Summary Opinions for the Week Ending 8/21/15

We here at PT are huge fans of self-promotion, so I am thrilled to link Les’ recent article in The Tax Lawyer.   Les’ article, Academic Clinics: Benefitting Students, Taxpayers, and the Tax System, was published in the Tax Section’s 75th Anniversary Compendium – Role of Tax Section in Representing Underserved Taxpayers.  There are various other articles in the full publication that are worth reading (and hopefully will make you all feel guilty enough that you aren’t doing enough pro bono work to either cause you to assist some underserved folks or donate some money to those who are).

To the tax procedure:

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  • Hopping in the not-so-wayback-machine, in October of 2014, SumOp covered Albemarle Corp. v. US, where the Court of Federal Claims held that tax accruals related back to the original refund year under the “relation back doctrine” in a case dealing with the special statute of limitations for foreign tax credit cases.   As is often the case in SumOp, we did not delve too deeply into the issue, but I did link to a more robust write up.  It seems the taxpayers were not thrilled with the Court of Federal Claims and sought relief from the Federal Circuit.  Unfortunately for the taxpayer, the Fed Circuit sided with its robed brothers/sisters, and affirmed that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the refund claim had not been made within the ten year limitations period under Section 6511(d)(3)(A).   This case deserves a few more lines.  The language in question states,  “the period shall be 10 years from the date prescribed  by law for filing the return for the year in which such taxes were actually paid or accrued.”   When the tax was paid or accrued is what generated the debate.

In the case, a Belgium subsidiary and its parent company, Albemarle entered into a transaction, which they erroneously thought was exempt from tax, so no Belgian tax was paid.  Years in question were ’97 through ‘01.  In 2002, Albemarle was assessed tax on aspects of the transaction in Belgium, and paid the tax that was due.   In 2009, Albemarle filed amended US returns seeking about $1.5MM in refunds due to the foreign tax credit for the Belgian tax.  Service granted for ’99 to ’01, but not ’97 or ’98 because those were outside the ten year statute for claims related to the foreign tax credit under Section 6511(d)(3)(A).  Albemarle claimed that the language “from the date…such taxes were actually…accrued” means the year in which the foreign tax liability was finalized, which would be 2002 instead of the year the tax originated.  Both the lower court and the Circuit Court found that the statute ran from the year of origin.  The Circuit Court came to this conclusion after a fairly lengthy discussion of what “accrue” and “actually” mean, plus a trip through the legislative history and various doctrines, including the “all events test”, the “contested tax doctrine”, and the “relation back” doctrine.  The Court found the “relation back” doctrine was key for this issue, which states the tax “is accruable for the taxable year to which it relates even though the taxpayer contests the liability therefor and such tax is not paid until a later year.” See Rev. Rul. 58-55.  This can result in a different accrual date for crediting the tax against US taxes under the “relation back” test and when the right to claim the credit arises, which is governed by the “contested tax” doctrine.

  • Prof. Andy Grewal, a past PT guest poster, has uploaded an article on SSRN entitled “King v. Burwell:  Where Were the Tax Professors?”  The post discusses possible reasons why tax professors largely did not enter the public debate on the merits of the legal arguments in King v. Burwell, and encourages them to be more active in future similar cases.
  • Another fairly technical issue was addressed in PMTA 2015-009, where the Service discussed interest netting when it is later determined that there was no original overpayment.  Under Section 6621(d), interest is wiped out if there equivalent overpayments to the taxpayer and underpayment to the Service.  The PMTA has a fair amount of analysis, but the issue and conclusion are a sufficient summary for our purposes.  Issues are:

(1) Whether an underpayment applied against an equivalent overlapping overpayment to obtain a net interest rate of zero pursuant to Section 6621(d) is available for netting against another equivalent overlapping overpayment if the Service determines the first overpayment was erroneous, (2) Whether the same is true for an overpayment netted against an erroneous underpayment, and (3) Whether the cause of the error affects these answers.

And concludes:

(1)  An underpayment that was previously netted against an equivalent overlapping overpayment is not available to net against another equivalent overpayment if the taxpayer has retained the benefit of the original interest netting (the interest differential amount paid or credited to the taxpayer). If, however, the taxpayer did not retain the benefit of the original netting, then the underpayment is available for netting against another overpayment. (2) The same analysis applies to an overpayment netted against an erroneous underpayment. (3) We are unaware of any circumstance where the cause of the error would change our answers.

  • I haven’t highlighted Prof. Jim Maule’s blog, MauledAgain, in a while, which is a failing on my part.    Here you will find Prof. Maule’s post on tax fraud in the People’s Court and if you scroll down on this page you will find an update to the case.  Two schmohawks agreed to commit tax fraud by transferring the value of a child tax credit.  The plan fell apart, and one sued the other in People’s Court to enforce the “contract” between the co-conspirators.  The Judge dismissed the case because fraudulent contracts are not enforced.  Prof. Maule quotes from the show, where the plaintiff said, “What about pain and suffering?”  Stole my line.
  • TIGTA has released a report about Appeals penalty abatement decisions, and it isn’t great.  First, it isn’t great because, as the report concludes, Appeals is not adequately explaining its abatement decisions.  I agree Appeals should indicate why it is abating penalties, but I do not agree with the second conclusion, which is that Appeals is leaving money on the table.  Meaning, it should not be waiving those penalties.  TIGTA reports that an additional $34MM could have been collected on the abated penalties.  It also reported that many cases were inappropriately considered by Appeals because Compliance had not reviewed the abatement.  Given that penalties are essentially applied to every underpayment, with no consideration to whether the taxpayer reasonably attempted to comply, it seems inappropriate to assume those penalties are all collectible (or to encourage Appeals to abate less).
  • On Jack Townsend’s Federal Tax Procedure Blog is a discussion of the tax perjury case, US v. Boitano (What would Brian Boitano do?  Not perjure himself in a tax filing, that is for darn sure.  This is Steve Boitano- presumably not related to the super hero/figure skater).  Questions presented in the case were whether filing a document was required under Section 7206(1) for perjury, and what constituted filing.  In Boitano, the taxpayer provided returns to an agent who was not authorized to accept filed returns.  Agent realized the returns were questionable and never forwarded to appropriate Service employee for filing.  The 9th Circuit held filing was required (not stated in statute), and giving the return to the agent did not constitute filing.  Therefore, no crime under Section 7206(1).
  • Like Thor’s mighty hammer, the IRS has slammed down the tax law upon Marvel, and not even its super team of Avenger like lawyers could provide a  Shield (select from Captain America’s, or Agents of) from the consequences.  The Tax Court has decided the hulking consolidated group of the Marvel universe was required to offset its net operating loss by the cancellation of debt  income, and could be applied against the NOL of one member of the consolidated group.   I’ll touch on the holding below in broad strokes and I’ll stop trying to incorporate Marvel superheroes, but what I found most interesting about this case is that it arose out of the 1996 Chapter 11 Bankruptcy of Marvel, which seems to just print money with its movies now.  I had completely forgotten also that two real life titans (of industry) got in dustup in ’96 about that bankruptcy, Ronald Perelman and Carl Icahn.  You can read more about the amazing twenty year turn around here and here.   That story is more interesting than the law in this one.  Under Section 108(a), discharge of indebtedness income is not included as income if the discharge is pursuant to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  The excluded income reduces certain other tax attributes in certain circumstances, including a reduction of NOLs that carryover from prior years.  See 108(b)(1)(2).  Marvel’s subsidiary only reduced the carryover for the subsidiaries  in Chapter 11, and not the parent group that filed consolidated returns with the subs.  The Tax Court found that the aggregate approach was required, and the COD income had to reduce the NOLs of the consolidated full group.  I’ve glossed over the analysis, which is worthwhile if you have this specific type of issue.

 

 

 

Summary Opinions for May, part 1

May got away from me, and so has much of June.  I’ll post the Summary Opinions for May in two parts, and handle June in the same manner.  Below are some of the tax procedure items in May that we didn’t otherwise cover:

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  • The Middle District of Louisiana, after the Fifth Circuit vacated and remanded the case, reversed its prior decision and, under Woods, held that the Section 6662(e) valuation misstatement penalty could be imposed when the underlying transaction had been determined to lack economic substance. Chemtech Royalty Associates, LP v. US.   This case was the result of some crazy tax planning by Dow Chemicals to goose its basis in a chemical plant.  Here is Jack Townsend’s prior coverage of the case.
  • Sticking with substantial valuation misstatement penalty, the Tax Court in Hughes v. Comm’r upheld the penalty against a KPMG partner who claimed a step up in basis in stock when he transferred the shares to his non-resident spouse.  This was based on some informal tax research, and conversations with some co-workers that were also informal.  The Court essentially felt Mr. Hughes should have known better, and tagged him with a big penalty (probably didn’t help he was transferring the shares to try and ensure his ex-wife couldn’t make a claim for the increase in value).
  • IRS has released Chief Counsel Advice regarding abatement of paid tax liabilities.  In taxpayer friendly advice, CCA 201520010 states the language of Section 6404(a) is “permissive” and does not require the liability to be outstanding.  That Section states the “IRS is authorized to abate the unpaid portions of the assessment of any tax or any liability in respect thereor…”  The reference to “unpaid”, according to the CCA, is not binding on the Service.
  • The Service has released CCA 201519029, which provides advice on when preparer penalties can apply in situations where the prepared didn’t sign the return or didn’t file the return, and when a refund claim was made after the statute had expired.  For the third situation, the Service stated that “understatement of liability” does not include claims barred by the statute.  The full conclusions in the CCA are:

Issue 1: Yes. If the return is not filed, a penalty under I.R.C. § 6694(b) may be assessed if the return preparer signed the return and the return preparer’s conduct was willful or reckless.

Issue 2: Yes. Under the language of I.R.C. § 6694(b)(1), the return preparer penalty may be assessed if the tax return preparer prepares any return or claim for refund with respect to which any part of an understatement of liability is due to willful or reckless conduct. There is no requirement that the Service allow the amounts claimed on an amended return before the I.R.C. § 6695(b) penalty may be assessed.

Issue 3. The penalties under I.R.C. §§ 6694(a), 6694(b) or 6701 should not be assessed merely because the return preparer made and filed a claim for refund after the period of limitations for refunds had expired, because an “understatement of liability” does not include claims that are barred by the period of limitations. In addition, there may be extenuating circumstances that weigh against asserting the penalty. The amended return, for example, may be perfecting an earlier timely informal claim for refund.

  • The Service has announced it will be refunding the registered tax return preparer test fees.  There will be a second refund procedure where you can request your time back…but it will be ignored.
  • Professor Andy Grewal in early May had an excellent blog post on Yale’s administrative law blog, Notice and Comment, which highlights more potential penalties on employers attempting to follow the ACA requirements.
  • Another CCA (CCA 201520005) , where the IRS has held that the deficiency procedures apply to the assessment of the penalty under Section 6676 to erroneous refund claims based on Section 25A(i) American Opportunity Credit, since the penalty can only apply to a refund claim based on the credit if that claimed credit is part of a deficiency.  Carlton Smith previously had a blog post touching on this issue, found here, where he persuasively criticized  this position.  You should check out the entire post, but I’ve recreated a portion below:

A third issue discussed by the PMTA is how the section 6676 penalty is to be assessed.  Frankly, I read the Code as providing that the assessment is done like a section 6672 responsible person trust fund penalty — straight to assessment, without the deficiency procedures applying.  That seems to be what section 6671 provides.  But, the PMTA takes the position that only for underlying issues on which the section 6676 penalty applies where there is no jurisdiction in the Tax Court under the deficiency procedures, such as for excessive refund claims regarding employment taxes or the section 6707A reportable transaction penalty, the section 6676 penalty is done by straight assessment, without prior notice to taxpayers.  However, for section 6676 penalties on what would constitute a “deficiency” — and excessive refundable credit claims are clearly part of a deficiency under section 6211(b)(4)‘s special rules — the PMTA concludes that the section 6676 penalty should be asserted in a notice of deficiency.  The PMTA reasons that Tax Court cases have in the past held that a penalty which is computed as a function of a deficiency (which I would point out includes extra late-filing and late-payment penalties on the tax deficiency) are also treated under the deficiency procedures.  This reasoning is all mixed up.  The Tax Court applies the deficiency procedures to penalties like the late-filing and late-payment penalties of section 6651(a) that are imposed on the tax deficiency only because of special language in section 6665(b) that directs the Tax Court to do so.  There is no similar language in section 6671 directing deficiency procedures to apply to any penalties imposed in the following sections.

  • And another CCA (201517005), this one dealing with the statute of limitations for refunds based on foreign taxes deducted.  Specifically, whether a refund claim more than ten years (yr 13) after the tax year in question (yr 2) was timely when it resulted from an NOL (yr 4) where the taxpayer elected to deduct foreign taxes paid instead of taking foreign tax credit.  The IRS concluded that no, Section 6511(d)(2) applied to the NOL and required the claim to be made three years after the NOL year.  Section 6511(d)(3), which allows for a ten year statute for refunds pertaining to foreign tax credits, was not applicable.
  • Apparently, some states are starting to scale back the amount of tax credits available for movie productions.  Two years ago, The Suspect was filed in my building, staring Mekhi Phifer and no one else you have ever heard of.  I think it was “catered” by a fast food joint, and they may have been using our coffee pots to make coffee.  I can’t imagine Pennsylvania dropped the big bucks to land that film.
  • Emancipation day is throwing off filings again next year.  I always assumed that had something to do with the date of the Emancipation Proclamation, but I was wrong. The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, 1863.  On April 16th, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act, freeing the enslaved living in the District of Columbia.  The linked Rev. Ruling explains what those in Massachusetts who are celebrating Boston Marathon Day (Patriots Day-celebrating the shot heard round the world) should do also.
  • Initially when writing this, I was watching the US women’s national team take it to Colombia, and recalling what a jackass Sepp Blatter has been.  Hoping this article is in reference to the shoe dropping on him next.  Even if he didn’t evade taxes, he should have to pay someone money for suggesting he would boost viewership of the women’s game with hot pants.  Or for not knowing who Alex Morgan is…or for making the women play on turf.

IRS Offers Small Glimpse of Its Thoughts on Aspects of First Time Abate Program

In the fall of 2012, TIGTA released a somewhat scathing report on the IRS administration of the first time abate program (FTA).  For readers who are unfamiliar, FTA allows taxpayers to abated various delinquency penalties on late returns if certain requirements are met.  The provisions are very taxpayer friendly, and, as highlighted in the TIGTA report, underutilized.  The reason for FTA being underutilized is that most taxpayers are unaware of the program and the IRS never offers it up as a potential solution; taxpayers must request the abatement.

Last year, I drafted a post about the program, which provides greater details on the requirements and availing yourself to FTA, which can be found here.

Last week, the IRS released an email memorandum providing internal guidance on the administration of FTA.  The email is not lengthy, but it does provide some insight, and is interesting because it is one of the few items of guidance on FTA outside of the IRM provisions dealing with the program.  The IRM provision is found at IRM 20.1.1.3.

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After finding the taxpayer did not qualify for the statutory reasonable cause exception, the Service stated that FTA did apply to the failure to deposit penalties.  This is stated in the IRM as one of the three penalties that can be abated, along with the failure to file and failure to pay penalties.  The taxpayer being discussed did not qualify for FTA, and it appeared the examining agent had requested a review for FTA, not the taxpayer.  The memorandum gave the impression that this should not be considered until raised by the taxpayer.

After that finding, the advice provided answers to some general questions.  First, the memorandum stated that FTA would be appropriate for penalty relief during exam and prior to the penalty being assessed.  The memo states that since FTA is not a statutory mandate, the rationale is based on IRS policy and in the drafter’s opinion, assessing the tax would be a waste of Service resources if FTA was appropriate.  This provides important taxpayer and practitioner guidance that FTA can and should be brought up during exam, and the agent should be directed to this email if he or she resists.  I think many practitioners assumed this to be true, but I do not believe the IRM stated as much.

The second question was whether FTA could be applied to any year (highest penalty amount), or if it had to be applied to the earliest tax year.  The memo stated that it had to go towards the earliest tax period, as directed under the IRM.  Although not stated in the memorandum, the basis for this appears to be IRM 20.1.1.3.6.1(2).  My initial thought was that taxpayers should pay the penalties for prior years before requesting FTA for the highest year; however, FTA is generally only available if penalties have not been imposed for the prior three years, so that would not work for most taxpayers.

Somewhat related, when I drafted the earlier post, I had multiple clients going through the FTA program.  One taxpayer had a substantial ($150k plus) penalty, but appeared to qualify.  Given the dollar amount, I was concerned that the Service would take a harder look.  The FTA request was provided in August, and I spoke with Collections at that time, which indicated collection activity would cease until the FTA determination was made.  In December, the Service had not responded to the FTA request, but collection activity resumed.  Thankfully, a somewhat panicked call to the IRS was met with a response that the collection letter was a mistake, and we would have a response on FTA within two weeks.  About a month later, the IRS responded by letter indicating that our request was granted, but the Service retained the right to reverse upon examination.  A very positive result, and handled in the same manner as my smaller FTA cases and generally within the same time frame.

First Time Abate — Ignorance is Bliss, Even in Penalty Relief

Unfortunately, taxpayer ignorance about the first time abate program is keeping most of them from taking advantage of its very taxpayer friendly penalty abatement provisions.

In the Internal Revenue Manual, under the reasonable cause penalty abatement provisions for the failure to file and failure to pay penalties, is an underutilized provisions for penalty abatement called the first time abate program. See IRM 20.1.1.3. The program was instituted in the early 2000s, is not publicized, and the IRS does not notify taxpayers about the program when it imposes penalties. The program is essentially a free pass for the first time a taxpayer makes a mistake.

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This program is completely discretionary for the Service and not imposed by statute or regulation. Certain taxpayers do not qualify, and event based returns (think Form 706 for the federal estate tax) are not included. In order to participate, a taxpayer must be otherwise compliant, and must not have been required to file the return before or did not have penalties imposed for the prior three years.  If a taxpayer has had penalties imposed in the prior three years, but had them removed, the taxpayer may still qualify. As showing actual reasonable cause in some cases can be very difficult or time consuming, this program may provide relief to taxpayers who would otherwise be forced to pay penalties.

In December of 2012, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a fairly scathing report on the Service’s implementation of the program, highlighting that the lack of taxpayer knowledge of the program undermines its stated goal of encouraging voluntary compliance. TITGA estimated that close to 1.5 million qualifying taxpayers did not take advantage of the program, and close to $200MM in penalties were paid that could have been abated. The Internal Revenue Manual was updated in April of 2013 to clarify the current level of compliance of taxpayers’ trying to enter the program, but the changes do not appear to be that significant.  The Service has posted a public web page about the program, which can be found here. The page indicates that taxpayers can request abatement by mailing the request to the applicable service center, by calling the service, or by filing Form 843, Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement.

I have reviewed a few penalty assessments over the last month or two, and the Service is not issuing notice regarding the program, and each of these taxpayers probably qualified. I also currently know of a handful of taxpayers requesting abatement, including a few with very high dollar penalty amounts. Each appears to be clearly within the guidelines, and I will update the blog with the outcomes and practical experiences.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the Service takes any additional steps to disseminate information about the program.  It will also be interesting to see what happens if/when qualifying taxpayers are denied abatement.  There is no statutory framework creating this abatement, which would appear to give the IRS wide latitude in deciding whether the penalties should be abated.  Conversely, holdings like Kearney Partners, LLC v. United States, where the Middle District of Florida held that an IRS announcement created a substantive right in a taxpayer that was reviewable by the courts, would indicate such a denial could be appealed.   I’ve greatly oversimplified Kearney, which is a very dense case with lots of great procedural issues.  I believe Les will be writing about other aspects of that case shortly.  The issue of informal IRS statements creating taxpayer rights is touched upon in greater detail in IRS Practice and Procedure,  3.04[9].