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.

In January 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) Division released its announcement related to the identification and selection of its campaigns. The primary purpose of the campaigns was to end the resource intensive continuous audit program (where the LB&I audits a large taxpayer year after year for decades) and a move to an issue focused coordinated approach. LB&I originally identified 13 campaign issues and in November 2017, identified 11 additional campaigns and on March 13, 2018, identified 5 additional campaigns. We have extensively discussed LB&I’s campaign examination process including posts on Understanding LB&I “Campaigns”, Run for Cover – IRS Unveils Initial “Campaigns” for Audit, IRS Continues to Barrage Taxpayers with New Campaigns.

At the March 9 meeting of the Federal Bar Association Section on Taxation, an LB&I executive indicated that the rollout of the campaigns may have hit a snag. John Hinding, Director of Cross Border Activities at LB&I, reported that “the campaign work is still a minority of our work,” and its implementation has been slow going. According to Hinding, “A lot of the issue spotting that we’d like to do is driven by data analysis, and changes to systems to allow that is a lengthy process to get in place.” Continue Reading Are LB&I’s Campaigns Stuck in the Trenches?

The main attraction in the US Tax Court (Tax Court) is just a few weeks away. On March 5, 2018, The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) square-off for a much anticipated six-week trial before Judge Lauber. The parties recently filed their Pretrial Memoranda in the case, although the IRS’s memorandum was filed under seal. TCCC’s Pretrial Memorandum gives us deep insight into the issues and how the trial will be conducted. The primary issue in the $3 billion transfer pricing case is the proper amount of the arm’s length royalties payable by six foreign licensees to TCCC for the licenses of TCCC’s trademarks and certain other intangible property for exploitation in international markets. In its Pretrial Memorandum, TCCC contends that the IRS’s application of an approximately 45 percent royalty rate using a bottler-based Comparable Profit Margin (CPM) that allocates to TCCC more than 100 percent of the aggregate operating (after accounting for the amounts paid pursuant to the Royalty Closing Agreement) profits of the six foreign licensees is arbitrary and capricious. Continue Reading Let’s Get Ready to Rumble – Coca Cola Concentrates on Trial Preparation

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. Continue Reading Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

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