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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.

Coca-Cola is seeking a re-determination in Tax Court of certain Internal Revenue Service (IRS) transfer-pricing adjustments relating to its 2007–2009 tax years. In the case, the IRS moved for partial summary judgment seeking a ruling that a 1996 Internal Revenue Code Section 7121 “closing agreement” executed by the parties is not relevant to the case before the court.

Closing Agreement Background

Following an audit of the taxpayer’s transfer pricing of its tax years 1987–1989, the parties executed a closing agreement for Coca-Cola’s 1987–1995 tax years. In the closing agreement, the parties agreed to a transfer pricing methodology, in which the IRS agreed that it would not impose penalties on Coca-Cola for post-1995 tax years if Coca-Cola followed the methodology agreed upon. Despite following the agreed-to methodology for its post-1995 tax years, the IRS determined income tax deficiencies for Coca-Cola’s 2007–2009 tax years, arguing that pricing was not arm’s-length. Continue Reading Tax Court: Prior Closing Agreement May Have Relevance in Coca-Cola’s Transfer Pricing Case

On October 4, 2017, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) announced that it would withdraw more than 200 regulations, including the proposed regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 2704. The announcement is part of President Trump’s initiative to lessen the regulatory burden on taxpayers due to excessive regulations. In a press statement, Treasury explained that the Code Section 2704 proposed regulations were being withdrawn because they:

…would have hurt family-owned and operated businesses by limiting valuation discounts. The regulations would have made it difficult and costly for a family to transfer their businesses to the next generation. Commenters warned that the valuation requirements of the proposed regulations were unclear and could not be meaningfully applied.

Numerous practitioners were critical of the proposed regulations because they disregarded restrictions for valuation purposes on the ability to liquidate family-controlled entities. Since the release of the proposed regulations in the summer of 2016, estate tax planning and valuation professionals have noted that the proposed regulations were vague, difficult to apply and resulted in inaccurately high estate valuations. Indeed, if finalized, the proposed regulations would have disallowed discounts for lack of control and marketability commonly used by families in wealth transfer planning.

Practice Point: With the withdraw of the proposed Code Section 2704 regulations, the use of liquidation restrictions to reduce the valuation of a closely-held family business continues to be an effective wealth transfer planning tool. For further context, we covered the initial rollout of the 2016 regulations proposed by Treasury and the withdrawal of the same.

On September 21, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released Revenue Procedure 2017-52 which introduces an 18 month pilot program expanding the scope of the IRS’s ruling practice with respect to distributions under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 355. Prior to Revenue Procedure 2017-52, the IRS had determined that it would not issue letter rulings on whether a distribution qualified for tax-free treatment under Code Section 355. See Revenue Procedure 2013-32. Instead, the IRS had limited its rulings under Code Section 355 to merely addressing “significant issues.” Id. Now, with the introduction of Revenue Procedure 2017-52, a taxpayer may obtain a “transactional ruling” that specifically addresses the general federal income tax consequences of a transaction intended to qualify as tax-free under Section 355.

Practice Point: A letter ruling is an excellent way for taxpayers to gain certainty with respect to a Section 355 transaction and to head off potential controversy with the IRS.

On September 29, 2017, Judge Mark Holmes of the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) issued an order in the estate tax valuation case brought by the Estate of Michael Jackson (the Estate). In the case, the Estate moved to strike the testimony of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) valuation expert witness on the grounds that he lied. The IRS acknowledged that its expert “did not tell the truth when he testified that he did not work on or write a valuation report for the IRS Examination Division in the third-party taxpayer audit.” Apparently, the expert had worked on the valuation of Whitney Houston’s Estate on behalf of the IRS, and failed to list the engagement in his report. He also omitted one publication that he wrote and one case in which he provided expert-witness testimony at a deposition.

The question for the Court was the proper remedy for the omissions, with sanctions ranging from striking all of the expert’s testimony (and thereby depriving the IRS of the only evidence in its favor on the key issues in the case) to discounting the expert’s testimony and weight to be given to his opinions. The Court decided to take the latter route.

The Court explained that striking expert testimony pursuant to Tax Court Practice and Procedure Rule 143(g) (governing expert witness reports) occurs when a putative expert omits information from the report without good cause for the omission. In this case, the Court explained that the IRS’s expert failed to disclose his valuation work on his long list of expert-testimony engagements attached to his resume, but ruled that the omission was merely a “clerical error.” However, the expert did provide false testimony at trial when he testified he did not work on or write a valuation report in the matter involving Whitney Houston’s Estate. The Court determined that there had to be some negative consequences for the expert’s false testimony, and settled on discounting his credibility and opinions.

Practice Point: The order in Estate of Michael Jackson, as well as the Tax Court’s prior opinion in Tucker v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2017-183, highlight a very important aspect of preparing an expert report for submission in Tax Court: it must be complete and accurate at the time of its submission. It is good practice to run a litigation database search (e.g., Lexis or Westlaw) on your expert’s testimony experience as a check on what the expert has listed in his report.

Every taxpayer should be aware of the real risk that its own employees could disclose the taxpayer’s confidential and privileged information to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for a whistleblower fee. Pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7623, the IRS is permitted to pay a “whistleblower” who discloses information about a taxpayer who has violated the tax laws. The amount of the payment ranges from 15 to 30 percent of the recovery. We have previously reported about issues pertaining to whistleblowers.

While the flow of information is usually from the whistleblower to the IRS, there is also a risk that the IRS can disclose the taxpayer’s return information to the whistleblower. Code Section 6103(a) deems tax returns and return information as confidential and prohibits the disclosure absent an express statutory exception. Return information is broadly defined and includes the information received by the IRS, from any source, during the course of audit. There are several exceptions to this general rule. For example, Code Section 6103(n) authorizes that tax returns and return information may be shared with the IRS pursuant to a “tax administration contract.” The relevant regulations explain when the IRS may disclose information to a whistleblower and its representative.

A recent memo from the IRS’s Whistleblower Office provides the reasoning behind the IRS decision to enter into a whistleblower contract in order to share the taxpayer’s feeling empowered to share otherwise confidential protected information with whistleblowers. Continue Reading IRS Guidance Says IRS Can Disclose Confidential Taxpayer Information to Whistleblower with Impunity

On Friday, September 15, the Tax Court announced that it will be holding its 2018 Judicial Conference in Chicago, Illinois, on the campus of Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law on March 26-28, 2018. The press release provides:

The 2018 Tax Court Judicial Conference will be held in Chicago, Illinois, on the campus of Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law on Monday evening, March 26, 2018, Tuesday, March 27, 2018 (entire day), and Wednesday, March 28, 2018 (half day). The purpose of the judicial conference is to provide attendees with the opportunity to (1) review and discuss issues of material interest regarding the tax litigation process, (2) discuss ways in which the tax litigation process in the Court may be improved, and (3) network with fellow Tax Court practitioners. In addition to the Judges of the United States Tax Court, the Court intends to invite representatives from the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Justice, private practice, low-income taxpayer clinics, academia, Capitol Hill, and other courts. A variety of plenary and breakout sessions will address issues relevant to practice before the Court.

Applications to attend the 2018 Tax Court Judicial Conference will be accepted from September 15, 2017, through November 15, 2017. An application form is available on the Court’s website at http://www.ustaxcourt.gov/judicial_conference_application.pdf. Please note that space is limited, and the Court may not be able to extend an invitation to all those who apply.

We have attended the Tax Court Judicial Conference on several occasions and have spoken on panels at the conference. The material presented is extremely informative and provides a unique opportunity to personally interact with judges and fellow Tax Court practitioners. Applications are being accepted from now through November 15, 2017, either by email or regular mail. If you plan to attend, please send us an email so we can say hello!

On May 1, 2017, the IRS issued FAQs concerning its recent practice of inviting IRS Examination Agents (Exam) into the Appeals discussion. The FAQs make clear that Exam will now be routinely invited to Appeals conferences. The release premises this procedural shift on perceived efficiencies of having Exam stay during the taxpayer’s rebuttal presentation. The FAQs explain, however, that settlement discussions with the taxpayer will be held without Exam present. This is an important clarification, and the FAQs explain that this new process is different from Rapid Appeals.

Practice Point: It is clear that diminishing resources have put substantial pressure on the Appeals process. In several recent Appeals sessions, Exam has been invited to stay for our clients’ rebuttal to Exam’s presentation. After the taxpayers’ presentation, Appeal tries to elicit a back-and-forth communication between the taxpayer and Exam, putatively to ensure that all of the relevant facts are developed and agreed upon. Exam typically has counsel at these Opening Conferences, which tends to make Exam more of an advocate as opposed to the traditional developer of the facts and of the IRS’s audit position. This two-way communication seems to be an attempt to morph the Appeals session into some type of mini-mediation akin to a FastTrack session. Taxpayers therefore must take care to plan their settlement strategy, as the line between development of the facts and discussion of the hazards can be blurry. While in some cases it might be useful to negotiate in the presence of the Exam team, we have found that more progress typically is made when Exam leaves the room.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and taxpayers frequently spar over the meaning and interpretation of tax statutes (and regulations). In some situations, one side will argue that the statutory text is clear while the other argues that it is not and that other evidence of Congress’ intent must be examined. Courts are often tasked with determining which side’s interpretation is correct, which is not always an easy task. This can be particularly difficult where the plain language of the statute dictates a result that may seem unfair or at odds with a court’s views as the proper result.

The Tax Court’s (Tax Court) recent opinion in Borenstein v. Commissioner, 149 TC No. 10 (August 30, 2017), discussed the standards to be applied in interpreting a statute and reinforces that the plain meaning of the language used by Congress should be followed absent an interpretation that would produce an absurd result.

In Borenstein, the taxpayer made tax payments for 2012 totaling $112,000, which were deemed made on April 15, 2013. However, she failed to file a timely return for that year and the IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Before filing a petition with the Tax Court, the taxpayer submitted return reporting a tax lability of $79,559. The parties agreed that this liability amount was correct and that the taxpayer had an overpayment of $32,441 due to the prior payments. However, the IRS argued that the taxpayer was not entitled to a credit or refund of the overpayment because, under the plain language of Internal Revenue Code Sections 6511(a) and (b)(2)(B), the tax payments were made outside the applicable “lookback” period keyed to the date the notice of deficiency was mailed. Continue Reading Tax Court Reinforces Plain Meaning Approach in Interpreting Tax Statutes