Taxpayers are running out of time to file refund claims against the government. If the government reduced or denied your Section 1603 cash grant, you can file suit in the Court of Federal Claims against the government to reclaim your lost grant money. Don’t worry, you will not be alone. There are numerous taxpayers lining up actions against the government and seeking refunds from this mismanaged renewable energy incentive program. Indeed, the government lost in round one of Alta Wind I Owner-Lessor C. v. United States, 128 Fed. Cl. 702 (2016). In that case, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs more than $206 million in damages ruling that the government unreasonably reduced their Section 1603 cash grants.
We have all heard the famous quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit applied this concept in its March 8 opinion in Annamalai v. Comm’r, No. 17-60255. There, the issue was whether the taxpayers could extend into perpetuity the 90-day deadline to file an appeal by filing successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. Under the facts presented, the answer was no.
Taxpayers have 90 days after a decision of the Tax Court to file an appeal. If a party makes a timely motion to vacate or revise the Tax Court’s decision, the 90 days runs from the later of either entry of the order disposing the motion or entry of a new decision.
In Annamalai, the taxpayers filed successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. After the Tax Court entered a final decision in favor of the government, the taxpayers unsuccessfully moved to vacate the decision. Rather than filing a notice of appeal within 90 days after the denial, the taxpayers filed another motion to vacate that did not raise any substantially new grounds or arguments. After the Tax Court denied the second motion, the taxpayers filed the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal was filed 117 days after the ruling on the first motion and 83 days after the ruling on the second motion.
The Fifth Circuit dismissed the taxpayers’ appeal, which it noted involved a jurisdictional issue of first impression. The court agreed with the general principle that tolling motions may not be tacked together to perpetuate the prescribed time for appeal. As such, the 90-day period ran from the ruling on the first motion, and the appeal was thereby untimely and dismissed.
The Fifth Circuit declined to address the issue of whether a second motion to vacate on substantially different grounds and new arguments would be acceptable. The court noted that it is acceptable in the civil context, suggesting it may be permitted.
Practice Point: Absent intervening events such as new case law directly on point, motions to vacate or reconsider are rarely granted in tax cases. Indeed, filing a motion to vacate or reconsider may provide an opportunity for the court to bolster its prior opinion and lessen the chances of success on appeal. In a situation where a motion to vacate or reconsider is pursued, taxpayers should take care to ensure that all arguments supporting such a motion are properly placed before the court and that an appeal is filed within the statutory-prescribed period if the motion is denied.
Statutes in the Internal Revenue Code (Code), like statutes in other areas of the law, are filled with terms that invite differing interpretations. As a general rule, a statutory term should be given its normal and customary meaning. This might entail resorting to common dictionary definitions from Webster’s or Black’s Law Dictionary. It might also entail looking to the established meaning of the term in the relevant industry. But what if the Code provides a specific definition of a term that varies from the ordinary meaning?
In Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, S.Ct. No. 16-1276 (Feb. 21, 2018), the parties disputed the meaning of the term “whistleblower” as set forth in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. The statute at issue specifically defined the term “whistleblower” to mean “any individual who provides … information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the [Securities and Exchange] Commission.” The question before the Court was whether the statute extended to an individual who had not reported a violation of the laws to the Commission fell within the definition of a whistleblower.
The Court answered the question in the negative: “‘When a statute includes an explicit definition, we must follow that definition,’ even if it varies from a term’s ordinary meaning. Burgess v. United States, 553 U.S. 124, 130 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).” Thus, because the specific definition of “whistleblower” in the relevant statute required providing information to the Commission, an individual who did not do so failed to meet the definitional requirements of the statute.
Practice Point: Taxpayers and their advisors must constantly review and interpret provisions of the Code, including the meaning of specific terms used by Congress. The Supreme Court’s holding in Digital Realty Trust confirms that if a specific definition is provided then it must be followed even if that definition is contrary to the normal and customary meaning or the established meaning in the relevant industry.
The main attraction in the US Tax Court (Tax Court) is just a few weeks away. On March 5, 2018, The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) square-off for a much anticipated six-week trial before Judge Lauber. The parties recently filed their Pretrial Memoranda in the case, although the IRS’s memorandum was filed under seal. TCCC’s Pretrial Memorandum gives us deep insight into the issues and how the trial will be conducted. The primary issue in the $3 billion transfer pricing case is the proper amount of the arm’s length royalties payable by six foreign licensees to TCCC for the licenses of TCCC’s trademarks and certain other intangible property for exploitation in international markets. In its Pretrial Memorandum, TCCC contends that the IRS’s application of an approximately 45 percent royalty rate using a bottler-based Comparable Profit Margin (CPM) that allocates to TCCC more than 100 percent of the aggregate operating (after accounting for the amounts paid pursuant to the Royalty Closing Agreement) profits of the six foreign licensees is arbitrary and capricious. Continue Reading Let’s Get Ready to Rumble – Coca Cola Concentrates on Trial Preparation
We have written several times about penalty defenses, including substantial authority, issues of first impression and tax reporting disclosures. Additionally, we previously covered the 2016 case of Graev v. Commissioner, where a divided US Tax Court (Tax Court) held that supervisory approval was not necessary before determining a penalty in a deficiency proceeding because the statutory language of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6751(b)(1) couched such approval in terms of a proposed penalty assessment. For those not well-versed in procedural tax lingo, an “assessment” is merely the formal recording of a tax liability in the records of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In cases subject to the deficiency procedures—i.e., where taxpayers have a right to contest the IRS’s position in the Tax Court—no assessment can be made until after the Tax Court’s decision is final. Continue Reading IRS Required to Obtain Supervisory Approval to Assert Penalties
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.