Settlements
Subscribe to Settlements's Posts

Exxon Prevails in $200 Million Tax Penalty Case

On January 13, 2021, the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled in favor of Exxon Mobil Corporation (“Exxon”) in its battle against the government over tax penalties. Exxon filed amended returns for its 2006-2009 tax years seeking a $1.35 billion tax refund based upon a change of character of certain transactions (from mineral leases to purchase transactions). The government disallowed the refund claims and imposed a $200 million penalty pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6676. Exxon paid the penalty and filed suit for a refund.

We have written extensively concerning IRC section 6676, warning taxpayers of this potential landmine. See, e.g., Taxpayers Should Prepare for the Next Penalty Battleground” Roberson, Spencer and Walters, Law360 (May 21, 2019) and “Expect More Civil Tax Penalties—So, Now What?” Roberson and Spencer, Tax Executive (Sept. 27, 2019). To recap, IRC Section 6676 was enacted in 2007 in response to the high number of meritless refund claims being filed at the time. It imposes a 20% penalty to the extent that a claim for refund or credit with respect to income tax is made for an “excessive amount.” An “excessive amount” is defined as the difference between the amount of the claim for credit or refund sought and the amount that is actually allowable. For example, if the taxpayer claims a refund of $2 million and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows only $1 million, the taxpayer can still be penalized $200,000.Significantly, IRC section 6676 does not require the IRS to show any fault or culpability on the part of the taxpayer—e.g., negligence, disregard of rules or regulations, etc. IRC section 6676(a) originally provided a “reasonable basis” defense (which is applicable to the Exxon case), but in 2015 Congress amended the statute and now requires a showing of “reasonable cause.” Neither the Code nor the regulations provide for any other defense to the IRC section 6676 penalty. Moreover, the penalty is immediately assessable, meaning taxpayers cannot fight the IRS in a pre-payment forum like the US Tax Court but must first pay the penalty and seek redress in a refund form.

In Exxon, the government argued that the court should overlay a subjective element on “reasonable basis,” as the US Circuit Court for the Eighth Circuit did in Wells Fargo & Co. v. United States, 957 F.3d 840 (8th Cir. 2020). Our prior coverage of this case can be found here. The Exxon court declined the invitation. Instead, the court explained IRC section 6676 “focuses on whether the claim had a reasonable basis, not on whether the taxpayer had a reasonable basis.” The court agreed with Exxon that its position in the refund claim that its transactions were purchases was reasonable based on the relevant authorities. It further found that the company had “colorable support for its legal contention that a change that affects whether, not when, an item comes into income is not [...]

Continue Reading




Weekly IRS Roundup September 28 – October 2, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of September 28, 2020 – October 2, 2020. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

September 29, 2020: The IRS published final regulations related to the source of income for certain property sales and modifying rules for determining whether foreign source income is effectively connected with a US trade or business.

September 29, 2020: The IRS published final regulations related to a wide range of foreign tax credit topics. The regulations provide guidance on the allocation and apportionment of deductions and creditable foreign taxes, the definition of financial services income, foreign tax redeterminations, availability of foreign tax credits under the transition tax, the application of the foreign tax credit limitation to consolidated groups, adjustments to hybrid deduction accounts to take into account certain inclusions in income by a United States shareholder, conduit financing arrangements involving hybrid instruments and the treatment of certain payments under the global intangible low-taxed income provisions.

October 1, 2020: The IRS published Notice 2020-70 generally removing Form 1040NR, US Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return, from the list of returns that are administratively exempt from the electronic filing requirement.

October 1, 2020: The IRS published final regulations related to savings programs for eligible individuals with a disability under section 529A.

October 1, 2020: The IRS released an Office of Chief Counsel Notice related to settlement options for syndicated conservation easement transactions.

October 2, 2020: The IRS published Notice 2020-76 providing for transition relief related to information reporting requirements related to the Affordable Care Act.

October 2, 2020: The IRS updated the instructions for Form 8858: Information Return of US Persons with Respect to Foreign Disregarded Entities (FDEs) and Foreign Branches (FBs) to reflect changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

October 2, 2020: The IRS released Internal Revenue Bulletin 2020-41, dated October 5, 2020, containing the following highlights: Announcement 2020-12 (Administrative); Rev. Proc. 2020-42 (Administrative); Rev. Rul. 2020-20 (Income Tax); Rev. Rul. 2020-21 (Income Tax); TD 9915 (Income Tax); Notice 2020-73 (Income Tax); Notice 2020-74 (Income Tax).

September 25, 2020: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Brian Moore in our Washington, DC, office for this week’s roundup.




Weekly IRS Roundup June 22 – June 26, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of June 22 – June 26, 2020. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

June 24, 2020: The IRS issued final regulations permitting a regulated investment company (RIC) that receives qualified real estate investment trust (REIT) dividends to report dividends the RIC pays to its shareholders as section 199A dividends.

June 25, 2020: The IRS Office of Chief Counsel announced a limited settlement offer to certain taxpayers with pending docketed US Tax Court cases involving syndicated conservation easement transactions. The settlement offer requires a concession of the income tax benefits claimed by the taxpayer and imposes penalties.

June 26, 2020: The IRS will begin to reopen Taxpayer Assistance Centers starting on June 29, 2020. In-person appointments will be available for certain items.

June 26, 2020: The IRS issued a reminder to taxpayers and businesses that income tax liabilities as well as postponed April 15 and June 15, 2020, estimated tax payments are due July 15, 2020. Taxpayers who owe a 2019 income tax liability, as well as estimated tax for 2020, must make two separate payments on or by July 15, 2020. One payment should be for their 2019 income tax liability and one payment for their 2020 estimated tax payments.

June 26, 2020: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Emily Mussio in our Chicago office for this week’s roundup.




Tax Court Holds That Form 870-AD Is Not a Binding Settlement Agreement

A recent US Tax Court Memorandum Opinion held that a settlement agreement embodied in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 870-AD does not preclude the IRS from reopening an audit and issuing a notice of deficiency.

In Howe v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2020-78, the Tax Court held that equitable estoppel did not bind the Commissioner to an agreement in Form 870-AD. Only settlements that comply with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) sections 7121 and 7122 are binding on both the taxpayer and government, and an IRS Form 870-AD does not comply with those provisions. Further, the Court held that equitable estoppel did not bar the IRS from asserting a larger deficiency against the taxpayer because, even if true, the alleged failures to follow internal IRS procedures would not rise to the level of affirmative misconduct.

An IRS revenue agent initially began an audit of the 2008 tax return for the taxpayer, who was CEO and majority shareholder of a healthcare company, in 2011. At the conclusion of the audit, the revenue agent issued a Notice of Proposed Adjustment (NOPA) and IRS Form 886-A. The taxpayer responded to the NOPA by filing a protest letter at the IRS Appeals Office. In settlement of the issue during the IRS Appeals Office review, the taxpayer and the IRS appeals officer (on behalf of the IRS) signed a Form 870-AD that reduced the asserted tax deficiency and eliminated the IRC section 6662 accuracy-related penalty. The IRS Appeals Officer filed an IRS Appeals Case Memorandum (ACM) summarizing the facts and legal arguments.

In response to the ACM, the revenue agent who conducted the audit, in consultation with her supervisor and local IRS counsel, internally filed a Dissent for Appeals Decision. The Dissent for Appeals Decision sought to reopen the case against the taxpayer on the grounds that the taxpayer made material factual misrepresentations during the IRS Appeals process. The IRS Appeals Director approved reopening the case, and the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency.

The taxpayer sought review in the Tax Court on the grounds that the IRS improperly reopened the case and that the settlement represented in Form 870-AD equitably estopped the Commissioner from issuing the Notice of Deficiency. The Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s argument. Following its holding in Greenberg’s Express, Inc. v. Commissioner, 62 T.C. 324, 327 (1974), the Tax Court will only look behind a Notice of Deficiency when there is “substantial evidence of unconstitutional conduct on the Commissioner’s part and the integrity of our judicial process would be impugned if we were to let the Commissioner benefit from such conduct.” (Howe, at *12.) The Tax Court found there was no substantial evidence of unconstitutional conduct by the IRS.

Further, there is a heightened standard for applying equitable estoppel against the IRS. In addition to the traditional detrimental reliance elements, asserting equitable estoppel claims against the government requires a showing that: “(1) the government engaged in affirmative misconduct going beyond mere negligence; (2) the government’s wrongful acts will cause a serious [...]

Continue Reading




Weekly IRS Roundup September 16 – 20, 2019

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of September 16 – 20, 2019.

September 16, 2019: The IRS issued a news release about time-limited settlement offers made to eligible taxpayers under audit who participated in certain micro-captive insurance transactions.

September 17, 2019: The Treasury and the IRS released a Chief Counsel Notice advising Chief Counsel attorneys about the prior Policy Statement on the Tax Regulatory Process issued by the Treasury and the IRS on March 5, 2019. We previously wrote about the Policy Statement here. The Chief Counsel Notice advises that any matter implicating any aspect of the Policy Statement must be coordinated with the Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Procedure & Administration).

September 17, 2019: The IRS issued a notice expanding the emergency housing and compliance monitoring relief that is provided in Rev. Proc. 2014-49, 2014-37 I.R.B. 535, and Rev. Proc. 2014-50, 2014-37 I.R.B. 540 to Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties in California due to the California wildfires.

September 17, 2019: The IRS set September 24, 2019, as the Federal Register publication date for final and proposed regulations on increase of benefit and expansion of qualifying property for additional first year depreciation deduction.

September 18, 2019: The IRS released a revenue ruling prescribing various rates for federal income tax purposes for October 2019: (1) applicable federal rates for purposes of section 1274(d); (2) adjusted applicable federal rates for purposes of section 1288(b); (3) adjusted federal long-term rate and the long-term tax-exempt rate described in section 382(f); (4) appropriate percentages for determining the low-income housing credit described in section 42(b)(1); and (5) the federal rate for determining the present value of an annuity, an interest for life or for a term of years, or a remainder or a reversionary interest for purposes of section 7520.

September 19, 2019: The IRS issued final regulations amending the rules relating to hardship distributions from section 401(k) plans. The final regulations reflect statutory changes affecting section 401(k) plans, including changes made by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The regulations affect participants in, beneficiaries of, employers maintaining and administrators of plans that include cash or deferred arrangements or provide for employee or matching contributions.

September 2019: The IRS released a Statistics of Income Bulletin focusing on gift taxes. The article provides data on donors, donees, and types and amounts of gifts given during 2010 to 2016.

Special thanks to Robbie Alipour in our Chicago office for this week’s roundup.




Joint Committee Releases Overview of Its Refund Review Process

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. (more…)




Law360: A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand

Andy Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Emily Mussio recently authored an article for Law360 entitled, “A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand.” The article discusses the IRS’s contentious history in handling Code Section 199 and the taxpayers’ continued battle to claim the benefit – even after its recent repeal.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Law360, November 2018.




Weekly IRS Roundup August 27 – 31, 2018

Presented below is our summary of significant IRS guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of August 27 – 31, 2018:

August 27, 2018: The IRS announced changes to its Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. We posted about the changes to CAP here.

August 28, 2018: In Notice 2018-70, the IRS announced that it will issue proposed regulations clarifying the definition of a “qualifying relative” for various purposes, including the new $500 credit for certain dependents.

August 30, 2018: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) completed its review of a proposal to remove parts of the Internal Revenue Code Section 385 regulations, which address the treatment of debt among members of an expanded affiliated group.

August 31, 2018: The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2018-58, which includes the current list of jurisdictions subject to reporting requirements for certain deposit interest paid to nonresident alien individuals.

August 31, 2018: The IRS published statistics regarding US source income payments to foreign persons reported on Form 1042-S.

August 31, 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.




IRS Announces That CAP Will Continue

On August 27, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that the Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program will continue, with some modifications.  As we previously discussed, the IRS began an assessment of the CAP program in August 2016 to determine if any recalibration was needed.

CAP is an IRS program that seeks to identify and resolve tax issues through open, cooperative, and transparent interaction between the IRS and Large Business and International (LB&I) taxpayers prior to the filing of a return.  The goal of CAP is greater certainty of the treatment of tax positions sooner and with less administrative burden than conventional post-file audits.  The program began in 2005, and became permanent in 2011.  Several notable taxpayers publically disclose their involvement in the CAP program. (more…)




IRS Funding Woes Realized? Audit Rate at 15-Year Low!

A shrinking Internal Revenue Budget (IRS) budget has meant that fewer agents are available to make sure that the tax laws are being enforced. We have reported previously about how Congress has decreased the IRS’s budget.  In 2017, the audit rate fell to its lowest levels in 15 years because of a shrinking IRS budget and workforce. Indeed, your chance of being audited fell to 0.6% in 2017, the lowest rate since 2002. Similarly, tax collection levies fell 32% from the prior year, and the IRS filed 5% fewer liens year-over-year. Detailed information from the IRS can be found here.

Practice Point. The decreased funding of the IRS in the wake of bipartisan disagreements seems to have quelled in recent weeks. We have seen movement to get the IRS more funding in the wake of tax reform but it remains to be seen whether some of those funds will be used to increase the enforcement functions of the IRS. We anticipate, however, an increase in enforcement activity as a result of some of the positions taken by taxpayers in anticipation of tax reform and the myriad of interpretive questions that are expected to result from the new tax laws.




STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES