Taxes and tax litigation can be complex and confusing. Taxpayers have the option of filing a petition in the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) prior to payment of any asserted deficiency. Alternatively, taxpayers can pay the deficiency, file a claim for refund with the Internal Revenue Service and, if that claim is denied or more than six months have elapsed, file a complaint in local District Court or the Court of Federal Claims requesting a refund. These forum rules sometimes trip up taxpayers and can lead to the filing of a suit in the wrong court.

In the Protecting Access to the Courts for Taxpayers Act (H.R. 3996), Congress has provided relief for taxpayers in this type of situation through an amendment to 28 USC section 1631:

Whenever a civil action is filed in a court as defined in section 610 of this title or an appeal, including a petition for review of administrative action, is noticed for or filed with such a court and that court finds that there is a want of jurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action or appeal to any other such court (or, for cases within the jurisdiction of the United States Tax Court) in which the action or appeal could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed, and the action or appeal shall proceed as if it had been filed in or noticed for the court to which it is transferred on the date upon which it was actually filed in or noticed for the court from which it is transferred.

Practice Point: Allowing improperly filed cases to be transferred to the Tax Court is a welcome development for taxpayers. The amendment to 28 USC section 1631 protects taxpayers in situations where a complaint is filed within 90 days of receipt of a Notice of Deficiency in a refund jurisdiction when it should have been filed in the Tax Court.

Andrew Roberson and Elizabeth Chao recently wrote an article for Law360 entitled, “A Recent Tax Court View Of Statute Of Limitations Provisions.” The article discusses the Tax Court’s recent opinion in Rafizadeh v. Commissioner on statute of limitations for amounts reportable under Internal Revenue Code Section 6038D.

Read the full coverage on Law360 here.

Within the Internal Revenue Code (Code) is a rule commonly known as the “mailbox rule” or the “timely mailed, timely filed rule.” Under Code Section 7502(b), the date that an item—including a Tax Court petition—is postmarked and mailed can also be the date the item is considered filed. When an item is received after the filing deadline, the mailbox rule can make all the difference. There are, however, procedural requirements which must be satisfied. In Pearson v. Commissioner, the Tax Court, in a court-reviewed opinion, held that a Tax Court petition mailed with a Stamps.com postage label was timely filed under the mailbox rule.

Taxpayers generally have 90 days to file a petition with the Tax Court after receiving a notice of deficiency. In Pearson, the Tax Court received the taxpayers’ petition one week after the 90-day period expired, but the envelope in which the petition was mailed bore a Stamps.com postage label dated within the 90-day period. The administrative assistant who created the Stamps.com postage label supplied the court with a declaration under penalty of perjury stating that she went to a US Post Office the same day as the postage label date and mailed the petition. Continue Reading Tax Court: Mailbox Rule Can Apply with Stamps.com Postage Label

On September 14, 2017, Cross Refined Coal LLC (Partnership) (and USA Refined Coal LLC as the Tax Matters Partner) filed a Petition in the US Tax Court seeking a redetermination of partnership adjustments determined by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). According to the Petition, during audit of the 2011 and 2012 tax years, the IRS reduced the Partnership’s and certain partners’ Internal Revenue Code Section 45(e)(8) refined coal production tax credits by several million dollars and disallowed several million dollars more of claimed losses. The Notice of Deficiency, a copy of which is attached to the Petition, provides the following reasons for the adjustments:

  • Neither the Partnership nor the partners have established the existence of the partnership as a matter of fact;
  • The formation of the Partnership was not, in substance, a partnership for federal income tax purposes because it was not formed to carry on a business or for the sharing of profits and losses from the production or sale of refined coal by its purported members/partners, but rather was created to facilitate the prohibited transaction of monetizing refined coal tax credits;
  • The refined coal tax credits are disallowed because the transaction was entered into solely to purchase refined coal tax credits and other tax benefits; and
  • Ordinary losses were disallowed because it has not been established that they were ordinary and necessary or credible expenses in connection with a trade or business or other activity engaged in for profit.

As we have previously reported, the IRS has issued negative guidance concerning refined coal transactions and has denied the tax benefits associated with some of those transactions.

We will be watching this case closely and will report back on any developments.

The issue of whether a valid tax return has been filed usually comes up in the context of individuals. One common situation involves taxpayers who file so-called zero returns or returns with an altered jurat and protest paying any taxes. Another common situation, which has received substantial attention lately, involves whether a tax return filed after an assessment by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a “return” for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code. We previously posted on the latter.

This post focuses on the uncommon situation where the IRS disputes whether a corporate taxpayer filed a valid return. As we have previously discussed, in the widely cited Beard v. Commissioner, 82 TC 766 (1984), the Tax Court defined a four-part test (the Beard Test) for determining whether a document constitutes a “return.” To be a return, a document must: (1) provide sufficient data to calculate tax liability; (2) purport to be a return; (3) be an honest and reasonable attempt to satisfy the requirements of the tax law; and (4) be executed by the taxpayer under penalties of perjury. This test applies to all types of taxpayers, and its application to corporate taxpayers was recently highlighted in New Capital Fire, Inc. v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2017-177.

In New Capital Fire, Capital Fire Insurance Co. (Old Capital) merged into New Capital Fire, Inc. (New Capital), with New Capital surviving, on December 4, 2002. The merger was designed to be a tax-free reorganization under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 368(a)(1)(F). Old Capital did not file a tax return for any part of 2002 and New Capital filed a tax return for 2002 which included a pro forma Form 1120-PC, US Property and Casualty Insurance Company Income Tax Return, for Old Capital’s 2002 tax year. The IRS issued Old Capital a notice of deficiency in 2012 determining that Old Capital was required to file a return for the short tax year ending December 4, 2002, because the merger failed to meet to reorganization rules. Continue Reading Tax Court Rejects IRS Argument that Corporate Taxpayer Failed to File Valid Return

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and taxpayers frequently spar over the meaning and interpretation of tax statutes (and regulations). In some situations, one side will argue that the statutory text is clear while the other argues that it is not and that other evidence of Congress’ intent must be examined. Courts are often tasked with determining which side’s interpretation is correct, which is not always an easy task. This can be particularly difficult where the plain language of the statute dictates a result that may seem unfair or at odds with a court’s views as the proper result.

The Tax Court’s (Tax Court) recent opinion in Borenstein v. Commissioner, 149 TC No. 10 (August 30, 2017), discussed the standards to be applied in interpreting a statute and reinforces that the plain meaning of the language used by Congress should be followed absent an interpretation that would produce an absurd result.

In Borenstein, the taxpayer made tax payments for 2012 totaling $112,000, which were deemed made on April 15, 2013. However, she failed to file a timely return for that year and the IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Before filing a petition with the Tax Court, the taxpayer submitted return reporting a tax lability of $79,559. The parties agreed that this liability amount was correct and that the taxpayer had an overpayment of $32,441 due to the prior payments. However, the IRS argued that the taxpayer was not entitled to a credit or refund of the overpayment because, under the plain language of Internal Revenue Code Sections 6511(a) and (b)(2)(B), the tax payments were made outside the applicable “lookback” period keyed to the date the notice of deficiency was mailed. Continue Reading Tax Court Reinforces Plain Meaning Approach in Interpreting Tax Statutes

Taxpayers can choose whether to litigate tax disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US Tax Court (Tax Court), federal district court or the Court of Federal Claims. Claims brought in federal district court and the Court of Federal Claims are tax refund litigation: the taxpayer must first pay the tax, file a claim for refund, and file a complaint against the United States if the claim is not allowed. Claims brought in the Tax Court are deficiency cases: the taxpayer can file a petition against the IRS Commissioner after receiving a notice of deficiency and does not need to pay the tax beforehand.

As demonstrated in the chart below, approximately 97 percent of tax claims are instituted in the Tax Court. It should be noted that, after a taxpayer files a petition in Tax Court, the taxpayer no longer has the option of bringing the claim in any other court for the year(s) at issue.

Tax Court Versus Tax Refund Litigation

Source: https://www.irs.gov/uac/soi-tax-stats-chief-counsel-workload-tax-litigation-cases-by-type-of-case-irs-data-book-table-27

Continue Reading Overview of Tax Litigation Forums

On April 4, 2017, QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. petitioned the US Supreme Court to review the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision that the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946 (APA) does not apply to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Notices of Deficiency. We previously wrote about the case (QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 15-2192) here, here, here and here. To refresh, the taxpayer had argued in the US Tax Court that the Notice of Deficiency issued by the IRS, which contained a one-sentence reason for the deficiency determination, violated the APA because it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The APA provides a general rule that a reviewing court that is subject to the APA must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action unwarranted by the facts to the extent the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court. The Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA and holding that the Notice of Deficiency adequately notified the taxpayer that a deficiency had been determined under relevant case law. The taxpayer appealed to the 4th Circuit, which ultimately affirmed the Tax Court’s decision. Continue Reading APA Challenge to Notice of Deficiency: QinetiQ Requests Supreme Court Review

From 2003 to 2007, Sovereign Bancorp, Inc. (Sovereign) – now known as Santander Holdings USA, Inc. (Santander) – engaged in a so-called STARS transaction with Barclays Bank. According to Santander, “[b]y engaging in the STARS transaction, Sovereign transferred some of its income tax liability from the United States to the United Kingdom,” it “secured a loan of $1.15 billion,” and it received a payment “which effectively reduced its lending costs.” On its Federal corporate income tax returns for those years, Sovereign claimed foreign tax credits (FTCs) for UK taxes it paid in connection with the STARS transaction. It also claimed deductions for the interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan.

In 2009, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a Notice of Deficiency disallowing Sovereign’s FTCs and its deductions for interest paid on the $1.15 billion loan. The IRS did not challenge Sovereign’s compliance with the statutory and regulatory rules governing FTCs, instead arguing that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance.” Sovereign paid the deficiency and sued for a refund in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. When the district court held for Sovereign on both issues, the IRS appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, but only with respect to the FTC issue. The crux of the issue was how to treat the UK taxes and the related FTCs for purposes of the “economic substance” analysis. Relying on Salem Financial, Inc. v. U.S., 786 F.3d 932 (Fed. Cir. 2015), and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. v. Comm’r, 801 F.3d 104 (2d Cir. 2015), the IRS argued that the UK taxes should be treated as an expense but that the related FTCs should be ignored in determining pre-tax profit. Citing IES Indus., Inc. v. U.S., 253 F.3d 350 (8th Cir. 2001), and Compaq Computer Corp. v. Comm’r, 277 F.3d 778 (5th Cir. 2001), Sovereign argued that either both should be included in the profit analysis or both should be ignored. The First Circuit held that Sovereign’s STARS transaction lacked “economic substance,” and upheld the disallowance of the FTCs at issue. In doing so, it treated the UK taxes as expenses that reduced pre-tax profit and ignored the related FTCs, following the Federal and Second Circuit’s approach. Santander Holdings USA, Inc. v. U.S., 844 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 2016).

Continue Reading Santander Holdings USA Asks the Supreme Court to Address Economic Substance Doctrine

On January 6, 2017, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, by published opinion, affirmed the US Tax Court’s (Tax Court) earlier ruling in QinetiQ US Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner.  We previously wrote about the case here, here, and here.  To refresh, the taxpayer had argued in Tax Court that the Notice of Deficiency issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which contained a one-sentence reason for the deficiency determination, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) because it was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”  The APA provides a general rule that a reviewing court that is subject to the APA must hold unlawful and set aside an agency action unwarranted by the facts to the extent the facts are subject to trial de novo by the reviewing court. The Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA and holding that the Notice of Deficiency adequately notified the taxpayer that a deficiency had been determined under relevant case law.  The taxpayer appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

In an opinion written by Circuit Judge Barbara Keenan, the court concluded that the IRS complied with all applicable procedural requirements.  The court reasoned that the Internal Revenue Code (Code) provided a unique system for judicial review that should govern the content requirements for a Notice of Deficiency.  Per the court, it “is that specific body of law, rather than the more general provisions for judicial review authorized by the APA, that governs the content requirements of a Notice of Deficiency.”  The court cited a Fourth Circuit opinion from 1959, in which it held that the Code’s provisions for de novo review are incompatible with limited judicial review of final agency actions allowed under the APA.

The court held that the APA’s requirement of a reasoned explanation in support of a “final” agency action does not apply to a Notice of Deficiency issued by the IRS.  A Notice of Deficiency, the Court reasoned, cannot be a “final” agency action within the meaning of the APA, because the agency action is not one “by which rights or obligations have been determined, or from which legal consequences will flow.”  After issuing a Notice of Deficiency, the IRS may later assert in Tax Court new theories and allege additional deficiencies.  Moreover, a taxpayer may also raise new matters in Tax Court.  In addition, the court cited to the Supreme Court’s 1988 opinion in Bowen v. Massachusetts, emphasizing that Congress did not intend for the APA “to duplicate the previously established special statutory procedures relating to specific agencies.”

The court also held that the Notice of Deficiency issued to QinetiQ satisfied the requirement of Code section 7522(a), which requires that the IRS “describe [in the Notice] the basis for, and identify the amounts (if any) of, the tax due, interest, additional amounts, additions to the tax, and assessable penalties.”  The court explained that the Notice of Deficiency informed QinetiQ that the IRS had determined a deficiency in an exact amount for a particular tax year and that QinetiQ could contest the deficiency determination in court.  The court also discerned no prejudice to QinetiQ, in light of QinetiQ’s burden to show entitlement to a particular deduction.  The court acknowledged that different US Courts of Appeals have invalidated Notices of Deficiency for insufficient stated reasoning.

Practice Point:  Unlike recent APA arguments in other tax contexts, such arguments relating to insufficient reasoning in a Notice of Deficiency have not been well-received.  Yet, as the court acknowledged, the Code’s requirements may still help safeguard taxpayers who receive insufficiently explained IRS determinations.  Taxpayers should review any IRS determinations carefully to determine whether a procedural challenge may be beneficial, including but not limited to shifting the burden of proof to the IRS.