Pending Cert Petition in Altera: Tax Law in an Administrative Law Wrapper

Susan Morse & Stephen Shay return to discuss the Altera case. This piece is cross posted at JREG’s Notice & Comment blog. Keith

Each day of the COVID crisis we see unprecedented administrative action to respond to the pandemic. At the same time, litigants continue to ask courts to consider whether administrative agencies have exceeded their authority, sometimes relying on claims of deficient process. One such case is Altera v. Commissioner, in which the taxpayer filed a cert petition that asks the Supreme Court to review a Ninth Circuit decision upholding a tax regulation. The government submitted its brief in response on May 14, and the Court will presumably consider the case in conference before its summer recess. The taxpayer has not filed a reply as of this writing.

In its brief, the government stays squarely on the administrative law playing field laid out by the taxpayer’s petition. The government’s reply takes on – and, we think, successfully defeats – the core premise that underlies the taxpayer’s administrative law arguments.

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In 2015, Altera won a unanimous decision in the Tax Court, which invalidated a 2003 regulation as arbitrary and capricious under State Farm. Then the government won in the Ninth Circuit before the original three-judge panel in 2018 (withdrawn because of the death of Judge Reinhardt), before a revised three-judge panel in 2019, and when the Ninth Circuit denied the taxpayer’s request for a rehearing en banc in 2019. We contributed amicus briefs [here (with coauthors Leandra Lederman and Clint Wallace), here and here] on behalf of the government before the Ninth Circuit, and have blogged previously about the case here and here. In February, the taxpayer submitted a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court.

The tax issue in Altera involves a final Treasury regulation promulgated in 2003. The reg applies to qualified cost-sharing agreements, or QCSAs, made between U.S. firms and their offshore subsidiaries. A QCSA requires an offshore subsidiary to pay its share of the costs of developing IP. If QCSA requirements are met, the offshore subsidiary owns non-U.S. rights to intangible property developed by its U.S. parent company for tax purposes. Then the firm can shelter resulting offshore profit from U.S. tax. As relevant here, the 2003 regulation at issue in Altera conditions the favorable tax treatment available for QCSAs on the inclusion of stock-based compensation costs in the pool of shared costs.  

Technology and other multinational firms that use stock option compensation (and use strategies to shift profit from intellectual property across borders) have had an understandable and longstanding interest in this issue. An appendix to Altera’s cert petition lists 82 companies that noted the Altera issue in their public financial statements. One entry alone – that of Alphabet, Inc. – reports $4.4 billion at stake.

We think the regulation gets it right as a matter of tax policy. It properly prevents stock-based compensation deductions from reducing U.S. taxable income when these expenses support foreign profit. The regulation falls securely under the Commissioner’s statutory discretion (under I.R.C. Section 482) and responsibility to ensure clear reflection of income. It squares with modern financial accounting rules. And it aligns with OECD and other international efforts to combat base erosion and profit shifting to low-tax jurisdictions.

But the hook in the cert petition is not the tax issue. It is an administrative law issue. The taxpayer hopes to persuade four justices that Altera is an attractive opportunity to rein in an administrative agency’s power and further limit the case law that supports administrative agency discretion. Perhaps it appears particularly juicy because the administrative agency at issue is the Treasury, given the complicated history and relationship between Treasury regulations and administrative law. Indeed, the regulation in this case was promulgated well before the Supreme Court held, in its 2011 Mayo case, that Chevron deference (rather than National Muffler review) applies to tax regulations just as it applies to other federal regulations.

The taxpayer’s administrative procedure argument includes two main claims. The first is that Treasury did not provide a reasoned explanation for the regulation and that the regulation was therefore arbitrary and capricious under State Farm. The second is that the government engaged in post hoc rationalization to defend the regulation, in violation of Chenery I. (A third claim, derivative of the first two, asks whether, assuming a regulation is held procedurally defective, a court may nevertheless uphold it under Chevron.)

Five out of six filings submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of the taxpayer – including the primary cert petition and four out of five amicus briefs – hang their respective hats on a single premise. This premise is that Treasury first suggested that comparability analysis was relevant under the stock-based compensation QCSA regulation, and then Treasury broke its word. The government’s brief takes this premise head-on and, we think, persuasively disproves it.

Altera’s petition claims that in 2002 and 2003, “the government never said it was … adopting a new approach to cost-sharing” (8) and that the rationale that the “commensurate with the income” language supported the new approach “appeared nowhere in the rulemaking record.” (10-11) Amicus briefs argue that the government advances “a new statutory interpretation” in litigation (Chamber of Commerce 16), describe the government’s allegedly “newfound litigation position that comparables are irrelevant” (Cisco 11), assert a “transparent post hoc rationalization” (National Association of Manufacturers 15) and claim that there would have been comments on “the applicability and scope of the arm’s length standard” in notice-and-comment if taxpayers had only been aware that the government meant to make comparability analysis irrelevant to the determination of an arm’s-length result for stock-based compensation costs in the QCSA context. (PricewaterhouseCoopers 16).

Interestingly, the fifth of five amicus contributions supporting Altera – a brief filed by a group of former foreign tax officials – paints a picture of continuity, rather than change, in arguments made by Treasury and the IRS. It acknowledges that both in 2002 and 2003 and also in litigation before the Ninth Circuit, the government “ignor[ed] … potentially comparable transactions” and simultaneously “claim[ed] that its approach comported with the arm’s length standard.” (9-10) 

The government argues as follows in its brief in opposition to Altera’s cert petition: The taxpayer’s arguments “conflate (i) the arm’s length standard … and (ii) the use of comparability analysis” and “misunderstan[d] the relationship between the two concepts.” (19) In its rulemaking, the government did not suggest that empirical analysis and comparability were relevant to the determination of an arm’s length result in this context. Rather, the internal method adopted by the regulation is “an alternative to comparability analysis as a means of achieving an arm’s length result,”(20) consistent with the statute, as “Section 482 does not require any analysis of identified comparable transactions between unrelated parties.” (21) Moreover, the rulemaking and litigation record shows a constant commitment to a method that is not based on evidence of comparables. The government’s rulemaking record, as well as its arguments in litigation, consistently references the “commensurate with income” statutory language added in 1986. (24) So the “commensurate with income” argument made in litigation was not new either.

The government’s narrative gets this right. As the government’s brief explains, the regulatory history – not to mention the plain language of the regulation describing an arm’s-length result in this context – makes clear that interested taxpayers and tax advisers knew that “the proposed regulation would make any evidence of comparable transactions irrelevant” in the context of QCSAs. (22) Taxpayers certainly understood the proposed regs’ departure from comparability analysis. They just didn’t agree with it. Indeed, the battle lines over comparability analysis in the context of stock-based compensation costs were already clearly drawn, well before Treasury issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in 2002. As the Software Finance and Tax Executives Council explained during the 2002 notice and comment period: 

On audit, in Advance Pricing Agreement negotiations, in docketed Tax Court cases, in published field service advice, and in speeches by Service officials … the Service has taken the position that stock-based compensation … must be included in related parties’ cost sharing pools. … Taxpayers have steadfastly and vehemently disagreed[, … absent] any evidence that unrelated parties … share stock option “costs” in their own cost sharing pools. 

This disagreement between taxpayers and the government was a tax policy dispute over the role of comparables in transfer pricing between related parties. Taxpayers argued that the arm’s length principle required comparables, even in the specific case covered by the QCSA regulation. The government consistently took the opposite position, beginning well before 2002 and continuing through the present cert petition in Altera.

Taxpayers may still disagree with the government on the tax policy issue. But that ship has sailed. Indeed, there are other examples of transfer pricing methods that do not rely on comparable transactions. One is the 1994 promulgation of the residual profit split method, also contained in a final regulation issued under I.R.C. Section 482.  

The issue before the Supreme Court is an administrative law issue. A necessary premise of Altera’s argument is that Treasury started with, but then abandoned, a commitment to empirical comparables analysis for its rule covering stock-based compensation in QCSAs. And as the government explains, this premise does not hold up.

Executive Order on Regulatory Relief to Support Economic Recovery

Monte Jackel returns to discuss an executive order issued this week by the President. Keith

On May 19, 2020, the President signed an executive order (Order) relating to regulatory relief to support economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Section 1 of the Order states:

“Agencies should address this [crisis] by rescinding, modifying, waiving, or providing exemptions from regulations and other requirements that may inhibit economic recovery, consistent with applicable law and with protection of the public health and safety, with national and homeland security, and with budgetary priorities and operational feasibility. They should also give businesses, especially small businesses, the confidence they need to re-open by providing guidance on what the law requires; by recognizing the efforts of businesses to comply with often-complex regulations in complicated and swiftly changing circumstances; and by committing to fairness in administrative enforcement and adjudication.”

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The reference to “regulations” is to EO 13892, section 2(g), which states that the term means a legislative rule under section 553 of 5 USC, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). This means that the executive order would only apply to tax regulations to the extent they are legislative rules and not interpretative rules. The IRS view is that most tax regulations are interpretative and not legislative but the courts have recently deviated from following the IRS view. [see this prior post here on PT for further discussion].

The Order then states:

“The heads of all agencies are directed to use, to the fullest extent possible and consistent with applicable law, any emergency authorities that I have previously invoked in response to the COVID-19 outbreak or that are otherwise available to them to support the economic response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The heads of all agencies are also encouraged to promote economic recovery through non-regulatory actions.”

This provision of the Order, as it could apply to federal tax matters, seems to authorize continued and expanded use of the tax related provisions of sections 7508 and 7508A. See below.

The Order then states:

“The heads of all agencies shall identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery and shall consider taking appropriate action, consistent with applicable law, including by issuing proposed rules as necessary, to temporarily or permanently rescind, modify, waive, or exempt persons or entities from those requirements, and to consider exercising appropriate temporary enforcement discretion or appropriate temporary extensions of time as provided for in enforceable agreements with respect to those requirements, for the purpose of promoting job creation and economic growth, insofar as doing so is consistent with the law and with the policy considerations identified in… this order.”

Does the Order apply to tax regulations and, if so, how? In cases outside of tax, it is relatively easy to determine what is and is not a legislative rule. Outside of FAQs not being legislative rules because they are not “authority” under section 6662 in the first place, the determination of what is a legislative rule in the tax realm at present is being determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis. Essentially, from where we stand right now, legislative rules are those that impose substantive rights and duties not directly dealt with in the applicable statute.

Assuming that there is some uniform approach taken by the Treasury Secretary to implement the Order on the issue of tax legislative rules, the next question is what action can the Treasury Secretary take with tax regulations and other items considered legislative rules for this purpose?

The following are possibilities:

  1. Tax regulations that raise revenue because of the substance of the rule would seem to impede economic growth and recovery because the taxpayer has less net after-tax cash than if the rule provided otherwise. Does this mean that all tax regulations, if deemed legislative rules, should be rescinded or suspended if such action would reduce the taxpayer’s net after-tax economic position? That is not likely to be how the IRS views the situation but guidance may be needed to flush this out.
  2. As briefly noted earlier above, the Order seems to lean in favor of the IRS issuing more extensions of applicable due dates pursuant to the authority of section 7508A due to the March 1, 2020 emergency presidential declaration on the coronavirus. This would mean that the IRS’s announced position that tax due dates will not be extended beyond July 15, 2020 may need to be re-examined by that agency. How else could the Order be interpreted in this area of law?
  3. There was a prior regulatory effort under executive orders previously issued by the president relating to withdrawing regulations deemed too burdensome or perhaps lacking legal authority and limiting the use of new regulations generally, among other matters.  A limited list of regulations was produced by the IRS and Treasury a few years back and action was taken on a number of those items. Does the subject Order mean that this process will need to be repeated by Treasury and the IRS, perhaps more thoroughly than previously? Guidance should perhaps be issued on that as well.

As Professor Hickman and others have espoused over the years, due to the long period where tax regulations were, more or less, given a free pass under the APA, it is often not clear today how regulatory edicts generally, such as the subject Order, are to be applied to tax regulations given that the process of how and to what extent tax regulations are subject to the APA continues to be a developing area of law. Now would appear to be a good time to push this process along.

Conservation Easement Donation and the Validity of Tax Regulations

Monte Jackel returns to discuss the Tax Court’s latest attempt at squaring the APA and the tax regulation process. Les

In Oakbrook Land Holdings LLC (154 T.C. No. 10, May 12, 2020), the Tax Court, in a reviewed opinion, upheld the validity of a Treasury regulation (reg. §1.170A-14(g)(6)) issued under section 170 of the Code relating to conservation easement donations and the perpetuity requirement. A concurrently issued memorandum opinion issued the same day (T.C. Memo 2020-54) had held that if the regulation was valid, the taxpayer was in violation of it. 

At issue in the opinion was the validity of the regulation at issue. This commentary focuses its attention on the requirement of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) that a “legislative rule” contain a concise statement of the basis and purpose of the proposed rule. The Chevron doctrine, also addressed by the court, is not discussed here. 

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The majority opinion first stated that the regulation at issue was a legislative rule and not an interpretative one because it set forth a substantive requirement (sharing of proceeds if easement terminated) that was not set forth in the statute and which, if violated, would cause loss of the deduction. 

Underlying this conclusion was the majority’s view of a legislative rule:

“Administrative law distinguishes between interpretive and legislative agency rules. “An interpretive rule merely clarifies or explains preexisting substantive law or regulations….A legislative rule, on the other hand, “creates rights, assigns duties, or imposes obligations, the basic tenor of which is not already outlined in the law itself.”…Legislative rules have “the force and effect of law.”….

The majority then turned to the APA that sets forth the notice and comment requirement for legislative rules:

“Legislative rules are subject to APA notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. See 5 U.S.C. sec. 553(b)…To issue a legislative regulation consistently with the APA an agency must: (1) publish a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register; (2) provide “interested persons an opportunity to participate…through submission of written data, views, or arguments”; and (3) “[a]fter consideration of the relevant matter presented,…incorporate in the rules adopted a concise general statement of their basis and purpose.” See 5 U.S.C. sec. 553(b) and (c).”

It was the third requirement that was in dispute in the case (the “concise general statement of basis and purpose requirement”). The majority opinion concluded that the concise general statement of basis and purpose requirement was satisfied in this case. 

“The APA provides that a reviewing court shall set aside agency action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. sec. 706(2)(a). The scope of our review “is a narrow one” because “[t]he court is not empowered to substitute its judgment for that of the agency.”…We consider only whether the agency “articulate[d] a satisfactory explanation for its action.”…. While we cannot provide a reasoned basis for agency action that the agency itself did not supply, we will “uphold a decision of less than ideal clarity if the agency’s path may reasonably be discerned.”….“So long as an agency’s rationale can reasonably be discerned and that rationale coincides with the agency’s authority and obligations under the relevant statute, a reviewing court may not ‘broadly require an agency to consider all policy alternatives in reaching decision.’” …Indeed, “regulations with no statement of basis and purpose have been upheld where the basis and purpose w[ere] considered obvious.”….

The majority concluded that this test had been met even though the final regulation preamble did not specifically address the comment that pertained specifically to the regulation provision at issue. This was so principally because the point raised in the comments was only one comment out of many submitted and that specific comment did not fully address the provision at issue and alternatives to what was proposed. The majority stated:

“[A]n agency cannot reasonably be expected to address every comment it received. The APA “has never been interpreted to require the agency to respond to every comment, or to analyze every issue or alternative raised by the comments, no matter how insubstantial.” …“We do not expect the agency to discuss every item of fact or opinion included in the submissions made to it.” …“An agency need not respond to every comment.”…. In any event, “[t]he administrative record reflects that no substantive alternatives to the final rules were presented for Treasury’s consideration.” …“A comment is * * * more likely to be significant if the commenter suggests a remedy for the purported problem it identifies.”…. The APA requires “consideration of the relevant matter presented” during the rulemaking process. 5 U.S.C. sec. 553(c). 

The majority then laid out the reasons for denying the assertion of an APA violation:

“Our review of the administrative record leaves us with no doubt that Treasury considered the relevant matter presented to it…. And we find equally little merit in petitioner’s assertion that Treasury failed to “incorporate in the rules adopted a concise general statement of their basis and purpose.” See 5 U.S.C. sec. 553(c)…. No court has ever construed the APA to mandate that an agency explain the basis and purpose of each individual component of a regulation separately. “[T]he detail required in a statement of basis and purpose depends on the subject of the regulation and the nature of the comments received.” …This statement need only “contain sufficient information to allow a court to exercise judicial review.”….

There was also a concurring opinion and a dissenting opinion in the case. 

The concurring opinion, among other issues, separately addressed the APA procedural point. After concluding that the text of the statute precluded the deduction, the concurring opinion nevertheless set forth its views on both Chevron and the APA. 

On the latter point, which is the focus of this commentary, the concurrence states:

“Treasury might not have found itself in this predicament under Chevron if it had followed more carefully the APA’s procedural requirements, which are designed to help agencies consider exactly this type of issue before a rule becomes final. 

And then came the dissenting opinion. The dissent, as one would expect, disagreed with the majority’s reasoning on the APA procedural point. It states:

“In today’s case, we hold that the Treasury Department gets to ignore basic principles of administrative law that require an agency “to give reasoned responses to all significant comments in a rulemaking proceeding.” ….A court is supposed to ensure that an agency has taken “a ‘hard look’ at all relevant issues and considered reasonable alternatives.”…But if the majority is right, the Treasury Department can get by with the administrative-state equivalent of a quiet shrug, a knowing wink, and a silent fleeting glance from across a crowded room…. [T]he majority, I fear, has missed the main root of [the taxpayer’s] argument–that at the time of the regulation’s promulgation, commenters made significant comments, and Treasury failed to address them in its statement of the regulation’s basis and purpose…. The Final Rule’s statement of basis and purpose shows absolutely no mention of the [regulation provision at issue]–and no reasoned response to any of the public’s comments on those provisions…. 

The dissent then zeroed in on its objections to the conclusions of the majority:

“[W]hile we don’t demand a perfect explanation for Treasury’s decisionmaking, …we should demand some,… And here, there wasn’t any….. [T]he analysis shouldn’t stop there–what is the nature of a comment that triggers an agency’s obligation to respond? The caselaw tells us to look at a comment’s significance. Agencies must “give reasoned responses to all significant comments in a rulemaking proceeding.”….This is because “the opportunity to comment is meaningless unless the agency responds to significant points raised by the public.”….“It is not in keeping with the rational process [of APA section 553(c)] to leave vital questions, raised by comments which are of cogent materiality, completely unanswered”). So, though an agency doesn’t have to respond to all comments, it must respond to all significant comments.

The dissent then cites a series of Treasury decisions that, as a matter of fact, make the same statement that “all comments were considered” or words of similar import. But, as the dissent states, “the APA,…has no provision for agencies to use ritual incantations to ward off judicial review.” 

Where does this take us? This case shows that the Treasury and IRS need to pay more attention as to (1) what is a legislative rule as compared to an interpretative rule, and (2) has it considered all “significant” public comments and fully addressed them in the final rule. 

And for commenters to regulations, this case seems to indicate that a comment letter should state that the issue is material, fully discuss the issue, and propose a practical alternative if one is available.

All of this is clearly an area to watch in the near future.

The Proper Role of FAQs

Monte A. Jackel, a practitioner at Jackel Tax Law, Silver Spring, returns for a timely guest post on the IRS’s use of frequently asked questions (FAQ’s). The IRS’s growing use of FAQ’s, rather than guidance documents published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin or through regulations, has drawn attention in the past. See, for example, the former NTA Nina Olson’s blog post from a few years ago, IRS Frequently Asked Questions Can Be a Trap for the Unwary. The issue is getting renewed attention given the pressures on the IRS to push information out quickly as Congress passes fast moving tax legislation in response to the pandemic. Les

This FAQ is not included in the Internal Revenue Bulletin, and therefore may not be relied upon as legal authority. This means that the information cannot be used to support a legal argument in a court case.

So said a recent update to the frequently asked questions (FAQs) with respect to the employee retention credit under the CARES Act. FAQs have been a frequent tool, most recently in relation to the CARES Act, to aid the government in issuing guidance to the public without going through the detailed, rigorous and time-consuming process of issuing regulations. With FAQs, gone are the headaches of soliciting comments from the public, of publishing proposed versions of the rules before finalizing them, and of making changes to the rules after initial issuance without input from the public. 

This all seems like a good thing. And, provided that the public is advised of the limitations of FAQs, as the IRS has started to do, see above, the tax system would seem to be the better for it. The question at hand is whether this situation is acceptable or needs to be either modified or rejected.

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A recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that the IRS should have added a disclaimer to the FAQs on virtual currency, stating that the FAQs “were not legally binding”. The GAO report states that “The Commissioner of Internal Revenue should update the FAQs issued in 2019 to include a statement that the FAQs may serve as a source of general information but cannot be relied upon by taxpayers as authoritative since they are not binding on the IRS.” To this, the IRS responded that “We disagree with this recommendation. The FAQs are illustrative of how longstanding tax principles apply to property transactions. Further, the IRS does not take positions contrary to public FAQs.” 

How reassuring! I am sure that we have all heard the “trust us” slogan from the IRS and Treasury before. 

Section 6662 imposes what is known as an accuracy related penalty for certain underpayments attributable to positions taken on a tax return. Generally, this penalty generally applies, absent reasonable cause and good faith, unless the position is either disclosed on the tax return (or deemed to be so disclosed) or there is what is known as “substantial authority” for the position taken. 

Substantial authority exists for a position if the weight of authorities supporting the treatment is substantial in relation to the weight of authorities supporting the contrary treatment. The pertinent regulations list the types of authority that may be taken into account, including applicable provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, proposed, temporary and final regulations, revenue rulings and revenue procedures, court cases, legislative history to statutes, various forms of guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin, and other enumerated items. FAQs are not one of the listed items of authority. FAQs can apparently be “authority” if incorporated into an IRS notice because the latter is published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin. Otherwise, tough luck. 

Section 6011(a) provides that when required by the regulations, every person subject to tax shall make a return or statement “according to the forms and regulations prescribed”, and such person “shall include therein the information required by such forms or regulations”. Note that this regulation only requires that tax returns include information required either by regulations or by an IRS form. This  should include instructions to that form. 

FAQs are not listed in either the pertinent statute or the section 6011 regulations as information that must be included on a tax return. As such, a taxpayer can file a true, accurate and complete tax return without complying with any information putatively required by FAQs. 

In a policy statement (Policy Statement) issued on March 5, 2019, the Treasury Department stated, with respect to so-called “sub-regulatory guidance”, that “Unlike statutes and regulations, sub-regulatory guidance does not have the force and effect of law. Taxpayers can have confidence, however, that the IRS will not take positions inconsistent with its sub-regulatory guidance when such guidance is in effect.” Once again, there is that “trust me” slogan again.

The Policy Statement defines sub-regulatory guidance so as to not include FAQs, which are not mentioned or even cited there because such guidance “means sub-regulatory guidance published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin.” Included in this list are revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices, and announcements, but not FAQs. 

Which raises the question…Are FAQs rules subject to prior notice and comment under section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)? The APA makes a critical distinction between rules that must first be published for comment in the Federal Register before going into effect so as to obtain public comment first, and so-called “interpretative rules” where prior notice and comment are not required. 

Given their lack of authority status, FAQs should not be treated as rules subject to the APA. Although I am not aware of any guidance that says so expressly, logically, a non-authority for purposes of section 6662 should not qualify as a rule, much less a legislative rule under the APA. This is so even if the IRS promises it will follow it and not revoke it retroactively. 

But future developments in the courts could end up changing that conclusion. Two fairly recent court cases come to mind in this regard.

First, in Bullock v. IRS401 F. Supp. 1144 (Dist. Ct. Mt. 2019), the district court set aside an IRS revenue procedure that effectively amended the terms of a final regulation (as apparently authorized in that final regulation by granting the power to provide exceptions to the regulation to the IRS Commissioner) because the court deemed the revenue procedure to be a rule that was a legislative rule and not an interpretative rule. The court stated that “The APA requires federal agencies to follow the notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures before it creates or amends legislative rules and regulations. …An interpretive rule remains consistent with the regulation that it seeks to interpret….A legislative rule “effectively amends a prior legislative rule.” ….[The revenue procedure at issue] effectively amends the previous rule that required tax-exempt organizations to file substantial-contributor information annually….[The revenue procedure at issue]…, as a legislative rule, requires the IRS to follow the notice-and-comment procedures pursuant to the APA.” Setting aside a revenue procedure deemed to be a legislative rule because it amended a prior legislative rule (the regulations themselves) is not the only recent development of note pertaining to the APA and tax regulations and rules. Putting aside questions relating to standing, the second case I wanted to mention is a U.S. district court opinion  in Texas. Chamber of Commerce v. IRS, No. 1:16-cv-00944 (Dist. Ct. W.D. TX., 2017), held that an immediately effective temporary regulation was invalid under the APA for failure to give prior notice and opportunity to comment to the public. [note: Les discussed the Chamber of Commerce litigation and linked to the case and PT’s prior coverage in Challenges to Regulations Update: Government Withdraws Appeal in Chamber of Commerce and New Oral Argument Set for Altera]

The case dealt with an immediately effective temporary regulation that was issued contemporaneously with proposed regulations, a common practice by the IRS. The court invalidated the regulation because it believed that the regulation at issue was a legislative or substantive rule, and not an interpretative rule, thus triggering the prior public notice and comment requirement of the APA. This was because the court believed that the regulation at issue affected substantive rights that expanded upon what was provided in the statute at issue.  

True. FAQs are neither a revenue procedure or a temporary regulation or even sub-regulatory guidance. Still, the IRS has promised to follow them although recent caveats added to FAQs warns that they are not authoritative. That is a distinction that most average taxpayers will not understand.

To make matters worse. FAQs on a particular subject are not easy to find on IRS.gov. There is no subject matter or code section index with the limited exception of an easy to find listing of items relating specifically to the coronavirus pandemic. Why is there no separate database containing only FAQs that could be found on the IRS website? Also, when FAQs are changed the prior versions are no longer posted on IRS.gov. Only the date last reviewed is given. 

Issuing FAQs, although easy and convenient for the IRS and providing fast guidance to taxpayers and their advisors, lack both prior public notice and prior public comment before the “rule” is issued to the public. FAQs are not even “sub-regulatory guidance” within the meaning of the Policy Statement. What gives?

Yes, issuing FAQs allows the IRS to get information out to the public in a very quick fashion and FAQs are easily changed, supplemented and amended, unlike regulations. Witness the IRS’s recent outstanding performance in getting out guidance under the CARES Act through the use, in substantial part, of FAQs.

But FAQs, unlike the traditional form of sub-regulatory guidance, are not “authority” under section 6662 and, if the practice of issuing FAQs is to be continued by the IRS, the regulations under section 6662 must be amended to count FAQs as authority under that section. At a minimum, a disclaimer about the limited usefulness of FAQs should be appended to each series of FAQs as a standardized practice of the IRS in issuing FAQs on a going forward basis.

Michael Desmond, IRS Chief Counsel, was recently quoted as saying during a May 6 Tax Analysts’ webinar that “The IRS isn’t planning to turn every FAQ on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act….and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act….into a “full-blown notice or a Treasury decision or proposed regulation”…. 

I found this statement by the IRS Chief Counsel to be both interesting and curious at the same time. IRS notices are documents that are subject to review before issuance. So are FAQs, which are reviewed before issuance. 

It should be noted, however, that Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) 32.2.2, entitled “Summary of the Published Guidance Process”, does not discuss, cite or mention FAQs. There is now a subject matter listing for FAQs on the IRS website, but it does not discuss whether FAQs are authority or not and, as noted, FAQs do not make an appearance in the IRM discussion of what is the published guidance process. So, what does this say about FAQs? 

FAQs are easily added to, changed and supplemented. Notices, on the other hand,  need to be modified by other notices or perhaps by revenue rulings, revenue procedures or the like. FAQs do not leave a researchable trail of prior amendments and changes-only the latest version is available to the public on the IRS website. 

Notices are authority under section 6662 but FAQs that are not incorporated in notices are not authority. Putting aside IRS motives one way or another in deciding between which of the two to issue, it seems that FAQs are preferred because they are very easily amendable, supplemented or replaced.

Originally issued guidance in a notice seems to be amenable to speed more or less the same way as FAQs are, except that the writing style of FAQs is easier to do whereas notices are more formalized. That makes FAQs faster to get out to the public. 

But how much faster… because the cost of that speed is the lack of taxpayer reliance on the FAQs. And you can make legal errors in FAQs that are easily correctable, giving even more speed to the process. Given all of that, which one would you choose?In the end, the IRS and Treasury need to decide whether to keep FAQs, in which case I think that they need to be elevated to “authority” status. In addition, FAQs should be subject in some form to prior public notice and comment absent truly exceptional circumstances (such as the coronavirus pandemic). 

How Does the Regulatory Flexibility Act Impact Tax Regulations?

In a decade in which the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) has become a mainstream topic for tax lawyers, the case of Silver v. United States, Case No. 1-19-cv-247-APM (D.D.C. 2019) decided on Christmas eve seeks to usher in for the next decade of administrative law the proper application of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) as it applies to tax regulations.  At issue in this case specifically are the regulations enacted to interpret new section 965 as enacted in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act; however, the issue of the application of the RFA goes well beyond the specific regulations at issue in that case.

The government predictably moved to dismiss the case, asserting both a lack of standing on the part of the plaintiff and the application of the Anti Injunction Act (AIA).  The court’s decision allows the case to get past the initial procedural hurdles.  Plaintiff still must establish the RFA as a provision to which the IRS must pay much more attention.  Plaintiff’s argument raises an issue that reminds me of the early years of arguments about the APA following Kristin Hickman’s articles exposing the gap between the APA and the regulations as promulgated by the IRS/Treasury.

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Mr. Silver is a tax lawyer and a reader of PT.  Although a US citizen, he has a law office in Israel from which he dispenses advice on US tax issues.  He brought the suit because the recently enacted regulations interpreting IRC 965 create a significant recordkeeping burden.  While he did not owe any tax in 2018 as a result of this law change, he still seeks to challenge the regulations because of the burden and cost of compliance.  He was one of many who commented on the regulations and the burden they would impose on small businesses such as his.  He argues that the IRS inappropriately failed to address this burden.  Because he challenges the regulations outside of a deficiency or refund proceeding but rather in a straight up suit designed to strike the application of the regulations, the IRS began its defense by arguing that Mr. Silver lacked standing to challenge the regulations and that in any event the court lacked jurisdiction given the reach of the Anti Injunction Act.

The D.C. district court has allowed the challenge to move forward, marking a major victory for Mr. Silver.  In allowing the case to move forward and finding that Silver had standing to challenge the regs, the court found:

Here, Plaintiffs allege what is known as a “procedural injury,” that is, an injury resulting from the violation of a procedural right created by statute. See Ctr. for Law & Educ. v. Dep’t of Educ., 396 F.3d 1152, 1157 (D.C. Cir. 2005). In such cases, the redressability and imminence requirements of standing are relaxed. See Wildearth Guardians v. Jewell, 738 F.3d 298, 305 (D.C. Cir. 2013). The plaintiff need not show that “but for the alleged procedural deficiency the agency would have reached a different substantive result.” Id. at 306. Rather, she need only establish that the agency violated a procedural right designed to protect her interests, and that it is plausible “‘that the procedural breach will cause the essential injury to the plaintiff’s own interest.’” Ctr. for Law & Educ., 396 F.3d at 1159 (quoting Fl. Audubon Soc. v. Bentsen, 94 F.3d 658, 664–65 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc)). In other words, “the requirement of injury in fact is a hard floor of Article III jurisdiction that cannot be removed by statute.” Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 497 (2009). “A procedural injury claim therefore must be tethered to some concrete interest adversely affected by the procedural deprivation . . . .” WildEarth Guardians, 738 F.3d at 305.

Plaintiffs’ alleged injury is the cost associated with complying with the TJCA’s transition tax regulations, which include certain “collection of information” and “recordkeeping obligations.”

As part of its efforts to dismiss the suit based on standing, the IRS argued that Mr. Silver’s real complaint was with the statute itself and not with the regulation.  As such, he could not attack the statute by seeking to change the regulation.  The district court disagreed, holding:

Plaintiffs are not challenging any specific regulation that might or might not be traceable directly to the TCJA. Rather, Plaintiffs allege that the agencies neglected to undertake procedural measures designed to protect small business from the burden of unwieldy and cost-intensive regulations—namely, the publishing of an initial and a final regulatory flexibility analysis, 5 U.S.C. §§ 601, 603(a), and a certification that the regulation has reduced compliance burdens on small businesses, 44 U.S.C. § 3506. Plaintiffs alleged injuries are therefore traceable to Defendants’ alleged violation of these separate statutory requirements, not the TCJA. Causation is easily satisfied.

In perhaps the most surprising aspect of the opinion, the court allowed the plaintiffs to move forward with its RFA challenge despite the broad reach of the AIA as typified by the DC Circuit’s prior opinions in Florida Bankers and Maze. (Guest blogger Pat Smith discussed Florida Bankers in two parts here and here, and Les blogged the Maze opinion here.) Readers may recall that the AIA prevents suits for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of taxes. The DC Circuit has previously taken a hard view on cases challenging the validity of regulations, and IRS predictably raised an AIA defense to the RFA challenge. Here, the district court suggested that courts may be willing to put the IRS to the burden of additional procedural hoops even if perhaps the AIA might ultimately prevent the court from granting the relief on the merits that Silver seeks, that is, a stay on enforcement of the regs.

With respect to the AIA, the district court disagreed with the IRS, stating:

Although “[t]he IRS envisions a world in which no challenge to its actions is ever outside the closed loop of its taxing authority[,]” the Act’s prohibition does not sweep so broadly: “‘assessment’ is not synonymous with the entire plan of taxation, but rather with the trigger for levy and collection efforts, and ‘collection’ is the actual imposition of a tax against a plaintiff.” Id. (cleaned up). Accordingly, the D.C. Circuit has refused to “read the [Anti-Injunction Act] to reach all disputes tangentially related to taxes.” Id. at 726–27. Rather, the Circuit has instructed that whether the Anti-Injunction Act prohibits a suit depends on whether the action is fundamentally a “tax collection claim,” id. at 727 (quoting We the People Found., Inc. v. United States, 485 F.3d 140, 143 (D.C. Cir. 2007)), which the court must determine based upon “a careful inquiry into the remedy sought, the statutory basis for that remedy, and any implication the remedy may have on assessment and collection,” id….
 
Plaintiffs do not seek a refund or to impede revenue collection. Instead, they challenge the IRS’s adopting of regulations without conducting statutorily mandated reviews designed to lessen the regulatory burden on small businesses. As relief, they ask the court simply to compel the agencies to do what the law requires—Regulatory Flexibility Act and Paperwork Reduction Act analyses. Tax revenues and their collection are unaffected by such relief. The Anti-Injunction Act therefore presents no barrier to Plaintiffs’ claims.

We hope to have Mr. Silver and his attorney, Stu Bassin, who has written several prior PT guest posts, write for us in the near future to expand on this brief introduction to the case.  For those interested in the issue, a good place to start is a GAO report discussing the failure of some agencies to appropriately follow the RFA.  According to the complaint in this case, the IRS regularly fails to comply with the RFA requirements.  For those interested in the specifics of this case please see the amended complaint, the motion to dismiss, the IRS brief in support of its motion and plaintiff’s brief opposing the motion.

The ability to challenge a regulation and overcome the hurdle of the AIA has become a hot issue.  Les wrote about it here in the context of CIC Services.  He has also recently added a significant discussion of the scope of AIA in the Saltzman-Book treatise, IRS Practice and Procedure at ¶1.6.  That revision is set to be published in the treatise next month. We expect CIC Services to seek cert and offer the Supreme Court the opportunity to step in and clear the murky waters surrounding the application of the AIA to challenges regarding tax regulations.  Of course, Mr. Silver’s case goes beyond raising the AIA challenge and throws down a significant challenge to the IRS practice of promulgating regulations as it relates to compliance with the RFA.  With the initial success here, it will not be surprising to see this issue raised much more frequently as parties challenge regulations.

Ninth Circuit Denies Request for En Banc Hearing by Altera

We have written about Altera v. Commissioner on many occasions because it was such an important decision by the Tax Court and because of the interesting twists in the case at the circuit level.  We have written many posts on this case.  You can find some here, here, here, here and here.  Today, the Ninth Circuit has rejected the request for an en banc hearing.  The rejection of the request is here.  Three judges dissented from the decision not to hear the case en banc.  This leaves Altera with the decision to press on to the Supreme Court or to accept the decision.  For those not following the case, the issue concerns the manner in which the IRS promulgated the regulations.  The Tax Court was so uncomfortable with the process that it struck down the applicable regulations in a unanimous vote of the full court.  The Ninth Circuit panel reversed the Tax Court in a 2-1 vote.

Time for the Supreme Court to Step In?: Sixth Circuit Denies Petition for Rehearing in CIC Services v IRS

Last month the Sixth Circuit declined to grant a petition for rehearing en banc in the case of CIC Services v IRS. The case, which I discussed following the original panel decision in In CIC Sixth Circuit Sides With IRS in Major Anti Injunction Act Case, involves the reach of the Anti Injunction Act (AIA). But the frank concurring opinions and the dissent accompanying the denial of the en banc petition reveal differing views on the role of the modern administrative state and how tax administration fits in with broader administrative law norms. At issue is when taxpayers or advisors can challenge tax rules: the AIA has pushed challenges to issues like IRS compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) rulemaking requirements (including whether the rule was issued under the APA’s notice and comment regime) to deficiency cases or refund proceedings. 

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CIC highlights some differences between the IRS and other federal agencies. First, tax practitioners and the IRS itself refer to regulations as guidance. IRS treats certain non-regulatory guidance published in its Internal Revenue Bulletin, including the Notice in the case at issue, as binding on the IRS (and for that matter taxpayers can rely on it). Other agencies distinguish between regulations and guidance, with those agencies treating regulations as binding but guidance as not.  In addition, other agencies generally expect that they will face pre-enforcement judicial challenges to the regulations that they issue. In contrast, pre-enforcement challenges to tax regulations or other binding IRS guidance are unusual, in large part because the AIA prevents suits to restrain the assessment or collection of tax.

So, tax administration rests somewhat uneasily within the broader framework of administrative law. To recap, the AIA generally pushes challenges to IRS rulemaking to traditional tax controversy venues, that is in Tax Court in deficiency cases (if the tax or penalty is subject to deficiency procedures) or federal courts in refund matters after having to fully pay and comply with the Flora full payment rule. Many other agencies gear up for challenges immediately after they promulgate binding rules rather than having to wait for enforcement proceedings. 

All of this comes into sharp focus in CIC. The IRS issued informal guidance (a Notice) without going through APA notice and comment. The Notice imposed additional reporting obligations on captive insurance companies and their advisors. Failure to comply with the requirements could trigger substantial civil penalties that are not subject to deficiency procedures. Failing to comply with the reporting theoretically could result in criminal sanctions for willful noncompliance. CIC, a manager of captive insurance companies, and an individual who also managed captives and provides tax advice to them, sued. They claimed that the Notice imposed substantial costs and that the IRS effectively promulgated legislative rules without complying with the APA’s notice and comment requirements. The plaintiffs sought to enjoin the IRS from enforcing the Notice and asked the district court to issue a declaratory judgment claiming that the notice was invalid.

The district court dismissed the suit, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. That led to the petition for rehearing and last month’s brief but telling order accompanied by two concurring opinions and a dissent. In rejecting the petition for rehearing, one of the concurring opinions (authored by Judge Clay, who wrote the majority Sixth Circuit opinion), largely stuck to his guns and framed the issue as one that is covered by existing AIA precedent:

A suit seeking to preemptively challenge the regulatory aspect of a regulatory tax “necessarily” also seeks to preemptively challenge the tax aspect of a regulatory tax because invalidating the former would necessarily also invalidate the latter. Bob Jones Univ.,; see also NFIB, (“The present challenge to the mandate thus seeks to restrain the penalty’s future collection.” (emphasis added)). Otherwise, a taxpayer could simply “characterize” a challenge to a regulatory tax as a challenge to only the regulatory aspect of the tax and thereby evade the AIA. Fla. Bankers,. And “as the Supreme Court has explained time and again . . . the [AIA] is more than a pleading exercise.” see also RYO Machine, LLC v. U.S. Dep’t of Treasury, (6th Cir. 2012) (“Regardless of how the claim is labeled, the effect of an injunction here is to interfere with the assessment or collection of a tax. The plaintiff is not free to define the relief it seeks in terms permitted by the [AIA] while ignoring the ultimate deleterious effect such relief would have on the Government’s taxing ability.” (quotation and many citations omitted)).

Judge Sutton also concurred in the opinion denying the petition but his concurrence has a different flavor altogether.

(As an aside, this summer  I listened to the very entertaining Malcom Gladwell podcast Revisionist History. Season 4 Episode 1 (Puzzle Rush) and Episode 2 (The Tortoise and the Hare) feature Judge Sutton as one of the protagonists in Gladwell’s take down of the LSAT and the metrics for deciding who should gain entry into the nation’s elite law schools. Spoiler: Judge Sutton, who clerked for the late Justice Scalia and who attended the very respectable but not top five Moritz College of Law at THE Ohio State University is Gladwell’s poster child for why the LSAT and for that matter the way most law schools test students are in need of a major makeover).  

For one thing, Judge Sutton states that he agrees with the dissent’s view on the merits of whether the AIA prevents the courts from hearing the challenge to the Notice. Yet, Judge Sutton still believes that the case was not appropriate for an en banc hearing. His reason is that the Supreme Court, rather than the entire Sixth Circuit, should step in: 

[T] his case does not come to us on a fresh slate. Whatever we might do with the issue as an original matter is not the key question. As second-tier judges in a three-tier court system, our task is to figure out what the Supreme Court’s precedents mean in this setting. That is not easy because none of the Court’s precedents is precisely on point and because language from these one-off decisions leans in different directions.

Judge Sutton notes that the views are fairly well drawn on the issue—between the dissent in the panel opinion and the dissent in the denial of the petition by Judge Thapar, as well as the Florida Bankers DC Circuit opinion (authored by now Justice Kavanaugh) there is enough fodder for the Supreme Court to put together the seemingly (although not necessarily) contradictory approaches in the Direct Marketing and circuit court precedent on the reach of the AIA:

The last consideration is that we are not alone. The key complexity in this case—how to interpret Supreme Court decisions interpreting the statute—poses fewer difficulties for the Supreme Court than it does for us. In a dispute in which the Court’s decisions plausibly point in opposite directions, it’s worth asking what value we would add to the mix by en-bancing the case in order to create the very thing that generally prompts more review: a circuit split. As is, we have Judge Thapar’s dissental and Judge Nalbandian’s dissent at the panel stage on one side and Judge Clay’s opinion for the court on the other. These three opinions together with then-Judge Kavanaugh’s opinion say all there is to say about the issue from a lower court judge’s perspective. All of this leaves the Supreme Court in a well-informed position to resolve the point by action or inaction—either by granting review and reversing or by leaving the circuit court decisions in place.

The final part of the denial is Judge Thapar’s stinging dissent. Taking up the mantle of Judge Nalbandian’s dissent in the Sixth Circuit panel opinion, Judge Thapar discusses the differing legal takes on the reach of the AIA (and whether challenges to reporting requirements that are backstopped by penalties really count as a challenge to a tax rather than a challenge to the reporting requirement), but he also ups the rhetoric around how the majority approach to the AIA is out of sorts with broader principles of fairness. He warns of the parade of horribles associated with unchecked IRS power and a read of the AIA that requires parties to violate tax rules (and possibly have to go to jail) to get their day in court. For good measure, he points to how the IRS (at Congress’ direction) has taken on a more expansive role in society beyond collecting revenues.  This mission creep of the IRS makes the exceptional approach to the timing of when agency guidance is subject to challenge less justifiable. Absence of a right to pre-enforcement challenge, according to Judge Thapar, is inconsistent with principles of our constitutional system of checks and balances:

The Founders gave Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes.” U.S. Const. art. I , § 8 , cl. 1. They limited this power to Congress because they understood full well that “the power to tax involves the power to destroy.” M’Culloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 ,431 (1819) (Marshall, C.J.). But today, the IRS (an executive agency) exercises the power to tax and to destroy, in ways that the Founders never would have envisioned. E.g., In re United States ( NorCal Tea Party Patriots ), 817 F.3d 953 (6th Cir. 2016). Courts accepted this departure from constitutional principle on the promise that Congress would still constrain agency power through statutes like the Administrative Procedure Act. 5 U.S.C. § 500 et seq. We now see what many feared: that promise is often illusory.
 

Conclusion

Underlying the technical legal issues surrounding the reach of the AIA are fundamental policy questions concerning the power that the IRS has to issue guidance that is effectively and at times practically absent from meaningful court review. There are many good reasons for rethinking the path that requires taxpayers to not comply before having an institutional check on the IRS’s fidelity to the APA—especially if the challenged tax or penalty is not subject to deficiency procedures. As Judge Clay notes in his opinion affirming the denial of the petition, these policy questions raise issues that seem to call for a legislative fix. I discussed the need for possible legislation in a post earlier this year in the post Is it Time to Reconsider When IRS Guidance is Subject to Court Review?  In the absence of legislation, the opinions accompanying the denial of the request for en banc provide a strong signal that this issue is headed to the Supreme Court. CIC may be the vehicle that gets it there.

Supreme Court Reaffirms that Agencies Are Not Entitled to Chevron Deference on Their Interpretations of Judicial Review Issues

There have been occasions over the years where I have seen Collection Due Process or innocent spouse regulations place indirect limits on what the Tax Court may do.  For example, under section 6015(g)(3), refunds can be awarded as part of relief under subsections (b) and (f), but not (c).  Regulation § 1.6015-4 further provides that subsection (f) (which applies when relief is not available under subsections (b) or (c)) may not be used to circumvent the limitation of subsection (g)(3) of no refunds under (c):  “Therefore, relief is not available under [subsection (f)] to obtain a refund of liabilities paid for which the requesting spouse would otherwise qualify for relief under [subsection (c)].”  These are indirect limits on the Tax Court’s power, since they initially only limit what the IRS may do by way of awarding a refund under subsection (f).  But, I have wondered about whether such regulations deserve Chevron deference because they also impinge on the Tax Court’s powers.  In an amicus brief that Keith and I filed in a case challenging this particular regulation (but where the Court ultimately ruled so that it did not have to reach the regulation validity issue), we argued that Chevron deference should not be given to it – pointing to Supreme Court authority saying that deference is not owed to agency views as to judicial review matters.

I am still not sure that I am right as to no Chevron deference to such indirect limitations, but the Supreme Court recently decided a case, Smith v. Berryhill, 587 U. S. __ (2019) (May 28, 2019), where it repeated the rule that agencies are not entitled to Chevron deference as to their views on judicial review.  Because many are not familiar with this exception to Chevron deference, I thought it would be useful to quote what the Court said in this recent case.  

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The issue in the case was whether certain Social Security disability benefits rulings are subject to judicial review.  The rulings were those of an internal Appeals Council, holding that benefits applicant Mr. Smith’s appeal to that Council was untimely.  The Council rulings were made after a full hearing on the merits before an administrative law judge. Mr. Smith then sued for judicial review, and lost at both the district court and the court of appeals. 

In the Supreme Court, the government reversed its prior position and agreed that claimant Smith was entitled to judicial review of the Appeals Council’s determination regarding the timeliness of his administrative appeal. The Court appointed an amicus to argue the government’s prior position – that the rulings were not “final” under the Social Security Act, and therefore not subject to judicial review. In its argument, the amicus contended that the Court should give Chevron deference to the position of the agency (prior to its switch in the case) that these rulings were not “final” agency decisions.  Rejecting Chevron deference to this prior regulatory interpretation, the Court wrote:

Chevron deference “‘is premised on the theory that a statute’s ambiguity constitutes an implicit delegation from Congress to the agency to fill in the statutory gaps.’” King v. Burwell, 576 U. S. ___, ___ (2015) (slip op., at 8). The scope of judicial review, meanwhile, is hardly the kind of question that the Court presumes that Congress implicitly delegated to an agency.

Indeed, roughly six years after Chevron was decided, the Court declined to give Chevron deference to the Secretary of Labor’s interpretation of a federal statute that would have foreclosed private rights of action under certain circumstances. See Adams Fruit Co. v. Barrett, 494 U. S. 638, 649–650 (1990). As the Court explained, Congress’ having created “a role for the Department of Labor in administering the statute” did “not empower the Secretary to regulate the scope of the judicial power vested by the statute.” Id., at 650. Rather, “[a]lthough agency determinations within the scope of delegated authority are entitled to deference, it is fundamental ‘that an agency may not bootstrap itself into an area in which it has no jurisdiction.’” Ibid. Here, too, while Congress has empowered the SSA to create a scheme of administrative exhaustion, see Sims, 530 U. S., at 106, Congress did not delegate to the SSA the power to determine “the scope of the judicial power vested by” §405(g) or to determine conclusively when its dictates are satisfied. Adams Fruit Co., 494 U. S., at 650. Consequently, having concluded that Smith and the Government have the better reading of §405(g), we need go no further.


Slip op. at 14.

Of course, some justices on the Supreme Court currently think that Chevron deference should be abandoned entirely.  But, until it is (if ever), tax practitioners may consider whether to raise this exception to Chevron when litigating the validity of regulations that directly or indirectly impinge on the Tax Court’s powers.