The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERARD L. GOETTEL
Plaintiffs Albert J. Taggi and Ann D. Taggi ("the Taggis") commenced this action to recover $ 7,649.00 in income tax they claim to have overpaid for calendar year 1986. Specifically, plaintiffs seek to recover tax paid on a payment received by Mr. Taggi in connection with the termination of his employment. Defendant, the United States of America, now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.
Plaintiff Albert Taggi ("Taggi") is a former employee of AT&T Communications, Inc. ("AT&T"). In December, 1985, Taggi, who had worked for AT&T for more than twenty years, was advised that his employment as a second-level manager would be terminated as of January 15, 1986 as part of a significant reduction in AT&T's workforce. Taggi was offered a choice of two termination payment plans. Under one option, he would receive a lump sum termination payment equal to 3% of his base pay, multiplied by the number of years he had worked for AT&T, up to twenty. Under the second option, he would receive a lump sum payment of 5% of base pay, again multiplied by his years of service, up to twenty. AT&T expressly conditioned receipt of the higher payment on the signing of a Separation Agreement and Release which purported to be a "full legal release" and provided that the employee to be terminated give up "all claims . . . and causes of action" relating to the employee's employment or termination, including but not limited to "any rights arising under federal, state or local laws prohibiting age, sex, race or any other forms of discrimination, or claims growing out of any legal restrictions on [AT&T's] right to terminate its employees." Taggi chose the second plan and signed the agreement. The Taggis filed a joint tax return for 1986 and included the full termination payment of approximately $ 49,500 in income.
In June, 1987, Taggi and eleven other terminated managers nevertheless filed suit against AT&T for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621 -634 ("the ADEA"). After an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the terminated managers had relied on misrepresentations by AT&T officials concerning the enforceability of the Separation Agreement's waiver provision, the District Court concluded that the releases were valid and that the managers had waived their rights to sue AT&T for age discrimination, and the Circuit Court affirmed. See Bormann v. AT&T Communications, Inc., 875 F.2d 399, 400-401 (2d Cir.), cert denied, 493 U.S. 924, 107 L. Ed. 2d 272, 110 S. Ct. 292 (1989).
On or about March 5, 1990, plaintiffs filed a timely claim for a refund of overpaid tax totalling $ 7,649.40 for 1986. Plaintiffs asserted that the amount they had received from AT&T in exchange for choosing the second termination payment option ($ 19,800) should have been excluded from their 1986 income as "damages received (whether by suit or agreement . . .) on account of personal injuries or sickness" under § 104(a)(2) of the Internal Revenue Code. Taggi apparently claimed that the payment was for a release of his ADEA claims against AT&T, and was thus not taxable. The Internal Revenue Service ("the IRS") disallowed the claim in full by letter dated August 23, 1991. Plaintiffs filed an appeal which the IRS denied by letter dated September 15, 1992. Plaintiffs then commenced this action.
Section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code states that except as otherwise provided, "gross income means all income from whatever source derived." 26 U.S.C. § 61(a). Unless the Code specifically excludes an accession to wealth from taxation, the taxpayer must include it in income. See Commissioner v. Glenshaw Glass Co., 348 U.S. 426, 99 L. Ed. 483, 75 S. Ct. 473 (1955). Exclusions from gross income have been narrowly construed. Kovacs v. Commissioner, 100 T.C. 124 (1993); United States v. Centennial Savings Bank, 499 U.S. 573, 113 L. Ed. 2d 608, 111 S. Ct. 1512 (1991); Commissioner v. Jacobson, 336 U.S. 28, 93 L. Ed. 477, 69 S. Ct. 358 (1949).
Section 104 of the Internal Revenue Code is entitled "Compensation for Injuries or Sickness." Plaintiff claims an exclusion from income under § 104(a)(2), which states that "the amount of any damages received (whether by suit or agreement and whether as lump sums or periodic payments) on account of personal injuries or sickness" is to be excluded from gross income. Under Treasury Regulation § 1.104-1(c) "'damages received (whether by suit or agreement)' means an amount received (other than workmen's compensation) through prosecution of a legal suit or action based upon tort or tort type rights, or through a settlement agreement entered into in lieu of such prosecution." Section 104 also provides that § 104(a)(2) "shall not apply to any punitive damages in connection with a case not involving physical injury or physical sickness."
The first question is whether the payment constitutes damages under § 104(a)(2). Treasury Regulation § 1.104-1(c) defines damages as "an amount received . . . through prosecution of a legal suit or action based upon tort or tort type rights, or through a settlement agreement entered into in lieu of such prosecution." The question thus becomes whether the incremental amount paid to Taggi by AT&T should be considered a settlement. Plaintiff contends that he received the $ 19,800 from AT&T in exchange for releasing his rights to sue under state and federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination, and specifically for waiving his ADEA claims, and that this constitutes a settlement. Defendant argues that the payment was not for the "settlement" of a specific claim; it was consideration for plaintiff's waiving his statutory right to seek compensation for any potential injury. A claim must be asserted before it can be settled; plaintiff waived all claims before asserting them, so this cannot be a damage settlement by definition.
Additionally, defendant argues that since under the agreement Taggi acknowledged "that AT&T has not discriminated against me" or "breached any contract with me," and since the parties agreed that the payment was not an acknowledgement of liability, the payment is too remote from any conceivable injury plaintiff might have suffered to be considered damages. The agreement itself stipulates that Taggi gave up any rights he might have "under various state and federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, handicap or veteran status . . . ." It provides that Taggi released AT&T from "any and all claims . . . arising out of [his] employment or termination . . . . This includes, but is ...