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Kevin Spencer focuses his practice on tax controversy issues. Kevin represents clients in complicated tax disputes in court and before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the IRS Appeals and Examination divisions. In addition to his tax controversy practice, Kevin has broad experience advising clients on various tax issues, including tax accounting, employment and reasonable compensation, civil and criminal tax penalties, IRS procedures, reportable transactions and tax shelters, renewable energy, state and local tax, and private client matters. After earning his Master of Tax degree, Kevin had the privilege to clerk for the Honorable Robert P. Ruwe on the US Tax Court. Read Kevin Spencer's full bio.

On July 27, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Alta Wind v. United States, reversed and remanded what had been a resounding victory for renewable energy. The US Court of Federal Claims had ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to claim a Section 1603 cash grant on the total amount paid for wind energy assets, including the value of certain power purchase agreements (PPAs).

We have reported on the Alta Wind case several times in the past two years:

Government Appeal of Alta Wind Supports Decision to File Suit Now

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Act Now To Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant

SOL and the 1603 Cash Grant – File Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

In reversing the trial court, the appellate court failed to answer the substantive question of whether a PPA that is part of the sale of a renewable energy facility is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 cash grant.

Trial Court Decision

The Court of Federal Claims awarded the plaintiff damages of more than $206 million with respect to the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Section 1603 Grant). The court held that the government had underpaid the plaintiff its Section 1603 Grants arising from the development and purchase of large wind facilities when it refused to include the value of certain PPAs in the plaintiffs’ eligible basis for the cash grants. The trial court rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs’ basis was limited solely to development and construction costs. Instead, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the arm’s-length purchase price of the projects prior to their placed-in-service date informed the projects’ creditable value. The court also determined that the PPAs specific to the wind facilities should not be treated as ineligible intangible property for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. This meant that any value associated with the PPAs would be creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant.

Federal Circuit Reverses and Remands 

The government appealed its loss to the Federal Circuit. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions. The Federal Circuit held that the purchase of the wind facilities should be properly treated as “applicable asset acquisitions” for purposes of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 1060, and the purchase prices must be allocated using the so-called “residual method.” The residual method requires a taxpayer to allocate the purchase price among seven categories. The purpose of the allocation is to discern what amount of a purchase price should be ascribed to each category of assets, which may have significance for other parts of the IRC. For example, if the purchase price includes depreciable plant equipment and non-depreciable property (e.g., cash and marketable securities), the residual method asks the taxpayer to allocate the total purchase price between the property classes.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case back to the Claims Court to determine the proper allocation of the purchase prices of the wind facilities.

Why Is This Case Important?  

If you are in the renewable energy industry, this decision is likely very important. Indeed, there are numerous taxpayers who did not receive the full amount of their Section 1603 Grant based upon the government’s reduction of the claim for the value of a PPA. This case will have precedential effect on those taxpayers’ claims. Moreover, the decision will affect how the industry prices deals for renewable facilities. These transactions have historically involved substantial financial modeling based upon cash flows.

The Federal Circuit Left the Primary Issue Unanswered

The Federal Circuit left the primary issue in the case, whether the PPA is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant, to the trial court to decide on remand. Accordingly, if the trial court determines that the PPAs cannot be divorced from the wind farm facilities assets, they will be correctly allocated to “Class V” in IRC section 1060, and will be credit able for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. Implicitly, this is what the trial court had already decided, and the result would obtain the same economic result for the plaintiff as its original ruling. We will continue to follow this matter to see whether the trial court follows the prevailing thinking on this issue and of a decade of legal support.

On June 27, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, effective July 31, 2018. This announcement follows last week’s 5-4 decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, authored by Justice Kennedy, which reversed the physical presence requirement originally established in National Bellas Hess and reaffirmed in Quill. Other important tax (and tax-related) cases have decided by the Supreme Court during Justice Kennedy’s tenure include: Commissioner v. Clark, 489 US 726 (1989); United States v. Goodyear, 493 US 132 (1989); Commissioner v. Soliman, 506 US 168 (1993); Commissioner v. Banks, 543 US 426 (2005); United States v. Home Concrete & Supply, LLC, 566 US 478 (2012); Obergefell v. Hodges, Sup. Ct. Dkt. No. 14-566 (2015); and Pereira v. Sessions, No. 17-459 (2018).

Justice Kennedy was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, and sworn in on February 18, 1988. He won unanimous confirmation. Although considered a conservative jurist, he was also the swing vote in favor of various social issues including same-sex marriage and the right to seek an abortion.

President Trump has already begun the search for Justice Kennedy’s replacement, but confirmation of the president’s nomination will not come without a serious fight. Indeed, whomever President Trump nominates, we can expect the same level of bipartisan animosity for the confirmation hearings as has marred his presidency thus far. Of course, any confirmation will require the Senate’s approval, and given the erosion of a conservative majority in the Senate, confirmation will be no small feat!

The US Tax Court (Tax Court), in a short opinion, provided a reminder to taxpayers that penalties for filing fraudulent returns cannot be avoided by subsequently filing amended returns. In Gaskin v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-89, the taxpayer admitted his original returns were fraudulent. While under criminal investigation, he attempted to cure the fraudulent filings by filing amended returns, reporting more than $100,000 of additional tax. Ultimately, the tax due exceeded the amount reported on the amended returns.

Despite admitting his original fraud, the taxpayer argued that the fraud penalty did not apply because the tax due only modestly exceeded the tax reported on his amended returns. The Tax Court disagreed. Relying on the regulations and Supreme Court precedent, the court held that the amount of the underpayment and the fraudulent intent are both determined by reference to original—not amended—returns. It therefore upheld imposition of the fraud penalty.

Practice Point: Don’t file fraudulent returns! All joking aside, this case reminds us that although filing an amended return can cure some infirmities on your return, you have to be very careful in choosing whether to amend a return. As long as you did your best to accurately calculate your tax due on your original return, you are not required to amend that return if you later find out you were wrong. This is true even if the statute of limitations is still open. Indeed, there is no requirement to amend a return. However, there may be reasons to file an amended return; for example, if you know that you will need to base a future return’s position on a previous return’s position (e.g., the amount of earnings and profits stated on the return). Taxpayers need to be mindful, however, that if you amend your return, it must be accurate to the best of your knowledge when you sign it as to all items and any other errors discovered after the original return was filed must also be corrected. Accordingly, you cannot amend only the favorable positions discovered after you filed your original return.

On May 21, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International Division (LB&I) announced the identification and selection of six new campaigns. These new campaigns follow the initial 13 campaigns announced on January 31, 2017, followed by 11 campaigns announced on November 3, 2017, and 5 campaigns announced on March 13, 2018. Continue Reading LB&I Announces Six New Campaigns

Taxpayers are running out of time to file refund claims against the government. If the government reduced or denied your Section 1603 cash grant, you can file suit in the Court of Federal Claims against the government to reclaim your lost grant money. Don’t worry, you will not be alone. There are numerous taxpayers lining up actions against the government and seeking refunds from this mismanaged renewable energy incentive program. Indeed, the government lost in round one of Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C. v. United States, 128 Fed. Cl. 702 (2016). In that case, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs more than $206 million in damages ruling that the government unreasonably reduced their Section 1603 cash grants.

Access the full article.

In a press release on April 24, 2018, the White House stated that President Trump has reappointed Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes for a second 15-year term.  Judge Holmes was originally appointed by President George W. Bush on June 30, 2003, for a term ending June 29, 2018.  Instead of seeking “senior status” on the Tax Court, Judge Holmes sought to be reappointed for a second term.

On April 17, 2018, the Taxpayer Advocate, Nina E. Olson, testified before a Congressional Oversight Committee regarding on-going challenges to the administration of an efficient and effective tax system. Ms. Olson runs the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent office within the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Taxpayer Advocate is appointed by and reports directly to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The office was created under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which became law on July 30, 1996. The office replaced the IRS Office of the Ombudsman. Continue Reading National Taxpayer Advocate Reminds Congress of IRS Deficiencies

Tax controversy practitioners are undoubtedly aware of the gradual movement over the years to conform certain Tax Court procedure rules (Tax Court Rules) to those of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In many ways, this makes sense to ensure uniformity of tax cases regardless of whether a taxpayer litigates his tax dispute in a refund forum in the US District Court or the US Court of Federal Claims, or prior to payment of tax in the Tax Court. Below we note a few important areas of divergence between the different rules, and point out situations where the Tax Court Rules do not address a particular matter. These matters were discussed at the recent Tax Court Judicial Conference held in Chicago last week.

Amicus Briefs

As we have discussed before, amicus briefs are not uncommon in other courts. However, the Tax Court does not have specific rules on the topic and, instead, permits each judge to decide a case-by-case basis whether to permit the filing of an amicus brief. Although the Tax Court has discussed standards for filing amicus briefs in unpublished orders, given the nationwide importance of many issues that arise in Tax Court litigation, it may be time for the court to issue specific rules addressing the issue. Continue Reading Are Changes Looming over the Tax Court’s Procedure Rules?

A shrinking Internal Revenue Budget (IRS) budget has meant that fewer agents are available to make sure that the tax laws are being enforced. We have reported previously about how Congress has decreased the IRS’s budget.  In 2017, the audit rate fell to its lowest levels in 15 years because of a shrinking IRS budget and workforce. Indeed, your chance of being audited fell to 0.6% in 2017, the lowest rate since 2002. Similarly, tax collection levies fell 32% from the prior year, and the IRS filed 5% fewer liens year-over-year. Detailed information from the IRS can be found here.

Practice Point. The decreased funding of the IRS in the wake of bipartisan disagreements seems to have quelled in recent weeks. We have seen movement to get the IRS more funding in the wake of tax reform but it remains to be seen whether some of those funds will be used to increase the enforcement functions of the IRS. We anticipate, however, an increase in enforcement activity as a result of some of the positions taken by taxpayers in anticipation of tax reform and the myriad of interpretive questions that are expected to result from the new tax laws.