Summary Opinions for End of December 2015

Happy Presidents’ Day!  While some of you are at home celebrating the lives of Martin Van Buren, Chester Arthur, Tippecanoe and Tyler too, PT is still hard at work churning out tax procedure commentary.  In this SumOp, we cover a few remaining items from December that we didn’t otherwise cover (in detail).  Post includes more of Athletes, the IRS, and rich people behaving badly.  It also has a link to Frank Agostino’s January newsletter, which has a bankruptcy/OIC discussion that is really strong.

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  • The IRS has mud on its face again for wiping another hard drive, this time potentially destroying documents related to the IRS hiring of Quinn Emanuel.  Robert Woods at Forbes has coverage here.
  • Those of you who love the beautiful game should be excited Sepp’s on his way out, but worried that Mascherano’s stout defense won’t extend to his tax fraud conviction.  That’s three Barca players with tax troubles, including Messi and Neymar.  Barca should call me immediately, and bring me in house to review all their players’ finances (and/or play midfield).  Marketwatch has an article, found here, on why so many professional athletes get in tax trouble (recap:  their tax returns are more complicated than your tax return, they are super rich and young, and they often have issues handling their finances).
  • Agostino and Associates have issued their January tax controversy newsletter found here.  The bankruptcy/OIC discussion and which option to use is a great summary of something many of us probably grapple with on a weekly or even daily basis.
  • This is more substantive than procedural, but interesting.  Sometimes cases have the best names based on the underlying dispute.  Loving vs. Virginia is probably the best known.  Green v. US, a recent District Court case out of Oklahoma also fits the bill.  The case involves a bunch of green, in the form of a real estate charitable contributions (Hobby Lobby $$$ and land).  In Green, prior to the case, Chief Counsel had stated that a non-grantor trust could not deduct the full fair market value of appreciated property donated to a charity under Section 642(c)(1).  That section allows for a deduction, without limitation, for property passed to qualifying charities.  The CCA looks to various cases which indicated (tangentially) that the deduction was limited to the adjusted basis.  The District Court of the Western District of Oklahoma held that Section 642(c)(1) had no specific limitation on the deduction amount and the full FMV was allowed.
  • Morales v. Comm’r was decided by the Ninth Circuit in December.  Prior to the opinion, Carlton Smith has covered this case in detail for us, including this post in July, and he cited to it last week in discussing the 6676 penalty.   At issue in Morales was a Rand type case, where penalties were imposed on an “underpayment” created by a taxpayer improperly claiming and receiving the first time homebuyer credit. The question raised was whether a taxpayer must assign errors to each and every alleged error or whether pleadings are sufficient with only a general denial of liability. The Ninth Circuit in an unpublished opinion held that the Tax Court had properly denied the reconsideration of the penalty as the taxpayer had not specifically raised the argument that the credit did not give rise to an underpayment.
  • Before making flippant remarks about this case, I hope the US Attorney involved has obtained proper treatment for the mental illness.  Beyond the wellbeing of that individual, I do not feel terribly bad for the IRS in In Re: Murphy.  In February of 2015, the Assistant District Court found that the IRS violation of a preliminary injunction on collection actions could not be ignored due to the fact that the US Attorney was suffering from substantial mental health issues, including dementia.  In December, the Bankruptcy Court (sorry, no link) concluded it would not review the matter again, and the IRS was responsible for claims under Section 7433, even if the Service likely would have been successful in the case had the US Attorney been competent.  As we’ve seen many cases where taxpayer’s representatives have suffered from illness, but the IRS has still imposed substantial penalties, I’m not heartbroken to see the issue go the other way.
  • Way back in July of 2014, SumOp covered the tax problems of the Hit Dog, Mo Vaughn, where the Tax Court held he lacked reasonable cause for failing to file his tax returns and pay the tax due.  Mo took a swing and a miss with the Sixth Circuit also, which agreed with the Tax Court.  The Court held that simply hiring an attorney, financial advisor and accountant was not sufficient to show reasonable cause, and the fraud and embezzlement of those folks did not constitute disability.
  • Sumner Redstone did not have the best December and early January.  He probably lost a boatload in the stock market, and he was directed to undergo a mental exam to determine if he is incapacitated (his ex-ladyfriend is making this accusation – lover scorned!).  He was also found liable for gift tax from 1972!!!!!!.  Jack Townsend had coverage on his Federal Tax Crimes Blog here. Tax was around $740k.  The interest has to be pretty darn high.  There was one bit of good news, which was that no penalties were imposed.  As Jack notes, this is the interesting aspect of the case.  Underlying question involved the valuation of a closely held business interest, which was based on redemption price on intra-family sale.

Summary Opinions through 12/18/15

Sorry for the technical difficulties over the last few days.   We are glad to be back up and running, and hopefully won’t have any other hosting issues in the near future.

December had a lot of really interesting tax procedure items, many of which we covered during the month, including the PATH bill.  Below is the first part of a two part Summary Opinions for December.  Included below are a recent case dealing with Section 6751(b)(1) written approval of penalties, a PLR dealing with increasing carryforward credits from closed years , an update on estate tax closing letters, reasonable cause with foundation taxes, an update on the required record doctrine, and various other interesting tax items.

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  • In December, PLR 201548006 was issued regarding whether an understated business credit for a closed year could be carried forward with the correct increased amounts for an open year.  The taxpayer was a partner in a partnership and shareholder in an s-corp.  The conclusion was that the corrected credit could be carried forward based on Mennuto v. Comm’r, 56 TC 910, which had allowed the Service to recalculate credits for a closed year to ascertain the correct tax in the open year.
  • IRS has issued web guidance regarding closing letters for estate tax returns, which can be found here.  This follows the IRS indicating that closing letters will only be issued upon taxpayer request (and then every taxpayer requesting a closing letter).  My understanding from other practitioners is that the transcript request in this situation has not worked well.  And, some states will not accept this as proof the Service is done with its audit.  Many also feel it is not sufficient to direct an executor to make distributions.  Seems as those most are planning on just requesting the letters.
  • Models and moms behaving badly (allegedly).  Bar Refaeli and her mother have been arrested for tax fraud in Israel.  The Israeli taxing authority claims that Bar told her accountant that she resided outside of Israel, while she was living in homes within the country under the names of relatives.  Not model behavior.
  • The best JT (sorry Mr. Timberlake and Jason T.), Jack Townsend, has a post on his Federal Tax Procedure Blog on the recent Brinkley v. Comm’r case out of the Fifth Circuit, which discusses the shift of the burden of proof under Section 7491.
  • PMTA 2015-019 was released providing the government’s position on two identity theft situations relating to validity of returns, and then sharing the return information to the victims.  The issues were:

1. Whether the Service can treat a filed Business Masterfile return as a nullity when the return is filed using a stolen EIN without the knowledge of the EIN’s owner.

2. Whether the Service can treat a filed BMF return as a nullity when the EIN used on the return was obtained by identifying the party with a stolen name and SSN…

4. Whether the Service may disclose information about a potentially fraudulent business or filing to the business that purportedly made the filing or to the individual who signed the return or is identified as the “responsible party” when the Service suspects the “responsible party” or business has no knowledge of the filing.

And the conclusions were:

1. The Service may treat a filed BMF return as a nullity when a return is filed using a stolen EIN without the permission or knowledge of the EIN’s owner because the return is not a valid return.

2. The Service may treat a filed BMF return as a nullity when the EJN used on the return was obtained by using a stolen name for Social Security Number for the business’s responsible person. The return is not a valid return.

  • Back in 2014, SCOTUS decided Clark v. Rameker, which held that inherited IRAs were not retirement accounts under the bankruptcy code, and therefore not exempt from creditors.  In Clark, the petitioners made the claim for exemption under Section 522(b)(3)(C) of the Bankruptcy Code for the inherited retirement account, and not the state statute (WI, where petitioner resided, allowed the debtor to select either the federal exemptions or the state exemptions).  End of story for those using federal exemptions, but some states allow selection like WI between state or federal exemptions, while others have completely opted out of the federal exemptions, such as Montana.  A recent Montana case somewhat follows Clark, but based on the different Montana statute.  In In Re: Golz, the Bankruptcy Court determined that a chapter 7 debtor’s inherited IRA was not exempt from creditors.  The Montana law states:

individual retirement accounts, as defined in 26 U.S.C. 408(a), to the extent of deductible contributions made before the suit resulting in judgment was filed and the earnings on those contributions, and Roth individual retirement accounts, as defined in 26 U.S.C. 408A, to the extent of qualified contributions made before the suit resulting in judgment was filed and the earnings on those contributions.

The BR Court, relying on a November decision of the MT Supreme Court, held that an inherited IRA did not qualify based on the definition under the referenced Code section of retirement account.  I believe opt-out states cannot restrict exemption of retirement accounts beyond what is found under Section 522, but it might be possible to expand the exemption (speculation on my part).   Here, the MT statute did not broaden the definition to include inherited IRAs.

  • In August, we covered US v. Chabot, where the 3rd Circuit agreed with all other circuits in holding the required records doctrine compels bank records to be provided over Fifth Amendment challenges.  SCOTUS has declined to review the Circuit Court decision.
  • PLR 201547007 is uncool (technical legal term).   The PLR includes a TAM, which concludes reasonable cause holdings for abatement of penalties are not precedent (and perhaps not persuasive) for abating the taxable expenditure tax on private foundations under Section 4945(a)(1).  The foundation in question had assistance from lawyers and accountants in all filing and administrative requirements, and those professionals knew all relevant facts and circumstances.  The foundation apparently failed to enter into a required written agreement with a donee, and may not have “exercised expenditures responsibly” with respect to the donee.  This caused a 5% tax to be imposed, which was paid, and a request for abatement due to reasonable cause was filed.  Arguments pointing to abatement of penalties (such as Section 6651 and 6656) for reasonable cause were made.  The Service did not find this persuasive, and makes a statutory argument against allowing reasonable cause which I did not find compelling.  The TAM indicates that the penalty sections state the penalty is imposed “unless it is shown that such failure is due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect.”  That language is also found regarding Section 4945(a)(2), but not (1), the first tier tax on the foundation.  That same language is found, however, under Section 4962(a), which allows for abatement if the event was due to reasonable cause and not to willful neglect, and such event was corrected within a reasonable period.  Service felt that Congress did not intend abatement to apply to (a)(1), or intended a different standard to apply, because reasonable cause language was included only in (a)(2).  I would note, however, that Section 4962 applies broadly to all first tier taxes, but does specify certain taxes that it does not apply to.  Congress clearly selected certain taxes for the section not to apply, and very easily could have included (a)(1) had it intended to do so.

I’m probably devoting too much time to this PLR/TAM, but it piqued my interest. The Service also stated that the trust cannot rely on the lack of advice to perform certain acts as advice that such acts are not necessary.  I am not sure how the taxpayer would know he or she was not receiving advice if it asked the professionals to ensure all distributions were proper and all filings handled.  I can hear the responses (perhaps from Keith) that this is a difficult question, and perhaps the lawyer or accountant should be responsible.  I understand, but have a hard time getting behind the notion that a taxpayer must sue someone over missed paperwork when the system is so convoluted.  Whew, I was blowing so hard, I almost fell off my soapbox.

  • This is more B.S. than the tax shelters Jack T. is always writing about.  TaxGirl has created her list of 100 top tax twitter accounts you must follow, which can be found here. Lots of great accounts that we follow from writers we love, but PT was not listed (hence the B.S.).  It stings twice as much, as we all live within 20 miles of TaxGirl, and we sometimes contribute to Forbes, where she is now a full time writer/editor.  Thankfully, Prof. Andy Gerwal appears to be starting a twitter war against TaxGirl (or against CPAs because Kelly included so many CPAs and so few tax professors).  We have to throw our considerable backing and resources behind Andy, in what we assume will be a brutal, rude, explicit, scorched earth march to twitter supremacy.  We are excited about our first twitter feud, even if @TaxGirl doesn’t realize we are in one.
  • This doesn’t directly relate to tax procedure or policy, but it could be viewed as impacting it, and we reserved the right to write about whatever we want.  Here is a blog post on the NYT Upshot blog on how we perceive the economy, how we delude ourselves to reinforce our political allegiances (sort of like confirmation bias), and how money can change that all.

Tax Court Holds Preparer Who Placed Truncated Social Security Number on Returns Subject to Penalties

If a paid tax return preparer fails to put the proper identifying number on a return, IRS can slap a $50 penalty per return. Anyanwu v Commissioner, a recent summary opinion, reveals the possible harsh consequences of the rule. Anyanwu highlights that some rules meant to ensure oversight over preparers are divorced from any consideration as to whether the preparer’s returns were accurate or whether the preparers themselves accurately reported the income on their tax returns.

In this post I will give some background and describe the case.

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For tax returns submitted after 2010, preparers who prepare a return for compensation must place a preparer tax identification number (PTIN) on the return. Prior to that, preparers could satisfy the requirement alternatively by placing their full social security number on the return. A paid preparer’s failure to place the appropriate number on the return leads to a $50/return civil penalty, absent reasonable cause.

In 2009 CPA Valentine Anyanwu prepared 134 tax returns as part of his side tax return prep business; he reported the income from that business in 2010. IRS examined Valentine’s 2010 income tax return and as part of the exam it pulled returns he prepared and signed in 2009. In connection with the examination of his income tax return where it looked at his bank account information, IRS was able to identify 90 payments that he received from his prep business. Valentine had estimated that he had done 76 returns for compensation; the rest he claimed were freebies for friends and family.

Upon reviewing the 2009 returns, IRS found that he failed to place a PTIN or full social security number on any of the returns. It was Valentine’s practice in 2009 to sign, place his phone number and address and also put his last 4 numbers of his Social Security number on the returns. Asked why he placed only the last 4 digits he claimed that he did so because he was a prior identity theft victim, though it was not clear why he chose that path rather than getting a PTIN.

After reviewing the returns Valentine prepared based upon a client list he gave to the IRS, IRS assessed $6,700 in penalties, or $50 on the 134 2009 returns he submitted. An interesting side note: at trial the examining agent also testified that it was able to generate a list from the Service Center of all the returns that Valentine prepared. Asked how it generated the list, “the examining agent was unclear on how this list was generated, stating at trial that ‘somebody would have pushed some kind of button, I guess’.”

IRS issued a notice of intent to levy and Valentine challenged the penalty in a Tax Court CDP case, as the penalty is not subject to deficiency procedures.

The opinion is pretty brief and there are two main findings. First, the Tax Court found that there was evidence that only 90 of the returns were done for compensation, so it abated the portion of the assessment that related to the 44 returns where the IRS failed to meet the burden of production that he received compensation. In effect, the penalty went from $6,700 to $4,500.

Valentine requested that the IRS abate the entire penalty, leading to the more interesting finding that Valentine did not have reasonable cause for his actions. Here was his argument:

Mr. Anyanwu claims that his failure to include his full identifying number on the returns he prepared was based on reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect. To support his claim, Mr. Anyanwu testified that he had been a victim of identity theft in the past and thus feared disclosing his full Social Security number. Mr. Anyanwu stated that he believed that the IRS could properly identify him as the return preparer with only the last four digits of his Social Security number, name, address, and phone number.

The Tax Court gave credence to his privacy concerns, but found that it was not enough to constitute reasonable cause because he could have gotten a PTIN and protected his social security number:

While we acknowledge that privacy concerns are important, we find that Mr. Anyanwu has failed to show that he had reasonable cause. Mr. Anyanwu could have satisfied his privacy concerns within the rules by obtaining and using a PTIN instead of his full Social Security number on the returns he prepared.

Parting Thoughts

In upholding the penalties, the Tax Court reaches a sensible conclusion but I sympathize with Valentine in this case at least on the facts as reported in the opinion. The purpose of civil penalties is to promote voluntary compliance. Valentine did give the IRS what it would need to correlate him with the returns he prepared, and that is what the preparer identification rules generally are meant to achieve. In addition, the mandatory PTIN rules were not yet in effect, and some preparers (especially those who were not large preparers like Valentine) may not have been fully aware of the PTIN rules, though the opinion does not address that. Moreover, there is no suggestion in the opinion that the returns he prepared were inaccurate. On top of all that, there are legitimate privacy concerns that people have when it comes to IRS or the government for that matter safeguarding information, especially when the preparer as in this case was a prior identity theft victim.

While I have been a strong advocate for oversight over preparers, including recommending about a decade ago that IRS require preparers to use a uniform identifying number on returns to facilitate accountability and visibility, when faced with its application in this case I sympathize with the preparer who now faces thousands in penalties for a business that I suspect was not his principal business activity. While it is hard to armchair quarterback when there may be other facts, in reading this opinion I am left with the feeling that IRS should have exercised discretion and let this one pass with a warning that in future years a failure to properly identify the returns will generate penalties.

In a follow up post to this I will look at how TIGTA has criticized IRS for its failure to use its PTIN authority fully, a troubling criticism for those like me who believe that the IRS should have expanded powers to oversee the hundreds of thousands of unlicensed commercial preparers.

 

 

IRS Inaction in Prior Years Provides Path to Penalty Relief for Substantial Understatement Penalty – Fire and Rain

I went to college just as singer James Taylor became very popular.  One of his most popular early songs was Fire and Rain.  He talked about what he had seen.  The recent decision in James Taylor v. Commissioner involving someone else with that rather common name reminded me of things I had seen many taxpayers argue.  In this case, a tired argument on the income side of the case turned into a winner on the penalty aspect.  As the IRS budget cuts cause it to become more and more overwhelmed, a greater number of cases will occur in which it has failed to catch an incorrect tax position in earlier years.  Mr. Taylor’s case points out how the failure of the IRS to act can provide a significant benefit to a taxpayer (aside from years of getting by with paying less tax than should have been paid) when the IRS seeks to impose an accuracy related penalty as it often does based simply on the dollar amount of the deficiency without any thought to the taxpayer’s reason for underreporting the tax.  In the case of Mr. Taylor, when “You’ve Got a Friend” who is not a tax professional who gives you advice on how to avoid taxes by not reporting your pension, “You can Close Your Eyes” and think about “How Sweet It Is” or you can check it out with someone who might have a more reliable opinion. Mr. Taylor apparently closed his eyes and moved forward.

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Taxpayers who get audited for the first time after several years of incorrect filing regularly want to argue that the IRS allowed a particular tax treatment in the past.  This argument always loses and should lose when it focuses on the effect of the IRS previous failure to act upon the tax liability for the year at issue.  While IRS inaction cannot create a right for a taxpayer to claim a certain tax benefit not otherwise allowed by the Internal Revenue Code, it can lull the taxpayer into thinking that his or her tax treatment of an item on the return is correct and that for the taxpayer it’s Enough to Be On Your Way.  The longer the activity goes on without action from the IRS the more the taxpayer is likely to rely on the position taken in the prior return and the more reasonable that reliance becomes.  This appears to have happened in Mr. Taylor’s case.

Mr. Taylor retired after 26 years of active duty service in the Army during which time he achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel.  In the same year he retired, he also was divorced.  As a result of the retirement, he began receiving a pension.  As a result of the divorce, he received less of the pension than he might have had he remained married.  He originally reported the pension on his returns for 2006-2008 but an acquaintance told him he could exclude these amounts.  He filed amended returns treating the pension amounts as excludable and the IRS sent him a Letter in the Mail with the refunds prior to his filing the 2009 return at issue in this case.  Getting the money back based on amended returns is an even more positive affirmance by the IRS of the correctness of the position taken than it would have been had he taken this position on his original returns.  Usually, we think of the IRS glancing at, if not taking a hard look at, refund claims and giving much more scrutiny to them than it does to original returns even if the original returns contain refund requests.

Mr. Taylor’s determination that the reduced pension he received was not taxable was wrong.  The IRS figured this out in looking at his 2009 return and sent him a notice of deficiency increasing his tax liability; the IRS told Mr. Taylor they would spend a Little More Time with You.  Judge Carluzzo, after describing the facts, spent on sentence determining that Mr. Taylor’s position on the income tax treatment of the pension was wrong.

The notice also contained the accuracy related penalty.  Here things got more interesting because of the amended returns the IRS had allowed.  These returns contained the same wrong argument for excluding the pensions that he used in making his 2009 return.  Since he was wrong on the tax position taken on his return and the resulting tax mistake exceeded $5,000, the IRS met its burden of production with respect to the imposition of the penalty; however, he still had the opportunity to Stand and Fight and to show pursuant to section 6664(c)(1) that there was reasonable cause for the position he took and that he acted in good faith.

The Court noted that reliance on the advice of an acquaintance “would hardly support a finding that he had reasonable cause for, and acted in good faith with respect to, the exclusion of the taxable portion of his military retirement pay.”  Mr. Taylor did not apparently put into evidence information that his acquaintance was a tax professional of some type.  Had the acquaintance been a tax professional and had Mr. Taylor been able to show that he provided the individual with all of the relevant facts that might have formed the basis for reasonable cause.  See U.S. v. Boyle, 469 U.S. 241 (1985) and Estate of La Meres v. C.I.R., 98 T.C. 294 (1992).  One gets the impression that if any facts at all came out about the acquaintance, the facts supported the conclusion that the acquaintance was not someone upon whom to rely for an important determination on the taxability of the pension and doing so Let It All Fall Down.

Nonetheless, the Court kept going because “not once, not twice, but three times petitioner claimed refunds computed by excluding the taxable portions of his military retirement pay… and not once, not twice, but three times the refund claims were allowed.”  The Court found that because the allowance of the prior claims caused him to exclude the income in 2009 he qualified for the reasonable cause basis for relief from the imposition of the penalty.  It is not often that the IRS will provide this kind of excuse nor litigate to emphasize its failures.  Mr. Taylor’s case does provide hope for those who have reasonably relied on the IRS past actions or inactions as a basis for penalty relief, if not tax relief.  There are at least some “Sunny Skies” for Mr. Taylor.

Summary Opinions for June

Before covering the June tax procedure items we didn’t otherwise write on, I wanted to highlight that Keith was quoted in a Seattle Times’ article about the IRS/Microsoft litigation, where MS is questioning the length of its audit and the Service’s hiring of Quinn Emanuel to investigate its tax obligations.  Other tax procedure luminaries Stuart Bassin (who is working with Les on rewriting part of SaltzBook addressing disclosure litigation) and Professor Andy Grewal (a PT guest poster) were also quoted.   Keith’s last post on the topic can be found here, where he discusses Senator Hatch’s letter to the Commissioner questioning the use of an outside law firm on audits.

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  • The 2015 IRS annual Whistleblower Report to Congress was released in June and can be found here.  In 2014, the Service paid out around $52MM in awards, representing about 17% of the tax it claims was collected due to WB’s information.  Submissions to the WB group were up in 2014, with over 14,000 claims being filed.  Of those, about 8,600 were opened.  The report paints a slightly rosier picture of the program than what may be practitioners’ perceptions of the program.  It does note issues with taxpayer confidentiality, and whistleblower protection. The report also provides a spreadsheet of the reasons for closing cases and the time most cases have been in the program (which tends to be fairly long).
  •  This Tax Court case has a fair amount of tax procedure packed into it.  In Webber v. Comm’r, the Court found a taxpayer had retained control and incidents of ownership over life insurance held in a trust, which caused some negative tax  consequences.  In coming to this determination, the Court found that the IRS Revenue Rulings dealing with the “investor control” doctrine were entitled to Skidmore deference under the “power to persuade” standard.  The Court also found reasonable cause due to the taxpayer’s reliance on his advisor.  In the case, the advisor was an expert and was paid hourly to review the transaction, and had the pertinent information.  We just wrote this case up for SaltzBook, so I won’t go into too much detail (don’t want to give all the milk away, as we definitely want to keep selling cows).
  • Agostino & Associates has published its July Monthly Journal of Tax Controversy.  Frank and his associate Brian Burton have a nice piece on the public policy of OICs.  As always, it is interesting and essentially a mini law review article.
  • BMC Software v. Comm’r is a Fifth Circuit case we (I) missed in March that was potentially significant in how closing agreements are interpreted.  Miller & Chevalier’s Tax Appellate Blog has coverage here.  The facts are fairly specific, and the applicable Code sections do not pertain to many taxpayers.  What is important is that the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court, and held that the boilerplate in the opening paragraph stating, “for income tax purposes” did not cause the agreed treatment of a tax item for one purpose as applying for all purposes under the Code.  The Court would not read that into the agreement of the two parties, who had meticulously spelled out the specific tax treatments for one purpose.
  • Another case with multiple interesting tax procedure items.  In Riggs v. Comm’r, the Tax Court ruled on 1) whether a bankruptcy stay for the taxpayer’s successor-in-interest applied to the taxpayer, and  2) whether the IRS had to follow the taxpayer’s instructions about which debts its payment should be applied to when the Bankruptcy Court directed the payment generally.  As to the first point, the court found there was not sufficient “identity between the debtor and the [taxpayer] that the debtor may be said to be the real party defendant”, so the stay did not apply.  As to the second point, the Court found the payments were not voluntary, and therefore it did not have to follow the taxpayer’s instructions under Rev. Proc. 2002-26.  I would assume the Court would have specifically directed the payment application in the order had it been requested.
  • Hard to talk to an accountant these days and not discuss the tangible personal property change of accounting method.  The Service has provided additional time to file Form 3115 and modified some procedures.  See Rev. Proc. 2015-33.
  • For those of you who do work with Section 6672 penalties, you know the definition of willfulness and actually running a business can be in conflict.  Often, a business that is light on cash has to make a decision about which bills to pay, and sometimes the business thinks that suppliers need payment to keep product flowing.  If a responsible person makes such a decision and knows the withholding taxes are delinquent, Section 6672 penalties will almost certainly apply.  See Phillips v. US, 73 F3d 939 (9th Cir. 1996).  The Court of Federal Claims had occasion to review one such case in Gann v. US, and dismissed the government’s motion for summary judgement.  It held that determining when and whether the responsible person had knowledge of the company’s failure to pay taxes was a disputed issue of fact.  The Court found that simply showing that cash inflows and outflows indicating someone wasn’t going to get paid weren’t enough for summary judgement, and some level of actual knowledge was needed by the responsible person.  There was also some question as to whether the person was a “responsible person”, which was covered by Professor Timothy Todd on Forbes and can be found here.
  • Another attorneys’ fees case that probably would have ended differently had the client made a qualified offer.  In Mylander v. Comm’r, the Tax Court found that the taxpayer prevailed in the amount in controversy and the most significant issue, but the Service’s position was substantially justified.  The reasoning for this was because the case was complex and the taxpayer didn’t share all relevant facts or the case law for their claims.  I’m not sure how I feel about the complexity aspect or the onus being on the taxpayer to provide the applicable law  to the Service.  If the taxpayer’s position was clear, and reasonable research could have turned up the correct law, it seems unfair to make the taxpayer outline all relevant cases.  I hope those were only considered in conjunction with the missing facts, and wouldn’t have been sufficient on their own.  The Court did also mention that the current case was arguably distinguishable from the applicable prior holdings, so the Service’s position could have been somewhat reasonable no matter what.  All of this probably wouldn’t have mattered if the taxpayer had taken advantage of the qualified offer provisions (although if you make an offer, and fail to provide the IRS with the facts and the law, can you still prevail?).
  • SCOTUS has denied cert for Ford in its interest payment case involving the treatment of an advanced remittance.  Les has blogged this case twice before, most recently here.  In addition to the interest question, there was also a jurisdictional issue about whether the district courts could hear an interest disagreement or if it had to be determined by the Court of Federal Claims.  Les’ post outlines the issue and eventual court holding.
  • In Slone v. Comm’r, The 9th Circuit has decided another case on the two prong test necessary to establish a transferee is liable for the predecessor’s tax liability.  The court remanded for the tax court to review the transaction as to the first prong on federal law, but also held that the Service had to show it was a fraudulent transaction under the federal law and also had to independently show that the transferee was liable under the applicable state law.  This holding is in line with the various other recent cases, including Stern, Salus Mundi, and Diablod, which we most recently covered here.
  • Would you like to know how to file delinquent FBARs and not pay a penalty (i.e. are you mega rich and hiding money in some country with shady banking laws)?  Well, this probably doesn’t apply to you because you likely did not pay the tax due on those assets.  For those folks who paid the tax, but inadvertently failed to file the FBAR the IRS has issued updated guidance on filing late without penalties.
  • A res judicata case, which should have a familiar name for tax procedure junkies.  In Batchelor-Robjohns v. US, the 11th Circuit held the feds were barred by res judicata from raising the dead taxpayer’s income tax issues in an income tax audit when the same issue was previously litigated in an estate tax refund relating to same issue.
  • Just about a year ago, we covered Heckman v. Comm’r, where the Tax Court found the six year statute of limitations under Section 6501(e)(1)(A) applied to ESOP distributions that were not properly disclosed.  The Eighth Circuit has affirmed that ruling.  This is the link to the prior SumOp where we discussed the case.  In Heckman, the courts (Tax Court & 8Th Cir.) declined to incorporate other related entity returns to show disclosure for the individual’s return of the ESOP distribution.  It is interesting to compare that language to CNT Investors, another recent Tax Court statute of limitations case, which seemed to indicate the tax court would consider all the filings of the taxpayer and his related entities.  Although the tones are different, I do not think the holdings are necessarily in conflict.  In Heckman, there was not much disclosed that would adequately apprise the Service of the connection.  In CNT, a few key items were left off, but overall the filings painted a fairly full picture.

Summary Opinions for the second half of May

Here is part two of the items from May we didn’t otherwise cover.  We’ll have the June items shortly, and then July.  Hopefully, I’ll get back on track for weekly summaries in the near future.

  • The Sixth Circuit in Ednacot v. Mesa Medical Group, PLLC affirmed the lower court tossing a physician assistant’s claim that an employer wrongfully withheld employment taxes.  The Court determined this was tantamount to a refund suit, which required the taxpayer to first file an administrative claim for refund with the IRS prior to bringing suit.  There seems to be a lengthy past between the parties in this case.  The petitioner brought up a valid seeming point that she did not know if the withholdings were paid to the IRS, and therefore wasn’t sure if the refund was appropriate, but the Court held that Section 7422 was designed to funnel these issues through the administrative process.
  • Couple interesting privilege cases recently, including the Pacific Management Group decision blogged by Joni Larson for us.  In a case that may have a somewhat chilling effect on making reasonable cause claims, the Tax Court has held that claiming reasonable cause to the substantial valuation misstatement penalty waived attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine for certain communications between the taxpayer and its lawyer and accountant.  See Eaton Corp. and Sub. v. Comm’r.  This holding was the affirming of a motion for reconsideration.  The Court found that although there was an objective determination under Section 6662(e)(3), whether relying on the advice on Section 482 was based on the facts and circumstances, including the advice of the lawyer.  By claiming reasonable cause, the privileges were waived for that issue.
  • Taxpayer was successful arguing against the substantial understatement penalty in Johnston v. Comm’r, but it was because the taxpayer didn’t actually owe the tax.  The IRS had argued that a debt between the taxpayer (an executive of a telcom company) and his company was discharged by his employer when he moved to a related entity.  There was credible evidence that it was not discharged and payment continued.  There was the pesky issue that the loan wasn’t paid until the IRS audited the individual, but the Court found that the audit prompted the company to do something with the loan and it hadn’t been tax avoidance…must have been persuasive testimony.
  • LAFA issued guidance on the effect on the limitations period on assessment for payroll tax when the wrong form is filed. (LAFA 20152101F).  Employers are generally required to file quarterly returns on Form 941 for employment taxes when they are paid in that period.  A different form, Form 944 is used for certain employers with little  employment tax liability, and that is required annually.  The statute generally runs from the date of the deemed filing of employment tax returns, which is April 15 the following year.  See Section 6501(a)&(b).  The LAFA reviews the following three situations:
  1. Employer is required to file Form 944, but instead timely files four quarterly Forms 941.

  2. Employer is required to file Form 944, but timely files Form 941 for the first and second quarters of the year instead, and files nothing for the third or fourth quarters of the year.

  3. Employer is required to file quarterly Forms 941, but timely files annual Form 944 instead.

 

The quick conclusions were:

  1.  Assuming the Forms 941 purport to be returns, are an honest and reasonable attempt to satisfy the filing requirements, are signed under penalty of perjury, and can be used to determine Employer’s annual FICA and income tax withholding tax liability, the Forms 941 meet the Beard formulation and should be treated as valid returns for purposes of starting the period of limitations on assessment.

  2.  An argument can be made that the Forms 941 for the first and second quarters of the tax year constitute valid returns under the Beard formulation since they purport to be returns and are signed under penalty of perjury. However, given that Employer’s FICA and income tax withholding tax liability for the third and fourth quarters will not necessarily be equal to that reported for the first two quarters, the Forms 941 arguably are not sufficient for purposes of the determining Employer’s annual FICA and income tax withholding tax liability and may not be honest and reasonable attempts to satisfy the tax law.

  3.  Assuming the Form 944 purports to be a return, is an honest and reasonable attempt to satisfy the filing requirements, can be used to determine Employer’s annual FICA and income tax withholding tax liability, and is signed under penalty of perjury, Employer’s Form 944 meets the Beard formulation and should be treated as a valid return for purposes of the period of limitations on assessment.

  • A taxpayer in a chapter 11 case, Francisco Rodriquez (not the current Brewers closer who pitched for the Mets before choking out his relative in the clubhouse) was successful in avoiding a lien under 11 USC 506 on property held by the taxpayer that was already underwater with three prior liens.  In re Rodriguez, 115 AFTR2d 2015-1750 (Bktcy D MD 2015).  Section 506 allows liens to be stripped if the property lacks equity, which was what the taxpayer was attempting.  SCOTUS in Dewsnup v. Timm held that  a chapter 7 debtor cannot “strip down” an allowed secured claim (clearly, I was not the debtor, otherwise SCOTUS would have tossed on some Its Raining Men, and granted my right to strip down—I only did it to pay for college, I swear—and yet, still so many student loans).  Various other cases have held that Dewnsup does not extend to other chapters in bankruptcy, and the District Court held that lien stripping was appropriate in chapter 11 under the taxpayer’s circumstances.
  • The Tenth Circuit continues its clear prejudice and hatred towards Canadians (I completely made that up and that link is NSFW) in Mabbett v. Comm’r, where it found the Tax Court properly tossed a petition as being untimely that was filed by a resident of the US, who was a Canadian citizen.  The Court found the Service had properly sent the stat notice to the taxpayer at her last known address (and even if that was not the case, her representative had forwarded her a copy well before the due date of the petition).  The taxpayer also claimed that she was entitled to the 150 day period to file her petition to the court under Section 6213(a) because she was a Canadian citizen.  The Court stated, however, that the statute was clear that the 150 day rule only applies when “the notice is addressed to a person outside the United States.”  The taxpayer had been traveling, and was Canadian, but failed to show she was outside of the United States at the time the notice was sent.
  • In case you haven’t seen, the Service has started a cybercrimes unit to combat stolen ID tax fraud.  In my mind, this is sort of like the IRS and Tron having a lovechild, which I would assume to look like this.  Jack Townsend has real coverage on his Federal Tax Crimes Blog.
  • Jack also has coverage of the new IRS FBAR penalty guidance, which can be found here

 

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.