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Late CDP Petitions May Still Be Entitled to Tax Court Review

In a unanimous decision in Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner issued on April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s ruling (which affirmed the US Tax Court) and held that the 30-day time limit to file a petition with the Tax Court in a collection due process (CDP) case is a non-jurisdictional deadline subject to equitable tolling. The Supreme Court remanded the case to determine whether the taxpayer is entitled to equitable tolling.

The one-day-late showdown started in 2015, when the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notified Boechler, P.C. (Boechler), a North Dakota law firm, of a tax discrepancy. Boechler did not respond, which triggered the assessment of an “intentional disregard” penalty along with a notice that the IRS intended to seize Boechler’s property to satisfy the penalty. Boechler requested a CDP hearing before the IRS Independent Office of Appeals (IRS Appeals), arguing that: (1) there was no discrepancy in its tax filings and (2) the penalty was excessive. IRS Appeals rejected these arguments and sustained the proposed levy. Boechler then had 30 days to file its Tax Court petition but missed the deadline by one day. The Tax Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, holding that the 30-day filing deadline is jurisdictional and cannot be equitably tolled. The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari. The US government argued that the deadline was jurisdictional and the Tax Court lacks the power to accept a tardy filing by applying the doctrine of equitable tolling. Boechler argued that equitable tolling applied, and the Tax Court had jurisdiction over its case. The Supreme Court, continuing a trend of distinguishing between claim processing rules and jurisdictional rules, agreed with Boechler.

Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6330(d)(1) states, “[t]he person may, within 30 days of a determination under this section, petition the Tax Court for review of such determination (and the Tax Court shall have jurisdiction with respect to such matter).” The Supreme Court explained that a procedural requirement is treated as jurisdictional “only if Congress ‘clearly states’ that it is” Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U. S. 500, 515 (2006), although US Congress need not “incant magic words.” Sebelius v. Auburn Regional Medical Center, 568 U. S. 145, 153 (2013).

The Supreme Court clarified that the question was whether the statutory language limits the Tax Court’s jurisdiction to petitions filed within that timeframe. That answer turned on the meaning of the phrase “such matters.” The first independent clause explains what a taxpayer may do, (“The person may, within 30 days of a determination under this section, petition the Tax Court for review of such determination.”) However, the phrase “such matters” does not clearly mandate the jurisdictional reading and lacks clear antecedent. In addition, the Supreme Court also explained that Code Section 6330(d)(1) lacked in comparable clarity as to other tax provisions enacted around the same time. Finally, the Supreme [...]

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Tax Court Proposes New Rules of Practice and Procedure

On March 23, 2022, the US Tax Court announced new proposed rules for practicing before it. The Court proposed three new rules, amendments to existing rules and changes to conform the existing rules to various forms. The proposed changes also reflect the Court’s move toward conformity with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

OVERVIEW OF THE NEW PROPOSED RULES

The new rules include Rule 63, Rule 92 and Rule 152. Rule 63 provides rules to parties seeking to intervene in a Court proceeding who have an unconditional right and a conditional right to intervene by a federal statute.

Rule 92 provides rules to identify and certify an administrative record in certain actions. The explanation to the proposed rule states that proposed Rule 92 is meant,

[T]o fill a gap in the Court’s Rules of Practice and Procedure. Although the Court has longstanding Rules governing the submission of the administrative record in declaratory judgment cases, see Title XXI of the Court’s Rules, the Court has not adopted a rule of procedure or a uniform process governing the submission of the administrative record to the Court in other actions where judicial review is normally limited to the administrative record or where judicial review requires an examination of the administrative record and other relevant evidence, as appropriate.

Rule 152 provides a uniform rule for the Court to accept briefs filed by amicus curiae. The explanation to the rule states that proposed Rule 152 is a corollary to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and Rule 7(o) of the local rules for the US District Court for the District of Columbia. We previously discussed amicus briefs in the Court, and this change is a welcome development to provide specific procedures in the area.

NOTABLE REVISIONS TO EXISTING RULES

Proposed Rule 21, Service of Papers, makes service of pleadings through the Court’s electronic system the default method for serving papers upon the Court and opposing parties.

Proposed Rule 23, Form and Style of Papers, omits all prefixes (e.g., Mr., Ms.) from pleadings. The amendment would also permit the use of a typed written name on a pleading that is filed electronically with the Court to constitute that person’s signature.

Proposed Rule 70, Scope of Discovery, would add the following rule:

Discovery must be proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Additionally, the amendment proposes that any information withheld under a claim of privilege must be expressly made and describe the nature of the documents, communications, etc., not produced to enable the other party the ability to assess the privilege claim. The rule also adds provisions for the return of privileged documents that were inadvertently disclosed to the opposing [...]

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An Update on Section 6751 Penalties

Tax penalties are always a hot topic here. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has a large arsenal when it comes to grounds for asserting penalties on income tax deficiencies, ranging from the common 20% penalty under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6662(a) to higher penalties ranging from 40% (gross valuation or basis misstatements and economic substance) to 75% (fraud).

However, before the IRS can assert most penalties against taxpayers, it must comply with the procedural requirement in Code Section 6751(b): That the “initial determination” to assert the penalty be “personally approved (in writing) by the immediate supervisor of the individual making such determination.” As the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit explained in Chai v. Commissioner, US Congress imposed this requirement because it “believes that penalties should only be imposed where appropriate and not as a bargaining chip” and “[t]he statute was meant to prevent IRS agents from threatening unjustified penalties to encourage taxpayers to settle.”

Over the past several years, there has been substantial litigation over the proper interpretation and application of Code Section 6751(b). The US Tax Court’s recent opinion in Oxbow Bend, LLC v. Commissioner is the latest development. In Oxbow Bend, the Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s position that the “initial determination” was made on the date that the examining agent prepared a penalty lead sheet reflecting her recommendation to assert penalties and stated in a telephone conference with the taxpayer’s representative on that same day that penalties were being considered. Approximately three months later, the examining agent’s supervisor approved the penalty lead sheet, and the IRS issued a Notice of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment asserting the penalties. The Tax Court, relying on its prior precedent, held that the word “determination”:

  1. “has an established meaning in the tax context and denotes a communication with a high degree of concreteness and formality”
  2. “signifies a consequential moment of IRS action”
  3. is not a “mere suggestion, proposal, or initial informal mention of penalties”
  4. “will be embodied in a formal written communication that notifies the taxpayer of the decision to assert penalties.”

Thus, under the Tax Court’s analysis, an “initial determination” can only be made in a “written” document that is provided to the taxpayer.

Oxbow Bend is a memorandum opinion of the Tax Court and, therefore, is limited to its facts and technically not precedential, as we have discussed in the past. However, memorandum opinions are often cited by litigants, and the Tax Court does not disregard these types of opinions lightly. One has to wonder whether, under different facts where an examining agent makes an explicit oral statement to a taxpayer that penalties “will” be asserted, courts might reach a different result given Congress’s express intent that examining agents should not threaten penalties and use them as a bargaining chip for settlement purposes. Further, Code Section 6751(b) expressly requires that the supervisory approval be “in writing” but contains a written requirement for purposes of the [...]

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District Court Vacates, Sets Aside IRS Reportable Transaction Notice

The fallout from taxpayer challenges to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) “reportable transaction” regime continues. On March 21, 2022, the district court in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS ruled in favor of the taxpayer, vacating Notice 2016-66 and ordering the IRS to return all documents and information produced pursuant to Notice 2016-66 to taxpayers and material advisors.

We previously posted about the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, which allowed a pre-enforcement challenge to the IRS’s reportable transaction regime. On remand, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court, relying on Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States, explained that the “Sixth Circuit’s analysis in Mann Construction is binding on this Court and applies equally to the arguments advanced by the IRS regarding Notice 2016-66 in this case.” The court dealt the IRS another blow, holding that Notice 2016-66 had to also be set aside as an agency action that was arbitrary and capricious: “[s]imply including cases in the administrative record that suggest certain tax structures could be abusively employed is not synonymous with examining relevant facts and data in connection with issuing the Notice.” In determining the appropriate relief, the court rejected the IRS’s request to limit vacatur of the Notice to CIC, explaining that “vacating the Notice in its entirety is appropriate” and citing the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s prior statement that the IRS “do[es] not have a great history of complying with APA procedures, having claimed for several decades that their rules and regulations are exempt from those requirements” (See CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, 925 F.3d 247, 258 (6th Cir. 2019) quoting Kristin E. Hickman & Gerald Kersa, Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act, 103 Va. L. Rev. 1683, 1712-13 (2017)).

Practice Point: The assault on the IRS’s reportable transaction regime is far from over. We recently posted about the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in Mann Construction in which it held that Notice 2007-83, which required disclosure of listed transactions relating to certain employee benefit plans, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). APA challenges continue to expand to other IRS notices that bypassed the notice-and-comment requirement, including Notice 2017-10, which identifies certain syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions subject to disclosure to the IRS. These developments will certainly have a significant impact on taxpayers and material advisors’ responsibilities as we move into the tax filing season.




Sixth Circuit Sides with Taxpayer in APA Challenge to Reportable Transaction Regime

We previously posted about the US Supreme Court’s opinion in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, which allowed a pre-enforcement challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) “reportable transaction” regime. In that post, we noted the district court opinion in Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States, No. 1:20-cv-11307 (E.D. Mich. 2021), holding that an IRS Notice requiring disclosure of listed transactions was not subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment requirement, and identified unanswered questions and potential future disputes over IRS enforcement strategies.

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has now reversed the district court in Mann Construction, holding that the IRS’s process for issuing Notice 2007-83—which designates certain employee-benefit plans featuring cash-value life insurance policies as listed transactions—violated the APA. Specifically, the court found that Notice 2007-83 was a legislative rule under the APA because it had the force and effect of law. The Sixth Circuit relied on CIC Services, explaining that Notice 2007-83 “defines a set of transactions that taxpayers must report, and that duty did not arise from a statute or a notice-and-comment rule…failure to comply comes with the risk of penalties and criminal sanctions, all characteristics of legislative rules.” The court further found that Congress did not expressly exempt the IRS from the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements with respect to the reportable transaction regime. The Sixth Circuit explained that there was an absence of any express deviation from the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures, and “any exceptions to the sturdy protections established by the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements must come from Congress, not us and not the IRS.”

What now? Mann Construction is a heavy blow to the IRS’s reportable transaction regime, and similar APA attacks are underway against other Notices imposing non-statutory reporting obligations. One example is Notice 2017-10, which identifies certain syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions subject to disclosure to the IRS.

Practice Point: In 2011, the Supreme Court announced in Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Rsch. v. United States, that “we are not inclined to carve out an approach to administrative review good for tax law only.” The last 10 years have seen numerous APA challenges in the tax world, some successful and others unsuccessful. CIC Services and Mann Construction are two important cases for taxpayers subject to non-statutory reporting obligations. Taxpayers and practitioners should carefully consider the impact of these cases in similar reporting situations in determining whether to initiate APA challenges.




Supreme Court Justice Breyer Announces Upcoming Retirement—A Look Back at His Tax Opinion in Home Concrete

On January 27, 2022, Supreme Court of the United States Justice Stephen Breyer formally announced his retirement, effective when the Supreme Court breaks for summer recess in June or July later this year—after his successor has been nominated and confirmed. Justice Breyer has served on the Supreme Court since 1994 and is the second-most senior justice after Justice Clarence Thomas.

Although Justice Breyer did not author a substantial number of tax opinions, the ones he did author are extremely important and include:

This post focuses on the Home Concrete case.

Home Concrete involved a challenge to the validity of US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) regulations issued during litigation that purported to overrule existing case law. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court rejected both the government’s statutory interpretation of the “substantial omission from gross income” exception to the normal three-year statute of limitations and the interpretation advanced in retroactive regulations issued during pending litigation. In doing so, the Court first applied principles of stare decisis and adhered to its prior opinion in Colony, Inc. v. Commissioner, which interpreted almost identical statutory language from the predecessor statute. It then held that, because it already interpreted the statute, there is no longer any different interpretation that is consistent with that precedent and available for adoption by the agency.

The history and procedural background are fascinating, and some of the issues highlighted in the case, but not directly decided, have been—and continue to be—developed. Further background on the case can be found in our 2012 Tax Executive article, “Home Concrete: The Story Behind the IRS’s Attempt to Overrule the Judiciary and Lessons for the Future.

Practice Point: Home Concrete remains important today as there are several cases in the administrative and judicial pipeline involving challenges to tax reform and transfer pricing regulations. It is a must-read for any taxpayers who are currently, or are considering in the future, challenging the validity of Treasury regulations.

Andrew Roberson was one of the lawyers representing Home Concrete before the Supreme Court.




IRS Chief Counsel Signals Increased Tax Enforcement

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Chief Counsel is the chief legal advisor to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Laws. In this regard, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel is responsible for litigating cases in the US Tax Court. Such cases can arise from examinations conducted by different divisions within the IRS, such as the Large Business & International (LB&I), Small Business/Self Employed (SB/SE), Tax Exempt & Government Entities (TE/GE) and Wage & Investment (W&I) Divisions.

On January 21, 2022, the IRS Office of Chief Counsel announced plans to hire up to 200 additional attorneys to assist with litigation efforts. The announcement specifically notes that new hires are necessary “to help the agency combat syndicated conservation easements, abusive micro-captive insurance arrangements and other tax schemes.” They will also help the IRS manage its increasing caseload as part of its multiyear effort to combat what it believes are abusive schemes and to ensure that the appropriate taxes and penalties are paid. The new hires will be located around the country and focus on audits of complex corporate and partnership issues.

Additionally, there are a significant number of cases before the Tax Court that involve conservation easements and micro-captive insurance arrangements. The IRS’s attack on the donation of conservation easements is well known in the tax world. To date, the IRS has largely been successful in these cases based on non-valuation arguments that easement deeds do not comply with the applicable regulations. However, in the recent Hewitt v. Commissioner case, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dealt a significant blow when it held that the IRS’s interpretation of Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii) was arbitrary and capricious and violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the US Department of the Treasury failed to respond to significant comments submitted during the notice-and-comment process. Many conservation easements are within the Eleventh Circuit’s jurisdiction and other appellate courts are expected to weigh in soon, which could result in the IRS and taxpayers proceeding to trial on valuation issues. Valuation issues are inherently fact intensive and will require the IRS to utilize substantial resources to litigate.

Practice Point: Much has been written about the trend of decreased enforcement by the IRS over the past several years, owing in part to decreased or stagnant funding from US Congress. Tax litigation, particularly in fact intensive cases involving valuation issues and transactions the IRS (but not necessarily the courts) deemed abusive, requires the expenditure of substantial resources by the IRS. The IRS has signaled that it is ready to reverse the trend. All IRS tax controversies start with the examination of the taxpayer’s positions on the return. We have seen an increase in IRS audit activity in the last year or so, especially with medium-sized businesses and high-net-worth individuals. The Chief Counsel is assembling his “army” to litigate positions developed during the examination. It’s a good time for taxpayers [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup November 29 – December 3, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of November 29, 2021 – December 3, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

November 29, 2021: The IRS published a news release warning taxpayers and tax professionals to beware of a dangerous combination of events that can increase their exposure to tax scams and identity theft. The IRS stated that the holiday shopping season, the upcoming tax season and the pandemic all create additional opportunities for criminals to steal sensitive personal or finance information.

November 30, 2021: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2021-53, which provides temporary guidance regarding the treatment of certain stock distributions by publicly offered real estate investment trusts and publicly offered regulated investment companies in recognition of the need for liquidity as a result of COVID-19. The guidance reduces the minimum required aggregate amount of cash that distributee shareholders may receive to no less than 10% of the total distribution in order for Section 301 (by reason of Section 305(b)) to apply to such distribution.

November 30, 2021: The IRS published a news release warning taxpayers to be wary of fake charities used by scammers to trick unsuspecting donors into providing money and sensitive financial and personal information.

November 30, 2021: The IRS posted an issue snapshot concerning issue indicators and audit tips for public and tax-exempt employer contributions to eligible deferred compensation plans (as defined in Section 457(b)).

December 1, 2021: The US Competent Authority posted the arrangement between Competent Authorities of the United States and Turkey, setting forth parameters on the exchange of county-by-country reporting agreements to combat transfer pricing, base erosion and profit shifting-related risks.

December 1, 2021: The IRS published a news release reminding taxpayers they can get extra protection starting in January by joining its Identity Protection Personal Identification Number (IP PIN) program. Anyone who can verify their identity can protect themselves against tax-related identity theft by opting into the program.

December 2, 2021: The IRS published a news release warning tax professionals that they face additional security risks from cybercriminals seeking to use the pandemic and phishing scams to steal sensitive client information.

December 2, 2021: The IRS recommended nonacquiescence in Mayo Clinic v. United States, 997 F.3d 789 (8th Cir. May 13, 2021), rev’g 412 F. Supp. 3d 1038 (D. Minn. 2019), where the appeals court invalidated Treasury Regulations Section 1.170A-9(c)(1)’s requirement that the primary function of an educational organization described in Section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii) be the presentation of formal instruction. For more background, see our recent post.

December 2, 2021: The IRS published a news release reminding tax professionals and taxpayers that they can use digital signatures on a variety of common IRS forms and access a [...]

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IRS Announces Nonacquiescence in Mayo Tax Regulation Invalidity Holding

We previously wrote here and here about decisions made by the District Court of Minnesota and the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Mayo Clinic v. United States regarding challenges to the validity of certain Treasury Regulations promulgated under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 170. In that case, the Eighth Circuit held for the taxpayer in part and the government in part and remanded to the district court to further develop the record and address certain issues.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced in an Action on Decision (AOD) that it will not acquiesce in the Eighth Circuit’s holding, which invalidated Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-9(c)(1)’s requirement that the primary function of an education organization described in Code Section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii) must be the presentation of formal instruction. This means that in all cases not appealable to the Eighth Circuit, the IRS will not follow this holding and will continue to litigate the issue.

The IRS’s policy is to announce at an early date whether it will follow the holdings in certain cases, and it does so by making an announcement in an AOD. A nonacquiescence is not binding on courts or the taxpayers but merely signals the IRS’s position that it disagrees with a court decision. (Sometimes the IRS will acquiesce in a decision.) Given that an AOD is published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin, it could be argued that the IRS’s action constitutes published guidance taxpayers can rely on. The IRS’s list of AODs, with links to each action, can be found here.




Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in One Tax Case, Denies it in Several Others

Historically, the Supreme Court of the United States rarely grants petitions for certiorari in tax cases, and it appears this trend continues in the current term.

On September 30, 2021, the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner. The case presents the question of whether Internal Revenue Code Section 6330(d)(1), which establishes a 30-day time limit for filing a petition in the US Tax Court to review a notice of determination by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in a collection due process matter, is a jurisdictional requirement or a claim-processing rule subject to the equitable tolling doctrine.

On October 4, 2021, the Supreme Court denied petitions for certiorari in Healthcare Distribution Alliance v. James and Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm PLLC v. United States. The former involved a challenge to a US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision that held that an opioid stewardship surcharge was a tax within the meaning of the Tax Injunction Act. The Court also found that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to rule on the challenge to the payment. The latter case involved a law firm’s challenge to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the IRS could use a “John Doe” summons to seek the identifies of taxpayers who it believed may have taken the firm’s advice to hide income offshore.

The Supreme Court also denied petitions for certiorari in the following cases:

  • Perkins v. Commissioner: A case regarding the taxability of income derived from the sale of land and gravel mined from treaty-protected land by an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation
  • Kimble v. United States: A case focused on Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts penalties and
  • Razzouk v. United States: A case involving restitution for tax and bribery convictions

Still pending are petitions in Willis v. United States (which involves the value of collectible coins seized by the government and deposited into an IRS account) and Clay v. Commissioner (which deals with a dispute over whether to follow guidance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the IRS).

Practice Point: Although the Supreme Court rarely reviews tax cases, when it does, the decision is usually important because it’s applicable to numerous taxpayers. For example, cases such as Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Research v. United States and United States v. Home Concrete & Supply LLC both provided significant guidance for taxpayers regarding the IRS’s scope of regulatory authority. Additionally, non-tax cases from the Supreme Court can contain general principles that are also applicable and impact tax positions taken, or being considered, by taxpayers. Thus, it is important that taxpayers and their representatives stay abreast on what is happening at the Supreme Court.




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