On March 28, 2017, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) issued its opinion in Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 10, upholding the validity of Treas. Reg. § 1.883-4. The taxpayer had challenged the validity of the regulation’s provision that stock in the form of “bearer shares” cannot be counted for purposes of determining the more-than-50-percent ownership test under Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 883(c)(1), but the Tax Court held that the regulation was valid under the two-step analysis of Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and applied it in ruling for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We previously discussed the Tax Court’s opinion here. The taxpayer appealed the Tax Court’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (DC Circuit).
Roger J. Jones represents clients in tax controversy and litigation matters at all levels of the federal court system, before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and before various state courts and tax agencies. He has represented taxpayers, including numerous Fortune 500 companies, in more than 80 docketed cases before the US Supreme Court, most of the US courts of appeals, federal district courts, the US Court of Federal Claims and the US Tax Court. Read Roger Jones' full bio.
As taxpayers are (or should be) aware, federal income tax returns must be timely filed to avoid potential penalties under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6651. Historically, this meant mailing a tax return and, for returns filed close to the due date, ensuring that the “timely mailed, timely filed rule” applies (see here for our recent post on the “mailbox rule”). In recent years, there has been a push to electronically file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, for one reason or another, the potential exists that an e-filed return may be rejected. Continue Reading E-Filing: Comments Provided to IRS Regarding Transmission Failures
Coinbase Inc., a virtual currency exchange platform, was recently ordered by the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to provide the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) with 2013-2015 transaction data for thousands of Coinbase accounts. See United States v. Coinbase Inc., et al., No. 17-CV-01431-JSC, 2017 WL 5890052, (N.D. Cal. Nov. 28, 2017). The IRS, citing references to 5.9 million customers and more than $6 billion of bitcoin transactions on Coinbase’s website, identified a potential reporting gap, since only 800-900 taxpayers have identified bitcoin transactions on their tax returns in the past few years. (Coinbase’s website currently references 10 million customers and $50 billion in transactions.) Although the IRS narrowed the scope of the third-party record keeper summons it had originally issued to Coinbase under Code Sections 7602, 7603 and 7609 (aka, a “John Doe Summons”), the parties could not reach agreement on what was to be produced, and the government initiated enforcement proceedings earlier this year. Continue Reading Governments are Pulling Back the Crypto-Currency Curtain
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
On October 30, 2017, Paul Manafort Jr. was indicted for concealing his interests in several foreign bank accounts, as well as tax evasion and a host of other criminal charges. The indictment reminds us how important it is to follow the strict guidelines of the reporting regime that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the US Department of the Treasury have established to disclose foreign bank accounts.
Pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act, a US citizen or resident (a US Person) is required to disclose certain foreign bank and financial accounts which he or she has “a financial interest in or signature authority over” annually. This obligation can be triggered by direct or indirect interests; a US Person is treated as having a financial interest in a foreign account through indirect ownership of more than 50 percent of the voting power or equity of a foreign entity, like a corporation or partnership. The US Person is required to annually disclose the interest on FinCEN 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, which is commonly referred to as the FBAR. The disclosure requirement is triggered when the aggregate value of the foreign account exceeds $10,000. The form is filed with your federal income tax return.
The civil penalties for failing to timely disclose an interest in a foreign account can be severe, and in the case of willful violations, can reach up to 50 percent of the highest aggregate annual balance of the unreported foreign financial account each year. The statute of limitations for FBAR violations is six years, and the willful penalty may be assessed for more than one year, creating extreme financial consequences for FBAR reporting failures.
On September 14, 2017, Cross Refined Coal LLC (Partnership) (and USA Refined Coal LLC as the Tax Matters Partner) filed a Petition in the US Tax Court seeking a redetermination of partnership adjustments determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). According to the Petition, during audit of the 2011 and 2012 tax years, the IRS reduced the Partnership’s and certain partners’ Internal Revenue Code Section 45(e)(8) refined coal production tax credits by several million dollars and disallowed several million dollars more of claimed losses. The Notice of Deficiency, a copy of which is attached to the Petition, provides the following reasons for the adjustments:
- Neither the Partnership nor the partners have established the existence of the partnership as a matter of fact;
- The formation of the Partnership was not, in substance, a partnership for federal income tax purposes because it was not formed to carry on a business or for the sharing of profits and losses from the production or sale of refined coal by its purported members/partners, but rather was created to facilitate the prohibited transaction of monetizing refined coal tax credits;
- The refined coal tax credits are disallowed because the transaction was entered into solely to purchase refined coal tax credits and other tax benefits; and
- Ordinary losses were disallowed because it has not been established that they were ordinary and necessary or credible expenses in connection with a trade or business or other activity engaged in for profit.
As we have previously reported, the IRS has issued negative guidance concerning refined coal transactions and has denied the tax benefits associated with some of those transactions.
We will be watching this case closely and will report back on any developments.
In a highly-anticipated Technical Advice Memorandum (TAM) dated March 23, 2017 and released on July 21, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that two taxpayers who had invested in a Limited Liability Company that owned and operated a refined coal facility (the LLC) were not entitled to refined coal production credits they had claimed because their investment in the LLC was structured “solely to facilitate the prohibited purchase of refined coal tax credits.” This analysis marks a departure from the position staked out by the IRS in a number of recent refined coal credit cases, which focused on whether taxpayers claiming refined coal credits were partners in a partnership that owned and operated a refined coal facility.
On April 4, 2017, QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) does not apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notices of Deficiency. We previously wrote about the case (QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 15-2192) here, here, here and here. To refresh, the taxpayer had argued in the US Tax Court that the Notice of Deficiency issued by the IRS, which contained a one-sentence reason for the deficiency determination, violated the APA because it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The APA provides a general rule that a reviewing court that is subject to the APA must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action unwarranted by the facts to the extent the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court. The Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA and holding that the Notice of Deficiency adequately notified the taxpayer that a deficiency had been determined under relevant case law. The taxpayer appealed to the 4th Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the Tax Court’s decision. Continue Reading APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Requests Supreme Court Review
From 2003 to 2007, Sovereign Bancorp, Inc. (Sovereign) – now known as Santander Holdings USA, Inc. (Santander) – engaged in a so-called STARS transaction with Barclays Bank. According to Santander, “[b]y engaging in the STARS transaction, Sovereign transferred some of its income tax liability from the United States to the United Kingdom,” it “secured a loan of $1.15 billion,” and it received a payment “which effectively reduced its lending costs.” On its Federal corporate income tax returns for those years, Sovereign claimed foreign tax credits (FTCs) for UK taxes it paid in connection with the STARS transaction. It also claimed deductions for the interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan.
In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a Notice of Deficiency disallowing Sovereign’s FTCs and its deductions for interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan. The IRS did not challenge Sovereign’s compliance with the statutory and regulatory rules governing FTCs, instead arguing that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance.” Sovereign paid the deficiency and sued for a refund in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. When the district court held for Sovereign on both issues, the IRS appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but only with respect to the FTC issue. The crux of the issue was how to treat the UK taxes and the related FTCs for purposes of the “economic substance” analysis. Relying on Salem Financial, Inc. v. U.S., 786 F.3d 932 (Fed. Cir. 2015), and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. v. Comm’r, 801 F.3d 104 (2d Cir. 2015), the IRS argued that the UK taxes should be treated as an expense but that the related FTCs should be ignored in determining pre-tax profit. Citing IES Indus., Inc. v. U.S., 253 F.3d 350 (8th Cir. 2001), and Compaq Computer Corp. v. Comm’r, 277 F.3d 778 (5th Cir. 2001), Sovereign argued that either both should be included in the profit analysis or both should be ignored. The First Circuit held that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance,” and upheld the disallowance of the FTCs at issue. In doing so, it treated the UK taxes as expenses that reduced pre-tax profit and ignored the related FTCs, following the Federal and Second Circuit’s approach. Santander Holdings USA, Inc. v. U.S., 844 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 2016).
On March 28, 2017, the US Tax Court issued its opinion in Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 10, upholding the validity of regulations issued under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 883.
Code Section 887(a) imposes a four percent tax on a foreign corporation’s US-source gross transportation income for each year. Code Section 883(c)(1) exempts from US tax a foreign corporation’s gross income from the international operation of ships if the foreign country in which the corporation is organized grants an equivalent exemption to corporations organized in the United States. Code Section 883(c)(1) provides that this exemption does not apply if 50 percent or more of the value of a foreign corporation’s stock is owned, directly or indirectly, by individuals who are not residents of a foreign country that grants an equivalent exemption to US corporations. Regulations issued under Section 883 provide that ownership through shares of a foreign corporation issued in bearer form is disregarded in determining whether the corporation passes the 50 percent or more test (Ownership Regulations).
The taxpayer in Good Fortune Shipping challenged the validity of the Ownership Regulations. It based its challenge on its claim that the Ownership Regulations do not satisfy the two prongs of the test under Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). This argument, in turn, was based primarily—if not exclusively—on the taxpayer’s assertion that US Congress had left no “gap” in Code Section 883 for US Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to fill; this is because the operative term “own” that appears in the statute has a common, ordinary meaning such that further interpretation by the IRS is not necessary. Thus, the taxpayer argued, the Ownership Regulations fail step one of the Chevron analysis. Continue Reading Tax Court Holds Section 883 Regulations Valid under Chevron Test