ABA Section of Taxation Response to Recent Changes to IRS Appeals

We have covered on several occasions the changes in the past year to the IRS Appeals process. See here, here, here, here and here. The reactions from taxpayers and practitioners to the recent changes has, for the most part, been negative.

On May 9, 2017, the American Bar Association Section of Taxation provided comments to the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service regarding the recent changes at IRS Appeals (Comments). The comments, which can be found here, can be summarized as follows:

  • First, we recommend that Appeals reinstate the long-standing Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) provision regarding limited circumstances for attendance by representatives of the Service’s Examination divisions (Compliance) and the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) at settlement conferences.
  • Second, we recommend that Appeals return the option for face-to-face settlement conferences to taxpayers.
  • Third, we recommend that Appeals publicly reaffirm that independent Appeals Technical Employees may, in all cases, evaluate the hazards of litigation on positions taken by Counsel.
  • Fourth, we offer some observations and suggestions regarding informal issue coordination in Appeals.
  • Fifth, we support the recent reaffirmation of Appeals Team Case Leader (ATCL) unilateral settlement authority.
  • Finally, we reiterate our recent comments with respect to docketed cases in Appeals’ jurisdiction.

Practice Point: We are observing many of the same changes in practices that are discussed in the Comments. Taxpayers and their advisors need to understand and be prepared for the different procedures and approaches being employed at IRS Appeals. These changes appear to be leading down a road where settlements may be more difficult to accomplish and, as a result, we may see an increase in tax litigation.

Canadian Tax Court Holds that Agreements Reached Under the Mutual Agreement Procedure are Binding on the Canada Revenue Agency

On March 10, 2017, the Tax Court of Canada held that agreements reached under the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) precluded the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) from redetermining the transfer prices of rock salt sold by Sifto Canada Corp. (Sifto Canada) to a related party in the United States.

In 2006, Sifto Canada reevaluated the transfer pricing of its rock salt sales to its US affiliate for 2002 through 2006. Siftco Canada discovered that the sales prices had been for less than an arm’s length price and in 2007 made an application to the CRA’s voluntary disclosure program reporting additional income from the sale of rock salt for 2002-2006 of over C$13 million. In 2008, the CRA accepted the application and assessed additional tax on that income.

After the assessment, Sifto Canada applied to the Canadian Competent Authority (CCA) and its US affiliate applied to the United States Competent Authority (USCA) for relief from double taxation under Articles IX and XXVI of the Convention between Canada and the United States of America with Respect to Taxes on Income and on Capital, as amended (the Treaty). The CRA did not audit Sifto Canada during this time and based its position paper on Sifto Canada’s voluntary disclosure application. Under the MAP process, the USCA and CCA then agreed to the transfer prices.

During the negotiation process for the MAP, the CRA began auditing the transfer prices of the rock salt for those years and then, subsequent to the signing of the MAP agreements, the CRA determined that the transfer prices should have been even higher than the amounts reported by Sifto Canada in the voluntary disclosure and issued further reassessments of its tax.

The CRA argued that: (1) the MAP agreements only provided relief from double taxation and did not set transfer prices; (2) the CCA only entered into agreements with the USCA and did not enter into a binding agreement with Sifto Canada regarding the transfer prices; and (3) that the government had a duty to reassess the tax once it determined that the transfer prices were not at arm’s length.

The Tax Court of Canada did not agree with the CRA and held the government to its MAP agreements. The Court found that by reaching an agreement under the MAP process, the CCA necessarily had to find that the transfer prices were at arm’s length under the Treaty. Further, the Court found that under the factual matrix of this case, the CCA’s letters exchanged with Siftco Canada clearly described the terms of the MAP agreements, asked Siftco Canada to accept those terms, and Sifto Canada then accepted the terms establishing a binding agreement. Finally, the Court found the agreements were not “indefensible on the facts and the law” and thus were binding on the Canadian government.

Practice Point:  This case is helpful to taxpayers with cross-border transactions between the US and Canada and demonstrates that MAP agreements are binding on the CRA.

Taxpayer Rights Around the World (Follow-Up)

We previously wrote two blog posts about the 2nd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights held in Vienna, Austria in March 2017 here and here. Videos of each panel discussion are now available for viewing here. Planning is currently underway for the 3rd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, which will be held in The Netherlands on May 3-4.

IRS Provides New Guidance on Ordinary Versus Capital Issue

A frequently disputed tax issue is the proper treatment of costs incurred by taxpayers and whether they are currently deductible or must be capitalized. Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 162 generally provides a deduction for ordinary and necessary business expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year in carrying on any trade or business. However, Code Section 263 provides no deduction for any amount paid for permanent improvements made to increase the value of any property. Code Section 263 requires capitalization of, amongst other things, costs paid or incurred to facilitate the acquisition of a trade or business. The capitalization rules of Code Section 263 trump the deductibility rules of Code Section 162. Continue Reading

The IRS’s Assault on Section 199 (Computer Software) Doesn’t Compute

Internal Revenue Code Section 199 permits taxpayers to claim a 9 percent deduction related to the costs to develop software within the U.S. The relevant regulations and their interpretation, however, place substantial restrictions on claiming the benefit.

Moreover, the regulations and the government’s position haven’t kept up with the technological advances in computer software.

Before claiming the deduction on your return, consider that the Internal Revenue Service has this issue within its sights, and perhaps it will be the subject of one of their new “campaigns.”

In 2004, Congress enacted I.R.C. Section 199 to tip the scales of global competitiveness more in favor of American business. The main motivation of the statute was to create jobs by encouraging businesses to manufacture and produce their products in the U.S. The tax benefit, however, isn’t available for services, a theme that pervades many of the provisions in the statute and regulations.

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Originally published in Bloomberg BNA Daily Tax Report – April 24, 2017 – Number 77

Overview of Tax Litigation Forums

Taxpayers can choose whether to litigate tax disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US Tax Court (Tax Court), federal district court or the Court of Federal Claims. Claims brought in federal district court and the Court of Federal Claims are tax refund litigation: the taxpayer must first pay the tax, file a claim for refund, and file a complaint against the United States if the claim is not allowed. Claims brought in the Tax Court are deficiency cases: the taxpayer can file a petition against the IRS Commissioner after receiving a notice of deficiency and does not need to pay the tax beforehand.

As demonstrated in the chart below, approximately 97 percent of tax claims are instituted in the Tax Court. It should be noted that, after a taxpayer files a petition in Tax Court, the taxpayer no longer has the option of bringing the claim in any other court for the year(s) at issue.

Tax Court Versus Tax Refund Litigation

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APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Requests Supreme Court Review

On April 4, 2017, QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) does not apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notices of Deficiency. We previously wrote about the case (QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 15-2192) here, here, here and here. To refresh, the taxpayer had argued in the US Tax Court that the Notice of Deficiency issued by the IRS, which contained a one-sentence reason for the deficiency determination, violated the APA because it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The APA provides a general rule that a reviewing court that is subject to the APA must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action unwarranted by the facts to the extent the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court. The Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA and holding that the Notice of Deficiency adequately notified the taxpayer that a deficiency had been determined under relevant case law. The taxpayer appealed to the 4th Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the Tax Court’s decision. Continue Reading

Understanding LB&I “Campaigns” – The Second Webinar

On March 28, 2017, EY and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) held a joint webcast presenting the Large Business & International’s (LB&I) new “Campaign” examination process. This was the IRS’s second in a planned eight-part series about Campaigns. The IRS speakers for the presentation were Tina Meaux (Assistant Deputy Commissioner Compliance Integration) and Kathy Robbins (Enterprise Activity Practice Area). We previously blogged about Campaigns on February 1, 2017 (link), and the first Campaigns webinar on March 8, 2017 (link).

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IRS is Required to Search Tax Return Information Records to Help Determine Worker Classification

On April 5, 2017, in an unanimous court reviewed opinion, the United States Tax Court determined that disclosure of a worker’s tax return information to absolve the employer from liabilities arising out of the employer’s withholding requirement is not subject to the general prohibition against disclosing taxpayer return information pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6103, and does not shift the burden of proof to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. 11 (2017), the IRS determined that a number of the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s workers were not independent contractors, but employees. If the IRS prevailed in its worker reclassification determination then, as the employer, the Mescalero Apache Tribe would be jointly and severally liable for Federal income tax that should have been withheld on the workers’ earnings. To prevent double taxation, IRC Section 3402(d) provides that the IRS cannot collect from the employer the withholding tax liability if the employees have already paid income tax on their earnings. To prove its position that the workers were independent contractors and alternatively to reduce any potential withholding tax liability if the workers were classified as employees, the Mescalero Apache Tribe asked each worker to complete Form 4669, Statement of Payments Received. However, the Mescalero Apache Tribe had trouble locating each of its workers because many had moved or lived in hard-to-reach areas without phone service or basic utilities. Continue Reading

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