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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 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Public Law 115-97 repealed the Domestic Production Activity Deduction (DPAD) for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017.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!

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.

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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.