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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.

The concept of limited scope representation is not a new one in the legal arena. Rule 1.2(c) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct provides that “A lawyer may limit the scope of the representation if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the client gives informed consent.” This rule has been broadly embraced by states. The idea of limited representation in Tax Court cases has been floating around for years. It has mostly come up in the context of pro se taxpayers who appear at calendars calls. There may be one or more volunteers willing to assist the taxpayer but are unable to enter an appearance on the spot for various reasons (e.g., inability to conduct a conflicts search, uncertainty as to whether the taxpayer will be responsive in the future, inability to determine whether case has merit). In this situation, the volunteer is usually not allowed to speak on the taxpayer’s behalf to the Court to try to assist with resolving the case and handling procedural matters.

In 2018, Special Trial Judge Carluzzo and Special Trial Judge Panuthos invited suggestions for better assisting unrepresented and low-income taxpayers in the Tax Court. In response, the American Bar Association Section of Taxation recommended that the Tax Court consider amending its rules to permit counsel to enter an appearance for a limited time or purpose. At the time of the recommendation, approximately 69% of all Tax Court petitioners and 91% of petitioners in small tax cases were self-represented. The Section of Taxation pointed out that many self-represented petitioners before the Tax Court do not understand the law or court rules and therefore are unable to make an effective legal argument. This results in inefficiencies in the Tax Court, as well as inequality because the IRS is always represented by counsel.
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A recent case decided by the US Tax Court reminds us that when you litigate a case in Tax Court, what happened during the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examination and Appeals bears very little relevance (if any) once you get to court. Generally, Tax Court’s proceedings are de novo, and the court looks solely to the IRS’s position in the Notice of Deficiency (Notice). The Revenue Agent’s Report and other statements made by the IRS before the issuance of the Notice are typically ignored.

In Moya v. Commissioner, 152 TC No. 11 (Apr. 17, 2019), the IRS determined deficiencies related to the disallowance of certain business expense deductions. The taxpayer did not assign error to the disallowance, but instead argued that the Notice was invalid because the IRS had violated her right to be informed and her right to be heard under an IRS news release and an IRS publication outlining various rights of taxpayers. Specifically, the taxpayer asserted that she had requested that her examination proceedings be transferred to California after she had moved from Las Vegas to Santa Cruz, and that the IRS had violated the her rights by providing vague and inconsistent responses to, and by ultimately denying, her request.
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When you do not pay your taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to file a “lien” on your property under Internal Revenue Code section 6321. The lien attaches “upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person.” Practically, this means that the IRS is giving notice that you owe it money and its debt gets priority to most debts that occur after the lien notice is filed. Historically, the lien law has been interpreted strictly and “foot faults” can invalidate the lien. A recent case, however, provides that if the federal tax lien uses the incorrect name, the lien may still be established and enforceable.

The taxpayer and his wife purchased their home as joint tenants in 1975. The taxpayer became the sole owner of the property after his wife passed away. In July 2007, the taxpayer filed federal income tax returns for tax years 2000 to 2004. Based on those returns, the IRS assessed taxes, penalties and interest, which remained outstanding at the time of his death in July 2009. On August 9, 2010, the government recorded a notice of federal tax lien (the Tax Lien Notice) against the taxpayer with the appropriate recorder of deeds in an amount equal to the previously assessed amounts. The Tax Lien Notice omitted the second “l” in the taxpayer’s first name, and failed to include a legal description or permanent index number for the property. The Tax Lien Notice did identify the correct address.
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Most tax professionals are aware of the common-law “mailbox rule,” which provides that proof of proper mailing creates a rebuttable presumption that the document was physically delivered to the addressee. Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 7502 was enacted to codify the mailbox rule for tax purposes. Thus, for documents received after the applicable deadline, the document will be deemed to have been delivered on the date the document is postmarked. To protect taxpayers against a failure of delivery, Code section 7502 also provides that when a document is sent by registered mail, the registration serves as prima facie evidence that the document was delivered, and the date of registration is treated as the postmark date. In other words, if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claims not to have received a document, the presumption arises that such document was delivered so long as the taxpayer produces the registration.

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International (LB&I) Division continues to churn out new audit “campaigns.” For our prior coverage, please click here. The most recent set of campaigns were announced on April 16, 2019, bringing the grand total to 53 campaigns since the program’s initial release on January 13, 2017. The IRS explains that the goal of the campaigns is to “improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of non-compliance, and make the greatest use of limited resources.”

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Borenstein v. Commissioner is an interesting opinion involving the intersection of canons of statutory construction and jurisdiction. Recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the US Tax Court’s holding in Borenstein that the court lacked jurisdiction to order a refund of an undisputed overpayment made by the taxpayer. The case, which we discussed in a prior post, involved interpreting statutory provisions dealing with claims for a refund after a notice of deficiency was issued. The Tax Court’s holding was based on the application of the plain meaning rule to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6512(b)(3), which limit its jurisdiction to order refunds of overpayments.

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Many states and localities give incentives for business to move or transact in their locations. There has always been a question of whether these incentives are taxable income under federal income tax law. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 118, as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, P.L. 115-97, provides that “[i]n the case of a corporation, gross income does not include any contribution to the capital of the taxpayer….(b) For purposes of subsection (a), the term “contribution to the capital of the taxpayer” does not include—…(2) any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group (other than a contribution made by a shareholder as such).”

In a recent case, the US Tax Court ruled that certain cash grants given by the State of New Jersey fit squarely within IRC section 118, and were not taxable to the corporate taxpayer. Brokertec Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-32.


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