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Does Latest IRS Guidance Signal New Firm Stance on Research Credit Refund Claims?

On October 15, 2021, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a press release related to required information for valid research credit refund claims. The press release contains a link to a memorandum by two IRS employees, which will be used to evaluate such claims, and states that there will be a grace period (until January 10, 2022) before such information will be required to be included with timely filed research credit refund claims.

The guidance referred to in the press release is from the IRS’s Office of the Chief Counsel, Memorandum 20214101F (the IRS Research Memo) dated September 17, 2021, which focuses on administrative claims for refunds respect to the Internal Revenue Code (IRS) section 41 research credit.

First, we recommend reviewing the IRS Research Memo because it does a good job explaining the necessary elements to claim the credit. Second, the IRS Research Memo is a good reminder that the first requirement is to file a refund claim that is sufficiently detailed in order to give the IRS notice on both the technical and factual basis of the refund claim. In the context of the IRC Section 41 credit, the IRS Research Memo provides the following as minimum requirements for a refund claim:

  • Identify all the business components to which the IRC Section 41 research credit claim relates for the year for which a refund is sought.
  • For each business component:
    • Identify all research activities performed
    • Identify all individuals who performed each research activity
    • Identify all the information each individual sought to discover
  • Provide the total qualified employee wage expenses, total qualified supply expenses and total qualified contract research expenses for the claim year (this may be done using Form 6765, Credit for Increasing Research Activities).
  • The refund claim must be signed under penalties of perjury attesting to the veracity of the facts and information stated therein.
  • Supporting facts should be in the form of a written statement and merely incorporated by reference to documents attached to the claim.
  • The refund claim must be filed within the period of limitations stated in IRC Section 6511. Typically, taxpayers must file a valid claim within three years of the date Form 1040 or Form 1120 was filed or two years from the time the tax was paid—whichever period expires later.

Importantly, the IRS Research Memo does not advise taxpayers on how much information the IRS believes is sufficient to make a valid claim for refund. The IRS Research Memo does, however, highlight some recent court decisions where taxpayers were denied a refund because they did not include sufficient facts in their IRC Section 41 refund claim. In those cases, the courts ruled that the refund claims were defective and untimely.

Practice Point: The IRS Research Memo is a good reminder that when it comes to refund claims, generally, more description and detail is better. Interestingly, if the taxpayer had claimed a research credit on the original return, there would be [...]

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Infrastructure Bill Provision Expands Cryptocurrency Reporting Requirements

On August 1, 2021, the US Senate unveiled the draft text of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Bill), a highly anticipated $1 trillion infrastructure package negotiated by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators. As discussed below, the Bill includes a provision (Section 80603) that, if enacted in its current form, would amend the Internal Revenue Code (Code) to extend certain reporting requirements for transactions involving digital assets, including cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ether and other forms of digital tokens. The provision, which would generally go into effect on January 1, 2023, is intended to address a “tax gap” resulting from the underreporting of cryptocurrency transactions.

BROKER REPORTING

Code Section 6045 generally imposes reporting requirements on “every person doing business as a broker” with respect to sales affected by the broker on behalf of its clients. Under current law, such reporting is currently limited to sales of corporate stock, interests in trusts and partnerships, debt obligations, certain commodities and various associated derivatives. Pursuant to regulations, such sales are reported by the broker on Form 1099-B and the information required to be reported includes identifying information about the taxpayer and the property sold, the sale date and gross proceeds of the sale—and only with respect to the sale of a “covered security,” the adjusted basis of the property sold and the character of the gain or loss on the sale (i.e., long- or short-term capital gain).

For purposes of 1099-B reporting, a “broker” is defined to include a “dealer, a barter exchange, and any other person who (for a consideration) regularly acts as a middleman with respect to property or services.” A typical example of a broker subject to 1099-B reporting is a brokerage firm that facilitates transactions for customers in stocks, bonds and/or commodities.

The Bill expands the definition of a broker to include “any person who (for consideration) is responsible for regularly providing any service effectuating transfers of digital assets on behalf of another person.” Unless otherwise provided by the US Department of the Treasury’s regulations, a “digital asset” means “any digital representation of value which is recorded on a cryptographically secured distributed ledger or any similar technology as specified by [Treasury].” A cryptocurrency exchange would be considered a broker under this language.

The “basis” reporting under Section 6045 only applies to “covered securities.” Under current law, the term covered securities generally includes corporate stock shares, debt obligations, certain designated commodities (and derivatives thereof) and other financial instruments. The Bill would expand the definition of covered securities to include any “digital asset.” Accordingly, brokers subject to Section 6045 will be required to report the adjusted basis and the character of the gain or loss upon the sale of digital assets, including utility tokens, stablecoins and asset-backed tokens.

BROKER-TO-BROKER AND BROKER-TO-NON-BROKER TRANSFER REPORTING

Under current law, Code Section 6045A imposes additional reporting requirements that are generally applicable to the transfer of covered securities by one broker to another. Specifically, the transferor broker must [...]

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Eighth Circuit Holds the Mayo in Tax Regulation Invalidity Case

In the latest tax regulation deference case, the Eighth Circuit provided guidance to taxpayers and tax practitioners on the “analytical path” to resolve the question of whether a tax regulation is a valid interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code. The court held that the regulation was invalid in part because it unreasonably added conditions to the statutory requirements for qualified educational organizations, however, it was valid as to its interpretation regarding the permissible scope of the taxpayer’s activities to fit within the applicable statute. The opinion is noteworthy for its detailed examination of statutory and legislative history, judicial interpretations and agency position during legislation in its analysis of Congress’ intent.

Deference is one topic that captivates many, and tax cases referencing Chevron, Skidmore and Auer (and more recently Kisor) always grab attention. The latest deference case in the tax area is Mayo Clinic v. United States, No. 19-3189 (8th Cir. May 13, 2021). For some background on deference, including the district court proceedings in the Mayo Clinic case, see here.

In the Mayo Clinic case, the question was whether the taxpayer was a “qualified organization” exempted from paying unrelated business income tax (UBIT) on unrelated debt-financed income under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 514(c)(9)(C)(i). Answering this question required determining whether the taxpayer was an “educational organization which normally maintains a regular faculty and curriculum and normally has a regularly enrolled body of pupils or students in attendance at the place where its educational activity are regularly carried on” within the meaning of Code Section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii). Relying in part on Treasury Regulation Section 1.170A-9(c)(1), the government asserted that the taxpayer was not a qualified organization because it was not an educational organization because its primary function was not the presentation of formal instruction (primary-function requirement) and its noneducational activities were not merely incidental to the educational activities (merely-incidental requirement). The district court – Mayo Clinic v. United States, 412 F.Supp.3d 1038 (D. Minn. 2019) – held in favor of the taxpayer and invalidated the regulation, holding that the primary-function requirement and the merely-incidental requirement were not intended by Congress to be included in the statute. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded the decision. Implementing the longstanding two-pronged deference test under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984) and acknowledging recent precedent in Kisor v. Wilkie, 139 S.Ct. 2400 (2019), the Mayo Clinic court emphasized that the question before it was whether the government “stayed within the bounds of its statutory authority.” To answer this question, the court stated that to determine whether the statute was unambiguous required examining the statutory history and applying traditional tools of statutory construction. This led the Eighth Circuit to trace the evolution of the Code over more than a century, focusing on changes to statutory language, legislative history, agency positions during the legislative process and judicial interpretations of the law.

Based on this exhaustive analysis of the evolution of [...]

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IRS Issues Practice Unit on Section 965 Transition Tax

One of the most pressing audit issues for large taxpayers today centers on the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965 transition tax. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has designated Code Section 965 as a campaign issue and is actively auditing taxpayers’ transition tax calculations and positions, along with other tax reform items. The stakes are high, particularly given the potential to pay this tax over a period of eight years.

On March 23, 2021, the IRS released a Practice Unit that provides an overview of the Code Section 965 transition tax with references to relevant resources. Unfortunately, unlike some other Practice Units, guidance is not provided as to the type of information revenue agents should be requesting from taxpayers.

Practice Point: Practice Units are presentation-type materials compiled by the IRS as a means for collaborating and sharing knowledge among IRS employees. They provide helpful guidance to revenue agents in the form of an overview of the law in a specific area, examination tips and guidance and references to relevant resources. Although the Code Section 965 transition tax Practice Unit does not provide insights into the types of questions and information that revenue agents may seek on audit, it is still useful for taxpayers to review to understand the IRS’s perspective in this area.




The Tax Impact of Recent Federal Actions Relating to COVID-19

On March 13, 2020, President Trump signed a Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Outbreak under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (the “Stafford Act”).

By invoking the Stafford Act, the President provides the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and US Department of the Treasury (the “Treasury”) significant authority to offer tax relief to those in federally designated disaster areas. While it is not uncommon for a state or locality to be designated as an emergency or disaster area, the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak has required a national response. The President’s declaration has led the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to declare an emergency in every state, territory and certain tribal lands. A list of each declaration is available on FEMA’s website and will be updated as more specific forms of relief are authorized.

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Court Rules That Wind Farm Did Not Provide Proof of Development Fee to Receive 1603 Cash Grant

On June 20, 2019, the United States Court of Federal Claims published its long-awaited opinion in California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United StatesNo. 14-250 C. The opinion addressed how taxpayers engaging in related party transactions may appropriately determine the cost basis with respect to a wind energy project under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). Central to the case was whether the taxpayer was allowed to include a $50 million development fee paid by a project entity to a related developer in the cost basis of a wind project for purposes of calculating the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009 (Section 1603). Section 1603 allowed taxpayers to take a cash grant in lieu of the production tax credit of up to 30% of the eligible cost basis of a wind project. The eligible cost basis under Section 1603 is determined in the same manner as under Section 45 for purposes of the investment tax credit (ITC). The Justice Department disagreed with the taxpayer’s position that the development fee should be included in the cost basis for calculating the Section 1603 cash grant. The Justice Department argued that the development fee was a “sham.”

The court agreed, and held for the government. The court’s opinion focused on the taxpayer’s failure to provide evidence that the payment of the development fee had “economic substance.” Indeed, the court was troubled that none of the taxpayer’s witnesses could explain what was actually done to earn the $50 million development fee. Other than a three‑page development agreement and the taxpayer’s bank statements identifying the wire transfers for payment of the development fee, which started and ended with the same entity, the court found that the taxpayer provided no other factual evidence to support the payment of the fee. Indeed, the court pointed to the taxpayer’s trial testimony, which the court found lacked the specificity needed to support the development fee. Because the taxpayer failed to carry its burden of proof and persuasion, the court concluded that the taxpayer was not entitled to include the $50 million development fee in the cost basis of the wind project for purposes of computing the Section 1603 cash grant.

Importantly, the court did not, however, rule that a development fee paid to a related party is not permitted to be included in the cost basis of a facility for purposes of determining the Section 1603 cash grant. Instead, the court simply ruled that the taxpayer failed to provide it with sufficient proof that in substance the taxpayer performed development services for which a development fee is appropriately considered part of the cost basis of a facility for purposes of determining the Section 1603 cash grant.

Practice Point: In court, the plaintiff has the burden of proving its entitlement to the relief sought. Before filing a case, it’s best to make sure that you have all of the evidence you need to prove your case. Without substantial and [...]

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A Notice of Deficiency Is Not Set in Stone

A recent case decided by the United States Court of Appeals of the Tenth Circuit reminds taxpayers to be aware that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is not necessarily locked in to the positions and arguments stated in the Notice of Deficiency. In particular, the IRS is allowed to revise penalty determinations, or to make penalty determinations for the first time, during litigation in the Tax Court, notwithstanding any arguably inconsistent determination in the Notice of Deficiency.

In Roth v. Commissioner, 123 AFTR.2d 2019-1676 (10th Cir. 2019) , the taxpayers owned 40 acres of land in Prowers County, Colorado. In 2007, the taxpayers donated to the Colorado Natural Land Trust a conservation easement, which prohibited them from mining gravel upon the land. The taxpayers valued the easement at $970,000 and claimed charitable contribution deductions with respect to this amount on their 2007 and 2008 income tax returns.

The IRS examined the position, and determined that the easement was worth only $40,000. The revaluation resulted in underpayments of tax. The IRS revenue agent assigned to the case imposed an enhanced 40% gross valuation misstatement penalty pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 6662(h), because the claimed value of the easement had exceeded 200% of its actual value. The 40% penalty was approved on IRS administrative review, but due to an alleged clerical error, the Notice of Deficiency sent to the taxpayers listed only the standard 20% accuracy-related penalty under IRC section 6662(a).

The taxpayers filed a Petition in the US Tax Court. In its Answer, the IRS reasserted the 40% penalty. The taxpayers challenged the imposition of the enhanced penalty, citing IRC section 6751(b), which provides that a penalty can only be assessed pursuant to an approved “initial determination.” The taxpayers argued that the Notice of Deficiency was the “initial determination,” and because the enhanced penalty was not stated in the Notice of Deficiency, the IRS did not have the authority to impose a penalty in excess of the amount indicated thereon. The Tax Court ruled in favor of the IRS, considering itself bound by its decision Greav v. Commissioner (Graev III), 149 T.C. 485 (2017), which allows the IRS to assert additional penalties in an Answer to a taxpayer’s Tax Court petition.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s ruling. The Tenth Circuit rejected the taxpayers’ argument that the “initial determination” of a penalty was the amount shown on a Notice of Deficiency. The Tenth Circuit noted that IRC section 6212(a) provides that the IRS is authorized to send a Notice of Deficiency after having determined a tax deficiency, suggesting that the “initial determination” of a tax deficiency or penalty can occur prior to the sending of a Notice of Deficiency. The Tenth Circuit concluded that the 40% penalty determined by the IRS revenue agent was the “initial determination” for purposes of IRC section 6751(b).

The Tenth Circuit also cited Graev III for the proposition that an IRC section 6751(b) initial determination can be made by an IRS attorney in [...]

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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…)




Weekly IRS Roundup November 5 – 9, 2018

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of November 5 – 9, 2018:

November 6, 2018: The IRS added in “Questions and Answers about Reporting Related to Section 965 on 2017 Tax Returns” information concerning the filing of transfer agreements under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965(h)(3) and Section 965(i)(2)(c). For our prior coverage related to the election to pay the transition tax under Code Section 965, see here, here and here.

November 7, 2018: The IRS in IRS Tax Tip 2018-173 reminds taxpayers of the blended tax rate as a result of tax reform and provides guidance on the computation of the blended rate.

November 8, 2018: The IRS in a notice announced that the charter for the Internal Revenue Service Advisory Council has been renewed for two years beginning October 17, 2018.

November 9, 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 Alex Cheng-Yi Lee in our DC office for this week’s roundup.




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