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District Court Vacates, Sets Aside IRS Reportable Transaction Notice

The fallout from taxpayer challenges to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) “reportable transaction” regime continues. On March 21, 2022, the district court in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS ruled in favor of the taxpayer, vacating Notice 2016-66 and ordering the IRS to return all documents and information produced pursuant to Notice 2016-66 to taxpayers and material advisors.

We previously posted about the Supreme Court of the United States’ decision in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, which allowed a pre-enforcement challenge to the IRS’s reportable transaction regime. On remand, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court, relying on Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States, explained that the “Sixth Circuit’s analysis in Mann Construction is binding on this Court and applies equally to the arguments advanced by the IRS regarding Notice 2016-66 in this case.” The court dealt the IRS another blow, holding that Notice 2016-66 had to also be set aside as an agency action that was arbitrary and capricious: “[s]imply including cases in the administrative record that suggest certain tax structures could be abusively employed is not synonymous with examining relevant facts and data in connection with issuing the Notice.” In determining the appropriate relief, the court rejected the IRS’s request to limit vacatur of the Notice to CIC, explaining that “vacating the Notice in its entirety is appropriate” and citing the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s prior statement that the IRS “do[es] not have a great history of complying with APA procedures, having claimed for several decades that their rules and regulations are exempt from those requirements” (See CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, 925 F.3d 247, 258 (6th Cir. 2019) quoting Kristin E. Hickman & Gerald Kersa, Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act, 103 Va. L. Rev. 1683, 1712-13 (2017)).

Practice Point: The assault on the IRS’s reportable transaction regime is far from over. We recently posted about the Sixth Circuit’s opinion in Mann Construction in which it held that Notice 2007-83, which required disclosure of listed transactions relating to certain employee benefit plans, violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). APA challenges continue to expand to other IRS notices that bypassed the notice-and-comment requirement, including Notice 2017-10, which identifies certain syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions subject to disclosure to the IRS. These developments will certainly have a significant impact on taxpayers and material advisors’ responsibilities as we move into the tax filing season.




Sixth Circuit Sides with Taxpayer in APA Challenge to Reportable Transaction Regime

We previously posted about the US Supreme Court’s opinion in CIC Servs., LLC v. IRS, which allowed a pre-enforcement challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) “reportable transaction” regime. In that post, we noted the district court opinion in Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States, No. 1:20-cv-11307 (E.D. Mich. 2021), holding that an IRS Notice requiring disclosure of listed transactions was not subject to the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment requirement, and identified unanswered questions and potential future disputes over IRS enforcement strategies.

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has now reversed the district court in Mann Construction, holding that the IRS’s process for issuing Notice 2007-83—which designates certain employee-benefit plans featuring cash-value life insurance policies as listed transactions—violated the APA. Specifically, the court found that Notice 2007-83 was a legislative rule under the APA because it had the force and effect of law. The Sixth Circuit relied on CIC Services, explaining that Notice 2007-83 “defines a set of transactions that taxpayers must report, and that duty did not arise from a statute or a notice-and-comment rule…failure to comply comes with the risk of penalties and criminal sanctions, all characteristics of legislative rules.” The court further found that Congress did not expressly exempt the IRS from the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements with respect to the reportable transaction regime. The Sixth Circuit explained that there was an absence of any express deviation from the APA’s notice-and-comment procedures, and “any exceptions to the sturdy protections established by the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements must come from Congress, not us and not the IRS.”

What now? Mann Construction is a heavy blow to the IRS’s reportable transaction regime, and similar APA attacks are underway against other Notices imposing non-statutory reporting obligations. One example is Notice 2017-10, which identifies certain syndicated conservation easement transactions as listed transactions subject to disclosure to the IRS.

Practice Point: In 2011, the Supreme Court announced in Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Rsch. v. United States, that “we are not inclined to carve out an approach to administrative review good for tax law only.” The last 10 years have seen numerous APA challenges in the tax world, some successful and others unsuccessful. CIC Services and Mann Construction are two important cases for taxpayers subject to non-statutory reporting obligations. Taxpayers and practitioners should carefully consider the impact of these cases in similar reporting situations in determining whether to initiate APA challenges.




Supreme Court Opens Door to APA Challenge of Overreaching IRS Information Reporting Regime

In CIC Services, LLC v. Internal Revenue Service, a unanimous US Supreme Court allowed CIC, a tax advisor, to proceed with a pre-enforcement challenge to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) “reportable transaction” regime. CIC alleged that the IRS violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) when it issued Notice 2016-66 (Notice), deeming certain micro-captive insurance transactions as “reportable transactions” and sought an order enjoining enforcement of the Notice. The IRS sought to avoid judicial review by hiding behind the Anti-Injunction Act’s (AIA) bar on suits brought “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” Disagreeing with the trial and appellate courts, the Supreme Court allowed CIC’s suit to proceed, finding that CIC was challenging a regulatory mandate separate from any tax. As the Court explained, “The tax appears on the scene – as criminal penalties do too – only to sanction that mandate’s violation.” By choosing to address their concerns about micro-captive transactions by imposing a non-tax reporting obligation, Congress and the IRS “took suits to enjoin their regulatory response outside the Anti-Injunction Act’s domain.”

On remand, the Court’s decision leaves open questions that the lower courts must now address while also providing meaningful clues about how the Court may approach future disputes over IRS enforcement strategies. Such questions include: (1) does the reportable transaction regime as the IRS currently administers it violate the APA (See: Mann Construction, Inc. v. United States, No. 1:20-cv-11307 (E.D. Mich. May 13, 2021) (holding that IRS Notice requiring disclosure of listed transactions was not subject to APA’s notice-and-comment requirement); (2) would the AIA bar a suit to enjoin enforcement of a reporting obligation brought by a taxpayer, as opposed to an advisor; (3) how onerous must the challenged requirement be; (4) how disconnected from the tax penalty must the challenged requirement be and (5) is the existence of criminal penalties sufficient and/or necessary to exempt a challenge from the AIA?

Practice Point: APA challenges in tax cases have steadily increased since the Supreme Court’s rejection of tax exceptionalism 10 years ago in Mayo Foundation for Medical Education & Research v. United States, 562 U.S. 44 (2011). As tax law continues to get more complicated and the IRS issues additional guidance, we can expect this trend to continue. Understanding how to use the APA to challenge the overreaching of the IRS is an important tool for taxpayers and tax advisors alike. In the absence of a clear congressional mandate, any new enforcement policy issued by the IRS may be fair game for an APA challenge. The Supreme Court has opened the door to judicial review of unsanctioned IRS programs that place unfair burdens on taxpayers. And, this issue extends beyond the reportable transaction regime, including to the information reporting proposals recently announced by the Biden Administration.




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