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Tax Court Holds IRS Chief Counsel Attorneys May Make Initial Penalty Determination

In general, section 6751 requires that a supervisor give written approval before penalties can be asserted against a taxpayer. In Koh v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2020-77, authored by the US Tax Court’s (Tax Court) most recent addition—Judge Travis Greaves—the Tax Court affirmed that an attorney from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Chief Counsel may be authorized to assert such penalties in an answer to a Tax Court petition. In Koh, the IRS sent the taxpayer a notice of deficiency that included a determination related to penalties under section 6662(j). The taxpayer filed a petition with the Tax Court contesting the IRS’s determination. In its answer, the IRS Chief Counsel attorney asserted that the taxpayer was liable for accuracy-related penalties under section 6662(b)(1) or (2), in the alternative to the section 6662(j) penalties assessed in the original deficiency notice. The taxpayer sought partial judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that IRS Chief...

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Andy Keyso To Head IRS Appeals

On May 20, 2020, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that Andy Keyso has been named Chief of the IRS Independent Office of Appeals. He replaces Donna Hansberry, who retired in December 2019. Mr. Keyso is a long time veteran of the IRS, with more than 25 years of service. During his career, he has held numerous positions within the IRS, including serving as the IRS Chief of Staff, 18 years in various positions in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, including as Associate Chief Counsel of the Income Tax and Accounting Division. Mr. Keyso also served as Special Counsel to the Chief Counsel and as an attorney in the Procedure and Administration Division. Before coming to Washington, DC, Mr. Keyso worked in the field as a revenue agent in the former Newark, New Jersey District, where he later served as a technical advisor to the Chief, Examination Division. Since July 2017, Mr. Keyso has been the Deputy Chief of Appeals and acting Appeals Chief. Keyso is a...

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Eighth Circuit Applies Subjective Standard to Reasonable Basis Penalty Defense

On April 24, 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit published its opinion in Wells Fargo & Co. v. United States, No. 17-3578, affirming a district court’s holdings that the taxpayer was not entitled to certain foreign tax credits and was liable for the negligence penalty for claiming the credits. Much has been written about the substantive issue, which we will not discuss here. Instead, we focus on the Eighth Circuit’s divided analysis relating to the reasonable basis defense to the negligence penalty. In Wells Fargo, the taxpayer relied solely on the reasonable basis defense to the government’s assertion of penalties. Under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6662(b)(1), a taxpayer is liable for penalty of 20% of an underpayment of its taxes attributable to its “negligence.” Various defenses are potentially applicable to the negligence penalty, which we recently discussed in detail here. One such defense is if the taxpayer can show it had a...

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Fifth Circuit Rules that Law Firm Clients’ Identities Are Not Privileged

In Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm P.L.L.C. v. United States, No. 19-50506, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a Texas-based estate and tax-planning law firm (Firm) could not invoke the attorney-client privilege against an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) summons seeking the identity of its clients. According to an IRS revenue agent’s declaration submitted in support of the summons, the Firm became a target for IRS investigation following an audit of one of its clients, an individual who had used the Firm’s services to establish and operate various foreign accounts and entities, through which the individual had funneled millions of dollars of unreported income. The IRS issued a John Doe summons to the Firm seeking, amongst other things, the identities of other clients for whom it had established foreign accounts or entities. The Firm filed a petition to quash the summons in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas,...

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IRS Flexes Its Administrative Summons Power in Recent Tax Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s recent opinion in Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, No. 19-1049 (10th Cir. April 7, 2020), reminds us of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) ability to obtain the information it needs to examine taxpayers’ returns using its powerful summons tool. In May 2017, the IRS began auditing Standing Akimbo, LLC (Standing Akimbo), a Colorado limited liability company operating as a medical-marijuana dispensary. The audit focused on whether Standing Akimbo improperly claimed business deductions that were prohibited under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 280E. Generally, IRC section 280E provides that no deduction or credit is allowed for any amount paid or incurred in the carrying of a business if such business trafficks in controlled substances that are prohibited by Federal law. While legal under Colorado law, marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance under Federal law, and specifically...

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Supreme Court Tackles Tax-Related Cases

The United States Supreme Court has picked up the pace this week, already issuing eight regular opinions and four opinions relating to orders as of today. We discuss the tax-related items here. In Rodriguez v. FDIC, the question was how to decide which member of a consolidated group of corporations is entitled to a tax refund. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a refund to the designated agent of an affiliated group, but the dispute centered on how that refund should be distributed among the group’s members. Some courts have looked at state law to resolve the distribution issue while others crafted a federal common law rule providing that, in the absence of an unambiguous tax allocation agreement, the refund belongs to the group member responsible for the losses that led to the refund. The Supreme Court rejected the latter common law rule, finding that it was not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking. In reaching its decision, the Court...

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Law360: Myers May Make It Easier to Find Equitable Relief in Tax Court

Laura L. Gavioli, PC, recently wrote an article for Law360 on a US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit’s decision that may provide an equitable avenue for hearing of late-filed petitions in US Tax Court. The Law360 article, “Myers May Make It Easier to Find Equitable Relief in Tax Court,” can be accessed here.

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Trust Wins Due Process Challenge to North Carolina State Income Tax

Last week, the US Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina may not tax a trust's income when the trust's only contact with the state is the in-state residence of discretionary beneficiaries. The Due Process Clause requires a minimum connection between a state and the person it seeks to tax. The mere residency of the discretionary beneficiaries of a trust is not sufficient to satisfy this requirement. Read the full article.

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A Notice of Deficiency Is Not Set in Stone

A recent case decided by the United States Court of Appeals of the Tenth Circuit reminds taxpayers to be aware that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not necessarily locked in to the positions and arguments stated in the Notice of Deficiency. In particular, the IRS is allowed to revise penalty determinations, or to make penalty determinations for the first time, during litigation in the Tax Court, notwithstanding any arguably inconsistent determination in the Notice of Deficiency. In Roth v. Commissioner, 123 AFTR.2d 2019-1676 (10th Cir. 2019) , the taxpayers owned 40 acres of land in Prowers County, Colorado. In 2007, the taxpayers donated to the Colorado Natural Land Trust a conservation easement, which prohibited them from mining gravel upon the land. The taxpayers valued the easement at $970,000 and claimed charitable contribution deductions with respect to this amount on their 2007 and 2008 income tax returns. The IRS examined the position, and...

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Seventh Circuit Upholds Lien Notice despite Incorrect Name

When you do not pay your taxes, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has the power to file a “lien” on your property under Internal Revenue Code section 6321. The lien attaches “upon all property and rights to property, whether real or personal, belonging to such person.” Practically, this means that the IRS is giving notice that you owe it money and its debt gets priority to most debts that occur after the lien notice is filed. Historically, the lien law has been interpreted strictly and “foot faults” can invalidate the lien. A recent case, however, provides that if the federal tax lien uses the incorrect name, the lien may still be established and enforceable. The taxpayer and his wife purchased their home as joint tenants in 1975. The taxpayer became the sole owner of the property after his wife passed away. In July 2007, the taxpayer filed federal income tax returns for tax years 2000 to 2004. Based on those returns, the IRS assessed taxes, penalties and...

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