related-party transactions

On July 26, 2017, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) handed a complete victory to Eaton Corporation (Eaton) relating to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) cancellation of two Advance Pricing Agreements (APA). Eaton Corporation v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2017-147. The Tax Court held that the IRS had abused its discretion in cancelling the two successive unilateral APAs entered into by Eaton and its subsidiaries with respect to the manufacturing of circuit breaker products in Puerto Rico, and it found no transfer of any intangibles subject to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 367(d). In 2011, the IRS cancelled Eaton’s first APA effective January 1, 2005, and the renewal APA effective January 1, 2006, on the ground that Eaton had made numerous material misrepresentations during the negotiations of the APAs and during the implementation of the APAs. As a result of the APA cancellations, the IRS issued notice of deficiencies for 2005 and 2006 determining that a transfer pricing adjustment under Code Section 482 was necessary to reflect the arm’s-length result for the related party transactions. Eaton disputed the deficiency determinations, contending that the IRS abused its discretion in cancelling the two APAs.

The Tax Court considered whether Eaton made misrepresentations during the negotiations or the implementation. With respect to the APA negotiations, the court established the standard for misrepresentation as “false or misleading, usually with an intent to deceive, and relate to the terms of the APA.” Based on the evidence of the negotiations presented at trial, the court concluded that there were no grounds for cancellation of the APAs; “Eaton’s evidence that it answered all questions asked and turned over all requested material is uncontradicted.” Additionally, the court rejected the IRS’s contention that more information was needed; “The negotiation process for these APAs was long and thorough.” Thus, the IRS “had enough material to decide not to agree to the APAs or to reject petitioner’s proposed TPM and suggest another APA. Cancelling the APAs on the grounds related to the APA negotiations was arbitrary.” Continue Reading Tax Court Hands Eaton a Complete Victory on the Cancellation of its Advance Pricing Agreements

They’re here!  On January 31, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) division released its much-anticipated announcement related to the identification and selection of campaigns.  The initial list identifies 13 compliance issues that LB&I is focused on and lists the specific practice area involved and the lead executive for each campaign.  Prior coverage of audit campaigns can be found here.

The initial list, along with descriptions of each campaign, is as follows:

Domestic Campaigns

  • Section 48C Energy Credits

This campaign is designed to ensure that only taxpayers whose advanced energy projects were approved by the Department of Energy, and who have been allocated a credit by the IRS, are claiming the credit.  Apparently, there has been confusion regarding which taxpayers are entitled to claim the credits.

  • Micro-Captive Insurance

This campaign addresses certain transactions described in Notice 2016-66 in which a taxpayer reduces aggregate taxable income using contracts treated as insurance contracts and a related company that the parties treat as a captive insurance company.  We previously blogged about Notice 2016-66 here. Captive insurance, along with basketing and inbound distribution, were three subject-matter specific campaigns announced during LB&I’s initial rollout last summer, as we discussed in our prior post on the subject.

  • Deferred Variable Annuity Reserves & Life Insurance Reserves

This campaign seeks to address uncertainties on issues important to the life insurance industry, including amounts to be taken into account in determining tax reserves for both deferred variable annuities with guaranteed minimum benefits, and life insurance contracts.

  • Distributors (MVPD’s) and TV Broadcasts

This campaign is targeted at multichannel video programming distributors and television broadcasters that may claim that groups of channels or programs are a qualified film for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 199 deduction.  The description indicates that LB&I has developed a strategy to identify taxpayers impacted by the issue and that it intends to develop training, including the development of a publicly published practice unit, published guidance, and issue based exams, to aid revenue agents.  It appears that this campaign stems from various private guidance issued in 2010, 2014 and 2016 on these issues.

  • Related Party Transactions

This campaign is focused on transactions among commonly controlled entities that the IRS believes might provide a taxpayer a means to transfer fund from the corporation to related pass-through entities or shareholders.  The campaign is aimed at the mid-market segment.

  • Basket Transactions

This campaign focuses on certain financial transactions described in Notices 2015-73 and 74, which relate to so-called basket transactions.  Basketing was a topic named during LB&I’s initial campaign announcement last summer, along with captive insurance and inbound distribution.

  • Land Developers – Completed Contract Method

This campaign addresses the Service’s concern that large land developers that construct residential communities may improperly be using the completed contract method.  This campaign appears to be a response to the Tax Court’s opinion in the Shea Homes case (available here.

  • TEFRA Linkage Plan Strategy

This campaign is focused on developing new procedures and technology to work collaboratively with revenue agents conducting TEFRA partnership examinations to identify, link, and assess tax to terminal investors that pose the most significant compliance risk.

  • S Corporation Losses Claimed in Excess of Basis

This campaign is in response to LB&I’s views that shareholders in S corporations may be claiming losses and deductions in excess of stock or debt basis.

International Campaigns

  • Repatriation

This campaign focuses on tax transactions that LB&I believes are being used for purposes of tax-free repatriation of funds into the U.S. in the mid-market population.  The goal of the campaign is to improve issue selection filters while conducting examinations on identified, high risk repatriation issues to increase taxpayer compliance.

  • Form 1120-F Non-Filer

This campaign is designed to identify and contact foreign companies doing business in the United States that are not meeting their Form 1120-F filing obligations.  The goal is to increase voluntary compliance, starting with soft letter outreach and escalating to examinations.

  • Inbound Distributor

This campaign addresses transfer pricing in the context of United States distributors of goods sourced from foreign-related parties that may have reported gains or losses that are no commensurate with the functions performed and the risk assumed.  This campaign, along with the captive insurance and basketing campaigns, were among those announced last summer by LB&I.

  • OVDP Declines-Withdrawals

This campaign addresses situations where taxpayers that have sought to enter the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) have been either denied access to OVDP or have withdrawn from OVDP. After seven years of the program, with a number of very old offshore cases still unresolved, this campaign appears to be the first formal effort to deal with rejected OVDP cases in an expressly coordinated manner.  It will be interesting to see how this campaign develops in light of recent suggestions that the formal OVDP may be nearing an end.

Practice Point: Taxpayers with any of the above issues should be prepared for focused audits directed at the issue and would be well-served preparing in advance for audits. The above is the “initial” list of the IRS’s focused examination program.  Taxpayers should be prepared for the roll-out of additional IRS “campaigns” in the coming months.  It is clear that the IRS is mounting a coordinated attack, leveraging its ever-shrinking resources in overly complicated tax-environment.

Two groups of law school professors have filed amicus briefs with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of the government’s position in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner, Dkt Nos. 16-70496, 16-70497. Read more on the appeal of Altera here and the US Supreme Court’s opinion addressing interplay between the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) procedural compliance and Chevron deference here. Each group argues that Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7 represents a valid exercise of the Commissioner’s authority to issue regulations under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 482 and that the US Tax Court (Tax Court) erred in finding the regulation to be invalid under section 706 of the APA.

One group of six professors (Harvey Group) first notes its agreement with the arguments advanced by the government in its opening brief. In particular, the Harvey Group concurs with the argument that “coordinating amendments promulgated with Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7(d)(2) vitiate the Tax Court’s analysis in Xilinx that the cost-sharing regulation conflicts with the arm’s-length standard.” It then goes on to note its agreement with the government’s argument that “the ‘commensurate with the income’ standard … contemplates a purely internal approach to allocating income from intangibles to related parties.”

Having thus supported the government’s commensurate-with income-based arguments, the Harvey Group argues that the regulation in question is, in any event, consistent with the general arm’s-length standard of Code Section 482. It does so based principally on the proposition that “[s]tock-based compensation costs are real costs, and no profit-maximizing economic actor would ignore them.” However, that said, “there are material differences between controlled and uncontrolled parties’ attitudes, motivations and behaviors regarding stock-based compensation.” Thus, according to the Harvey Group, the Tax Court erred when it concluded that “Treasury necessarily decided an empirical question when it concluded that the final rule was consistent with the arm’s-length standard,” because “[n]o empirical finding that uncontrolled parties do, or might, share stock-based compensation costs is required to support Treasury’s regulation.” Accordingly, the Tax Court’s reliance on State Farm and the cases following it was a “key misstep” by the Tax Court.

The Harvey Group also proposes that, should the Ninth Circuit find that the term “arm’s length standard” or the meaning of the “coordinating regulations” is ambiguous, the government’s interpretation embodied in Treas. Reg. § 1.482-7 should be afforded Auer deference. Read more on deference principles in tax cases and the unique challenges of Auer deference. Auer deference is a special level of deference that can apply when an agency interprets its own regulations, although there are several limitations on its use.  Finally, if the Ninth Circuit decides that the regulations “have an infirmity,” the Harvey Group argues that “[t]he best remedy is to remand to Treasury for further consideration.”

A second group of nineteen professors (Alstott Group) similarly agrees with the government’s arguments to the Ninth Circuit. The Alstott Group argues that the 1986 addition of the “commensurate with income” standard to Code Section 482 effectively overrode the long-standing arm’s-length standard with respect to related-party transactions involving intangible assets. This leads the Alstott Group to make four “key points”: (1) the 2003 cost-sharing regulation is “substantively reasonable under the commensurate-with-income standard”; (2) the Tax Court misunderstood a basic principle of administrative law; (3) even if the Treasury’s explanation of the regulation were determined to be inadequate, “the taxpayer bears the burden of establishing that any error affected the procedure used or the substance of the decision reached”; and (4) invalidating the regulation would have “significant policy consequences, resulting in billions of dollars of lost tax revenue.”

According to the Alstott Group, in cases involving intangible property, the commensurate-with-income principle “looks to the income generated by the intangible property – it does not look to comparable transactions (because they may not exist).” For this reason, the commensurate-with-income authority “allows the IRS to make adjustments based on the income generated by the [intangible property] in the hands of the [related party]” – (i.e.), without reference to unrelated-party behavior. Accordingly, the emphasis in the regulation – which “simply acts as a safe harbor for taxpayers” – on factors other than arm’s-length behavior “should be upheld as consistent with congressional intent.”

Consistent with its own analysis of the effect of the commensurate-with-income principle, the Alstott Group observes that the preamble to the final regulation invokes that principle as a sufficient independent basis for the cost-sharing rule. It criticizes the Tax Court’s determination that because the Treasury did not rely exclusively on the commensurate-with-income standard, it could not sustain the final rule solely on that basis as a “fatal mistake of administrative law.” In effect, the Alstott Group argues that the Treasury’s explanation of its reasoning underlying the final regulation, while perhaps “of less than ideal clarity,” was nonetheless sufficient for its path to be “reasonably discerned,” thereby satisfying the standards of  the APA.

Finally, the Alstott Group proposes that, if the Ninth Circuit finds that the Treasury did not adequately explain the basis for the regulation, “that failure does not justify the drastic step of invalidating the regulation.” It asserts that “any error by Treasury was harmless” and that if the court finds the Treasury’s explanation to be insufficient, it should remand the regulation to the Treasury without vacating it, “so that Treasury can clarify its explanation.” It suggests that a taxpayer challenging a regulation on APA grounds must show that the Treasury “would have reached a different conclusion had it determined that, as an empirical matter, unrelated companies do not include stock options as costs in similar agreements.”

The taxpayer’s reply brief is due on August 26, 2016, and it remains to be seen whether other amici will support its position. It appears that the government is being mindful of the Tax Court’s analysis in Altera, as evidenced by media reports regarding recent comments by Russell Kwiat, senior manager of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) advance pricing and mutual agreement program. According to those reports, the IRS is considering the comments received on proposed Code Section 367 regulations that draw on the procedural challenges raised by the taxpayer in Altera.