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Weekly IRS Roundup August 24 – August 28, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of August 24, 2020 – August 28, 2020. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

August 24 2020: The IRS published a memorandum concerning guidance to the field on the criteria that should be applied in considering if a request for designation for litigation should be made to the Office of Chief Counsel. The memorandum also provides interim guidance on the requirements of Section 1001 of the Taxpayer First Act (TFA) with respect to the limitation on designation of cases as not eligible for referral to the IRS Independent Office of Appeals.

August 25, 2020: The IRS published a Summer 2020 Statistics of Income Bulletin. The Summer 2020 Bulletin focuses individual income tax shares, 2017; foreign recipients of US income, calendar year 2017; effects of post-filing adjustments on Statistics of Income (SOI) estimates; and implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

August 25, 2020: The IRS published a practice unit focusing on the definition of foreign earned income for purposes of section 911.

August 26, 2020: The IRS published a notice and request for comments on Treasury Decision 8702 concerning certain transfers of domestic stock or securities by US persons to foreign corporations. The regulation relates to certain transfers of stock or securities of domestic corporations pursuant to the corporate organization, reorganization or liquidation provisions of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). Transfers of stock or securities by US persons in tax-free transactions are treated as taxable transactions when the acquirer is a foreign corporation, unless an exception applies under section 367(a). The regulation provides that no US person will qualify for an exception unless the US target company complies with certain reporting requirements. The comments should be received on or before October 26, 2020.

August 26, 2020: The IRS published a notice and request for comments on Treasury Decision 8612 concerning the availability of the gift and estate tax marital deduction when the donee spouse or the surviving spouse is not a US citizen. The regulation provides guidance to individuals or fiduciaries: (1) for making a qualified domestic trust election on the estate tax return of a decedent whose surviving spouse is not a US citizen in order that the estate may obtain the marital deduction; and (2) for filing the annual returns that such an election may require. The comments should be received on or before October 26, 2020.

August 27, 2020: The IRS published an announcement on the opening of the application period for the 2021 Compliance Assurance Process program. The application period runs September 1 to November 13, 2020. The IRS will inform applicants if they’re accepted into the program in February 2021.

August 28, 2020: The IRS published
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Weekly IRS Roundup June 15 – June 20, 2020

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of June 15 – June 20, 2020. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

June 19, 2020: The US Tax Court announced that the Court will resume receiving mail effective July 10, 2020. Any items currently being held by the United States Postal Service or any private delivery service will be delivered to the Court on that day.

June 19, 2020: The IRS issued proposed regulations that provide guidance for the deduction of qualified transportation fringe (QTF) and commuting expenses. As part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), taxpayers are not allowed deductions for QTF expenses or for certain commuting expenses. These proposed regulations address the elimination of the QTF deduction. The proposed regulations also provide guidance to determine the amount of QTF parking expense that is nondeductible.

June 19, 2020: The IRS released Notice 2020-50 to help retirement plan participants affected by the COVID-19 take advantage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act regarding retirement plan distributions. The CARES Act provides that qualified individuals may treat as coronavirus-related distributions up to $100,000 in distributions made from their eligible retirement plans between January 1 and December 30, 2020 without being subject to the 10% additional tax that otherwise generally applies to distributions made before an individual reaches age 59 ½. Notice 2020-50 expands the definition of who is a qualified individual to take into account additional factors such as reductions in pay, rescissions of job offers, and delayed start dates with respect to an individual, as well as adverse financial consequences to an individual arising from the impact of the COVID-19 on the individual’s spouse or household member.

June 20, 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 [...]

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Tax Court Zooms into Remote Proceedings

On May 29, 2020, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that to accommodate continuing uncertainties relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, and until further notice, all court proceedings would be conducted remotely. The Tax Court also issued Administrative Order 2020-02 regarding the conduct of remote proceedings and Administrative Order 2020-03 regarding limited entries of appearance. The Orders are effective until terminated by the Tax Court.

Administrative Order 2020-02 contains sample forms, which are also available under the “Forms” tab on the Tax Court’s website, providing more information on how Tax Court proceedings will be conducted during the pandemic. The updated forms include:

The forms make clear certain requirements that are contained in the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure but were not contained in a prior version of the Standing Pretrial Order. One notable change is that stipulations of fact, which are many times not filed until the day of trial, must now be filed at least 14 days before the trial commences.

Remote proceedings will be conducted using Zoomgov, and access information will be provided to the parties via a meeting identification number and a password. The parties must take steps to ensure that they and their witnesses have adequate technology and internet resources to participate in a remote proceeding. Personal Zoom accounts are not required.

Like most all court proceedings, remote proceedings will be open to the public. The Tax Court will post dial-in information on its website for each trial session, which will allow real-time audio access to proceedings to the general public.

Practice Point:  The Tax Court’s decision to conduct remote proceedings reflects the changing times. Being able to effectively present one’s case in person to a Tax Court Judge requires substantial preparation to tell the taxpayer’s story and advocate for the desired result. Taxpayers and their counsel must now prepare to do the same over videoconference, an arguably much more difficult task. We plan to explore the new rules in more detail in a future article and will keep our readers posted. Taxpayers should be mindful that the general public and the press will be able to virtually attend more court proceedings. Accordingly, your tax issues will be more open and accessible than ever before.




Eighth Circuit Applies Subjective Standard to Reasonable Basis Penalty Defense

On April 24, 2020, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit published its opinion in Wells Fargo & Co. v. United States, No. 17-3578, affirming a district court’s holdings that the taxpayer was not entitled to certain foreign tax credits and was liable for the negligence penalty for claiming the credits. Much has been written about the substantive issue, which we will not discuss here. Instead, we focus on the Eighth Circuit’s divided analysis relating to the reasonable basis defense to the negligence penalty.

In Wells Fargo, the taxpayer relied solely on the reasonable basis defense to the government’s assertion of penalties. Under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6662(b)(1), a taxpayer is liable for penalty of 20% of an underpayment of its taxes attributable to its “negligence.” Various defenses are potentially applicable to the negligence penalty, which we recently discussed in detail here. One such defense is if the taxpayer can show it had a “reasonable basis” for its position. Under Treas. Reg. § 1.6662-3(b), this defense applies if the taxpayer’s return position was “reasonably based on” certain authorities specified in the regulations.

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Fifth Circuit Rules that Law Firm Clients’ Identities Are Not Privileged

In Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm P.L.L.C. v. United States, No. 19-50506, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a Texas-based estate and tax-planning law firm (Firm) could not invoke the attorney-client privilege against an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) summons seeking the identity of its clients.

According to an IRS revenue agent’s declaration submitted in support of the summons, the Firm became a target for IRS investigation following an audit of one of its clients, an individual who had used the Firm’s services to establish and operate various foreign accounts and entities, through which the individual had funneled millions of dollars of unreported income. The IRS issued a John Doe summons to the Firm seeking, amongst other things, the identities of other clients for whom it had established foreign accounts or entities.

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IRS Flexes Its Administrative Summons Power in Recent Tax Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit’s recent opinion in Standing Akimbo, LLC v. United States, No. 19-1049 (10th Cir. April 7, 2020), reminds us of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) ability to obtain the information it needs to examine taxpayers’ returns using its powerful summons tool.

In May 2017, the IRS began auditing Standing Akimbo, LLC (Standing Akimbo), a Colorado limited liability company operating as a medical-marijuana dispensary. The audit focused on whether Standing Akimbo improperly claimed business deductions that were prohibited under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 280E. Generally, IRC section 280E provides that no deduction or credit is allowed for any amount paid or incurred in the carrying of a business if such business trafficks in controlled substances that are prohibited by Federal law. While legal under Colorado law, marijuana is still classified as a controlled substance under Federal law, and specifically the Controlled Substances Act. As a pass-through entity, any adjustments to Standing Akimbo’s returns would affect its owners’ (Taxpayers) individual tax returns.

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IRS Failed to Prove Supervisory Approval For Penalty Based Upon Redacted Document

In a recent order in the The Cannon Corp. v. Commissioner, No. 12466-16, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) held that a redacted email from a revenue agent’s supervisor to the agent regarding a notice of deficiency was not sufficient to satisfy the approval requirement under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6751(b) for the assertion of accuracy-related penalties.

Under IRC section 6751(b), as interpreted by case law, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is permitted to assert penalties only if the initial determination to assert the penalty is approved in writing by the supervisor of the individual making such a determination. That provision has been litigated recently in several notable cases, for example, Chai v. Commissioner851 F.3d 190 (2d Cir. 2017), and Graev v. Commissioner149 T.C. 485 (2017). Since Graev, the Tax Court has issued a series of decisions on the requirements of IRC section 6751(b). Our recent article discussing these decisions can be found here.

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Taxpayer Victory in an IRC Section 199 Contract Manufacturing Case

Recently, the US Federal District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Meredith Corp. v. United States, No. 4:17-cv-00385 (S.D. Iowa Mar. 20, 2020), held that a magazine publisher was entitled to refund of federal income tax based for the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 199 domestic production deduction based upon the printing services performed by a contract manufacturer. At issue in the case was whether the publisher qualified as a printer of magazines for purposes of IRC section 199 despite hiring third-party printers to print its magazines. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) argued that the third-party printers, not the magazine publisher, had the “benefits and burdens of ownership,” and thus only the third-party printers were eligible for the IRC section 199 deduction. The case involved tax years 2006 through 2012. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repealed IRC section 199 domestic production deduction for tax years after 2018.

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US Tax Court Cancels Remainder of Spring Trial Sessions

After cancelling several trial sessions for March 2020 and April 2020, and closing its building until further notice, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) has announced that the remainder of its trial sessions through the end of June 2020 have been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The cancelled trial sessions will be rescheduled at a later date. Although the Tax Court’s building is closed, the court remains operational:

Tax Court personnel are working remotely. The eAccess and eFiling systems remain operational and the Court will continue to process items received electronically, serve orders and opinions, enter and serve decisions, work with litigants, and receive telephone calls.

Practice Point: Much like prior government shutdowns, the cancellation of a large number of trial sessions stemming from COVID-19 is a major disruption for the Tax Court, taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Those taxpayers whose cases have been delayed should continue to work with IRS Chief Counsel attorneys to try and resolve their cases without the need for trial.




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