Internal Revenue Code Section 482
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Are You Required to Disclose Supporting Legal Authorities During Discovery?

Discovery in tax litigation can take many different forms, including informal discovery requests (in the US Tax Court), request for admissions, interrogatories and depositions. In addition to obtaining facts, litigants frequently want to know the legal authorities on which the other side intends to rely. Over the years, we have seen numerous requests, both during examinations and in litigation, where the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requests a listing of the legal authorities supporting a taxpayer’s position.

Sometimes it is beneficial for a taxpayer to disclose those authorities. For example, in some IRS audits it may be worthwhile to point out to the IRS agent the applicable authority and cases that directly support the taxpayer’s position. However, once a case progresses to litigation, it is clear that the parties disagree and that simply pointing out relevant authorities will not help the IRS to concede the case. This raises the question of how to respond to such a request while in litigation.

The Tax Court recently addressed this issue in a pending case involving issues under Internal Revenue Code Section 482 (see here). The IRS issued interrogatories that requested information seeking to obtain the taxpayer’s legal arguments. The taxpayer objected on the grounds that this was inappropriate. The Tax Court, in an unpublished order, agreed:

Tax Court Rule 70(b) does not require a party to disclose the legal authorities on which he relies for his positions.  See Zaentz v. Commissioner, 73 T.C. 469, 477 (1970). Other courts have held that interrogatories requiring a party to disclose legal analyses and conclusions of law are impermissible. See, e.g., Perez v. KDE Equine, LLC, 2017 WL 56616 at *6 (W.D. Kentucky Jan. 4, 2017); In re Rail Freight Fuel Surcharge Antitrust Litigation, 281 F.R.D. 1, 11 (D.D.C. Nov. 17, 2011).

Practice Point:  Although this unpublished order technically reflects only the view of the issuing Judge, it is an important point that litigants should remember. There are numerous ways to determine an adversary’s legal position. Generally, however, discovery requests directly asking for an opponent’s supporting legal authorities are not an appropriate technique. Techniques to make that determination include: issuing requests for admissions relating to the elements of potential legal theories, filing a dispositive motion like summary judgment which will invoke a response from the other side, and discussing with your opponent whether the case should be submitted (in Tax Court) fully stipulated. And sometimes the most efficient way to get the information is to pick up the phone and just ask. Typically, litigants are wary of putting their legal theories down in writing and pinning themselves down early in a case. But most lawyers love to hear themselves talk!




Law School Professors File Amicus Briefs in Support of Commissioner’s Position in Altera

Two groups of law school professors have filed amicus briefs with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of the government’s position in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, Dkt Nos. 16-70496, 16-70497. Read more on the appeal of Altera here and the US Supreme Court’s opinion addressing interplay between the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) procedural compliance and Chevron deference here. Each group argues that Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7 represents a valid exercise of the Commissioner’s authority to issue regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 482 and that the US Tax Court (Tax Court) erred in finding the regulation to be invalid under section 706 of the APA.

One group of six professors (Harvey Group) first notes its agreement with the arguments advanced by the government in its opening brief. In particular, the Harvey Group concurs with the argument that “coordinating amendments promulgated with Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7(d)(2) vitiate the Tax Court’s analysis in Xilinx that the cost-sharing regulation conflicts with the arm’s-length standard.” It then goes on to note its agreement with the government’s argument that “the ‘commensurate with the income’ standard … contemplates a purely internal approach to allocating income from intangibles to related parties.”

Having thus supported the government’s commensurate-with income-based arguments, the Harvey Group argues that the regulation in question is, in any event, consistent with the general arm’s-length standard of Code Section 482. It does so based principally on the proposition that “[s]tock-based compensation costs are real costs, and no profit-maximizing economic actor would ignore them.” However, that said, “there are material differences between controlled and uncontrolled parties’ attitudes, motivations and behaviors regarding stock-based compensation.” Thus, according to the Harvey Group, the Tax Court erred when it concluded that “Treasury necessarily decided an empirical question when it concluded that the final rule was consistent with the arm’s-length standard,” because “[n]o empirical finding that uncontrolled parties do, or might, share stock-based compensation costs is required to support Treasury’s regulation.” Accordingly, the Tax Court’s reliance on State Farm and the cases following it was a “key misstep” by the Tax Court.

The Harvey Group also proposes that, should the Ninth Circuit find that the term “arm’s length standard” or the meaning of the “coordinating regulations” is ambiguous, the government’s interpretation embodied in Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7 should be afforded Auer deference. Read more on deference principles in tax cases and the unique challenges of Auer deference. Auer deference is a special level of deference that can apply when an agency interprets its own regulations, although there are several limitations on its use.  Finally, if the Ninth Circuit decides that the regulations “have an infirmity,” the Harvey Group argues that “[t]he best remedy is to remand to Treasury for further consideration.”

A second group of nineteen professors (Alstott Group) similarly agrees with the government’s arguments to the Ninth Circuit. The Alstott Group argues that the 1986 addition of the “commensurate with income” standard [...]

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