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Tax Court Holds That Form 870-AD Is Not a Binding Settlement Agreement

A recent US Tax Court Memorandum Opinion held that a settlement agreement embodied in Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 870-AD does not preclude the IRS from reopening an audit and issuing a notice of deficiency.

In Howe v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2020-78, the Tax Court held that equitable estoppel did not bind the Commissioner to an agreement in Form 870-AD. Only settlements that comply with Internal Revenue Code (IRC) sections 7121 and 7122 are binding on both the taxpayer and government, and an IRS Form 870-AD does not comply with those provisions. Further, the Court held that equitable estoppel did not bar the IRS from asserting a larger deficiency against the taxpayer because, even if true, the alleged failures to follow internal IRS procedures would not rise to the level of affirmative misconduct.

An IRS revenue agent initially began an audit of the 2008 tax return for the taxpayer, who was CEO and majority shareholder of a healthcare company, in 2011. At the conclusion of the audit, the revenue agent issued a Notice of Proposed Adjustment (NOPA) and IRS Form 886-A. The taxpayer responded to the NOPA by filing a protest letter at the IRS Appeals Office. In settlement of the issue during the IRS Appeals Office review, the taxpayer and the IRS appeals officer (on behalf of the IRS) signed a Form 870-AD that reduced the asserted tax deficiency and eliminated the IRC section 6662 accuracy-related penalty. The IRS Appeals Officer filed an IRS Appeals Case Memorandum (ACM) summarizing the facts and legal arguments.

In response to the ACM, the revenue agent who conducted the audit, in consultation with her supervisor and local IRS counsel, internally filed a Dissent for Appeals Decision. The Dissent for Appeals Decision sought to reopen the case against the taxpayer on the grounds that the taxpayer made material factual misrepresentations during the IRS Appeals process. The IRS Appeals Director approved reopening the case, and the IRS issued a Notice of Deficiency.

The taxpayer sought review in the Tax Court on the grounds that the IRS improperly reopened the case and that the settlement represented in Form 870-AD equitably estopped the Commissioner from issuing the Notice of Deficiency. The Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s argument. Following its holding in Greenberg’s Express, Inc. v. Commissioner, 62 T.C. 324, 327 (1974), the Tax Court will only look behind a Notice of Deficiency when there is “substantial evidence of unconstitutional conduct on the Commissioner’s part and the integrity of our judicial process would be impugned if we were to let the Commissioner benefit from such conduct.” (Howe, at *12.) The Tax Court found there was no substantial evidence of unconstitutional conduct by the IRS.

Further, there is a heightened standard for applying equitable estoppel against the IRS. In addition to the traditional detrimental reliance elements, asserting equitable estoppel claims against the government requires a showing that: “(1) the government engaged in affirmative misconduct going beyond mere negligence; (2) the government’s wrongful acts will cause a serious [...]

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Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. (more…)




What to Expect During a Change of Administration

With the inauguration of President Trump, and the accompanying change of administration, the American people have been promised great change in all areas of the federal government. One question we at McDermott have been frequently asked since the election is: what should a taxpayer expect from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division while the transitions in the executive branch are taking place? Major tax policy changes are being discussed, but what about the immediate practical effects of a turnover in high-level personnel within these agencies, particularly if a taxpayer is under audit or investigation?

During a change in administration, taxpayers may be affected by any of the following:

  • If under audit, the exam team may ask for longer statute extensions than would otherwise apply, to account for possible delays in internal managerial-level approvals.
  • If a taxpayer is negotiating a settlement, and that settlement requires approval by the IRS National Office or the Assistant Attorney General for Tax, settlement approvals may be delayed due to personnel changes.
  • This applies to civil settlements reached with IRS Appeals, in Tax Court litigation, or in federal district court litigation. Delays are also possible for criminal agreements, including plea agreements, deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements.
  • Ongoing litigation (particularly appellate litigation) may be stayed or delayed, to the extent a case involves a policy position that the administration may want to change.
  • The regulatory freeze enacted by the Trump administration also affects procedural regulations, including proposed regulations related to the new partnership audit rules.

Initial comments from prospective Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin indicate that he believes IRS staffing should be increased, which would be a welcome change.  Any significant changes like this are likely to be long-term, however, so we are unlikely to see their effect for some time.




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