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Tax Court Holds IRS Chief Counsel Attorneys May Make Initial Penalty Determination

In general, section 6751 requires that a supervisor give written approval before penalties can be asserted against a taxpayer. In Koh v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2020-77, authored by the US Tax Court’s (Tax Court) most recent addition—Judge Travis Greaves—the Tax Court affirmed that an attorney from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Chief Counsel may be authorized to assert such penalties in an answer to a Tax Court petition.

In Koh, the IRS sent the taxpayer a notice of deficiency that included a determination related to penalties under section 6662(j). The taxpayer filed a petition with the Tax Court contesting the IRS’s determination. In its answer, the IRS Chief Counsel attorney asserted that the taxpayer was liable for accuracy-related penalties under section 6662(b)(1) or (2), in the alternative to the section 6662(j) penalties assessed in the original deficiency notice.

The taxpayer sought partial judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that IRS Chief Counsel attorneys are not authorized to assert penalties in the answer. Under section 6751(b)(1), a penalty may not be assessed unless the “the initial determination of such assessment” was “personally approved (in writing) by the immediate supervisor of the individual making such determination.”

The Tax Court reasoned that as the IRS’s representative, the Chief Counsel attorney (or a delegate) may assert additional penalties in an answer to a Tax Court petition. Moreover, the Tax Court ruled that Chief Counsel attorneys had authority to assert penalties in an answer in Roth v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2017-248, aff’d, 922 F.3d 1126 (10th Cir. 2019). That opinion was based on numerous cases holding that the IRS may assert penalties in an answer. However, Roth pre-dated the Tax Court’s opinion in Clay v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. 223 (2019), which cited US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit authority for the proposition that “written approval is required no later than the issuance of the notice of deficiency rather than the assessment of the tax.”

Practice Point: Taxpayers continue to face risk from penalties being asserted for the first time in an answer in a Tax Court Proceeding. We believe that there is a strong likelihood that Koh will be appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. We will continue to follow new developments related to penalties and the supervisory approval requirement.




Weekly IRS Roundup November 4 – 8, 2019

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of November 4–8, 2019.

November 4, 2019: The IRS posted a new Large Business and International active compliance campaign on Section 965 transition tax as enacted under the 2017 TCJA. The IRS stated that the goal of the campaign is to promote compliance with Section 965. The treatment stream will include conducting examinations as well as providing technical assistance to teams on Section 965, with a focus on identifying and addressing taxpayer populations with potential material compliance risk. The IRS anticipates that returns selected as part of the Section 965 campaign will also be risked and, if appropriate, examined for other material issues, especially issues related to TCJA planning.  For our coverage of this campaign, see here.

November 6, 2019: The IRS issued a Revenue Procedure and a News Release announcing the tax year 2020 annual inflation adjustments for more than 60 tax provisions, including the tax rate schedules and other tax changes. The tax year 2020 adjustments are generally used on tax returns filed in 2021.

November 8, 2019: The IRS published Proposed Regulations providing guidance relating to the life expectancy and distribution period tables that are used to calculate required minimum distributions from qualified retirement plans, individual retirement accounts and annuities, and certain other tax-favored employer-provided retirement arrangements. The life expectancy tables and applicable distribution period tables were developed based on mortality rates for 2021 and would provide longer life expectancies than the tables in the existing regulations. Public comments regarding the contemplated rules must be received by January 7, 2020.

November 8, 2019: The IRS released a Revenue Procedure providing the list of automatic changes to which the automatic change procedures in Revenue Procedure 2015-13, as clarified and modified by other listed guidance. The revenue procedure is effective for a Form 3115 filed on or after November 8, 2019, for a year of change ending on or after March 31, 2019. It supersedes the previous list in Rev. Proc. 2018-31.

November 8, 2019: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Robbie Alipour and Jenni Saperstein in our Chicago office for this week’s roundup.




IRS Issues Transition Tax Compliance Campaign

On November 4, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced a new Large Business and International (LB&I) compliance campaign regarding Section’s 965 transition tax under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). This is one of several dozen compliance campaigns that LB&I has announced since the initial 13 campaigns were identified in 2017, and is part of LB&I’s larger goals of improving return selection, identifying issues representing a risk of noncompliance and making the greatest use of limited resources. We have written at length regarding the IRS’s campaigns. Click here for prior coverage of the IRS’s campaigns. This announcement comes just over a month after the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a report questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of campaign issue selection. We wrote about the TIGTA report here. The IRS is presumably heeding TIGTA’s recommendation and is focused on Section 965 because of the substantial dollars associated with compliance. A list of all campaigns can be found here (the newest campaign is found under the tab “IRC 965”).

Section 965 was part of tax reform in the TCJA. It generally imposes a transition tax on a US shareholder’s pro rata share of accumulated earnings and profits of certain foreign corporations, as if those earnings had been repatriated to the US. The new campaign will focus examinations on US-based multinational companies’ 2017 and 2018 returns to ensure compliance with the transition tax in Section 965. The campaign will also provide technical assistance to IRS teams working on Section 965 issues, with a focus on identifying and addressing taxpayer populations with potential material compliance risk.

Practice Point: Multinational taxpayers should be mindful of this new campaign and aware of any compliance issues they may face. Taxpayers should be aware that returns selected for the transition tax campaign will also be examined for other material issues, especially those related to TCJA planning.




More IRS “Campaigns?! IRS Announces Six More Examination Campaigns

On July 19, 2019, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) division announced the approval of six new campaigns. As in the past, the IRS stated that “LB&I’s goal is to improve return selection, identify issues representing a risk of non-compliance, and make the greatest use of limited resources.” This brings the total number of campaigns to 59! LB&I’s campaign announcements and approved campaigns are available on the IRS’s website.

The six new LB&I campaigns are listed below, verbatim by title and description.

S Corporations Built in Gains Tax
C corporations that convert to S corporations are subjected to the Built-in Gains tax (BIG) if they have a net unrealized built-in gain and sell assets within 5 years after the conversion. This tax is assessed to the S corporation. LB&I has found that S corporations are not always paying this tax when they sell the C corporation assets after the conversion. LB&I has developed comprehensive technical content for this campaign that will aid revenue agents as they examine the issue. The goal of this campaign is to increase awareness and compliance with the law as supported by several court decisions. Treatment streams for this campaign will be issue-based examinations, soft letters, and outreach to practitioners. (more…)




Taxpayers Should Prepare for the Next Penalty Battleground

The IRS is using a new tool from its arsenal to enforce compliance for tax refund and credit claims: the Internal Revenue Code Section 6676 penalty. Taxpayers and their advisers need to be aware of the mechanics of this penalty and how best to avoid it being sustained.

Andrew R. Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Evan Walters authored a comprehensive article on IRC Section 6676. They discuss:

  • The origins of IRC Section 6676
  • How to contest the penalty and privilege concerns
  • What taxpayers who are considering filing—or have already filed—refund claims should keep in mind now that the penalty is the IRS’s favorite new compliance tool

Read the article here.




Weekly IRS Roundup March 25 – 29, 2019

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of March 25 – 29, 2019.

March 25, 2019: The IRS issued Proposed Regulations under Section 301 of the code updating existing regulations to reflect changes made by the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988.

March 25, 2019: The IRS issued Proposed Regulations partially withdrawing and re-proposing 2016 proposed regulations addressing transactions where property of a corporation becomes property of a real estate investment trust (REIT) following certain corporate distributions of controlled corporation stock.

March 26, 2019: The IRS issued Notice 2019-22 announcing the phase out of the Section 30D plug-in electric drive motor vehicle credit for purchasers of eligible General Motors’ vehicles beginning April 1, 2019.

March 27, 2019: The IRS issued Announcement 2019-03 providing an annual report on advance pricing agreements and the Advance Pricing and Mutual Agreement Program.

March 28, 2019: The IRS withdrew proposed regulations (REG-143686-07) that provided guidance on the allocation and recovery of basis in corporate stock redemptions under Section 301 of the code.

March 28, 2019: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2019-15 providing a waiver from time requirements for individuals electing to exclude their foreign earned income who must leave a country due to war, civil unrest or similar circumstances.

March 28, 2019: The IRS issued Notice 2019-24 providing adjustments to the limitation on housing expenses under Section 911 of the code.

March 29, 2019: The IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2019-11 providing guidance to taxpayers regarding the inclusion in income of recovered state and local taxes in the current year when the taxpayer deducted state and local taxes paid in a prior year.

March 29, 2019: The IRS withdrew proposed regulations (REG-124627-11) that provided guidance on the continuity of interest requirement under Section 368 of the code.

Special thanks to Terence McAllister in our New York office for this week’s roundup.




Ninth Circuit Interprets Summons Notice Rules Strictly Against IRS

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had broad examination authority to determine the correct amount of tax owed by taxpayers. In addition to seeking information directly from a taxpayer, the IRS is also authorized to seek information from third parties. However, Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7602(c)(1) requires that the IRS provide “reasonable notice in advance to the taxpayer” before contacting a third party. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently addressed what constitutes “reasonable notice” for this purpose.

In J.B. v. United States, the taxpayer sought to quash an IRS summons for insufficient notice. The taxpayers were selected for a compliance research examination as part of the IRS’s National Research Program, which involves in-depth audits of random taxpayers to improve the government’s access to compliance information and ensure that the IRS is auditing the right taxpayers. The IRS notified the taxpayers of the audit by mail and enclosed a copy of Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer. Publication 1 states, in relevant part, that the IRS may sometimes talk to other persons if the taxpayers are unable to provide or verify information received from the taxpayer. In J.B., the IRS summonsed the California Supreme Court for copies of billing statements, invoices and other documents relating to payments to the taxpayer-husband, who was a lawyer who accepted appointments to represent indigent criminal defendants in capital cases. The taxpayers did not learn of the summons until after it had been issued, and therefore moved to quash the summons for insufficient notice. The district court held in favor of the taxpayers.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed, albeit on different grounds. After explaining that “reasonable notice” is a fact-sensitive determination and that advance notice is intended to provide taxpayers the right to avoid potential embarrassment caused by IRS contact with third parties, the court discussed the Internal Revenue Manual and the IRS’s prior practice of providing taxpayer-specific notice. In particular, the predecessor IRS letter had more than 20 iterations tailored to meet different functional requirements. The court ultimately held that the IRS must provide notice “reasonably calculated under all relevant circumstances to apprise interested parties of the possibility that the IRS may contact third parties and that affords interested parties a meaningful opportunity to resolve issues and volunteer information before those third-party contacts are made.”

The Ninth Circuit was particularly troubled by the facts that: (1) the IRS had reason to know that the billing records at issue might have been subject to attorney-client privilege and (2) the taxpayers would have had access to those documents and would have been able to provide redacted copies of the pertinent records. Moreover, the court noted that Publication 1 was “divorced from any specific request for documents.” The court concluded that “[a]lthough we limit our holding to the facts of this case, we are doubtful that Publication 1 alone will ever suffice to provide reasonable notice in advance to the taxpayer, as [...]

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Weekly IRS Roundup February 18 – 22, 2019

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of February 18 – 22, 2019.

February 19, 2019: The IRS issued a news release promoting online resources for answering taxpayer questions, in light of high call volume during the period following Presidents Day.

February 19, 2019: The IRS issued a news release reminding farmers and fishermen to file Form 1040 and remit all taxes owed by March 1, 2019, if they had elected to forgo making quarterly estimated tax payments.

February 19, 2019: The IRS acquiesced to the decision only in Jacobs v. Commissioner, 148 TC No. 24 (2017), dealing with whether the Boston Bruins’ pre-game meals at away game hotels were de minimis fringe benefits under section 132(e)(2) of the Code.

February 21, 2019: The IRS issued a news release urging taxpayers to file reports of large cash transactions electronically, in lieu of filing a paper Form 8300.

February 22, 2019: The IRS released final regulations amending compliance monitoring regulations for the low-income housing credit of section 42 of the Code.

February 22, 2019: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Le Chen in our DC office for this week’s roundup.




Weekly IRS Roundup February 11 – 15, 2019

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of February 11 – 15, 2019.

February 11, 2019: The IRS issued a news release promoting online resources for answering taxpayer questions, in anticipation of high call volume over the Presidents Day weekend.

February 12, 2019: The IRS issued a news release announcing the release of the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2018 Annual Report to Congress, which reported on, among other things, the effect of the shutdown on IRS operations and the need to modernize the IRS’s IT systems.

February 12, 2019: The IRS issued a news release promoting its “Where’s My Refund?” online tool as a way for taxpayers to check on the status of their tax refunds.

February 13, 2019: The IRS released Revenue Procedure 2019-13, providing a safe harbor method of accounting for determining depreciation deductions for passenger automobiles that qualify for the 100% additional first-year depreciation deduction under section 168(k) of the Code, but that are also subject to depreciation limitations under section 280F of the Code.

February 13, 2019: The IRS issued a news release outlining various payment options available to taxpayers who owe additional tax after filing.

February 14, 2019: The IRS issued Notice 2019-16, providing baseline interest rates referenced in various provisions of the Code dealing with employee benefits.

February 14, 2019: The IRS issued a news release reminding taxpayers that they will be asked to verify their identities when calling the IRS for assistance.

February 15, 2019: The IRS released Revenue Ruling 2019-07, providing various prescribed rates for federal income tax purposes for March 2019.

February 15, 2019: The IRS issued a news release promoting online resources for obtaining prior-year tax records, in anticipation of high call volume over the Presidents Day weekend.

February 15, 2019: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Le Chen in our DC office for this week’s roundup.




IRS LB&I Division Announces Its New Year’s Resolutions

Each New Year, many of us look back on the previous year’s activities, and determine what we want to accomplish in the coming year – lose weight, start exercising, read more tax articles, etc. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) Division memorialized its New Year’s resolutions for 2019 in Publication 5319. So, for taxpayers with more than $10 million in assets, you may want listen up and see what the IRS has in store for 2019!

LB&I’s goals come during a time of significant reduction in workforce and increase in responsibilities. LB&I experienced a significant reduction in workforce between October 2017 and October 2018, reducing its workforce by a net of 344 employees (down from 4,868 to 4,524) spread across several positions. This included 18 individuals in leadership, 218 revenue agents and 25 tax examiners. With the exception of tax law specialists, which remained at 24, every other position saw a reduction in personnel. This reduction in personnel comes at critical point for LB&I, as it undoubtedly spent much of its time and resources last year working on guidance necessary to implement the substantial changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act enacted in late 2017. It will continue to be responsible for training and compliance related to those changes. (more…)




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