Photo of Robin L. Greenhouse

Robin L. Greenhouse represents businesses and individuals in resolving complex, large-dollar federal tax controversies. Robin is adept at using dispute resolution techniques, including fast track mediation, pre-filing agreements, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) appeals and post-appeals mediation, and has been the lead lawyer in significant litigation. Over her 30-year career as a government and private practice tax litigator, she has argued more than 100 cases in federal courts at every level. Read Robin Greenhouse's full bio.

On November 8, 2017, Facebook, Inc. and Subsidiaries (Facebook) filed a complaint in the District Court for the Northern District of California asserting that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had improperly denied Facebook access to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals. Facebook’s complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that the IRS unlawfully issued Revenue Procedure 2016-22, 2016-15 I.R.B. 1, and unlawfully denied Facebook its statutory right to access an independent administrative forum. Facebook also requests injunctive relief from the IRS’s unlawful position, or action in the nature of mandamus to compel the IRS to provide Facebook access to an independent administrative forum. Continue Reading Facebook Goes to District Court to Enforce Access to IRS Appeals

In Estate of Levine v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) rejected an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attempt to expand upon the privilege waiver principles set forth in AD Inv. 2000 Fund LLC v. Commissioner. As background, the Tax Court held in AD Investments that asserting a good-faith and reasonable-cause defense to penalties places a taxpayer’s state of mind at issue and can waive attorney-client privilege. We have previously covered how some courts have narrowly applied AD Investments.

In Estate of Levine, the IRS served a subpoena seeking all documents that an estate’s return preparer and his law firm had in their files for a more-than-ten-year period, beginning several years before the estate return was filed and ending more than four years after a notice of deficiency (i.e., which led to the Tax Court case) was issued. The law firm prepared the estate plan and the estate tax return in issue. The law firm represented the estate during the audit, and after the notice of deficiency was issued, the law firm was engaged to represent the estate in “pending litigation with the IRS.”   Continue Reading Tax Court Says IRS’s “Drift-Net” Argument to Expand Privilege Waiver Must Be Anchored in Principles

The October 2017 issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments has been published. This issue includes five articles that provide insight into US federal and international tax developments and trends across a range of industries, as well as strategies for navigating these complex issues.

Republican Leaders Release Tax Reform Framework
By David G. Noren Alexander Lee

M&A Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Alexander Lee, Alejandro Ruiz and Timothy S. Shuman

State and Local Tax Aspects of Republican Tax Reform Framework
By Peter L. Faber

Grecian Magnesite Mining v. Commissioner: Foreign Investor Not Subject to US Tax on Sale of Partnership Interest
Kristen E. Hazel, Sandra P. McGill and Susan O’Banion

The IRS Attacks Taxpayers’ Section 199 (Computer Software) Deductions
Kevin Spencer, Robin L. Greenhouse and Jean A. Pawlow


Read the full issue of Focus on Tax Strategies & Developments

On October 20, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published Office of Chief Counsel Internal Revenue Service Memorandum 20174201F (FSA), legal advice written by a field attorney in the Office of Chief Counsel that was reviewed by an associate office, which deals with a merchant bank’s claim that its revenue from merchant discount fees qualifies as Domestic Product Gross Receipts (DPGR) under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 199. According to the FSA, on its amended return the taxpayer claimed a Code Section 199 deduction with respect to its merchant discount fees based on the third-party comparable exception for online software found in Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(ii)(B). The taxpayer argued that the merchant discount fees were derived from the use of computer software, the software “Platform.” The taxpayer took solace in the fact that third parties derived gross receipts from the disposition of substantially identical software. Accordingly, the taxpayer argued that the merchant discount fees should be treated as DPGR pursuant to the third party comparable exception.

The IRS, however, had a very different perspective. Its analysis began with the threshold question of whether there was a “disposition” of the Platform. The IRS concluded that the taxpayer did not dispose of the Platform because the taxpayer did not lease, rent, license, sell, exchange or otherwise dispose of the Platform as required by Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(i). Moreover, the IRS concluded that the merchant discount fees represented remuneration for “online services” (e.g., online banking services) per Treasury Regulation §1.199-3(i)(6)(i). Because the taxpayer did not establish that there was a disposition of the Platform, the third party comparability exception in Treasury Regulation § 1.199-3(i)(6)(ii)(B) is inapplicable—the merchant discount fees were derived “from the provision of merchant acquiring services.”

Practice Point: We have reported extensively on the IRS’s attacks on taxpayer’s ability to claim the IRC section 199 deduction for computer software and qualified film production. The issue is also on the IRS’s annual Guidance Plan as an area in which the IRS expects to issue regulations within the next year. The FSA is further proof that taxpayers and the IRS do not see eye-to-eye on these issues. Indeed, there are presently several docketed cases seeking judicial determinations regarding the applicability of the third-party comparable exception. Because we have several clients who have this same issue, we are watching it closely, and will report back with any developments.

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

In Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 US 837 (1984), the Supreme Court of the United States established a framework for assessing an agency’s interpretation of statutory provisions. First, a reviewing court must ask whether Congress “delegated authority to the agency generally to make rules carrying the force of law,” and whether the agency’s interpretation was promulgated under that authority. United States v. Mead Corporation, 533 US 218, 226–27 (2001). Delegation may be shown in a variety of ways, including “an agency’s power to engage in adjudication or notice-and-comment rulemaking, or by some other indication of a comparable congressional intent.” Id. at 227. If an agency has been delegated the requisite authority, the analysis is segmented into two steps.

Under step one, the reviewing court asks whether Congress has clearly spoken on the precise question at issue. See Chevron, 467 US at 842. If so, both the court and agency must follow the “unambiguously expressed intent of Congress,” and the inquiry ends. Id. at 842–43.

If the statute under review is ambiguous or silent, the reviewing court moves to step two: whether the agency’s interpretation is based on “a permissible construction of the statute.” Id. at 842. This inquiry asks whether the interpretation is reasonable and not “arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.” Chevron, 467 US at 843; see also Judulang v. Holder, 565 US 42, 53 n.7 (2011); Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 579 US ____, 136 S. Ct. 2117, 2125 (2016). If the agency’s interpretation passes muster, then the agency’s interpretation is given Chevron deference, and afforded the force of law. The Chevron two-part analysis applies to tax regulations issued by the United States Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education & Research v. United States, 562 US 44, 55 (2011). Continue Reading Senate Attempts to Repeal Chevron Deference

On July 26, 2017, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) handed a complete victory to Eaton Corporation (Eaton) relating to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) cancellation of two Advance Pricing Agreements (APA). Eaton Corporation v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2017-147. The Tax Court held that the IRS had abused its discretion in cancelling the two successive unilateral APAs entered into by Eaton and its subsidiaries with respect to the manufacturing of circuit breaker products in Puerto Rico, and it found no transfer of any intangibles subject to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 367(d). In 2011, the IRS cancelled Eaton’s first APA effective January 1, 2005, and the renewal APA effective January 1, 2006, on the ground that Eaton had made numerous material misrepresentations during the negotiations of the APAs and during the implementation of the APAs. As a result of the APA cancellations, the IRS issued notice of deficiencies for 2005 and 2006 determining that a transfer pricing adjustment under Code Section 482 was necessary to reflect the arm’s-length result for the related party transactions. Eaton disputed the deficiency determinations, contending that the IRS abused its discretion in cancelling the two APAs.

The Tax Court considered whether Eaton made misrepresentations during the negotiations or the implementation. With respect to the APA negotiations, the court established the standard for misrepresentation as “false or misleading, usually with an intent to deceive, and relate to the terms of the APA.” Based on the evidence of the negotiations presented at trial, the court concluded that there were no grounds for cancellation of the APAs; “Eaton’s evidence that it answered all questions asked and turned over all requested material is uncontradicted.” Additionally, the court rejected the IRS’s contention that more information was needed; “The negotiation process for these APAs was long and thorough.” Thus, the IRS “had enough material to decide not to agree to the APAs or to reject petitioner’s proposed TPM and suggest another APA. Cancelling the APAs on the grounds related to the APA negotiations was arbitrary.” Continue Reading Tax Court Hands Eaton a Complete Victory on the Cancellation of its Advance Pricing Agreements

Not only should companies worry about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) auditing their returns, but they also have to be aware of a potential assault from within. Indeed, current and former employees have an incentive to air all of your tax issues with the hope of being rewarded for the information.

Section 7623(b) was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in 2005, and pays potentially large monetary rewards for so-called tax whistleblowers. To qualify for remuneration, a whistleblower must meet several conditions to qualify for the Section 7623(b) award program: (1) submit the confidential information under penalties of perjury to the IRS’s Whistleblower Office; (2) the information must relate to a tax issue for which the taxpayer (if the IRS found out) would be liable for tax, penalties and/or interest of more than $2 million; and (3) involve a taxpayer whose gross income exceeds $200,000 the tax year at issue. If the information substantially contributes to an administrative or judicial action that results in the collection, the IRS will pay an award of at least 15 percent, but not more than 30 percent of the collected proceeds resulting from the administrative or judicial action (including related actions).

Section 7623(b) has spawned a collection of law firms around the country dedicated to signing up scores of whistleblowers who are hoping to cash in big! Our clients routinely ask us how to best protect themselves. We typically tell our clients that the best defense is a good offense. Consider the following:

  1. Use of non-disclosure agreements with employees who work on sensitive projects like mergers and acquisitions;
  2. Limit employee access to the companies tax accrual workpapers and other documents that indicate the tax savings involved in a transaction or a position claimed on a return;
  3. Review your procedures to ensure that privilege and confidentiality is maintained (this would include training employees and managers);
  4. Review company’s internal procedures for employee complaints to ensure that you have robust procedures in place that offer an independent review and allow for anonymous submissions; and
  5. Be vigilant, and look for signs that an employee is “disgruntled.”

Practice Point: If you are under examination by the IRS, you may be able to discern a whistleblower issue based on the questions being asked by the IRS and whether those questions could only be formed based on information provided by a whistleblower. If this situation exists, it is important to determine whether you should raise the issue with the IRS, particularly if you believe that any confidential and/or privileged information has been provided to the IRS without your consent. To make sure you are protected and adequately prepared, consult with your tax controversy lawyer.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.

Continue Reading John Doe Intervenes in Virtual Currency Summons Enforcement Case

In October 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revised the Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) 8.6.1.4.4 to provide IRS Appeals Division (Appeals) with discretion to invite representatives from the IRS Examination Division (Exam) and IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) to the Appeals conference. Many tax practitioners opposed this change, believing that it undermines the independence of Appeals and may lead to a breakdown in the settlement process.

In May 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation submitted comments recommending the reinstatement of the long-standing Manual provision regarding the limited circumstances for attendance by representatives from Exam and Counsel at settlement conferences. Additionally, the Tax Section’s comments were critical of the practice whereby some Appeals Team Case Leaders (ATCLs) in traditional Appeals cases are “strongly encouraging” IRS Exam and the taxpayer to conduct settlement negotiations similar to Rapid Appeals or Fast Track Settlement, such that many taxpayers do not feel they can decline such overtures. The Tax Section comments suggested that the use of Rapid Appeals Process and Fast Track Settlement should be a voluntary decision of both the taxpayer and IRS Exam and the use of these processes should be the exception rather than the rule. Continue Reading Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism