The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had broad examination authority to determine the correct amount of tax owed by taxpayers. In addition to seeking information directly from a taxpayer, the IRS is also authorized to seek information from third parties. However, Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7602(c)(1) requires that the IRS provide “reasonable notice in advance to the taxpayer” before contacting a third party. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently addressed what constitutes “reasonable notice” for this purpose.

In J.B. v. United States, the taxpayer sought to quash an IRS summons for insufficient notice. The taxpayers were selected for a compliance research examination as part of the IRS’s National Research Program, which involves in-depth audits of random taxpayers to improve the government’s access to compliance information and ensure that the IRS is auditing the right taxpayers. The IRS notified the taxpayers of the audit by mail and enclosed a copy of Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer. Publication 1 states, in relevant part, that the IRS may sometimes talk to other persons if the taxpayers are unable to provide or verify information received from the taxpayer. In J.B., the IRS summonsed the California Supreme Court for copies of billing statements, invoices and other documents relating to payments to the taxpayer-husband, who was a lawyer who accepted appointments to represent indigent criminal defendants in capital cases. The taxpayers did not learn of the summons until after it had been issued, and therefore moved to quash the summons for insufficient notice. The district court held in favor of the taxpayers.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, albeit on different grounds. After explaining that “reasonable notice” is a fact-sensitive determination and that advance notice is intended to provide taxpayers the right to avoid potential embarrassment caused by IRS contact with third parties, the court discussed the Internal Revenue Manual and the IRS’s prior practice of providing taxpayer-specific notice. In particular, the predecessor IRS letter had more than 20 iterations tailored to meet different functional requirements. The court ultimately held that the IRS must provide notice “reasonably calculated under all relevant circumstances to apprise interested parties of the possibility that the IRS may contact third parties and that affords interested parties a meaningful opportunity to resolve issues and volunteer information before those third-party contacts are made.”

The Ninth Circuit was particularly troubled by the facts that: (1) the IRS had reason to know that the billing records at issue might have been subject to attorney-client privilege and (2) the taxpayers would have had access to those documents and would have been able to provide redacted copies of the pertinent records. Moreover, the court noted that Publication 1 was “divorced from any specific request for documents.” The court concluded that “[a]lthough we limit our holding to the facts of this case, we are doubtful that Publication 1 alone will ever suffice to provide reasonable notice in advance to the taxpayer, as the statute requires. We think it unlikely that the broad and colloquial language…gives the taxpayer reasonable advance notice that the IRS intends to subpoena…third-party documents.”

Practice Point: J.B. is an important case for taxpayers in that it requires the IRS to provide more specific notice than just Publication 1 before seeking information from third parties. Despite the notice requirement and the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, it remains good practice for taxpayers and their representatives to specifically request notice from the IRS regarding any third-party contacts. This is important to ensure that privileged information is not provided to the IRS by a third party, to understand exactly what information the IRS is requesting and to enable the taxpayer to provide such information without the need to involve third parties.

Each New Year, many of us look back on the previous year’s activities, and determine what we want to accomplish in the coming year – lose weight, start exercising, read more tax articles, etc. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) Division memorialized its New Year’s resolutions for 2019 in Publication 5319. So, for taxpayers with more than $10 million in assets, you may want listen up and see what the IRS has in store for 2019!

LB&I’s goals come during a time of significant reduction in workforce and increase in responsibilities. LB&I experienced a significant reduction in workforce between October 2017 and October 2018, reducing its workforce by a net of 344 employees (down from 4,868 to 4,524) spread across several positions. This included 18 individuals in leadership, 218 revenue agents and 25 tax examiners. With the exception of tax law specialists, which remained at 24, every other position saw a reduction in personnel. This reduction in personnel comes at critical point for LB&I, as it undoubtedly spent much of its time and resources last year working on guidance necessary to implement the substantial changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in late 2017. It will continue to be responsible for training and compliance related to those changes. Continue Reading IRS LB&I Division Announces Its New Year’s Resolutions

On March 2, 2018, President Trump nominated Michael Desmond to be the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, the Senate did not get around to confirming him. On January 16, 2019, President Trump renominated Mr. Desmond, and the US Senate Committee on Finance has scheduled a hearing for February 5th to consider his renomination.

The Chief Counsel is the top legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws. The Chief Counsel also provides legal guidance and interpretive advice to the IRS, Treasury and to taxpayers. Mr. Desmond clerked for Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. From 1995 through 2000, he served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Department of Justice, and from 2005 through 2008 he served as tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy.

Mr. Desmond has a strong reputation in the tax community, and we hope that his nomination is acted on immediately.

On January 29 and 30, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service’s Large Business and International (LB&I) division released new Practice Units on Permanent Establishments, which can be found here and here. Permanent Establishments create taxing nexus for foreign businesses doing business in the United States and for those who have “effectively connected income.” The Practice Units provide the IRS’s LB&I audit teams with a general guide on the tax concepts related to permanent establishments. The Practice Units provide examples of the analysis necessary to determine whether a foreign company has a permanent establishment, for example, as a result of its agent concluding contracts on its behalf in the United States. Additionally, the Practice Unit on treaty exemptions describes whether an activity has a preparatory or auxiliary character for purposes of determining whether a foreign enterprise has a US permanent establishment. LB&I auditors will use the Practice Units as tools to help analyze whether a US permanent establishment exists and an income tax adjustment is necessary.

Practice Point: If you have potential PE issues, it is a good idea to look at what your auditors are looking at. The Practice Units are helpful to understand the perspective of IRS auditors on these issues, the types of questions they are likely to ask and the information that they will request.

Clients ask us all of the time, “What is the Joint Committee on Taxation’s (JCT) process for reviewing refund claims granted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)?” Recently, the JCT has released an overview of its process. Wait, what? After the IRS has agreed to issue you a refund, there is a congressional committee that has to check the IRS’s work? Yep!

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §6405 prohibits the IRS/US Department of the Treasury from issuing certain refund payments to taxpayers until 30 days after a “report” is given to the JCT. Only refunds “in excess” of $5 million for corporate taxpayers and $2 million for all other taxpayers (partnerships, individuals, trusts, etc.) are required to be reported to the JCT. A refund claim is an amount listed on an amended return (e.g., Forms 1140X and 1120X), tentative carrybacks (e.g., Forms 1139 and 1045), and refunds attributable to certain disaster losses. Numerous types of refund payments are excepted from JCT review, including refunds claimed on originally filed returns, resulting from litigation and employment taxes. It is important to note that this process is not limited to the IRS Examination stage; it can also occur at the IRS Appeals stage or even in tax court litigation. Continue Reading Joint Committee Releases Overview of Its Refund Review Process

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of October 29 – November 2, 2018:

October 30, 2018: The IRS issued a notice of public hearing on November 28, 2018, regarding the proposed regulations the first-year additional depreciation deductions under section 168(k).

October 30, 2018: The IRS Large Business and International Division in an announcement identified five compliance campaigns it approved, which are Individual Foreign Tax Credit Phase II, Offshore Service Providers, FATCA Filing Accuracy, 1120-F Delinquent Returns Campaign and Work Opportunity Tax Credit. We recently blogged about this here.

October 31, 2018: The IRS and the Treasury submitted proposed regulations that would reduce the amount determined under Internal Revenue Code Section 956 with respect to certain domestic corporations.

November 2, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Alex Cheng-Yi Lee in our DC office for this week’s roundup.

We have previously discussed ongoing developments with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. In brief summary, CAP is a real-time audit program that seeks to resolve the tax treatment of all or most return issues before the tax return is filed. The CAP program began in 2005 on an invitation-only basis with 17 taxpayers, and was subsequently expanded to include pre-CAP, CAP and CAP Maintenance components. Taxpayers and IRS leadership generally praised the CAP program as one of the most successful corporate tax enforcement programs, with surveys showing that more than 90 percent of CAP taxpayers reported overall satisfaction with the program.

The fate of CAP has been uncertain in recent years given the IRS’s shift in the examination process to identifying and focusing on specific areas of risk and the continued dwindling of IRS resources. In 2016, we discussed whether this change might result in the death of the CAP program and the IRS’s announcement that it was formally assessing the program. In August of this year, the IRS announced that the CAP program will continue, with some modifications.

At a September 26 conference, the IRS indicated that it wanted to expand the CAP program, but that changes were needed to keep the program sustainable over the long term given issues with increased examination times for CAP audits based primarily on issues involving transfer pricing, research credits under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 41, and former Code Section 199. The IRS indicated that it needed to resolve two issues for the CAP program: (1) eligibility and (2) suitability. Regarding eligibility, the IRS indicated that only public companies will likely be allowed into the program. Regarding suitability, factors include: (1) responses to IRS information requests; (2) good-faith efforts to resolve issues; (3) disclosure of tax shelters, material items, investigation or litigation; (4) frequency of claims; and (5) complying with the terms of the program’s memorandum of understanding.

The IRS has also released a Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) Recalibration discussion document, dated September 28, 2018. The discussion document provides more detail on the IRS’s current thinking regarding the CAP program and the two issues identified above. The document indicates that no new applications will be accepted for 2019 but that the IRS expects to accept new application for the 2020 tax year. In addition to general application information, taxpayers with international cross-border activity and research and experimentation activities will be required to submit additional information.

Practice Point: Taxpayers that are currently in the CAP program or that are considering applying to the program should review the IRS’s recent discussion document to identify potential changes to the program and whether the program would be a good fit. For many taxpayers, the CAP program has been—or could be­—a great program for resolving tax disputes in a timely fashion and gaining finality on tax position at an early date. The IRS may use their “suitability” criteria to weed out which taxpayers should be in the CAP program. Query whether a taxpayer will be suitable for CAP if they have identified an issue that is listed in one of the IRS’s “campaigns.” Only time will tell. We have heard that some CAP teams are overburdened and may have little training on new tax reform issues, requiring them to seek assistance from their CAP taxpayers. This might be a good opportunity to educate your CAP team on how your specific facts align with tax reform.

On September 12, 2018, the Senate confirmed, by a vote of 64-33, Charles P. Rettig to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue for the term expiring November 12, 2022. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Rettig and his background here.

The IRS Commissioner presides over the United States’ tax system and is responsible for establishing and interpreting tax administration policy and for developing strategic issues, goal and objectives for managing and operating the IRS. This includes responsibility for overall planning, directing, controlling and evaluating IRS policies, programs, and performance. The IRS Commissioner is also required by statute under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7803 to ensure that all IRS employees are familiar with and act in accord with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

The nomination of Michael J. Desmond to be Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains pending in the Senate. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Desmond and his background here.

The IRS Chief Counsel serves as the chief legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as all other legal matters. Attorneys in the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office serve as lawyers for the IRS. Their role is to provide the IRS and taxpayers with guidance on interpreting Federal tax laws correctly, represent the IRS in litigation, and provide all other legal support required to carry out the IRS mission

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of September 3 – 7, 2018:

September 4, 2018: The IRS reminded taxpayers that they have until September 28, 2018, to apply for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

September 5, 2018: In response to taxpayer inquiries, the IRS clarified that taxpayers generally can deduct business-related payments to charities or governmental entities even if they also receive a state or local tax credit.

September 6, 2018: The IRS released a Practice Unit on “Determining an Individual’s Residency for Treaty Purposes.”

September 6, 2018: The IRS published Revenue Procedure 2018-47, which provides guidance to regulated investment companies regarding the application of the section 4982 excise tax to amounts included in income under the new Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965 transition tax.

September 7, 2018: The IRS published Revenue Ruling 2018-25, establishing the interest rates applicable to over- and under-payments of tax.

September 7, 2018: The IRS released PMTA 2018-016, concluding that it can use it math error authority, not only on intake and before refunds have been issued, but also anytime within the three-year statute of limitations period under Code Section 6501(a).

September 7, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Kevin Hall in our DC office for this week’s roundup.