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IRS Appeals Will Not Consider Regulatory Invalidity and Subregulatory Procedural Invalidity Challenges

In Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Rsch. v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 704 (2011), the Supreme Court of the United States made clear that administrative law rules apply to tax guidance like they do to other federal agency guidance. Since Mayo, the Supreme Court and other courts have provided further guidance—both in the tax and non-tax contexts—regarding the proper analysis in determining the validity of, and deference to, regulatory guidance.

Over the past decade, the number of taxpayer challenges to guidance issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), whether in the form of regulations or subregulatory guidance (i.e., revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and announcements), has increased significantly. These challenges have taken a variety of forms, such as regulatory invalidity under Chevron USA, Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984) and procedural invalidity under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). Some successful challenges to the validity of IRS guidance and the ability to challenge such guidance in a pre-enforcement context include CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, 141 S.Ct. 1582 (2021); United States v. Home Concrete & Supply, LLC, 132 S.Ct. 1836 (2012); Mann Construction, Inc. v. Commissioner, 27 F. 4th 1138 (6th Cir. 2022); Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 897 F.3d 256 (2018) and Liberty Global, Inc. v. United States, No. 1:20-cv-03501-RBJ (D. Colo. 2022). Many other challenges are pending both at the administrative level and in court.

The IRS and the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) have noticed the increase in challenges to its published guidance. One important change is the more detailed discussions in preambles to final regulations regarding comments received and how the IRS views and incorporates said comments. This is a welcome development, although sometimes a tortuous one for taxpayers who must wade through hundreds of pages of preambles in some regulation packages. Another change, and the subject of this post, is the IRS’s views on how to deal with such challenges during the administrative process.

A federal tax controversy can involve three levels of review: Examination, Appeals and litigation. At the Examination stage, revenue agents and other IRS personnel develop the facts and determine whether an adjustment is warranted. Importantly, “hazards of litigation” are not considered at the Examination level, meaning, issues are viewed as binary—in favor of the IRS or the taxpayer—and not negotiated as a percentage of the item. However, at the Appeals level, the Appeals team weighs “hazards of litigation” to determine whether a case can be settled by the parties. Hazards of litigation are also considered at the litigation level.

Validly promulgated tax regulations are approved at the highest levels of the IRS, Treasury generally carry the force and effect of law and are binding on taxpayers and the IRS. Subregulatory guidance is also approved at senior levels of the IRS and the Treasury. At the Examination level, the IRS will not entertain challenges to the validity of [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup September 12 – September 16, 2022

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of September 12, 2022 – September 16, 2022.

September 12, 2022: The IRS released Internal Revenue Bulletin 2022-37, which highlights the following:

  • Treasury Decision 9965: These regulations establish certain requirements regarding the implementation of protections against balance billing provided under the No Surprise Act.
  • Notice 2022-37: This guidance assists taxpayers in complying with the final regulations under Section 871(m). The US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the IRS intend to amend Section 871(m) regulations, which will delay the effective date of certain rules in the final regulations and extend the phase-in period provided in Notice 2020-2 for two years.

September 12, 2022: The IRS released COVID Tax Tip 2022-139, reminding taxpayers of recently issued Notice 2022-36, which provides penalty relief from certain failure to file penalties in taxable years 2019 and 2020. The relevant penalties will be waived, abated, refunded or credited. The relief is designed to help struggling taxpayers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and to allow the IRS to focus resources on processing backlogged tax returns and taxpayer correspondence.

September 12, 2022: The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) released the Fiscal Year 2022 Statutory Review of Compliance With Notice of Federal Tax Lien Filing Due Process Procedures. TIGTA is required to determine annually whether lien notices issued by the IRS comply with the legal requirements set forth in the Internal Revenue Code. TIGTA recommended that the Director of Collection Policy for the Small Business/Self-Employed Division (1) reinforce Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) guidance to ensure that taxpayers’ representatives are notified of Notice of Federal Tax Lien filings and (2) correct an IRM reference on Written Communication to a Taxpayer’s Authorized Representative. The IRS agreed.

September 12, 2022: TIGTA released its report entitled, Reliance on Self-Certifications Resulted in Federal Agencies Awarding Contracts and Grants to Entities With Delinquent Federal Taxes; However, the IRS Is Making Progress on Establishing the Federal Contractor Tax Check System. TIGTA performed this audit because in Calendar Years 2015 and 2016, federal contracts were awarded to thousands of contractors with unpaid taxes that were most likely delinquent. Between October 2018 and December 2019, the federal government awarded 2.1 million federal contracts to more than 83,000 awardees. More than 3,000 contractors that received contracts owned $621.8 million in delinquent federal taxes, and 938 grantees received $22.7 billion in federal grants while owning $269.2 million in delinquent federal taxes.

September 12, 2022: The IRS issued minor corrections to Treasury Decision 9964, originally published August 16, 2022. The regulations define guidance for states regarding the process by which they may obtain or inspect certain returns and return information for the purpose of administering state laws governing certain tax-exempt organizations and their activities.

September [...]

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Courts Outline Boundaries of the Anti-Injunction Act Post-CIC Services

Since the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS was issued in May 2021, courts have grappled with how to apply the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) in other contexts. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit under the AIA in Hancock County Land Acquisitions, LLC v. United States, while the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently held that the AIA does not prevent a challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) use of John Doe summons in Harper v. Rettig.

In July, we posted about a circuit split between the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits over claimed Administrative Procedure Act (APA) violations. As discussed below, these post-CIC Services decisions are shaping the boundaries of challenges based upon the APA and the AIA.

THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

The taxpayer in this case reported a $180 million deduction for a conservation easement on land it owned in Mississippi. The IRS audited the taxpayer and requested an extension of the statute of limitations on assessment in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6501. The taxpayer initially declined, but 11 months after the request it agreed to extend the limitations period. At that point, the IRS had almost finished with its examination, and the parties never executed the extension. The IRS issued a Notice of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA), and the taxpayer was unable to pursue an administrative resolution with the IRS Office of Independent Appeals (IRS Appeals). The taxpayer filed suit in US federal district court, arguing, among other things, that the IRS violated the APA when it did not send the case to IRS Appeals, resulting in the taxpayer being deprived of pre-litigation administrative resolution of its tax dispute. The IRS moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the district court granted.

On appeal, the taxpayer argued that the suit was not barred by the AIA, citing CIC Services. The Eleventh Circuit, however, explained that the three considerations that led to that conclusion in CIC Services were the “same three considerations [that] lead to the opposite conclusion here.” The Court found that the taxpayer: (1) would not be subject to any costs separate and apart from the tax penalty from the FPAA; (2) was on the cusp of liability when it filed its suit and (3) would not suffer any criminal punishment by following the AIA’s “familiar pay-now-sue-later procedure.” The Court stated, “at its heart, this suit is a ‘dispute over taxes,’” and it was far from clear that under no circumstances could the IRS prevail on the merits of the taxpayer’s claim.

THE FIRST CIRCUIT

In 2013, the taxpayer in this case opened an account with a digital currency exchange. He deposited bitcoin into his account in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, he started to liquidate his Bitcoin holdings, which lasted until 2016 when his holdings were depleted. At that [...]

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IRS Appeals Retains Video Conference Option, Requests Public Input

In 2017, we posted about the IRS Independent Office of Appeals’ (IRS Appeals) implementation of a face-to-face virtual option for taxpayers. Now, IRS Appeals wants suggestions from tax professionals on how to improve and enhance the video conferencing platform.

IRS Appeals offers taxpayers conferences by telephone, video or in person. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered expanded interim guidance that required employees to conduct video conferences when requested by taxpayers. IRS Appeals plans to make updates to the Internal Revenue Manual, including guidelines for conducting video conferences and for using the video conference platform technology, Microsoft Teams.

In April 2022, IRS Appeals acknowledged its large backlog of cases and detailed a multipoint plan to reduce “significant inventory.” As we discussed previously in our post, the plan offered welcome developments, including additional resources, prioritization of docketed casework, faster initial contact with the taxpayer, streamlined case processing, resolution of cases without conferences that were triggered from pandemic miscommunication and reliance on oral statements to resolve cases rather than trials. Improvements to the video conferencing platform can only help to alleviate that backlog further.

Some of the common ideas expressed by taxpayers and tax professionals to date include:

  • The potential for improving the taxpayer experience as taxpayers may be better able to present their cases over video rather than on a phone conference.
  • The critical nature of the IRS Appeals employee’s role in making sure every participant is introduced and participants turn on their cameras.
  • How screensharing allows for a more comprehensive discussion of issues and potentially earlier resolution.
  • Keeping technical requirements to a minimum for taxpayers who find the video conference platform challenging while also ensuring other options (such as teleconferences and in-person conferences) remain available.

Generally, it is up to taxpayers or their representatives to decide how they will meet with IRS Appeals. According to a recent release, the type of conference chosen will not impact IRS Appeals’ substantive decision in a matter. Comments should be sent to AP.taxpayer.experience@irs.gov by November 16, 2022.

Practice Point: IRS Appeals remains one of the most effective ways for taxpayers to resolve disputes with the IRS. With video conferencing here to stay, tax practitioners with ideas for improvements should consider submitting them, as they may not be considered otherwise.

For our prior comments and posts on IRS Appeals, see the links below:




IRS Appeals Acknowledges Massive Backlog of Cases, Shares Plan to Catch Up

In a memorandum dated April 19, 2022, the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Independent Office of Appeals (IRS Appeals) acknowledged that it has a large backlog of cases that is slowing down the process of resolving cases with taxpayers. In the memorandum, IRS Appeals details its multipoint plan to get back on track. Apparently, there is a “significant inventory” of cases docketed in the US Tax Court that have been referred back to IRS Appeals. To solve this problem, IRS Appeals is:

  • Dedicating additional resources to work these cases
  • Prioritizing docketed casework
  • Making faster initial contact with the taxpayer or their representative by telephone shortly after the case is filed in the Tax Court
  • Applying streamlined case processing, such as specific dollar settlements, expedited tax computation requests and the use of Form 5402, Appeals Settlement Memorandum, to document settlements
  • Resolving cases without an IRS Appeals conference for matters that result from pandemic miscommunication rather than actual tax disputes
  • Obviating an actual trial to develop the facts and instead relying on oral statements to resolve cases more efficiently.

All of the above measures are welcome developments. Timely first contact with taxpayers and streamlined case processing should result in faster settlements and closure of matters while reducing interest expenses for taxpayers with deficiencies. Acknowledging that the controversy stems from a pandemic miscommunication (e.g., the IRS not processing or responding to taxpayer submissions before issuing a notice of deficiency) should eliminate unnecessary conferences and promote the dismissal of matters that never should have ended up before the Tax Court.

The acceptance of oral statements should also help resolve matters faster. In many situations, the documents necessary to substantiate a position may not be available or there may not be any documents in the first instance, so the only way to prove a factual point is through oral testimony. IRS Appeals should also consider declarations or affidavits signed under penalties of perjury as an appropriate means for substantiating facts to resolve cases more efficiently. Indeed, the use of such written statements is commonplace in litigation when parties seek summary adjudication.

We have discussed IRS Appeals numerous times on this blog. It remains one of the best forums to resolve tax disputes with the IRS and avoid court, meaning a substantial slow down at IRS Appeals is a real problem for taxpayers who cannot come to an agreement with an IRS examination team.

Practice Point: We applaud the IRS’s attempt to break the bottleneck at IRS Appeals. The measures that IRS Appeals is employing seem reasonable and appropriate and most of them should be employed even after IRS Appeals becomes updated on its caseload. In the meantime, if you have a case that will go to IRS Appeals, consider trying to expedite your appeal by requesting the 30-day letter as soon as it becomes clear you will be having an unagreed-case.




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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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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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.




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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