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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.

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.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has revised the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) regarding Appeals Conferences.  Below is a summary of material changes to IRM 8.6.1, effective October 1, 2016:

  • The IRM was revised to reflect that most conferences in Appeals will be conducted by telephone.  The revision also provides guidance for when in-person conferences are appropriate (e.g., when there are substantial books and records to review that cannot be easily referenced with page numbers or indices, or when there are numerous conference participants that create a risk of an unauthorized disclosure or breach of confidentiality).
  • IRM 8.6.1.4.1.2, In-Person Conferences: Circuit Riding was added.  If the assigned Appeals employee is in a post of duty that conducts circuit riding, circuit riding will be permitted when the address of the taxpayer, representative or business (for business entities) is more than 100 miles from a customer-facing virtual conference site or 150 miles from the nearest Appeals Office.  Area Directors have the discretion to deviate from these mileage limitations.  Circuit riding will also be allowed if the nearest Appeals Office cannot take the case due to high inventories or lack of technical expertise, or if there is no convenient alternative.
  • Language was added in IRM 8.6.1.4.4 to state that Appeals has the discretion to invite Counsel and/or Compliance to the conference.  The IRM notes that the prohibition against ex parte communications must not be violated and references Rev. Proc. 2012-18.
  • The definition of a new issue was updated in IRM 8.6.1.6.1(2).  The IRM retains prior language stating that a new issue is a matter not raised during Compliance’s consideration and adds that any issue not raised by Compliance in the report (e.g., 30-Day Letter) or rebuttal and disputed by the taxpayer is a new issue.

The revised IRM 8.6.1 is available here.

Taxpayers value confidentiality, particularly if there is a dispute with the IRS that involves highly-sensitive trade secrets or other confidential information. Not surprisingly, complex tax litigation often raises the question of what confidential information has to be “made public”—through discovery responses or the introduction of exhibits or testimony in a deposition or at trial—so that a taxpayer can dispute IRS adjustments in court if administrative efforts to resolve the case are not successful. Fortunately, the Tax Court tends to protect highly-sensitive trade secrets or other confidential information from public disclosure even when the judge must review the information to decide the case.

In the Tax Court, the general rule is that all evidence received by the Tax Court, including transcripts of hearings, are public records and available for public inspection. See Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7461(a). Code Section 7458 also provides that “[h]earings before the Tax Court . . . shall be open to the public.” Code Section 7461(b), however, provides several important exceptions. First, the court is afforded the flexibility to take any action “which is necessary to prevent the disclosure of trade secrets or other confidential information, including [placing items] under seal to be opened only as directed by the court.” Second, after a decision of the court becomes final, the court may, upon a party’s motion, allow a party to withdraw the original records and other materials introduced into evidence. In our experience, the trend appears to be erring on the side of protecting information from disclosure.

Continue Reading Protecting Confidential Taxpayer Information in Tax Court