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Todd Welty, PC is a partner in the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and is based in the Firm’s Dallas office. Todd is chair of McDermott’s Tax Controversy practice. Todd’s practice is both national and international in scope. Approximately 95 percent of his professional time is spent on tax controversy and litigation. He represents a broad range of clients including Fortune 100 companies, large non-US multinational companies, closely-held businesses, ultra high-net-worth individuals and tax advisors – whether they be lawyers or certified public accountants. Read Todd Welty's full bio.

On July 2, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business and International (LB&I) Division announced the identification and selection of five new campaigns. These new campaigns follow the initial 13 campaigns announced on January 31, 2017, followed by 11 campaigns announced on November 3, 2017, 5 campaigns announced on March 13, 2018, and six campaigns announced on May 21, 2018.

The following are the five new LB&I campaigns by title and description:

  • Restoration of Sequestered AMT Credit Carryforward

LB&I is initiating a campaign for taxpayers improperly restoring the sequestered Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) credit to the subsequent tax year. Refunds issued or applied to a subsequent year’s tax, pursuant to IRC Section 168(k)(4), are subject to sequestration and are a permanent loss of refundable credits. Taxpayers may not restore the sequestered amounts to their AMT credit carryforward. Soft letters will be mailed to taxpayers who are identified as making improper restorations of sequestered amounts. Taxpayers will be monitored for subsequent compliance. The goal of this campaign is to educate taxpayers on the proper treatment of sequestered AMT credits and request that taxpayers self-correct.

  • S Corporation Distributions

S Corporations and their shareholders are required to properly report the tax consequences of distributions. We have identified three issues that are part of this campaign. The first issue occurs when an S Corporation fails to report gain upon the distribution of appreciated property to a shareholder. The second issue occurs when an S Corporation fails to determine that a distribution, whether in cash or property, is properly taxable as a dividend. The third issue occurs when a shareholder fails to report non-dividend distributions in excess of their stock basis that are subject to taxation. The treatment streams for this campaign include issue-based examinations, tax form change suggestions, and stakeholder outreach.

  • Virtual Currency

US persons are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources including transactions involving virtual currency. IRS Notice 2014-21 states that virtual currency is property for federal tax purposes and provides information on the US federal tax implications of convertible virtual currency transactions. The Virtual Currency Compliance campaign will address noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency through multiple treatment streams including outreach and examinations. The compliance activities will follow the general tax principles applicable to all transactions in property, as outlined in Notice 2014-21. The IRS will continue to consider and solicit taxpayer and practitioner feedback in education efforts, future guidance, and development of Practice Units. Taxpayers with unreported virtual currency transactions are urged to correct their returns as soon as practical. The IRS is not contemplating a voluntary disclosure program specifically to address tax non-compliance involving virtual currency.

  • Repatriation via Foreign Triangular Reorganizations

In December 2016, the IRS issued Notice 2016-73 which curtails the claimed “tax-free” repatriation of basis and untaxed CFC earnings following the use of certain foreign triangular reorganization transactions. The goal of the campaign is to identify and challenge these transactions by educating and assisting examination teams in audits of these repatriations.

  • Section 965 Transition Tax

Section 965 requires United States shareholders to pay a transition tax on the untaxed foreign earnings of certain specified foreign corporations as if those earnings had been repatriated to the US. Taxpayers may elect to pay the transition tax in installments over an eight-year period. For some taxpayers, some or all of the tax will be due on their 2017 income tax return. The tax is payable as of the due date of the return (without extensions).

Earlier this year, LB&I engaged in an outreach campaign to leverage the reach of trade groups, advisors and other outside stakeholders to raise awareness of filing and payment obligations under this provision. The external communication was circulated through stakeholder channels in April 2018.

Practice Point: As the IRS continues to move toward issued-based examinations, campaigns may become more and more important in identifying and auditing certain 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 the campaigns. If you have one of these issues, be proactive and make sure you have an “audit ready” file in place for when the IRS opens an examination.

In the wake of tax reform, taxpayers and practitioners alike are anxious for guidance and clarification on how the new laws impact transactions and reporting positions. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has previously stated that implementing tax reform is its highest priority, but that issuing guidance on the entire bill would likely take a substantial amount of time. Since December 2017, the IRS has published a host of notices, revenue procedures and administrative guidance. In some instances, the guidance was mechanical (e.g., Notice 2018-38), and in others it was more substantive (e.g., Notice 2018-28, Notice 2018-18, Rev. Proc. 2018-26).

On May 31, 2018, the IRS announced an “all hands on deck” effort to implement tax reform through 11 groups working closely with the Treasury Department. The IRS originally stated that it did not plan to release any more proposed regulations before the end of the year. Instead, it would issue tax Forms (with instructions) that would need to be filed by taxpayers before the end of the year. On June 7, 2018, the IRS explained that it does plan to issue proposed regulations “covering all major portions” of the bill starting in September and ending in December 2018 (the IRS specifically plans to finalize the temporary aggregation regulations by September to stop them from sunsetting). The IRS reported it is in “very good shape” to meet these deadlines. Additionally, at a recent American Bar Association Section of Taxation meeting, IRS international counsel acknowledged year-end financial reporting for global companies and stated that international tax regulations are intended to be released in the fall instead of the end of the year. Regulations under Internal Code Section 965 are planned for issuance this summer, and other areas of guidance include global intangible low-tax income, also known as the GILTI tax.

Continue Reading IRS Is “All Hands on Deck” to Provide Guidance Related to Tax Reform

Faced with the prospect of potential tax liability after an unsuccessful audit, taxpayers are faced with the options of filing a petition in the US Tax Court (Tax Court) prior to paying the liability or paying the liability, making a claim for refund, and (if denied or more than six months have passed) suing the government for a refund in local district court or the Court of Federal Claims. For taxpayers that select the Tax Court route, sometimes a question later arises as to whether they can seek to dismiss their case in order to refile in a different forum. The problem that arises is that Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7459(d) provides that if a Tax Court petition in a deficiency proceeding is dismissed (other than for lack of jurisdiction), the dismissal is considered as a decision that the deficiency is the amount determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Taxpayers have attempted to avoid this rule in the past, presumably so that they could refile a lawsuit in another forum either because they believe that forum would be more favorable or because they desire a jury trial (Tax Court cases are bench trial; no juries are allowed). More than 40 years ago, the Tax Court rejected this tactic in Estate of Ming v. Commissioner, 62 TC 519 (1974),  holding that under Code Section 7459(d), a taxpayer who petitions the court for a redetermination of a deficiency may not withdraw a petition to avoid the entry of decision. Specifically, the court held: “It is now a settled principle that a taxpayer may not unilaterally oust the Tax Court from jurisdiction which, once invoked, remains unimpaired until it decides the controversy.” Since Ming, the Tax Court has distinguished its holding in collection due process cases which involve the review of the IRS’s collection action, not the redetermination of a tax deficiency. See Wagner v. Commissioner, 118 TC 330 (2002). The Tax Court has further extended Wagner to non-deficiency cases involving whistleblower claims under Code Section 7623(b)(4) and stand-alone innocent spouse cases under Code Section 6015(e)(1). See Jacobson v. Commissioner, 148 TC No. 4 (Feb. 8, 2017); Davidson v. Commissioner, 144 TC 273 (2015). Continue Reading When Can a Taxpayer Dismiss a Tax Court Case as Moot?

On September 7, 2017, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report about the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) procedures. After reviewing a statistically valid sample of FOIA requests, TIGTA concluded that the IRS improperly withheld information 14.3 percent of the time—or approximately 1 in 7 FOIA requests.

TIGTA also found that at the end of Fiscal Year 2016, there were 334 backlogged information requests. Below is a chart from the report showing the IRS’s recent history of backlogged FOIA requests.

TIGTA’s findings are consistent with our experiences with FOIA requests. It is not unusual for the IRS to make repeated requests for extensions to respond. We note further that, during an examination, the IRS is statutorily authorized to provide taxpayers access to their administrative file. Indeed, the Internal Revenue Manual confirms this at section 4.2.5.7 (June 15, 2017). Yet the IRS examination team often requires a FOIA request.

Practice Point 1: As a result of the IRS’s FOIA backlog, some taxpayers have resorted to filing lawsuits in federal district court to enforce their FOIA rights. Because the IRS must respond to court deadlines, taxpayers are sometimes able to force a more expedient response and move to the front of the response line.

Practice Point 2: Taxpayers should attempt to tailor their FOIA requests, only requesting the information in which they are interested. In theory, this could make the IRS’s job easier and, in turn, responses more timely.

Practice Point 3: If taxpayers intend to seek information from the government through the FOIA process, they should do so as soon as possible (e.g., at the beginning of the examination process) so that they may get the information in time to be useful.

As we have recently discussed, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals has been making a number of changes to their administrative review process in the last few years. While many of these changes have been driven by lack of resources, others—like the standing invitation of Exam into the Appeals process—have the potential to undermine the independence of Appeals, which has historically been a vital component of the taxpayer’s right of redress with the Service.

In this week’s American Bar Association conference in Austin, Texas, IRS Appeals clarified that, for field cases worked by revenue agents, taxpayers may still receive in-person conferences, despite recent pronouncements that phone conferences are the preferred or default method. Conferences in campus cases (or correspondence audit cases) will still be generally handled by telephone, but there will eventually be a move to in-person conferences by request. Campus cases are being treated differently because they are often managed in locations remote from the taxpayer without adequate facilities for in-person meetings. Guidance will be issued to IRS employees regarding these changes.

As Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson noted, these changes are helpful but not enough. In particular, Olson expressed dismay that campus cases were not being included in the change. Roughly 75 to 80 percent of IRS examinations are conducted by correspondence. In these cases, there is a great need for personal contact with the taxpayer, but no single person within the Service is assigned to a case.

Practice Point: The new announcement provides practitioners with additional support for their requests for in-person Appeals conferences. In our experience, an in-person conference is frequently much more productive than one by phone, and practitioners should request these whenever possible.

Forms 2848 Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative are intended to authorize the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to discuss a taxpayer’s confidential tax matters with a designated representative. Generally, the form requires the taxpayer to identify the tax form number (where applicable), a description of the matter and specify the applicable tax year(s) for the authorization to be valid. If the IRS determines that an issue is beyond the scope outlined in the Form 2848 they will not discuss that item with the representative. It is important to understand how the IRS interprets these restrictions.

Importantly, on September 8, 2017, the IRS released TAM 201736021, dated August 1, 2017, which expresses a narrow view of whether certain civil penalties are related to certain tax returns for purposes of a Form 2848 authorization. The TAM notes that “merely listing ‘civil penalties’ on Line 3 of the Form 2848” may no longer be sufficient authorization if the civil penalty relates to a return that is not otherwise enumerated within the Form 2848. For example, the TAM concluded that a Form 2848 only identifying an income tax return, such as a Form 1120 or Form 1040, would not constitute authorization for the IRS to discuss civil penalties related to international information returns that may have to be filed with the income tax return, such as a Form 5471. Under the IRS’s view, the civil penalty would be related to the Form 5471 but not the Form 1120.

The TAM provided a second example, reaching a similar conclusion regarding the relationship between a Form 1040 and a Form 3520. In short, authorization would not exist for the IRS to discuss with a representative whether an IRC section 6677 civil penalty for failure to file Form 3520 is applicable if the Form 2848 only identifies the Form 1040. This result may be more intuitive since the Form 3520 is not attached to the Form 1040 and is required to be filed separately. However, it is still more demanding than having a broader application of the “civil penalties” designation on the Form 2848.

Practice Point 1: Forms 2848 are generally executed at the outset of a matter when it may not be readily apparent in what direction the audit will progress or what issues the IRS may focus on. While we disagree with the IRS’s position as stated in the TAM, taxpayers and practitioners need to be cognizant of the IRS’s position and may need to revisit their Forms 2848 during the course of an audit.

Practice Point 2: As a general matter, the IRS agent handling an audit will tell the practitioner if the agent believes that a current Form 2848 is not sufficient, but that does not always happen. So it is good practice for taxpayers to send the practitioner any correspondence or notices that they receive from the IRS and not merely rely on the presumption that the IRS also mailed a copy to the practitioner listed on the Form 2848.

Here at McDermott, we value giving back to the community through pro bono efforts.  In particular, we provide substantial assistance in pro bono tax cases to low-income individuals through our relationships with low-income taxpayer clinics throughout the country.  Over the years, we have settled dozens of cases for low-income taxpayers in docketed tax cases and routinely reduced or eliminated deficiencies asserted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  When settlement has not been possible, we have litigated cases in the Tax Court and obtained favorable results not just for our clients but for the low-income taxpayer community as a whole.  For example, we represented a husband and wife on a penalty issue involving an issue of first impression and convinced the Tax Court that the IRS had for years been improperly asserting and collecting penalties on improperly claimed refundable tax credits. In a recent article, we detail some of the pro bono efforts by low-income taxpayer clinics and private practitioners.

Practice Point:  In addition to assisting low-income individuals who cannot afford legal representation, providing pro bono tax services benefits tax practitioners in many ways.  It provides the opportunity for younger attorneys to take responsibility for a case and to get valuable experience in dealing with clients, negotiating with the IRS, and potentially gaining courtroom experience.  Assisting taxpayers on a pro bono basis is also rewarding and can make a significant difference in the lives of low-income individuals.

With the inauguration of President Trump, and the accompanying change of administration, the American people have been promised great change in all areas of the federal government. One question we at McDermott have been frequently asked since the election is: what should a taxpayer expect from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division while the transitions in the executive branch are taking place? Major tax policy changes are being discussed, but what about the immediate practical effects of a turnover in high-level personnel within these agencies, particularly if a taxpayer is under audit or investigation?

During a change in administration, taxpayers may be affected by any of the following:

  • If under audit, the exam team may ask for longer statute extensions than would otherwise apply, to account for possible delays in internal managerial-level approvals.
  • If a taxpayer is negotiating a settlement, and that settlement requires approval by the IRS National Office or the Assistant Attorney General for Tax, settlement approvals may be delayed due to personnel changes.
  • This applies to civil settlements reached with IRS Appeals, in Tax Court litigation, or in federal district court litigation. Delays are also possible for criminal agreements, including plea agreements, deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements.
  • Ongoing litigation (particularly appellate litigation) may be stayed or delayed, to the extent a case involves a policy position that the administration may want to change.
  • The regulatory freeze enacted by the Trump administration also affects procedural regulations, including proposed regulations related to the new partnership audit rules.

Initial comments from prospective Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin indicate that he believes IRS staffing should be increased, which would be a welcome change.  Any significant changes like this are likely to be long-term, however, so we are unlikely to see their effect for some time.