Challenges to Regulations Update: Government Withdraws Appeal in Chamber of Commerce and New Oral Argument Set for Altera

One of the more interesting cases from last year was Chamber of Commerce v IRS, where a federal district court in Texas invalidated temporary regulations that addressed inversion transactions. The case raised a number of interesting procedural issues, including the reach of the Anti-Injunction Act and the relationship between Section 7805(e) and the APA.

Not surprisingly, the government appealed Chamber of Commerce. Over the summer, Treasury issued final regs that were substantively similar to the temporary regs that the district court struck down, and then the government filed a motion with the Fifth Circuit to dismiss its appeal with prejudice.

Last month the Fifth Circuit granted the motion.

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The outcome in Chamber of Commerce illustrates the difficulty that taxpayers face when challenging regulations for process violations (i.e., failing to subject guidance to notice and comment) and in particular challenges to temporary regulations. After all, Treasury can (and did in this case) issue final regs, and Section 7805(b) provides that those regs take effect retroactively upon the earlier of the “date on which any proposed or temporary regulation to which such final regulation relates was filed with the Federal Register” or “the date on which any notice substantially describing the expected contents of any temporary, proposed, or final regulation is issued to the public.”

Chamber of Commerce is to be contrasted with challenges to regs that focus on the substantive way that the regulations interpret a statute; for example, earlier this summer the DC Circuit reversed the Tax Court in Good Fortune Shipping.There, the DC Circuit applied Chevron Step Two and held that Treasury regulations that categorically restricted an exemption to foreign owners of bearer shares unreasonably interpreted the Internal Revenue Code. The taxpayer in Good Fortune challenged the reg the old fashioned way– in a deficiency case as contrasted with the pre-enforcement challenge in Chamber of Commerce.

Probably the most watched procedural case of the year, Altera v Commissioner, also tees up a procedural challenge to regs, and like Good Fortune is also situated in a deficiency case. One of the main arguments that the taxpayer is raising in Altera is a cousin to the challenge in Chamber of Commerce; that is the taxpayer is challenging the way that the reg was promulgated (and the case also involves a Chevron Step Two challenge). In particular, the issue turns on whether the agency action [the regulation] is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 USC 706(2)(A). Altera involves Treasury’s compliance with § 706 of the APA as expanded on in the 1983 Supreme Court State Farm’s “reasoned decisionmaking” understanding of the clause prohibiting “arbitrary” or “capricious” agency action.

As Keith flagged a few weeks ago, after the Ninth Circuit reversed the Tax Court and found that Treasury did enough in its rulemaking and held that the cost-sharing regulation was valid, the Ninth Circuit withdrew the opinion. The Ninth Circuit has now scheduled a new oral argument in Altera for October 16.

Stay tuned.

Some Additional Reading on IRS Notice Regarding State and Local Deductions

My post last week discussing the IRS’s Strategic Plan briefly referred to the IRS notice indicating that Treasury intended to issue proposed regulations that will “assist taxpayers in understanding the relationship between the federal charitable contribution deduction and the new statutory limitation on the deduction for state and local tax payments.”

For those wanting some more on the IRS notice, I recommend Two Cheers for IRS Guidance on the New SALT Cap on Medium by University of Chicago Law School Professor Dan Hemel.  Dan’s post distinguishes between what is in the IRS notice’s crosshairs, i.e., plans enacted or on the books that allow taxpayers to get credit for charitable contributions to state-linked funds, from other state plans, like the NY State Employer Compensation Expense Program, that allow employees to claim credits if as Dan notes the “employer opts into a new payroll tax regime.”

Dan discusses some interesting procedural issues as well, emphasizing that a 2011  informal Chief Counsel memorandum,which some have used as legal support for the deduction of proceeds contributed to state linked charitable funds, is not precedential. (For those wanting some more substance on the support for the workaround see Federal Income Tax Treatment of Charitable Contributions Entitling Donor to a State Tax Credit, an article posted on SSRN by Dan, Joe Bankman, Jacob Goldin, David Gamage, Darien Shankse, Kirk Stark, Dennis Ventry and Manoj Viswanathan).

Dan’s post discusses how states may be able to avoid the reach of the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) to bring a pre-enforecement judicial challenge to any future regs. Dan’s main point here is that absent a pre-enforcement challenge, states would have little direct chance to challenge the regulations when they are eventually promulgated. As Dan discusses, in 1984 the Supreme Court in South Carolina v Reagan allowed states to challenge legislation that pegged the federal income tax exemption of interest from state and local obligations to bonds issued in registered rather than bearer form. Despite objections from the federal government that the AIA should restrict a state’s ability to challenge that legislation, the Court disagreed:

In sum, the Anti-Injunction Act’s purpose and the circumstances of its enactment indicate that Congress did not intend the Act to apply to actions brought by aggrieved parties for whom it has not provided an alternative remedy. In this case  if the plaintiff South Carolina issues bearer bonds, its bondholders will, by virtue of 103(j)(1), be liable for the tax on the interest earned on those bonds. South Carolina will incur no tax liability. Under these circumstances, the State will be unable to utilize any statutory procedure to contest the constitutionality of 103(j)(1). Accordingly, the [AIA]cannot bar this action.

Dan’s flagging of South Carolina v Regan and its allowing states to challenge the future guidance seems spot on to me.

Stay tuned, both for 1) more IRS/Treasury guidance on this and other workaround plans and 2) states challenging whatever regulations Treasury eventually promulgates.

Government Files Brief in Chamber of Commerce Case/Supreme Court Resolves Circuit Split on Tax Obstruction Statute

Today’s post will bring readers up tp date on two significant developments, the first involving the heavily watched Chamber of Commerce case in the Fifth Circuit and the other a Supreme Court opinion in Marinello v US that resolved a circuit split that concerned an important criminal tax issue.

Chamber of Commerce Appeal

One of the more significant tax procedure cases of last year was Chamber of Commerce v IRS, where a district court in Texas invalidated Treasury’s temporary regulation that attempted to put a stop to corporate inversions.

The government appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit, and this week the government filed its brief spelling out why the circuit court should reverse. In addition to arguing that the district court erred in finding that the plaintiff had standing, the government urges the Fifth Circuit to find that the Anti-Injunction Act bars a pre-enforcement challenge to the regulations, and argues that Section 7805 allows it to issue prospective temporary regs without notice and comment.

Treasury’s view on temporary regulations I find strained, as I discuss in the latest update to Chapter 3 Saltzman and Book IRS Practice and Procedure, but I suspect that the AIA may allow the Fifth Circuit to sidestep that issue.

Here is the summary of the government AIA argument from its brief:

But even if plaintiffs have standing, their suit is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act and the tax exception to the Declaratory Judgment Act, which ban the issuance of declaratory and injunctive relief against the assessment or collection of federal taxes. Plaintiffs cannot have it both ways: their contention that they have standing because their members are threatened with increased tax liabilities would necessarily mean that their suit falls squarely within the AIA’s prohibition against suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The District Court erred in its overly restrictive construction of the AIA. The AIA’s prohibition on injunctive relief applies broadly, reaching not only actions directly involving assessment or collection, but also those that might affect assessment or collection indirectly. The AIA clearly bars attempts, such as this one, to enjoin a Treasury Regulation affecting the existence or amount of a tax liability.

The AIA has long been an important barrier walling off IRS/Treasury guidance from pre-enforcement challenges. As we have discussed on PT, with cases like Direct Marketing, which considered the reach of an analogous statute that bars challenges to state tax statutes, advocates have been probing for ways to get courts to consider the procedural and substantive validity of rules such as in this case.

The brief discusses and distinguishes Direct Marketing. No doubt the Chamber of Commerce disagrees. We will keep an eye on this case.

Supreme Court Resolves Split in Circuits on Obstruction Statute

In Marinello v US, the Supreme Court resolved a circuit split involving Section 7212(a),  involving the tax specific obstruction statute. The Court held that a conviction under the statute requires that there be an ongoing investigation of the defendant, with the defendant both knew about and intended to obstruct. The opinion leaves open, however, the possibility for a conviction if the proceeding was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant.

In addition to resolving the split, the opinion provides a nice window into competing strands of statutory interpretation. The dissent, penned by Justice Thomas and joined by Justice Alito, relied on a more literal approach. The statute prohibits “corruptly . . . obstruct[ing] or imped[ing], or endeavor[ing] to obstruct or impede, the due administration of this title.” Noting that the title at issue was Title 26, and that encompasses all aspects of the tax code, the dissent, as a few other circuits, would have not limited the statute’s application to situations when there is awareness of (or reason to be aware of) the investigation.

As support for that view, the dissent looks to the Direct Marketing discussion of tax administration, which identified the four components of tax administration as involving “information gathering, assessment, levy, and collection.”

‘[D]ue administration of this Title’ refers to the entire process of taxation, from gathering information to assessing tax liabilities to collecting and levying taxes.

The majority opinion leans on context, looking to related interpretations of the general obstruction statute, a concern that the government’s approach leaves too much discretion to prosecutors and the potential use of the tax obstruction statute to encompass more run of the mill tax misdemeanors.

 

Review of “Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act”

We welcome back guest blogger Sonya Watson who has changed her last name since the last time she posted. Sonya, a former student at Villanova who studied under both Les and me while obtaining her LLM, is back in her home town and her “home” law school of UNLV where she is an assistant professor in residence and the director of the Rosenblum Family Foundation Tax Clinic. Today she launches a new feature on PT – a review of law review articles addressing issues of tax procedure. Last year we launched a new feature on designated orders which allows us to examine the critical orders issued by the Tax Court that tend to go unnoticed. Sonya and others to be introduced soon will provide a similar regular guest feature providing insight on the latest thinking from those writing longer articles on tax procedures issues we cannot easily address in our blog posts. The first article being reviewed is co-authored by Kristin Hickman and Gerald Kerska. Kristin is a professor at University of Minnesota Law School and a prolific writer who deserves great credit for her pioneering work to push for recognition of the Administrative Procedure Act’s applicability to tax law. Gerald is a 2017 graduate of University of Minnesota Law School. We hope you enjoy their excellent article examining the history and logic of the anti-injucntion act. Keith

In “Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act,” Kristin Hickman & Gerald Kerska, 103 Virginia Law Review 1683 (2017) the authors ask whether Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents, such as IRS Revenue Rulings, should be eligible for pre-enforcement judicial review. The answer depends on how courts interpret the Anti-Injunction Act (“AIA”). The AIA prohibits tax lawsuits that would “restrain the assessment or collection of [a] tax.” A broad interpretation of the AIA, such that the AIA applies whenever the issues in a tax case even remotely relate to the assessment or collection of taxes, would tend to preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. A narrower interpretation would allow application of the AIA only when the issues in a tax case involve the imminent assessment or collection of taxes. Hickman and Kerska argue that the AIA should be construed narrowly.

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The AIA prohibition of lawsuits that restrain the assessment or collection of taxes is not without exceptions. One familiar statutory exception is that which provides the right to file suit in the U.S. Tax Court when the IRS proposes a tax deficiency. Case law creates further exceptions to the AIA.

Some courts have interpreted the AIA so broadly that the government may invoke the AIA to preclude judicial review of just about any case that may relate to the assessment or collection of taxes, no matter how tangential the relation. For example, in the case of California v. Regan, 641 F.2d 721 (9th Cir. 1981) the Court found that the AIA precluded a lawsuit challenging an ERISA regulation that required the State of California to file annual information returns concerning its employees’ pension plan. The Court reasoned that the AIA applied because the IRS could use the information in the returns to determine whether employees qualified for favorable tax treatment, which in turn would “have an impact on the assessment of federal taxes.” Such broad interpretations contributed to the court’s finding in Florida Bankers Ass’n v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 799 F.3d 1065 (D.C. Cir. 2015) that pre-enforcement judicial review of a set of Treasury Regulations was precluded under the AIA. However, the court in Chamber of Commerce v. IRS, No. 1:16-CV-944-LY, 2017 WL 4682049 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 29, 2017) came to the opposite conclusion, holding that the AIA does not preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations. The conflicting opinions in Florida Bankers and Chamber of Commerce could lead to a split in the circuits, adding to the long history of jurisprudential inconsistency regarding the application of the AIA.

As outlined in detail in Hickman and Kerska’s article, courts have had to rely on a hodgepodge of case law to determine when the AIA applies to preclude a tax case, sometimes coming to conclusions that do not mesh well with prior precedent. In their article, Hickman and Kerska propose what appears to be workable, if not perfect, as acknowledged by Hickman and Kerska, solutions to what has thus far been an incoherent framework regarding the scope and meaning of the AIA.

Hickman and Kerska believe that a narrower interpretation of the AIA is warranted to protect taxpayers’ presumptive right to pre-enforcement judicial review of agency rules and regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). They argue that this is especially true in light of the IRS’ less than stellar history of complying with the APA; the historical context of the AIA itself; the jurisprudence surrounding the Tax Injunction Act (“TIA”), which Congress modeled after the AIA; and the many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents that relate to the IRS’ function as the middleman for social policy efforts rather than its function as tax assessor and collector.

Hickman and Kerska note that the IRS has viewed itself as the exception to the rule when it comes to the APA, emphasizing that for decades the IRS has claimed that many of its rules and regulations are outside the purview of the APA. The APA applies to regulations that carry the force of law. In the past, Treasury regulations have been labeled as either legislative or interpretative based on whether the regulations were the result of specific legislative authority (legislative) or general authority provided by I.R.C. Section 7805(a) (interpretive). Although courts have held that both legislative and interpretative regulations carry the weight of law, and are therefore subject to the APA, Hickman and Kerska assert that the IRS has continued to attempt to distinguish between legislative and interpretive regulations in attempts to sidestep the APA. Hickman and Kerska further note that even when the Treasury purports to comply with the APA, its compliance is dubious, choosing to follow some provisions of the APA and ignore others. Further, regarding IRS guidance documents such as revenue rulings, revenue procedures, and notices, the Treasury does not even purport to comply with the APA. The foregoing highlights why it is important to determine whether the AIA applies to pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. Allowing the government to invoke the AIA regarding Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents may encourage the government to feel further empowered to ignore the APA.

The AIA is the result of Civil War-era tax legislation, which used significantly different procedures for the assessment and collection of tax than are used today. Hickman and Kerska examine the history of the mechanisms of assessment and collection during the Civil War to show that it was not Congress’ intent to use the AIA to prevent lawsuits that are only tangentially related to the assessment or collection of taxes.

Congress created the income tax in 1861 to help finance the Civil War. At that time, and again in 1862, it created administrative procedures for the assessment and collection of tax. The process by which taxes were assessed and collected was lengthy:

Congress tasked assistant assessors with receiving tax returns, with visiting taxpayers in their districts individually to investigate their potential liability for taxes, and, if a taxpayer either failed to file or submitted a fraudulent return, with preparing a return on the taxpayer’s behalf “according to the best information” available. Based on the returns filed and investigations performed, assistant assessors had thirty days after the statutory filing deadline to provide the assessors with alphabetized lists of taxpayers and the taxes they allegedly owed. The assessors then made the lists publicly available, advertising in county newspapers and posting in public places the time and location where taxpayers might examine the lists. These lists served as tentative assessments, informing taxpayers of their proposed tax liabilities. Taxpayers could appeal from those proposed assessments, and assessors were responsible for considering such appeals before submitting final lists of “sums payable” to their respective collection districts. Upon receiving said final lists from the assessors, collectors were charged with publishing the lists again, this time designating the listed taxes as due. People who failed to pay the taxes owed within a specified period after such publication—ten days generally, but thirty days for income taxes, for example—were assessed an additional ten percent penalty and given another ten days to comply. After that, a delinquent taxpayer’s personal or real property could be levied, “distrained” (i.e., seized), and sold.

Over time, procedures for collection and assessment of tax evolved but what remained the same, until fairly recently, was that people paid their taxes yearly and there was a period of time between when taxes were assessed and when they were collected. In contrast, today we overwhelmingly pay our taxes all throughout the year by way of withholding and estimated payments. During the Civil War-era up until World War II, there sometimes wasn’t a large and steady enough stream of revenue for the government to operate, making it vital that there be some way to prevent hinderances to the assessment or collection of taxes. This is why Congress created the AIA in 1867; to make sure the government had the funds it needed to operate. Today, for the most part, such hindrances are more the exception than the rule.

During Civil War-era tax administration when the AIA was created, because of the mechanisms of assessment and collection then in place, as described above and diagramed below, taxpayers had multiple opportunities to halt assessment or collection of taxes.

 

 

 

 

 

Taxpayers of the time frequently took advantage of these opportunities. Seeing that multiple opportunities to file a lawsuit to halt the assessment or collection of taxes were a barrier to the government’s goal of raising revenue to pay for the Civil War, Congress enacted the AIA. Given this historical context, Hickman and Kerska argue that the AIA was and is meant to prevent only a lawsuit that will imminently prevent the assessment or collection of taxes such that the government’s stream of revenue may be stopped. Therefore, they argue, the government should not be allowed to invoke the AIA in the face of just any lawsuit that is conceivably related to the assessment or collection of taxes. Further, the government certainly should not be allowed to invoke the AIA for lawsuits pertaining to pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents given that at the time of the AIA’s enactment, taxing authorities would have been required to strictly adhere to the letter of the AIA and not allowed to adopt broad, legally substantive pronouncements that would legally bind taxpayers, as compared to taxing authorities’ power today to make rules and regulations that have the effect of law.

Recent TIA jurisprudence provides evidence for Hickman and Kerska’s assertion that the AIA should not preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. The TIA, Tax Injunction Act, provides that federal district courts may not retain jurisdiction of tax cases regarding the assessment or collection of state taxes where the taxpayer may readily seek a remedy in a state court. Congress created the TIA, modeled after the AIA, for the purpose of protecting state revenue collection. In Direct Marketing Ass’n v. Brohl, 135 S. Ct. 1124 (2015) interpreting the TIA, the Court found that the assessment or collection of taxes were “discrete phases of the taxation process that do not include informational notices or private reports of information relevant to tax liability.” In other words, pre-enforcement judicial review of agency promulgated rules and regulations is distinct from judicial review of the assessment or collection of taxes. Hickman and Kerska argue that, given the connection between the TIA and AIA, the Court’s finding in Direct Marketing should apply when the government attempts to invoke the AIA to prevent pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents.

The fact that many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents pertain to social policy considerations more so than to the assessment and collection of taxes provides another reason why Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents should not be precluded from pre-enforcement judicial review under the AIA. Modern tax laws, Treasury regulations, and IRS guidance documents provide not only for taxation of income but also for the transfer of benefits meant to improve society as a whole and policy considerations also intended to benefit society. As Hickman and Kerska note, many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents concern “the environment, conservation, green energy, manufacturing, innovation, education, saving, retirement, health care, childcare, welfare, corporate governance, export promotion, charitable giving, governance of tax exempt organizations, and economic development,” which may not directly relate to the mechanisms for the assessment and collection of taxes. Such being the case, Hickman and Kerska note that

[p]arties subject to these regulations are not in the traditional position of paying more taxes with their tax return and then suing for a refund or filing a return documenting their noncompliance and opting to generate a deficiency notice. Absent pre-enforcement review, such regulations may be permanently shielded from judicial oversight, no matter how egregiously the IRS disregards APA requirements.

Hickman and Kerska propose two solutions to prevent the misuse of the AIA in the context of pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents.

First, to ensure that the AIA is not applied to cut off lawsuits that are only tangentially related to the assessment or collection of taxes, they propose an engagement test. The engagement test would allow the AIA to apply only in cases where the IRS has initiated enforcement procedures against a particular taxpayer. Under such a test, the government could invoke the AIA only by demonstrating that it is engaged with a taxpayer regarding a potential issue or liability, which would be an easy burden for the government to meet given the paper trail it creates when pursuing an issue or liability regarding a particular taxpayer. Moreover, such a test would require taxpayers to exhaust administrative procedures prior to seeking a judicial remedy. Recognizing that courts may feel constrained in favor of prior precedents, however, Hickman and Kerska also offer a legislative fix as an alternative to the engagement test.

Hickman and Kerska provide proposed legislative language that would prevent the government from invoking the AIA in cases involving pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS documents:

Notwithstanding section 7421(a), not later than 60 days after the promulgation of a rule or regulation under authority granted by this title, any person adversely affected or aggrieved by such rule or regulation may file a petition for judicial review of such regulation with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia or for the circuit in which such person resides or has their principal place of business.

Jurisprudence providing exceptions to the AIA may leave taxpayers, practitioners, and judges alike befuddled when it comes to deciding when the AIA applies to prevent any tax case from going forward. Adding the question of when the AIA should apply to prevent a tax case from going forward for the purpose of determining whether pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations or IRS guidance documents further confuses the issue. Hickman and Kerska’s article provides considerable food for thought on how to determine the proper application of the AIA.

 

 

AIA Bars Suit Attempting to Invalidate Insurance Transaction Disclosure Requirements

Earlier this month in CIC Services v IRS a federal district court in Tennessee dismissed a suit that a manager of captive insurance companies and its tax advisor had brought that sought to invalidate IRS disclosure obligations on advisors and participants in certain micro captive insurance arrangements. The case illustrates the still-long reach of the Anti-Injunction Act, which, despite some recent cracks, serves as a formidable barrier to challenging IRS rules outside traditional deficiency or refund procedures.

I will briefly summarize the case and highlight the court’s rationale in dismissing the suit.

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A 2016 Notice indicated that IRS felt that micro captive insurance transactions had the potential for tax avoidance and classified them as transactions of interest. (For background on micro captive insurance companies and the IRS Notice, see a Tax Adviser article here). Failure to comply with the disclosure obligations could lead to hefty civil penalties under Sections 6707(a), 6707A and 6708(a).

CIC, a manager of captives, and an individual who also managed captives and provides tax advice to them, sued in federal district court, claiming in part that the Notice imposed substantial costs and that the IRS in the Notice effectively promulgated legislative rules in APA parlance without complying with mandatory notice and comment requirements. The plaintiffs sought an injunction prohibiting the IRS from enforcing the Notice and a declaratory judgment claiming that the notice was invalid.

The district court held that the Anti-Injunction Act prohibited the suit. The outcome is a fairly straightforward application of the law, though the AIA landscape is somewhat in flux as a result of the Supreme Court’s discussion of the related Tax Injunction Act in the Direct Marketing case from a few years ago. As you may recall, Direct Marketing involved a Colorado law that required out-of-state retailers to provide the state with information reports on their sales to residents of the state. In Direct Marketing, the Supreme Court held that the requirements were not sufficiently connected with the collection or assessment of tax for the challenge to be barred by the Tax Injunction Act, legislation that is similar to though slightly different from the AIA in that it imposes restrictions on cases involving taxes imposed by the states rather than the federal government

The CIC Services case essentially follows the same logic as the majority Florida Bankers case, where the DC Circuit held that the AIA prevented bankers from challenging heightened reporting requirements when the failure to comply would lead to civil tax penalties under Subchapter 68B of the Code (for a criticism of Florida Bankers, see Part 2 of a PT guest post by Pat Smith here).

In this case, Plaintiffs’ claims and their requested injunction necessarily operate as a challenge to both the reporting requirement and the penalty or tax imposed for failure to comply with the reporting requirement. Because the Notice contemplates assessing penalties for non- compliance pursuant to 26 U.S.C. §§ 6707(a), 6707A, and 6708(a), all found within Subchapter 68B of the Internal Revenue Code, Plaintiffs seek, at least in part, to restrain the IRS’s assessment or collection of a tax. Accordingly, the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs’ claims because they are barred by the AIA and the tax exception to the DJA.

CIC argued in the alternative that they be given the chance to amend the complaint “[i]n the event this Court concludes that the complaint should be dismissed based upon one or more curable pleading defects.” In particular, plaintiffs in their briefing told the court that they had in fact complied with the Notice requirements and would not be subjected to any penalties. The Court held that this did not alter the fact that by seeking an injunction, the suit sought to restrain assessment or collection, even if not directly from plaintiffs.

Conclusion

Challenges to IRS rules such as in the Notice reveal the obstacles that taxpayers and advisors have in challenging rules outside mainstream tax litigation paths. The issue is somewhat more nuanced than perhaps the brief CIC opinion suggests, as there is considerable uncertainty as to whether Direct Marketing should be read as support for narrowing the reach of the terms assessment and collection when considering challenges to IRS rules that may result in penalties, especially in the reporting context. As the Chamber of Commerce district court opinion that allowed the challenge to the anti-inversion regs typified and discussed a few times in PT, including in excellent guest posts by Bryan Camp and Daniel Hemel, there is just enough of an opening to allow creative judges the opportunity to let challenges seemingly within the reach of the AIA as traditionally understood to get through the cracks.

In the months ahead we will see more cases discussing the AIA and how far if at all Direct Marketing should be read to allow earlier challenges to IRS rules that can have far-reaching impact on taxpayers and advisors.

 

 

More on the Successful Challenge to the Anti-inversion Regulations

Today Professor Bryan Camp shares with us some of his views on the government’s loss in Chamber of Commerce v IRS, the challenge to Treasury’s anti-inversion regs that I discussed here.The case has been generating significant comment. For example, Professor Andy Grewal on the Notice & Comment blog nicely summarized the outcome and gave some additional context.

Below Professor Camp discusses why the court’s approach may be out of sync with traditional views of the Anti-Injunction Act. As Bryan suggests, the AIA battle is likely to be one where the Treasury may be able to circle the wagons and fend off early challenges to its rulemaking procedures. Les

I know everyone is chomping at the bit to get to the cool APA stuff, but I think the Anti-Injunction Act is the big issue here.  Or at least should be.  If I read the decision correctly (a big if), this appears to be a suit by an Association and they get standing only because one of their members believed that the regulation under attack would deny them a tax benefit they believed they would get absent this section 7874 regulation on inversion.

The court took an extremely narrow view of the Anti-Injunction Act, seeming to say that it only applies when a particular taxpayer seeks to contest an already assessed tax.  The court believed that ANY attack on the procedural validity of ANY regulation is permissible under the anti-injunction act.   The court says “Here, Plaintiffs do not seek to restrain assessment or collection of a tax against or from them or one of their members.  Rather, Plaintiffs challenge the validity of the Rule so that a reasoned decision can be made about whether to engage in a potential future transaction that would subject them to taxation under the Rule.”

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That statement reflects a poor understanding of tax administration.  You could say that about ANY substantive tax reg.  Is the court really saying that ANY tax regulation can be attacked by any taxpayer whose taxes are potentially affected by the regulation???  That cuts against loads of precedent going at least as far back at Fleet Equipment Co. v. Simon, 76-2 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P16,231 (D.D.C. 2976).  This is exactly the kind of suit that the Anti-Injunction Act is supposed to stop.

In contrast to substantive regs the courts have allowed suits to restrain implementation of regulations that go to tax administration, such as return preparer regulations or information reporting regulations.  Those cannot be attacked in a refund suit and they do not affect the self-reporting taxpayers of the taxpayers subject to them.  But the time and place to attack a substantive tax regulation is in a refund suit.  Gosh and golly.

If the TP here wanted to attack the regulation, it could do so in a refund suit if it takes a different position, gets audited, and wants to fight.  Sure, the regulation would be in place, but the TP would argue that the regulation gets zero deference because it was (allegedly) invalidly promulgated.  Without the regulation, the IRS would still take the same position on the return item but the court would be faced with the TP’s position and the IRS position, unsupported by the authority of a valid regulation.  Just like an assessment is not valid when not properly done.

 

Important DC Circuit Opinion on Anti-Injunction Act and Offshore Disclosure Regime

We have previously briefly discussed the challenge that a group of noncompliant taxpayers brought against the IRS decision to disallow participation in the so-called Streamlined Procedures of the offshore disclosure program. Last year, a district court held that the Anti Injunction Act (AIA) barred the taxpayers from challenging the IRS decision. Last week the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in Maze v IRS upheld the district court.

Maze is the latest in a series of important Anti Injunction Act decisions and reflects the statute’s ability to insulate IRS decisions from judicial review until a taxpayer fits squarely within deficiency, refund or CDP procedures.

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The main issue that the Maze opinion considers whether the AIA is a bar to preventing the court from considering the taxpayer’s argument that the IRS should have used streamlined disclosure procedures rather than transition streamlined procedures. Streamlined procedures allow for no payment of accuracy related penalties; transition rules required payment of up to eight years of those penalties. (Readers looking to learn more on the offshore disclosure program can look to our colleague Jack Townsend over at Federal Crimes Blog; Jack is also the primary author in the criminal tax penalty chapter in the Saltzman Book treatise, and we discuss the IRS offshore disclosure policies in detail in the treatise).

The importance of Maze for our purposes is its consideration of the AIA and in particular Maze’s efforts to get court review of the IRS decision to shoehorn her into the Transition Streamlined procedures rather than the regular Streamlined disclosure procedures.

This takes us into the AIA itself, which is codified at Section 7121. The AIA provides that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person . . . .”  The key in the case is whether the lawsuit would have the effect of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax. There is a current ambiguity as to whether restrain for these purposes is defined broadly or narrowly. Not surprisingly the government argued for a broad application, urging that the term includes “litigation that completely stops the assessment or collection of a tax but also encompasses a lawsuit that inhibits the same.” Maze urged a more narrow reading, arguing restrain refers “solely to an action that seeks to completely stop the IRS from assessing or collecting a tax.”

The scope of the term “restrain” is a hotly contested issue in AIA litigation; proponents of the narrow reading have pointed to the analogous Supreme Court discussion of the term in the Direct Marketing opinion from a couple of years ago. Earlier this year, the Tenth Court of Appeals in Green Solutions carefully distinguished Direct Marketing and held that the broader reading of restrain is the more appropriate reading in the context of federal AIA litigation.

The DC Circuit in Maze sidestepped this definitional issue; in resolving the opinion in favor of the government the court assumed that the more narrow reading that the taxpayers urged was correct. Using that narrow reading, the DC Circuit still found that the taxpayers came up short.

To get there it first concluded that for these purposes accuracy related penalties are taxes for purposes of the AIA (as the Court discussed not all penalties are taxes for these purposes). After reaching that decision, it was fairly easy to get to the government’s view:

As participants in the 2012 [Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program], the plaintiffs are required to pay eight years’ worth of accuracy-based penalties. These penalties are treated as taxes under the AIA and any lawsuit that seeks to restrain their assessment or collection is therefore barred…. This lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs seek to qualify to enroll in the Streamlined Procedures, does just that; to repeat, the Streamlined Procedures do not require a participant to pay any accuracy-based penalties for the three years covered by the program. Thus, their lawsuit would have the effect of restraining—fully stopping—the IRS from collecting accuracy-based penalties for which they are currently liable. We believe this fact alone manifests that the AIA bars their suit. See 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a).

To shift the focus away from the lawsuit’s impact on a possible assessment or collection, Maze emphasized that its efforts concerned a desire to apply to Streamlined procedures, which in and of itself alone was not a determination that there were no penalties due. The DC Circuit rejected that view:

They note that their eligibility to enroll alone, viewed in vacuo, has no immediate tax consequence. But we have never applied the AIA without considering the practical impact of our decision. Rather, we have recognized our need to engage in “a careful inquiry into the remedy sought . . . and any implication the remedy may have on assessment and collection.” Cohen, 650 F.3d at 724 (emphasis added). And here, the plaintiffs concede that they will enroll in the Streamlined Procedures if they are deemed eligible, see Oral. Arg. Rec. 3:10-3:15, thereby stopping the IRS from collecting the 2012 OVDP accuracy-based penalties.

The taxpayer noted that the Streamlined procedures would not have resulted in a more favorable treatment if the IRS determined that there was willful noncompliance or a foot fault with the Streamlined procedures. That too was not enough:

But the fact that their attempt to take advantage of the Streamlined Procedures’ more lenient tax treatment might be thwarted by the possibility of an adverse IRS determination does not make their lawsuit one that is not brought “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a).

Conclusion

There are still important definitional questions that the courts are wrestling with as the IRS and Treasury get dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century post Mayo world. Using its centuries old shield of tax exceptionalism that is the AIA, the IRS still enjoys powerful procedural protections that essentially shoehorn procedural challenges to IRS rulemaking decisions to traditional tax litigation. The DC Circuit in Maze was careful to note (and the DOJ attorney conceded at oral argument) that Maze could have challenged the IRS position in a refund suit. This concession is important because there is an exception to the AIA if there is no other remedy for the alleged wrong. Of course, a traditional tax refund suit generally requires full payment, and that is a considerable bar and practical limit on taxpayers who do not like the rules of the game. Cases like Maze suggest that while the IRS is less special than it used to be the IRS still enjoys a limit on court inquiry into its decisions.

 

The Chamber of Commerce Has an Anti-Injunction Act Problem

Today’s post is by Professor Daniel Hemel the University of Chicago Law School. Daniel discusses the Chamber of Commerce’s lawsuit that challenges the recently promulgated regulations addressing corporate inversions. In an upcoming article in the Cornell Law Review, The President’s Power to Tax, Daniel examines an area that scholars have largely left unaddressed, as he looks at reasons why the Executive Branch has been reluctant to take actions in the tax arena through regulatory power. This post looks at one aspect of executive power, the inversion regulations, and looks at the Anti-Injunction Act’s role in preventing suits to challenge the validity of  those regulations. We have previously discussed the Anti-Injunction Act and state of flux characterizing this nook of tax procedure (a good place to start is Pat Smith’s two part post last year on the apparent inconsistency between the Direct Marketing and Florida Bankers cases). As Daniel describes, despite some chinks in the armor, the Anti-Injunction Act is alive and well and is a powerful tool to combat pre-enforcement challenges to Treasury guidance.

Les

 This post originally appeared in the blog Whatever Source Derived.

The Chamber of Commerce filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Texas Thursday seeking to block the Treasury Department’s April 2016 inversion regulations. The Chamber says that the inversion regulations exceed Treasury’s statutory jurisdiction, that the regulations are arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and that Treasury failed to follow the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements. The last of these arguments isn’t frivolous: Treasury certainly could have done more to explain why it was implementing the new rules immediately rather than first allowing 30 days for comment. But whatever one thinks of the Chamber’s notice-and-comment argument, it shouldn’t matter: the Chamber’s complaint has a fatal flaw.

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The problem for the Chamber is the pesky Tax Anti-Injunction Act (TAIA), 26 U.S.C. § 7421, which reads (in relevant part):

[N]o suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed.

The statute lists a number of specific exceptions — none of which even arguably applies here. It establishes a general rule that in order to challenge the assessment or collection of a federal tax, a taxpayer must wait until the IRS actually assesses and attempts to collect the tax, at which point the taxpayer may (a) file a petition in Tax Court challenging the notice of deficiency or (b) pay the tax and then sue for a refund in federal district court or the Court of Federal Claims.

On its face, the TAIA plainly applies to the Chamber’s suit. The Chamber is asking the district court to set aside Treasury’s “Multiple Acquisition Rule,” 26 C.F.R. § 1.7874–8T, which was an element of the April regulations. The Multiple Acquisition Rule says that any stock issued by a foreign corporation in prior acquisitions of U.S. entities over the previous three years shouldn’t be counted when calculating whether a pending acquisition of a U.S. entity qualifies as an inversion. Treasury promulgated the rule pursuant to its regulatory authority under 26 U.S.C. § 7874, which imposes a tax on the “inversion gain” of expatriated entities. A foreign corporation’s acquisition of a U.S. corporation is an inversion for purposes of § 7874 if, after the acquisition, at least 60% of the vote or value of the combined entity is held by former shareholders of the U.S. corporation (among other criteria). “Inversion gain” includes income from the sale of the former U.S. corporation’s stock or property to foreign affiliates over the 10 years following the acquisition (among other items).

So in a nutshell, the Chamber is asking the district court to restrain the IRS from assessing and collecting the § 7874 tax on inversion gain with respect to foreign corporations that fall within the statute’s scope by virtue of the Multiple Acquisition Rule. That sure sounds a lot like a “suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” How, then, does the Chamber plan to get around this?

Friend and JREG Notice & Comment co-blogger Andy Grewal suggests that the Chamber’s strategy might involve the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. In Direct Marketing Association, the Court held that the Tax Injunction Act, the state tax equivalent of the TAIA, did not bar a challenge to a Colorado law requiring (mostly out-of-state) retailers to notify Colorado customers of their potential use tax liability and requiring the retailers to report tax-related information to Colorado authorities. The Court emphasized that the Colorado law imposed “notice and reporting requirements” — and not any tax liability — on the retailers.

The Chamber’s suit, by contrast, does not attack any notice or reporting requirements. It attacks the requirement that foreign corporations pay tax on inversion gains after they acquire U.S. entities in qualifying transactions.Direct Marketing Association is inapposite. This is a straight-up challenge to a tax.

Perhaps the Chamber will argue that unless a court addresses the validity of the Multiple Acquisition Rule now, no foreign corporation will acquire a U.S. corporation in a transaction that might trigger the § 7874 tax on inversion gain — the stakes are simply too high for anyone to run that risk. And indeed, Allergan (technically an Irish corporation) and Pfizer (U.S.) called off their merger in April precisely for that reason. But as the Supreme Court said in Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., 370 U.S. 1, 6 (1962), and reaffirmed in Bob Jones University v. Simon, 416 U.S. 725, 745 (1974), the TAIA “may not be evaded ‘merely because collection would cause an irreparable injury, such as the ruination of the taxpayer’s enterprise.’” That’s harsh — but so it goes.

Many readers will remember that Chief Justice Roberts danced around a TAIA issue in NFIB v. Sebelius, 132 S. Ct. 2566 (2012), en route to upholding the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate and limiting the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The Chief Justice said there that the TAIA didn’t apply because Congress decided to label the individual mandate provision a “penalty” rather than a “tax.” I had qualms about that holding at the time, but in any event it’s of no help to the Chamber here: Congress labeled § 7874 as a “TAX ON INVERSION GAIN OF EXPATRIATED ENTITIES.” Not much ambiguity about that.

In short, the lifespan of the Chamber’s suit should be short: the Chamber’s claims are barred by the TAIA. But while the suit is still alive, let’s revel in the irony. The Chamber is arguing that Treasury promulgated its rule too hastily, without observing the proper procedure. And yet the Chamber is filing its challenge hastily, without . . . (you can finish the sentence).