Inc. v. Commissioner
Subscribe to Inc. v. Commissioner's Posts

Courts Split on Supervisory Approval Requirement for Tax Penalties

Since Chai v. Commissioner, an opinion by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit subsequently followed by the US Tax Court in several opinions, there has been a substantial number of cases litigating issues involving supervisory approval of federal civil tax penalties. Two recent additions to that list include decisions from the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, where both Courts departed from the Tax Court’s analysis and ruling on the issue. The disagreement centers on when approval must occur. (Some of our prior discussions on this topic are linked below.)

LAIDLAW’S AND THE NINTH CIRCUIT

In Laidlaw’s Harley-Davidson Sales, Inc. v. Commissioner, the Ninth Circuit, reversing the Tax Court’s ruling, applied a textualist approach and held that approval is required only before the assessment of a tax penalty and not before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) communicates a proposed penalty to the taxpayer. The Court reasoned that the “language of [Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 6571(b)] provides no reason to conclude that an ‘initial determination’ is transformed into ‘something more like a final determination’ simply because the revenue agent who made the initial determination subsequently mailed a letter to the taxpayer describing it.” While the Court was “troubled” by the manner in which the IRS communicated the potential imposition of the penalty, it explained that a court’s role is to “apply the law as it is written, not to devise alternative language.” In reaching its decision, the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the position developed by the Tax Court in recent years.

KRONER AND THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT

In Kroner v. Commissioner, the Eleventh Circuit followed Laidlaw’s Harley Davidson Sales and similarly concluded that the IRS satisfies Code Section 6751(b) so long as a supervisor approves the penalty before it is assessed. The Court explained that this was the best reading of the statute because (1) it is more consistent with the meaning of the phrase “initial determination of such assessment,” (2) it reflects the absence of any express timing requirement in the statute, and (3) it is a workable reading in the light of the statute’s purpose. The Court suggested that the IRS may be wise “to have a supervisor approve proposed tax penalties at an early juncture…but the text of the statute does not impose an earlier deadline.”

The Eleventh Circuit was explicit in its departure from Chai and Tax Court precedent, stating that “the Chai court missed an important aspect of the statute’s purpose: it is not just about bargaining, it is also a check on the imposition of erroneous penalties.” The Court also explained that “appropriate penalties should be assessed and collected. Chai’s analysis of these competing interests leaned heavily on the former to the detriment of the latter when justifying its departure from the statutory text.”

Practice Point: It remains to be seen whether this issue will make its way to the Supreme Court of the United States given the apparent circuit split on the issue as [...]

Continue Reading




Tax Court Rules State Corporate Incentives Are NOT Taxable Income Under Federal Law

Many states and localities give incentives for business to move or transact in their locations. There has always been a question of whether these incentives are taxable income under federal income tax law. Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 118, as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, P.L. 115-97, provides that “[i]n the case of a corporation, gross income does not include any contribution to the capital of the taxpayer….(b) For purposes of subsection (a), the term “contribution to the capital of the taxpayer” does not include—…(2) any contribution by any governmental entity or civic group (other than a contribution made by a shareholder as such).”

In a recent case, the US Tax Court ruled that certain cash grants given by the State of New Jersey fit squarely within IRC section 118, and were not taxable to the corporate taxpayer. Brokertec Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-32.

(more…)




Sixth Circuit Sets Limits on the Application of the Substance-Over-Form Doctrine

The judicial substance-over-form doctrine provides the IRS with the ability to set aside carefully orchestrated tax planning arrangements to treat a transaction consistent with its substance.  However, the doctrine does not give the Service carte blanche to deny tax benefits. In Summa Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 16-1712 (available here), the Sixth Circuit overturned the Tax Court and declined to apply the substance-over-form doctrine when faced with taxpayers who, “to [their] good fortune, had the time and patience (and money) to understand how a complex set of tax provisions could lower [their] taxes” and “complied in full with the printed and accessible words of the tax laws.”

Summa Holdings involved a closely held corporation (Summa Holdings, Inc.) that supercharged the tax benefits provided by paying commissions to an interest charge domestic international sales corporation (IC-DISC) by having the IC-DISC owned by two Roth IRAs. While the dividends paid by the IC-DISC were taxable upon receipt, the dividend amounts (totaling $6 million over 7 years) were vastly larger than the annual contribution limits placed on Roth IRAs. For unfathomable reasons, the IRS did not challenge the $3,000 price that the Roth IRAs paid for the IC-DISC stock. Instead, the IRS asserted that that the substance of the arrangement was that the corporation paid dividends to its shareholders and the shareholders made excess contributions to the Roth IRAs.

(more…)




STAY CONNECTED

TOPICS

ARCHIVES