Wirth v. Pennsylvania (majority)Annotate this Case
Appellants appealed a Commonwealth Court decision which considered the application of personal income tax (PIT) to various nonresidents, who invested as limited partners in a Connecticut limited partnership, which existed for the sole purpose of owning and operating a skyscraper in Pittsburgh, which ultimately went into foreclosure in 2005. The Commonwealth Court held that the partnership was subject to PIT commensurate with the total debt discharged as a result of the foreclosure, and therefore the nonresident limited partners were liable for PIT in an amount proportionate with their shares in the partnership. The Partnership incurred net operating losses for accounting, federal tax, and PIT purposes in every year of its existence. For PIT purposes, the Partnership allocated those losses to Appellants (and all of the other limited partners) and, because Appellants had no Pennsylvania-based income for 1985-2004, they did not file Pennsylvania PIT returns for those years. By June 30, 2005, the compounded, accrued interest totaled $2.32 billion, thus making the total liability on the Purchase Money Note more than $2.6 billion. When the Note matured given the insurmountable debt that had accrued, the Partnership was unable to sell the Property. Accordingly, the lender foreclosed, and, because the Partnership no longer owned the Property, the Partnership soon after liquidated. None of the limited partners, including Appellants, received any proceeds from the Property’s foreclosure or the Partnership’s liquidation, and therefore lost their entire investments in the Partnership. Following the Property’s foreclosure, but prior to the Partnership’s liquidation, the Partnership reported a gain as a result of the foreclosure on its federal and state tax filings that consisted of the unpaid balance of the Purchase Money Note’s principal and the accrued, compounded interest. Despite their individual investment losses, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue assessed PIT against Appellants, plus interest and penalties, related to the foreclosure on the Property for the 2005 tax year. The Supreme Court empathized with Appellants who found "themselves with significant financial burdens because of the loss of their investments, the liquidation of the Partnership, and the foreclosure of the Property." Nevertheless, the assessment of PIT by the Department was proper, as a matter of constitutional, statutory, and regulatory law. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court sustaining the assessment of PIT.