IRS Updates Rules Regarding Appeals Conferences

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has revised the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) regarding Appeals Conferences.  Below is a summary of material changes to IRM 8.6.1, effective October 1, 2016:

  • The IRM was revised to reflect that most conferences in Appeals will be conducted by telephone.  The revision also provides guidance for when in-person conferences are appropriate (e.g., when there are substantial books and records to review that cannot be easily referenced with page numbers or indices, or when there are numerous conference participants that create a risk of an unauthorized disclosure or breach of confidentiality).
  • IRM 8.6.1.4.1.2, In-Person Conferences: Circuit Riding was added.  If the assigned Appeals employee is in a post of duty that conducts circuit riding, circuit riding will be permitted when the address of the taxpayer, representative or business (for business entities) is more than 100 miles from a customer-facing virtual conference site or 150 miles from the nearest Appeals Office.  Area Directors have the discretion to deviate from these mileage limitations.  Circuit riding will also be allowed if the nearest Appeals Office cannot take the case due to high inventories or lack of technical expertise, or if there is no convenient alternative.
  • Language was added in IRM 8.6.1.4.4 to state that Appeals has the discretion to invite Counsel and/or Compliance to the conference.  The IRM notes that the prohibition against ex parte communications must not be violated and references Rev. Proc. 2012-18.
  • The definition of a new issue was updated in IRM 8.6.1.6.1(2).  The IRM retains prior language stating that a new issue is a matter not raised during Compliance’s consideration and adds that any issue not raised by Compliance in the report (e.g., 30-Day Letter) or rebuttal and disputed by the taxpayer is a new issue.

The revised IRM 8.6.1 is available here.

UK Government Confirms Introduction of New Cap on Interest Deductibility

The UK Government has recently confirmed that it will be introducing a new cap on interest deductibility. Under the new rule, the ability of groups to obtain tax relief for interest will be limited by reference to a ratio of their net interest expense to EBITDA. The new rule will apply from 1 April 2017, leaving affected groups with very little time in which to consider its impact and to refinance their existing arrangements.

In the latest issue of McDermott’s newsletter International News, covering international tax topics of interest, we have published an article discussing the proposed rule. Read the full article here.

Altera Corporation Files Answering Brief in Commissioner’s Ninth Circuit Appeal of Altera

In Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, 145 T.C. No. 3 (July 27, 2015), the Tax Court, in a unanimous reviewed opinion, held that regulations under Section 482 requiring parties to a qualified cost-sharing agreement (“QCSA”) to include stock-based compensation costs in the cost pool to comply with the arm’s-length standard were procedurally invalid because Treasury and the IRS did not engage in the “reasoned decisionmaking” required by the Administrative Procedures Act and the cases interpreting it. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue (“Commissioner”) appealed this holding to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Dkt. Nos. 16-70496, 16-70497. The Commissioner filed his opening brief on June 27, 2016. Two groups of law school professors filed amicus briefs in support of the Commissioner’s position. On September 9, 2016, Altera Corporation (“Altera”) filed its answering brief with the Ninth Circuit.

Altera begins with the observation that the Commissioner “has remarkably little to say” about the Tax Court’s rationale in holding the QCSA regulation invalid. According to Altera, the Commissioner either did not respond to the salient points in the Tax Court’s analysis or, more often, actually admitted that those points were correct. Instead, the Commissioner advanced a “new, litigation-driven position” that Section 482’s “commensurate with income” requirement is an independent “internal standard” that “does not require consideration of transactions between unrelated parties.” Indeed, Altera notes, the Commissioner now argues “that the arm’s-length standard may be applied without considering any facts at all.” Thus, rather than engage with the Tax Court’s reasoning, the Commissioner “mistakenly accuses the Tax Court of overlooking an argument that is missing from the administrative record.”

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Privileged Materials Provided Without Taxpayers’ Consent Should Not Waive Privilege

In today’s tax environment and with the potential monetary awards to whistleblowers under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7623, taxpayers are facing the increased possibility that their confidential and privileged materials may be provided to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) without the taxpayer’s consent. This raises serious privilege and ethical issues related to the attorney-client, work product and Code Section 7525 tax practitioner privileges.

In a welcome development, Drita Tonuzi, Associate Chief Counsel (Procedure & Administration), stated at a DC Bar Association event on September 8, 2016, that if someone who is not authorized to release a taxpayer’s documents turns them over to the government, they will first be reviewed to determine if the information is protected by federal laws or the Code. The Whistleblower Office will then redact confidential information before releasing it to examination agents. However, this leaves some unanswered questions.

Case law reflects that the unauthorized production of privileged materials by an ex-employee or by an employee without the authority to waive the privilege for the taxpayer should not be viewed as a waiver of the privilege. The problem is that taxpayers may not know that privileged materials have been provided to the IRS without the IRS’s consent and therefore would not be able to take steps to assert the privilege and request the return of such documents from the IRS. Taxpayers may want to make a request to the IRS at the beginning of an audit to provide it with a list of all materials received by third-parties so that the taxpayer can assess whether any privileged documents have been provided to the IRS without the taxpayer’s consent. If the IRS does not provide the list or refuses to acknowledge the taxpayer’s request, the taxpayer may have at least preserved its right to later assert privilege if it turns out privileged materials were provided to the IRS without the taxpayer’s consent.

If an IRS attorney receives privileged documents and does not return them to the taxpayer, this raises potential ethical issues. Attorneys who receive privileged documents where it is clear that such documents are privileged and were not intended to be disclosed by the taxpayer or the privilege was intended to be waived, may have a duty to not examine those materials and instead return them to the taxpayer. The IRS’s recent comment about reviewing and redacting what it believes is privileged before sending to the examining agent appears at odds with this duty.

In fact, since at least 2009, the IRS has demonstrated a growing awareness of the privilege concerns raised by whistleblowers that stand in a privileged relationship to a taxpayer, even while the IRS’s current policies have not fully addressed the problem. In August 2015, the Internal Revenue Manual was amended to provide that the IRS generally must assume that any “current employee whistleblower has access to information that may be subject to a privilege that has not been affirmatively waived by the taxpayer.” I.R.M. 25.2.2.4.4. That same section of the Manual and periodic TIGTA reports on the IRS Whistleblower Office recognize that the IRS’s ability to use whistleblower information in subsequent proceedings could be severely limited—if not prohibited outright—if that information was obtained in violation of the taxpayer’s attorney-client privilege.

The better, and probably more appropriate approach, in situations where an ex-employee or whistleblower provides documents to the IRS that may be privileged is for the IRS to immediately notify the taxpayer and provide it with the opportunity to assert any applicable privileges. Allowing the IRS to review the documents first and make its own privilege determinations is fundamentally contrary to the way in which privilege determinations are made. Taxpayers and their advisors should be aware of the IRS’s recent comments and plan accordingly by taking affirmative steps to protect against the IRS reviewing privileged materials without the taxpayer’s consent.

GAO Reports on IRS Guidance Procedures

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report regarding how the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) communicates tax guidance to the public.This report was prepared following bipartisan requests from members of both houses of Congress.

The GAO report: (1) analyzed documents that defined IRS guidance types; (2) reviewed the IRS’s policies and procedures for issuing guidance; (3) reviewed literature on the IRS’s issuance of guidance; (4) interviewed individuals at relevant government and tax practitioner organizations; and (5) reviewed IRS guidance issued during 2013 through 2015. Below is a chart included in the GAO report that illustrates various forms of guidance, and the weight that the IRS says attaches to each.

GAO blog post

The GAO found that the IRS uses many different forms of guidance to communicate its interpretation of tax laws to the public, but considers only the Internal Revenue Bulletin (IRB) guidance to be authoritative. The IRS’s statement that only IRB guidance is authoritative could be considered an oversimplification. We previously wrote (here, here, and here) about how deference principles may apply to various forms of guidance.

The GAO found further that while the IRS has detailed procedures for identifying, prioritizing, and issuing new guidance, the IRS lacks procedures for documenting the decision about what form of guidance to issue.

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3M Company, IRS File Reply Briefs in “Blocked Income” Case; Tax Court Orders Oral Argument

As discussed in an earlier post, 3M Co. v. Commissioner, T.C. Dkt. No. 5816-13, involves 3M Company’s (3M) challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) determination that Brazilian legal restrictions on the payment of royalties from a subsidiary in that country to its US parent should not be taken into account in determining the arm’s-length royalty between 3M and its subsidiary under Treas. Reg. § 1.482-1(h)(2). The case has been submitted fully stipulated under Tax Court Rule 122. We discussed the parties’ opening briefs, filed on March 21, 2016, here. Reply briefs were filed on June 29, with the IRS filing an amended reply brief on August 18.

3M returns to its argument that Treas. Reg. § 1.482-1(h)(2) is “procedurally invalid” because Treasury and the IRS failed to satisfy the requirements of section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act (the APA) when they promulgated the regulations. 3M notes that the IRS completely ignored this argument in its opening brief. Citing the Supreme Court’s recent opinion in Encino Motorcars, discussed in more detail here, 3M points out that Treasury and the IRS made significant changes to the regulation, but offered no explanation for the changes. This, 3M argues, renders the regulation invalid. 3M observes that compliance with the two-step Chevron test would not save a regulation that is procedurally invalid, noting that such compliance is “a necessary but not a sufficient condition for a regulation to be upheld.”

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Introduction to the New World of Global Tax Planning

Domestic implementation of the recommendations set out in the BEPS final reports from 2015 have the potential to significantly impact effective tax rate planning. The immediate issue flows from the new country-by-country transfer pricing documentation regime (CbC). The critical consequence of the CbC regime, as well as many of the other BEPS initiatives, will be an inevitably heightened focus of tax authorities on testing locally reported transfer pricing results on a profit split basis.

Read the full article here.

 

IRS Begins Formal Assessment of CAP Program

On August 26, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that its Large Business & International (LB&I) division is in the process of assessing the Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. CAP is a real-time audit program that seeks to resolve the tax treatment of all or most return issues before the tax return is filed.  CAP began as a pilot program in 2005 with 17 taxpayers and has grown to currently include 181 taxpayers. In 2011, the CAP program was made permanent and expanded to include Pre-Cap and Compliance Maintenance. Pre-Cap provides interested taxpayers with a roadmap of the steps required for gaining entry into CAP, which as noted above is the standard real-time audit program whereby the IRS examines relevant transactions and proposed reporting positions before the tax return is filed. Cap Maintenance is intended for taxpayers who have been in CAP, have fewer complex issues, and have a track record of working cooperatively and transparently with the IRS. Under this phase, there is a reduced level of review with respect to the pre-filing review and the post-filing examination.

We previously wrote about the potential death of the CAP program. Based on the recent announcement, it appears that CAP is now on its deathbed. The recent announcement states that no new taxpayers will be accepted into the CAP program for the 2017 application season that begins in September 2016, which means that only taxpayers currently in the CAP and Compliance Maintenance phases may continue in the program. No new Pre-Cap application will be accepted and taxpayers currently in pre-Cap will not be accepted into the CAP phase. However, taxpayers currently in the CAP phase may be moved into the Compliance Maintenance phase, as appropriate. The announcement is not surprising in light of recent reorganization changes by the IRS and shifts to a “campaigns” approach, which we have written about here and here. The announcement explains that the CAP assessment is necessary given the IRS’s limited resources and constraints, combined with a business need to evaluate existing IRS programs to ensure that they are aligned with LB&I’s strategic vision. We will continue to monitor developments on this front, but for now any taxpayers that were planning on applying for the CAP program will no longer have that opportunity.

Scott Singer Informs on the Effect of Loans to Financially Troubled Subsidiary in a Debt-Equity Analysis

One often overlooked debt-equity issue is presented by continuing transfers to a subsidiary that is reasonably creditworthy at the inception but subsequently encounters difficulties, in spite of which (or maybe because of which) and continues to receive advances from the common parent or one of its finance subsidiaries. The issue is whether the subsequent difficulties should cause the advances made after some point in time to be equity rather than debt.

Scott Singer Installations, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2016-161, [read here] involves a corporation that began business in 1981 and operated with some success. In order to fund its growth, its sole shareholder began to borrow from other persons and relend the proceeds to the corporation in 2006. (No notes were executed; no interest was charged; and no maturity dates were imposed.) The corporation was initially profitable, but experienced a decline in business in 2008. The court held that the shareholder loans from 2006 through 2008 constituted  debt because the corporation’s success provided a basis for the shareholder’s having a reasonable expectation that those loans would be repaid, but that the funds transferred after 2008 were not debt because as a result of the decline in business, the shareholder “should have known that future advances would not result in consistent repayments.”

The court cited no case in which this approach was applied. Whether shareholder could have a reasonable expectation of repayment is a factual issue for which authority is not needed. However, this approach is somewhat unusual. A particularly difficult question in many cases is the point after which advances should be treated as equity. The general downturn in the economy may have simplified it here. It is important to note that the advances made before 2009 were not recharacterized as equity; it appears that if it were appropriate to treat them as debt when they were made, they remain debt.

The Tax Court in Scott Singer focused heavily on the lender’s reasonable expectation of repayment in characterizing the later advances as equity. However, it is important to note that the debt-equity determination is often extremely complex and fact-specific. The question of lending to a troubled company arises frequently in the third-party lending context. In these situations, a lender often seeks a higher interest rate and/or additional collateral to account for the problems that the company is experiencing. When a third-party lender extends credit to a troubled company, they often look to assets and their priority relative to other creditors in considering whether to loan additional funds.

Business people at a company need to be cautioned that pumping money into a subsidiary that is sustaining losses (and probably needs the money to prevent sinking) may lead to adverse tax consequences unless the entity’s stock becomes worthless. One approach may be to have the subsidiary issue a combination of notes and preferred stock.

Discussion Draft of Modernization of Derivatives Tax Act

On May 18, 2016, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member, Senator Ron Wyden, released a financial product tax reform discussion draft that, if adopted, would significantly alter the current tax rules with respect to financial products (derivatives), as well as the tax treatment of certain non-derivative positions that are offset by derivatives. The discussion draft is referred to as the Modernization of Derivatives Tax Act, or MODA.

Read the full article here.

 

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