We previously posted on what we called the “issue of first impression” defense to penalties and the recent application of this defense by the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) in Peterson v. Commissioner, a TC Opinion. We noted that taxpayers may want to consider raising this defense in cases where the substantive issue is one for which there is no clear guidance from the courts or the Internal Revenue Service. Yesterday’s Memorandum Opinion by the Tax Court in Curtis Investment Co., LLC v. Commissioner, addressed the issue of first impression defense in the context of the taxpayer’s argument that it acted with reasonable cause and good faith in its tax reporting position related to certain Custom Adjustable Rate Debt Structure (CARDS) transactions. For the difference between TC and Memorandum Opinions, see here.

The Tax Court (and some appellate courts) has addressed the tax consequences of CARDS transactions in several cases, each time siding with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In its opinions in those other cases, the Tax Court has found that the CARDS transaction lacks economic substance. The court in Curtis Investment concluded that the CARDS transactions before it was essentially the same as the CARDS transactions in the other cases with only immaterial differences. Applying an economic substance analysis, the Tax Court held the taxpayer issue lacked a genuine profit motive and did not have a business purpose for entering into the CARDS transactions. Continue Reading Tax Court Addresses “Issue of First Impression” Defense to Penalties

In a highly-anticipated Technical Advice Memorandum (TAM) dated March 23, 2017 and released on July 21, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) ruled that two taxpayers who had invested in a Limited Liability Company that owned and operated a refined coal facility (the LLC) were not entitled to refined coal production credits they had claimed because their investment in the LLC was structured “solely to facilitate the prohibited purchase of refined coal tax credits.” This analysis marks a departure from the position staked out by the IRS in a number of recent refined coal credit cases, which focused on whether taxpayers claiming refined coal credits were partners in a partnership that owned and operated a refined coal facility.

Continue Reading IRS Rules (Again) That Taxpayers Are Not Entitled to Claimed Refined Coal Credits

Not only should companies worry about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) auditing their returns, but they also have to be aware of a potential assault from within. Indeed, current and former employees have an incentive to air all of your tax issues with the hope of being rewarded for the information.

Section 7623(b) was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in 2005, and pays potentially large monetary rewards for so-called tax whistleblowers. To qualify for remuneration, a whistleblower must meet several conditions to qualify for the Section 7623(b) award program: (1) submit the confidential information under penalties of perjury to the IRS’s Whistleblower Office; (2) the information must relate to a tax issue for which the taxpayer (if the IRS found out) would be liable for tax, penalties and/or interest of more than $2 million; and (3) involve a taxpayer whose gross income exceeds $200,000 the tax year at issue. If the information substantially contributes to an administrative or judicial action that results in the collection, the IRS will pay an award of at least 15 percent, but not more than 30 percent of the collected proceeds resulting from the administrative or judicial action (including related actions).

Section 7623(b) has spawned a collection of law firms around the country dedicated to signing up scores of whistleblowers who are hoping to cash in big! Our clients routinely ask us how to best protect themselves. We typically tell our clients that the best defense is a good offense. Consider the following:

  1. Use of non-disclosure agreements with employees who work on sensitive projects like mergers and acquisitions;
  2. Limit employee access to the companies tax accrual workpapers and other documents that indicate the tax savings involved in a transaction or a position claimed on a return;
  3. Review your procedures to ensure that privilege and confidentiality is maintained (this would include training employees and managers);
  4. Review company’s internal procedures for employee complaints to ensure that you have robust procedures in place that offer an independent review and allow for anonymous submissions; and
  5. Be vigilant, and look for signs that an employee is “disgruntled.”

Practice Point: If you are under examination by the IRS, you may be able to discern a whistleblower issue based on the questions being asked by the IRS and whether those questions could only be formed based on information provided by a whistleblower. If this situation exists, it is important to determine whether you should raise the issue with the IRS, particularly if you believe that any confidential and/or privileged information has been provided to the IRS without your consent. To make sure you are protected and adequately prepared, consult with your tax controversy lawyer.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.

Continue Reading John Doe Intervenes in Virtual Currency Summons Enforcement Case

In a surprising decision, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) concluded that the pregame away-city meals provided to the Boston Bruins hockey team was not subject to the 50 percent deduction disallowance on the basis that the meals were both for the “convenience of the employer” and were provided at an “employer operated eating facility.” In Jacobs v. Commissioner, 148 TC No 24 (June 26, 2017), the court found that meals—consisting of dinner, breakfast, lunch and snacks—were served in a room provided without charge by the hotel and to all employees of the Bruins traveling to the games.

Most businesses are well aware of the 50 percent deduction disallowance provided in Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 274(n)(1), which applies to meals provided to executives or other employees traveling for the business purpose of the employer. “De-minimis” meals (those which are provided infrequently and low in value), however, are excepted from the 50 percent disallowance. Also exempt are those meals provided at employer-operated eating facilities, (e.g., the company cafeteria) and meeting the following requirements:

  • the facility is located on or near the business premises of the employer;
  • the revenue derived from the facility normally equals or exceeds the direct operating costs of the facility; and
  • the facility is available on substantially the same terms to each member of a group of employees that is defined under a reasonable classification which does not discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees.

IRC Section 119(a) allows an employee to exclude the value of any meals furnished by or on behalf of his employer if the meals are furnished on the employer’s business premise for the convenience of the employer. Generally, the expenses of IRC Section 119 meals can be used to satisfy the requirement that the revenue from the eating facility equal direct operating costs.

In Jacobs, the Tax Court concluded that the group meals served in the away-city hotel rooms provided at the hotels where the Bruins hockey team stayed for the games was an “employer operated eating facility,” which deems the rooms as the “eating facility” and “on the business premises of the employer” for purposes of the requirements. The rooms were also considered the business premises of the employer for purposes of the IRC Section 119 requirement. In light of its holding, the Tax Court did not need to address the taxpayer’s alternative argument that the meals were expenses for entertainment sold to customers under IRC Section 274(n)(2)(A).

Practice Point: The decision in Jacobs is seemingly expansive in permitting employers to deduct meals provided away from what has traditionally been considered an employer facility. The decision may provide an opportunity to employers to seek additional expense deductions.

The Internal Revenue Code (Code) contains various provisions regarding the imposition of penalties and additions to tax. The accuracy-related penalty under section 6662(a), which imposes a penalty equal to 20 percent of the amount of any understatement of tax, is commonly asserted on the grounds that the taxpayer was negligent, disregarded rules or regulations, or had a substantial understatement of tax. Over the years, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has become increasingly aggressive in asserting penalties and generally requires that taxpayers affirmatively demonstrate why penalties should not apply, as opposed to the IRS first developing the necessary facts to support the imposition of penalties.

There are many different defenses available to taxpayers depending on the type and grounds upon which the penalty is asserted. These defenses include the reasonable basis and adequate disclosure defense, the substantial authority defense, and the reasonable cause defense.

Another defense available to taxpayers is what we will refer to as the “issue of first impression” defense. The Tax Court’s recent opinion in Peterson v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 22, reconfirms the availability of this defense. In that case, the substantive issue was the application of section 267(a) to employers and employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) participants. The court, in a published T.C. opinion (see here for our prior discussion of the types of Tax Court opinions) held in the IRS’s favor on the substantive issue but rejected the IRS’s assertion of an accuracy-related penalty for a substantial understatement of tax on the ground that it had previously declined to impose a penalty in situations where the issue was one not previously considered by the Tax Court and the statutory language was not entirely clear.

The Tax Court’s opinion in Peterson is consistent with prior opinions by the court in situations involving the assertion of penalties in cases of first impression. In Williams v. Commissioner, 123 T.C. 144 (2004), for instance, the substantive issue was whether filing bankruptcy alters the normal Subchapter S rules for allocating and deducting certain losses. The Tax Court agreed with the IRS’s position, but it declined to impose the accuracy-related penalty because the case was an issue of first impression with no clear authority to guide the taxpayer. The court found that the taxpayer made a reasonable attempt to comply with the code and that the position was reasonably debatable.

Similarly, in Hitchens v. Commissioner, 103 T.C. 711 (1994), the court addressed, for the first time, an issue related to the computation of a taxpayer’s basis in an entity. Despite holding for the IRS, the court rejected the accuracy-related penalty. It stated “[w]e have specifically refused to impose additions to tax for negligence, etc., where it appeared that the issue was one not previously considered by the Court and the statutory language was not entirely clear.” Other cases are in accord. See Braddock v. Commissioner, 95 T.C. 639, 645 (1990) (“as we have previously noted, this issue has never before, as far as we can ascertain, been considered by any court, and the answer is not entirely clear from the statutory language”); Wofford v. Commissioner, 5 T.C. 1152, 1166-67 (1945) (“If the petitioner was mistaken, as he evidently was, as to the controversial question of what the legal effect of the assignment for income tax purposes was, that is not a sufficient reason for holding that he was negligent.”).

Practice Point: As noted above, the IRS is more frequently asserting penalties against taxpayers. To the extent the substantive issue is one for which there is no clear guidance from the courts or the IRS, taxpayers may want to consider using the “issue of first impression” defense. This defense may avoid the potential pitfalls associated with the waiver of privilege when other penalty defenses are raised.

Internal Revenue Code Section 199 permits taxpayers to claim a 9 percent deduction related to the costs to develop software within the U.S. The relevant regulations and their interpretation, however, place substantial restrictions on claiming the benefit.

Moreover, the regulations and the government’s position haven’t kept up with the technological advances in computer software.

Before claiming the deduction on your return, consider that the Internal Revenue Service has this issue within its sights, and perhaps it will be the subject of one of their new “campaigns.”

In 2004, Congress enacted I.R.C. Section 199 to tip the scales of global competitiveness more in favor of American business. The main motivation of the statute was to create jobs by encouraging businesses to manufacture and produce their products in the U.S. The tax benefit, however, isn’t available for services, a theme that pervades many of the provisions in the statute and regulations.

Continue Reading

Originally published in Bloomberg BNA Daily Tax Report – April 24, 2017 – Number 77

Two petitions for certiorari pending before the Supreme Court of the United States ask the Court to resolve the question of whether a tax return filed after an assessment by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a “return” for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code (BC). The answer to this question will determine whether a bankrupt taxpayer’s tax debts can be discharged or are permanently barred from discharge. According to these petitions, the courts of appeal are divided as to the answer.

BC § 523(a) generally allows a debtor to discharge unsecured debt, except for, inter alia, tax debts of debtors who: (1) failed to file tax returns; (2) filed fraudulent tax returns; or (3) filed late tax returns, where a bankruptcy petition is filed within two years of the date the late return was filed. See BC § 523(a)(1)(B)(i), (B)(ii), (C).

Continue Reading IRS Opposes Granting of Certiorari in Cases Addressing Definition of Return

In Iames v. Commissioner, No. 16-1154, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the US Tax Court’s ruling that once a taxpayer has unsuccessfully challenged his tax liability in a preassessment hearing before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Office of Appeals, he is precluded from challenging his tax liability in a collection due process (CDP) hearing under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6330.

IRC Section 6330, enacted by Congress to protect taxpayers from abusive or arbitrary collection practices, provides a set of procedural safeguards for taxpayers facing a potential levy action by the IRS: notice, an administrative hearing and judicial review. More specifically, before collecting a delinquent tax through a levy on a taxpayer’s property, the IRS must notify the taxpayer at least thirty days in advance of his right to an administrative hearing before the IRS Office of Appeals. IRC Section 6330(a) and (b). After the Office of Appeals makes its determination, the taxpayer may then petition the Tax Court for judicial review. IRC Section 6330(d)(1).

In general, the taxpayer may raise “any relevant issue relating to the unpaid tax or the proposed levy” at the CDP hearing. IRC Section 6330(c)(2)(A). There are, however, certain restrictions as to the circumstances under which a taxpayer may bring a CDP challenge. Under IRC Section 6330(c)(2)(B), a taxpayer can dispute the existence or amount of the underlying tax liability but only so long as he “did not otherwise have an opportunity to dispute such tax liability.”

Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Clarifies the Role of the Collection Due Process Hearing