Designated Orders 2/12 – 2/16

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This week Samantha Galvin, who teaches and assists in running the low income taxpayer clinic at University of Denver, brings us the designated order post. In addition to the designated orders, she talks about one “ordinary” order issued during her week. Regular readers are by now tired of the many posts on the, so far, failed attempts of the tax clinic at Harvard to convince the Tax Court or an appellate court that the time period to file a Tax Court petition is not jurisdictional and can be equitably tolled. For those who are new to reading the blog or who want to review this issue see a sample of posts here, here and here.

Samantha discusses the case of Khanna v. Commissioner in which the Tax Court flexed its equitable tolling muscles a bit and indicated that it may ask the IRS to comment on the jurisdictional nature of time for filing the CDP request. This could be an interesting case to watch for those following the issue of Tax Court jurisdiction and equitable tolling. The issue does not center on the timely filing of a petition in Tax Court but rather on the timely filing of a pre-requisite to Tax Court jurisdiction – the filing of the CDP request. Keith

There were ten orders designated during the week of February 12th. Three are discussed below, along with one non-designated order. The orders not discussed address: 1) a petitioner’s motion to dismiss (here) and motion for continuance (here); 2) respondent’s motion to submit a section 7428 case under Rule 122 (here); 3) a tax protestor (here); 4) a bench opinion involving section 195 expenses (here); 5) a bench opinion involving questionable business deductions (here); and 6) a request for retained jurisdiction which had been resolved in an earlier order (here).

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Secondary Business Purpose is not Sham

Docket No: 12772-09, Peking Investment Fund LLC, Peking Investment Holdings LLC, Tax Matters Partner v. C.I.R. (Order here) 

In this first designated order the Court denies respondent’s motion for partial summary judgment because there are disputed questions of material fact. The action was brought in response to a notice of final partnership administrative adjustment. The partnership was formed to collect on non-performing loans (NPLs), and without going into too much detail, some of the transactions were between foreign entities. Respondent seeks to disallow a $26 million loss and argues that the partnership should be disregarded as a sham, or alternatively, the basis in the received portfolio should be reduced, pursuant to sections 482 and 723, so that no loss is realized. Petitioners object to both arguments.

Respondent relies on Commissioner v. Culbertson, 337 U.S. 733 (1949) which requires that parties must “in good faith and acting with a business purpose” intend “to join together in the present conduct of the enterprise” to form a genuine partnership.

Respondent has three arguments for why petitioners do not have a business purpose, and thus, the partnership should be disregarded.

First, respondent argues that the partnership was formed to implement a tax scheme where U.S. investors could claim tax losses without the risk of economic loss. As proof, respondent offers a letter sent to investors regarding a limited window of time when they could sell or exchange their investments without any economic loss.

Second, respondent argues that Cinda (another member of the partnership) never intended to become a partner because Cinda sold or contributed most, but not all, of its interest after certain transactions were completed. Respondent also argues there was no business purpose because Cinda never tried to collect on the NPLs, even though it was contractually obligated to do so.

Third, respondent argues the transactions were not business-related and were only used to increase the U.S. investors’ outside basis, noting that none of the partners took legal action when Cinda breached its agreement to service the portfolio. Petitioners acknowledge some underperformance by Cinda but also observe that other reports showed proceeds from Cinda’s collection efforts.

Respondent also cites several cases where other partnerships, like petitioners, dealing with distress assets/debts (also known as DAD transactions) were sham partnerships.

The Court uses Culbertson as the applicable legal standard and finds respondent’s arguments legally inadequate and unsupported by the record. Even if tax losses are the primary purpose for a partnership’s formation, the partnership can also have a secondary purpose of conducting business. In cases that failed the Culbertson test, evidence showed that the partners ultimately had no real interest in collecting on the NPLs. If facts show an objective of profiting from collection, even if utilizing substantial tax losses outweighs that objective, then the partnership should not be disregarded as a sham under Culbertson.

Respondent fails to establish that partners were not at risk of economic loss on an ongoing basis, because the letter he relies on only references a limited opportunity to avoid risk of economic loss. Respondent also does not establish that Cinda failed to fulfill its contractual obligations and assumes that a 1% interest in the partnership is too small to be recognized, but this position is not supported by law.

All in all, respondent does not establish that the partnership was so indifferent to collection that it fails the Culbertson test, so this is a question of fact that must be resolved at trial.

Respondent’s section 482 adjustment argument is a disputed legal question because Courts are split about whether the IRS can make adjustments to transactions between two related foreign entities when neither are subject to U.S. tax. The Court finds it is not necessary to resolve this question because respondent has not clearly established that the foreign entities were related or under common control.

Home Sweet Tax Home

Docket No: 5699-17S, Peter Changching Lai & Kaiting Su v. C.I.R. (Order here) 

This designated order is a bench opinion about whether a petitioner is entitled to deduct expenses incurred travelling away from his primary residence for work in 2012 and 2013. Section 162(a)(2) allows such deductions if the expenses are reasonable and necessary, incurred “away from home” and made in pursuit of a trade or business. What confuses many taxpayers is that in most jurisdictions, home means “tax home” which is the taxpayer’s principal place of business and not primary residence.

We occasionally see similar cases in Colorado involving taxpayers who work in the oil and gas industry.

Petitioner-husband is a rocket scientist who worked in southern California. He was laid off and took a job in northern California and around the same time married petitioner-wife who remained in southern California.

A taxpayer’s tax home depends on the length of the job assignment. If the employment is temporary (one year or less), a taxpayer may be able to deduct the travel expenses incurred, including meals and lodging. If the employment is indefinite (longer than a year), then the new location becomes petitioner’s tax home and the expenses cannot be deducted.

Petitioner worked in northern California for more than three years, so his job was indefinite, and therefore, he was not entitled to deduct his expenses in 2012.

In 2013, after northern California had become his tax home, he was assigned to a project in southern California. Rather than decide whether petitioner is entitled to deduct his 2013 expenses under section 162(a)(2), the Court finds petitioner’s testimony establishes that he was entitled to reimbursement by his employer for the expenses and the Court disallows the deduction on that ground.

Petitioner also did not properly substantiate some of his charitable donations.

Expert Witness Misses Mark in Medical Marijuana Case

Docket No: 13666-14, Laurel Alterman & William A. Gibson v. C.I.R. (Order here) 

The Court rules on evidentiary matters related to deductions for a medical marijuana business in this designated order.

Petitioner challenges several items that respondent seeks to admit on relevancy grounds, such as 2008 and 2009 tax returns (the year at issue is 2011), petitioner’s medical marijuana growing license and petitioner’s application to the city of Boulder to approve the grow site. The Court finds each relevant because, in one way or another, they help establish the cost of goods sold in the year at issue.

Petitioner also challenges admitting the testimony of a revenue agent. The Court finds the agent’s testimony relevant because it describes how the agent calculated the cost of goods sold amounts conceded to by respondent.

Respondent objects to admitting a report and oral testimony of petitioner’s expert witness and the Court looks to Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and Tax Court Rule 143(g) to determine whether either can be admitted.

There are three items that the expert witness’s testimony and report attempt to support: 1) cost of goods sold amounts; 2) the ratio of cost of goods sold to gross receipts, and 3) the expenses not subject to section 280E.

The Court found the expert’s testimony did not satisfy Rules 702 or 143(g) because he used insufficient facts and unreliable methodology. For example, the expert did not independently verify gross receipts even though there was a discrepancy between the general ledger and the tax return amounts. He also ignored beginning and ending inventories in his cost of goods sold calculation, and generally did not provide enough information to explain how he arrived at his conclusions.

Although the expert’s testimony had been used in a previous marijuana business case, the Court knew more about the returns in that case and the business bought all its marijuana merchandise from third party sellers, unlike petitioner’s business which grew some of its own marijuana merchandise.

It is important that experts understand the facts and use reliable methodology so that their findings can be admitted.

Non-Designated Order News

Docket No. 5469-16L, Rajiv Khanna & Vivian Cheng-Khanna v. C.I.R. (Order here)

This non-designated order asks respondent to supplement its motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. This issue is one we have seen before: whether a CDP hearing request deadline can be equitably tolled. I wrote a post on this issue a couple of months ago here.

Petitioners, who reside in the Third Circuit, timely mailed their CDP request to the wrong IRS office which then forwarded it to the correct office where it was received after the deadline. The first hurdle the Court asks respondent to address is whether the Tax Court petition was timely. If so, the Court directs respondent to address three items: 1) the statutory basis for respondent’s position that a taxpayer must file a CDP request within 30 days, 2) the impact of recent Supreme Court and Third Circuit Appeals cases concerning equitable tolling, and 3) the circumstances surrounding the forwarding of the request and the possibility that the forwarding would render the hearing request timely.

Respondent’s supplemented motion is due by March 15th, so again, we will wait to see if this case breaks some ground on this issue.

 

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