The Court of Appeals believed that the trial court had focused too much on the commercial character of the advertising business and not enough on the actual contribution of the advertisements to the education of the journal's readers. It held that respondent had established the requisite substantial relation and its entitlement to exemption from taxation. Id., at 1578. We granted the Government's petition for certiorari, 473 U.S. 904 (1985), and now reverse.

II

The taxation of business income not "substantially related" to the objectives of exempt organizations dates from the Revenue Act of 1950, Ch. 994, 64 Stat. 906 (1950 Act). The statute was enacted in response to perceived abuses of the tax laws by tax-exempt organizations that engaged in profit-making activities. Prior law had required only that the profits garnered by exempt organizations be used in furtherance of tax-exempt purposes, without regard to the source of

[ 475 U.S. Page 838]

     those profits. See Trinidad v. Sagrada Orden de Predicadores, 263 U.S. 578, 581 (1924); C. F. Mueller Co. v. Commissioner, 190 F.2d 120 (CA3 1951); Roche's Beach, Inc. v. Commissioner, 96 F.2d 776 (CA2 1938). As a result, tax-exempt organizations were able to carry on full-fledged commercial enterprises in competition with corporations whose profits were fully taxable. See Revenue Revision of 1950: Hearings before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Vol. I, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., 18-19 (1950) (hereinafter cited as 1950 House Hearings) (describing universities' production of "automobile parts, chinaware, and food products, and the operation of theatres, oil wells, and cotton gins"). Congress perceived a need to restrain the unfair competition fostered by the tax laws. See H. R. Rep. No. 2319, 81st Cong., 2d Sess., 36-37 (1950).

Nevertheless, Congress did not force exempt organizations to abandon all commercial ventures, nor did it levy a tax only upon businesses that bore no relation at all to the tax-exempt purposes of an organization, as some of the 1950 Act's proponents had suggested. See, e. g., 1950 House Hearings, at 4, 19, 165. Rather, in the 1950 Act it struck a balance between its two objectives of encouraging benevolent enterprise and restraining unfair competition by imposing a tax on the "unrelated business taxable income" of tax-exempt organizations. 26 U. S. C. § 511(a)(1).

"Unrelated business taxable income" was defined as "the gross income derived by any organization from any unrelated trade or business . . . regularly carried on by it . . . ." § 512(a)(1). Congress defined an "unrelated trade or business" as "any trade or business the conduct of which is not substantially related . . . to the exercise or performance by such organization of its charitable, educational, or other purpose or function constituting the basis for its exemption . . . ." § 513(a). Whether respondent's advertising income is taxable, therefore, depends upon (1) whether the publication of paid advertising is a "trade or business," (2) whether it

[ 475 U.S. Page 839]

     is regularly carried on, and (3) whether it is substantially related to respondent's tax-exempt purposes.

II ...


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