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 [...]