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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.

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.

Continue Reading Manafort Indictment Is a Good Reminder of FBAR Disclosure Requirements

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.

Continue Reading IRS Rules (Again) That Taxpayers Are Not Entitled to Claimed Refined Coal Credits

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).

Continue Reading Santander Holdings USA Asks the Supreme Court to Address Economic Substance Doctrine

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

Two petitions for certiorari pending before the Supreme Court of the United States ask the Court to resolve the question of whether a tax return filed after an assessment by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a “return” for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code (BC). The answer to this question will determine whether a bankrupt taxpayer’s tax debts can be discharged or are permanently barred from discharge. According to these petitions, the courts of appeal are divided as to the answer.

BC § 523(a) generally allows a debtor to discharge unsecured debt, except for, inter alia, tax debts of debtors who: (1) failed to file tax returns; (2) filed fraudulent tax returns; or (3) filed late tax returns, where a bankruptcy petition is filed within two years of the date the late return was filed. See BC § 523(a)(1)(B)(i), (B)(ii), (C).

Continue Reading IRS Opposes Granting of Certiorari in Cases Addressing Definition of Return

On January 31, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced 13 Large Business & International (LB&I) “campaigns.”  One campaign targets deductions claimed by multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and TV broadcasters under section 199 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).  According to the IRS’s campaign announcement, these taxpayers make several erroneous claims, including that (1) groups of channels or programs constitute “qualified films” eligible for the section 199 domestic production activities deduction, and (2) MVPDs and TV broadcasters are producers of a qualified film when they distribute channels and subscription packages that include third-party content.

IRC section 199(a) provides for a deduction equal to 9 percent of the lesser of a taxpayer’s “qualified production activities income” (QPAI) for a taxable year and its taxable income for that year.  A taxpayer’s QPAI is the excess of its “domestic production gross receipts” (DPGR) over the sum of the cost of goods sold and other expenses, losses or deductions allocable to such receipts.  IRC section 199(c)(1).  DPGR includes gross receipts of the taxpayer which are derived from any lease, rental, license, sale, exchange, or other disposition of “any qualified film produced by the taxpayer.”  IRC section 199(c)(4)(A)(i)(II).  A “qualified film” is “any property described in section 168(f)(3) if not less than 50 percent of the total compensation relating to the production of such property is compensation for services performed in the United States by actors, production personnel, directors and producers.”  IRC section 199(c)(6).  However, “qualified film” does not include property with respect to which records are required to be maintained under 18 U.S.C. § 2257 (i.e., sexually explicit materials).  Id.  Under regulations issued in 2006, “qualified film” also includes “live or delayed television programming.”  Treas. Reg. § 1.199-3(k)(1); see also Notice 2005-14, 2005-1 C.B. 498, §§ 3.04(9)(a), 4.04(9)(a). “Qualified film” includes “any copyrights, trademarks, or other intangibles with respect to such film.”  IRC section 199(c)(6).  The “methods and means of distributing a qualified film” have no effect on the availability of the section 199 deduction.  Id.  IRC section 168(f)(3), entitled “Films and Video Tape,” provides an exclusion from accelerated depreciation for “[a]ny motion picture film or video tape.”

Though the January 31 announcement did not explain the IRS’s position on these issues in detail, the IRS rejected both claims in two Technical Advice Memoranda (TAMs) issued in late 2016.  The IRS determined in TAM 201646004 (Nov.10, 2016) and TAM 201647007 (Nov.18, 2016) (the 2016 TAMs) that a subscription package of multiple channels of video programming transmitted by an MVPD to its customers via signal is not a “qualified film” as defined in IRC section 199(c)(6) and Treas. Reg. § 1.199-3(k)(1).  It also determined that an MVPD’s gross receipts from its subscription package are not from the disposition of a qualified film produced by the MVPD and are therefore not DPRG included in calculating a section 199 deduction.  The MVPD would only have DPRG from the subscription package to the extent its gross receipts are derived from an individual film or episode within the subscription package that is a qualified film produced by the MVPD.

Continue Reading IRS Campaign Focuses on Definition of “Qualified Film” Under Section 199

Termination fee clauses are commonly incorporated in merger agreements to compensate a party for time and expenses incurred in the event that the deal is not consummated. Where the merger is terminated by one party, the clause generally requires either the target to pay the acquirer a termination fee (if the target terminates), or the acquirer to pay the target a reverse termination fee (if the acquirer terminates). Typically, termination fees range from 1–3 percent of the transaction value, which may result in a cash payment in the billions of dollars depending on the size of the transaction. The tax treatment of termination fees, both in terms of deductibility or income inclusion and the character of the fee as either ordinary or capital, has been the subject of past litigation, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulatory action, and informal IRS advice.

Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 165 allows a deduction for any loss sustained during the taxable year and not compensated for by insurance or otherwise. Section 162 provides deductions for ordinary and necessary business expenses paid or incurred during the taxable year. In contrast, Code Section 263 provides generally that a deduction is not allowed for new buildings or for permanent improvements or betterments made to increase the value of any property of estate. Prior to the promulgation of the INDOPCO regulations, litigation ensued over whether the payor of a termination fee could deduct such payment under Code Sections 162 or 165 or had to capitalize the payment under Code Section 263. In 2003, the IRS promulgated the INDOPCO regulations and specifically addressed the situations under which termination fees could be deducted immediately. For more background on this subject, see here.

The above-referenced litigation and the INDOPCO regulations focused on the deductible versus capital issue and did not address the character a termination fee (either paid or received). However, informal IRS guidance treated termination fees as liquidated damages, and thus ordinary income, arguably because the taxpayer had not sold, exchanged or transferred any capital asset. See, e.g., Private Letter Ruling 200823012 (June 6, 2008), available here and Tech. Adv. Memo. 200438038 (Sept. 17, 2004), available here. In the Private Letter Ruling, the IRS held that Code Section 1234A, which provides that gain or loss attributable to the cancellation, lapse, expiration or other termination of a right or obligation with respect to property which is (or on acquisition would be) a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer is treated as gain or loss from the sale of a capital asset, did not apply. However, in, recent guidance released in September and October of this year available here and here the IRS reversed course and provided that Code Section 1234A applies to termination fees pursuant to merger agreements. The IRS’s new position is that a target’s stock to which the termination fee relates would have been a capital asset in the hands of an acquirer, had the deal been completed, and that the acquisition agreement provides rights and imposed obligations on both parties as to the target’s stock, therefore making section 1234A applicable and requiring capital treatment.

The tax treatment of termination fees, both from a standpoint of current deductibility versus capitalization and the nature of the fees, is a significant issue for affected taxpayers. It remains to be seen whether taxpayers will challenge either the INDOPCO regulations, which overrule prior judicial precedent, or the recent IRS guidance applying Code Section 1234A. Taxpayers facing either of these situations need to carefully consider how best to report transactions involving termination fees and be prepared to argue their position during audit if the IRS believes such position is contrary to the agency’s current positions. Taxpayers may also want to consider whether to formally disclose their positions, such as on Form 8725 or Form 8275-R, to protect against any potential penalties that the IRS may assert.