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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.

Tax reform made many structural changes to our tax system. Changes to Code Section 274, however, sent shudders through corporate America. As amended, Code Section 274 eliminated the 50 percent deduction for “entertainment” expenses that are related to business activities. Sadly, gone are the days of companies deducting the cost of box tickets to games for the local sport’s team. Gulp! But, in its haste, Congress left what constitutes entertainment expenses substantially undefined. Accordingly, a strict reading of the statute meant—along with the box seats—went the hot dogs and beer! Ugh! So, under this strict interpretation, taking your client to the fancy restaurant to encourage her to buy your product or services would no longer be deductible.

Thankfully, the IRS has recently clarified that meals are not entertainment under amended Code section 274. IRS Notice 2018-76 explains that business meals are still eligible for the 50 percent deduction if they are not lavish and extravagant. And an IRS press release, IR-2018-195, explains that the IRS will release proposed regulations explaining what “entertainment” means.

Practice Point: We can all sigh with relief that Uncle Sam will continue to underwrite the “wining and dining” of our clients. Although eating is officially not entertainment (at least for tax purposes), the recent IRS guidance acknowledges that America does a lot of its business while breaking bread.

We have previously discussed ongoing developments with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. In brief summary, 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. The CAP program began in 2005 on an invitation-only basis with 17 taxpayers, and was subsequently expanded to include pre-CAP, CAP and CAP Maintenance components. Taxpayers and IRS leadership generally praised the CAP program as one of the most successful corporate tax enforcement programs, with surveys showing that more than 90 percent of CAP taxpayers reported overall satisfaction with the program.

The fate of CAP has been uncertain in recent years given the IRS’s shift in the examination process to identifying and focusing on specific areas of risk and the continued dwindling of IRS resources. In 2016, we discussed whether this change might result in the death of the CAP program and the IRS’s announcement that it was formally assessing the program. In August of this year, the IRS announced that the CAP program will continue, with some modifications.

At a September 26 conference, the IRS indicated that it wanted to expand the CAP program, but that changes were needed to keep the program sustainable over the long term given issues with increased examination times for CAP audits based primarily on issues involving transfer pricing, research credits under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 41, and former Code Section 199. The IRS indicated that it needed to resolve two issues for the CAP program: (1) eligibility and (2) suitability. Regarding eligibility, the IRS indicated that only public companies will likely be allowed into the program. Regarding suitability, factors include: (1) responses to IRS information requests; (2) good-faith efforts to resolve issues; (3) disclosure of tax shelters, material items, investigation or litigation; (4) frequency of claims; and (5) complying with the terms of the program’s memorandum of understanding.

The IRS has also released a Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) Recalibration discussion document, dated September 28, 2018. The discussion document provides more detail on the IRS’s current thinking regarding the CAP program and the two issues identified above. The document indicates that no new applications will be accepted for 2019 but that the IRS expects to accept new application for the 2020 tax year. In addition to general application information, taxpayers with international cross-border activity and research and experimentation activities will be required to submit additional information.

Practice Point: Taxpayers that are currently in the CAP program or that are considering applying to the program should review the IRS’s recent discussion document to identify potential changes to the program and whether the program would be a good fit. For many taxpayers, the CAP program has been—or could be­—a great program for resolving tax disputes in a timely fashion and gaining finality on tax position at an early date. The IRS may use their “suitability” criteria to weed out which taxpayers should be in the CAP program. Query whether a taxpayer will be suitable for CAP if they have identified an issue that is listed in one of the IRS’s “campaigns.” Only time will tell. We have heard that some CAP teams are overburdened and may have little training on new tax reform issues, requiring them to seek assistance from their CAP taxpayers. This might be a good opportunity to educate your CAP team on how your specific facts align with tax reform.

The US Tax Court is alive with action these days. First, two new judges will start soon after they are sworn in. Ms. Elizabeth Copeland and Mr. Patrick Urda were nominated on August 2017 for 15-year terms to fill openings created by retiring tax court judges. They were confirmed on August 28, 2018. Ms. Copeland will replace Judge James S. Halpern, who retired from the court on August 28, 2018, but continues to perform judicial duties as a Senior Judge on recall. Mr. Urda will replace Judge Diana L. Kroupa, who retired from the court in June 2014.

Second, the Tax Court announced that Senior Judge Carolyn P. Chiechi will retire, effective October 19, 2018. Judge Chiechi was appointed by President George H.W. Bush October 1, 1992, and took senior status in 2007. Any cases submitted or assigned to Judge Chiechi will be reassigned.

Finally, Senior Judge David Laro passed away on September 21, 2018. More information about Judge Laro can be found on the TaxProf Blog. Judge Laro started at the Tax Court in 1992 and was involved in several important cases. In addition, he is well known among practitioners for his use of concurrent expert testimony (also referred to as “hot tubbing”). We have previously written about Judge Laro’s use of hot tubbing here.

Prior coverage of Tax Court nominations can be found in our previously shared articles.

Over the years, the determination of whether an item constitutes debt or equity has generated significant litigation. Courts have developed multifactor tests and engaged in intensive fact finding to make this determination. Arguably, part of the reason for the numerous disputes was the lack of regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 385, which explicitly authorizes the US Department of Treasury (Treasury) to issue regulations to determine whether an interest in a corporation is to be treated for purposes of the Code as stock or indebtedness.

Proposed regulations under Code Section 385 were issued on April 14, 2016, but did not receive a warm welcome from the tax bar. This was particularly so with respect to strict contemporaneous written documentation requirements in the proposed regulations. After receiving substantial comments, Treasury released final regulations effective as of October 21, 2016, which retained the strict documentation requirements. However, President Trump subsequently issued Executive Order 13771 and Executive Order 13789 calling for a reduction in regulatory burdens and costs. In late 2017, Treasury indicated that it might revoke the documentation requirements under the Code Section 385 regulations. That day has now come.

Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have now issued proposed regulations removing the strict documentation requirements. Written or electronic comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by the IRS by late December.

Prior coverage of the Code Section 385 regulations can be found in our previously posted articles.

Practice Point: Although the strict requirements for documenting may be just a memory at this point, the need to document your lending transactions, especially intercompany transactions, is still present. At the very least, the old rules may have instilled more discipline into lending transactions, which may help support positions (e.g., Code Section 165 deductions) on your return.

On September 10, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International (LB&I) Division announced five new audit “campaigns.” These new campaigns follow: (1) the initial 13 campaigns announced on January 31, 2017; (2) followed by 11 campaigns announced on November 3, 2017; (3) five campaigns announced on March 13, 2018; six campaigns announced on May 21, 2018; and five campaigns announced on July 2, 2018.

The following five new LB&I campaigns are listed by title and description:

Section 199 – Claims Risk Review

Public Law 115-97 repealed the Domestic Production Activity Deduction (DPAD) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017. This campaign addresses all business entities that may file a claim for additional DPAD under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 199. The campaign objective is to ensure taxpayer compliance with the requirements of IRC Section 199 through a claim risk review assessment and issue-based examinations of claims with the greatest compliance risk.

Syndicated Conservation Easement Transactions

The IRS issued Notice 2017-10, designating specific syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions, requiring disclosure statements by both investors and material advisors.

This campaign is intended to encourage taxpayer compliance and ensure consistent treatment of similarly situated taxpayers by ensuring the easement contributions meet the legal requirements for a deduction, and the fair market values are accurate. The initial treatment stream is issue-based examinations. Other treatment streams will be considered as the campaign progresses.

Foreign Base Company Sales Income: Manufacturing Branch Rules

In general, foreign base company sales income (FBCSI) does not include income of a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) derived in connection with the sale of personal property manufactured by such corporation. However, if a CFC manufactures property through a branch outside its country of incorporation, the manufacturing branch may be treated as a separate, wholly owned subsidiary of the CFC for purposes of computing the CFC’s FBCSI, which may result in a subpart F inclusion to the U.S. shareholder(s) of the CFC.

The goal of this campaign is to identify and select for examination returns of U.S. shareholders of CFCs that may have underreported subpart F income based on certain interpretations of the manufacturing branch rules. The treatment stream for the campaign will be issue-based examinations.

1120F Interest Expense/Home Office Expense

This campaign addresses compliance on two of the largest deductions claimed on Form1120-F, U.S. Income Tax Return of a Foreign Corporation. Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 provides a formula to determine the interest expense of a foreign corporation that is allocable to their effectively connected income. The amount of interest expense deductions determined under Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 can be substantial. Treasury Regulation Section 1.861-8 governs the amount of home office expense deductions allocated to effectively connected income. Home office expense allocations have been observed to be material amounts compared to the total deductions taken by a foreign corporation.

The campaign compliance strategy includes the identification of aggressive positions in these areas, such as the use of apportionment factors that may not attribute the proper amount of expenses to the calculation of effectively connected income. The goal of this campaign is to increase taxpayer compliance with the interest expense rules of Treasury Regulation Section 1.882-5 and the home office expense allocation rules of Treasury Regulation Section 1.861-8. The treatment stream for this campaign is issue-based examinations.

Individuals Employed by Foreign Governments and International Organizations

In some cases, individuals working at foreign embassies, foreign consular offices, and various international organizations may not be reporting compensation or may be reporting it incorrectly. Foreign embassies, foreign consular offices and international organizations operating in the U.S. are not required to withhold federal income and social security taxes from their employees’ compensation nor are they required to file information reports with the IRS.

This lack of withholding and reporting results in unreported income, erroneous deductions and credits, and failure to pay income and Social Security taxes. Because this is a fluid population, there may be a lack of knowledge regarding tax obligations. This campaign will focus on outreach and education by partnering with the Department of State’s Office of Foreign Missions to inform employees of foreign embassies, consular offices and international organizations. The IRS will also address noncompliance in this area by issuing soft letters and conducting examinations.

Practice Point: As the IRS continues to move toward issued-based examinations, campaigns have become more important in identifying and auditing issues. Taxpayers should be aware of the campaigns and IRS guidance on these areas. As we have previously discussed, Practice Units are helpful tools in understanding the IRS audit process on a particular subject. With limited resources, the IRS must streamline their examination approach. The IRS has determined that there is significant audit risk for taxpayers who have an issue listed in one or more of the campaigns. If you have one of these issues, be proactive, contact your tax professional, and make sure you have an “audit ready” file in place for when the IRS opens an examination.

On September 12, 2018, the Senate confirmed, by a vote of 64-33, Charles P. Rettig to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue for the term expiring November 12, 2022. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Rettig and his background here.

The IRS Commissioner presides over the United States’ tax system and is responsible for establishing and interpreting tax administration policy and for developing strategic issues, goal and objectives for managing and operating the IRS. This includes responsibility for overall planning, directing, controlling and evaluating IRS policies, programs, and performance. The IRS Commissioner is also required by statute under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7803 to ensure that all IRS employees are familiar with and act in accord with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

The nomination of Michael J. Desmond to be Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains pending in the Senate. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Desmond and his background here.

The IRS Chief Counsel serves as the chief legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as all other legal matters. Attorneys in the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office serve as lawyers for the IRS. Their role is to provide the IRS and taxpayers with guidance on interpreting Federal tax laws correctly, represent the IRS in litigation, and provide all other legal support required to carry out the IRS mission

On August 27, 2018, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Mr. Travis A. Greaves to serve as a judge on the United States Tax Court (Tax Court). This marks the fifth new person that President Trump has nominated to the Tax Court since becoming president, joining Elizabeth Copeland, Patrick Urda, Courtney Dunbar Jones and Emin Toro. President Trump also nominated for reappointment current Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes. To date, two of the five nominees—Ms. Copeland and Mr. Urda—have been approved by the Senate Finance Committee and confirmed by the Senate. No action, however, has been taken on the other nominees.

Mr. Greaves currently serves as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Appellate and Review in the US Department of Justice Tax Division where he oversees all civil tax appellate litigation, including appeals from the US Tax Court. He has held that role since May 2017. From January 2017 to May 2017, Mr. Greaves was a partner at Greaves & Wu, LLP, and from September 2013 to January 2017, he was a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered, where his practice focused on civil and criminal tax controversy matters. From May 2011 to January 2013, he was an associate at Reed Smith LLP. Additionally, from September 2009 to May 2011, Mr. Greaves was an attorney advisor at the US Tax Court for Judge Diane Kroupa. From September 2010 to January 2015, he served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Mr. Greaves received his BA from the University of Tennessee, his JD, cum laude, from South Texas College of Law, and an LLM in Taxation, with distinction, from Georgetown University Law Center.

On August 27, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program will continue, with some modifications.  As we previously discussed, the IRS began an assessment of the CAP program in August 2016 to determine if any recalibration was needed.

CAP is an IRS program that seeks to identify and resolve tax issues through open, cooperative, and transparent interaction between the IRS and Large Business and International (LB&I) taxpayers prior to the filing of a return.  The goal of CAP is greater certainty of the treatment of tax positions sooner and with less administrative burden than conventional post-file audits.  The program began in 2005, and became permanent in 2011.  Several notable taxpayers publically disclose their involvement in the CAP program. Continue Reading IRS Announces That CAP Will Continue

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!