We previously posted on the Order by the US District Court for the Western District of Texas in Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, et al. v. Internal Revenue Service, Dkt. No. 1:16-CV-944-LY (W.D. Tex. Sept. 29, 2017). In that Order, the court held that Treas. Reg. § 1.7874-8T was unlawfully issued. See here for our prior post. As expected by many, the government on November 27, 2017, appealed the Order to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The next steps are for the Fifth Circuit to set a briefing schedule and a date for oral argument. We will continue to follow this case and provide updates.
The IRS has never won a single litigated case arguing for foreign base company sales income (and has never litigated a foreign base company services income case). Courts have consistently rejected the government’s arguments to expansively apply the definition of Subpart F sales income in order to carry out asserted congressional intent. While the courts have acknowledged that the policies informed the rules, they have not permitted the policies to eclipse the plain language of the code, even where the taxpayer engaged in tax planning that took advantage of the rules and arguably frustrated the policies underlying the rules.
We have previously written about QinetiQ U.S. Holdings. Inc.’s (QinetiQ) fight to apply the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to notices of deficiency issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). (See below for our recent coverage.)
In short, the Tax Court and the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected QinetiQ’s argument that a one-sentence reason for a deficiency determination contained in a notice of deficiency violated the APA because it was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” Undeterred, QinetiQ filed a petition for certiorari seeking review from the Supreme Court. Alas, the saga ends for QinetiQ as the Supreme Court denied the petition this morning.
Practice Point: Although QinetiQ was not successful in its APA arguments, other APA arguments in the tax law have gained considerable traction in recent years. We will be posting soon on the recent order out of the Western District of Texas invaliding Treas. Reg. § 1.7874-8T on the grounds that this temporary regulations was unlawfully issued without adherence to the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements. Additionally, as we previously noted, other procedural arguments exists when a notice of deficiency contains a minimal explanation, such as potentially shifting the burden of proof to the IRS.
See past coverage:
- Ax v. Commissioner: The Tax Court Reaffirms that It Is Not Subject to the APA
- Update on APA Challenges to Notice of Deficiency
- APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Oral Arguments
- APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Affirmed
- APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Requests Supreme Court Review
Wrapping up July—and Looking Forward to August
Tax Controversy Activities in August:
August 7, 2017: Elizabeth Erickson and Kristen Hazel will be representing McDermott Will & Emery at the 2017 US Captive Awards in Burlington, Vermont. McDermott has been shortlisted in the Law Firm category.
August 8, 2017: Tom Jones is presenting an update on Captive Insurance Tax in Burlington, Vermont, at the Vermont Captive Insurance Association Annual Conference “Mission: Possible”— the largest captive insurance conference in the US by number of paid attendees.
August 18, 2017: Todd Welty is speaking at the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants Advanced Estate Planning Conference about:
- Current developments in federal transfer taxes
- Current state of federal tax reform
- Proposed changes to state death tax laws and the impact of those changes on estate
- Gift and trust planning
- Consistent basis regulations
- The state of valuation discounts
- Recent rulings on defined value clauses and charitable gifts
August 23, 2017: Tom Jones is presenting an update on Annual Federal & State Tax at the North Carolina Captive Insurance Association Annual Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Wrapping up July:
Our July 2017 blog posts are available on taxcontroversy360.com, or read each article by clicking on the titles below. To receive the latest on state and local tax news and commentary directly in your inbox as they are posted, click here to subscribe to our email list.
Oftentimes, taxpayers rely on various authorities in planning transactions and reporting them for tax purposes, as well as defending them during an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit, appeals or in litigation. These sources include authorities like the Internal Revenue Code, legislative history and other legislative materials, Treasury regulations and other IRS published guidance (e.g., revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices, announcements), IRS private guidance (e.g., chief counsel advice, technical advice memoranda, private letter rulings, etc.), and case law. As we have discussed previously, these authorities are afforded different weight by courts and the IRS, and can serve different purposes in your matter.
Taxpayers can choose whether to litigate tax disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US Tax Court (Tax Court), federal district court or the Court of Federal Claims. Claims brought in federal district court and the Court of Federal Claims are tax refund litigation: the taxpayer must first pay the tax, file a claim for refund, and file a complaint against the United States if the claim is not allowed. Claims brought in the Tax Court are deficiency cases: the taxpayer can file a petition against the IRS Commissioner after receiving a notice of deficiency and does not need to pay the tax beforehand.
As demonstrated in the chart below, approximately 97 percent of tax claims are instituted in the Tax Court. It should be noted that, after a taxpayer files a petition in Tax Court, the taxpayer no longer has the option of bringing the claim in any other court for the year(s) at issue.
Tax Court Versus Tax Refund Litigation
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
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).