Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of March 4 – 8, 2019.

March 4, 2019: The IRS issued proposed regulations under Section 250 of the Code for determining domestic corporations’ deductions for foreign-derived intangible income (FDII) and global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI).

March 4, 2019: The IRS issued a news release kicking off the annual list of what the agency terms the most prevalent or “Dirty Dozen” tax scams.

March 5, 2019: The IRS released Notice 2019-18 informing taxpayers that the Treasury Department and the IRS no longer intend to amend the required minimum distribution regulations under § 401(a)(9) of the Internal Revenue Code.

March 6, 2019: The IRS scheduled a public hearing for March 25, 2019, on proposed regulations relating to the Base Erosion and Anti-Abuse Tax.

March 6, 2019: The IRS released Notice 2019-20 providing a waiver of penalties under Sections 6722 and 6698 to certain partnerships for the 2018 tax year.

March 8, 2019: The IRS issued a news release postponing tax return filing and payment deadlines for victims of tornadoes and severe storms in parts of Alabama.

March 9, 2019: The IRS issued a news release advising business owners and self-employed individuals that Publication 5318 contains information of recent tax law changes that might affect their bottom line.

March 9, 2019: The IRS scheduled a March 20 public hearing on proposed regulations on hybrid entities and transactions under section 267A, and scheduled an April 10 public hearing on proposed regulations regarding withholding requirements.

Special thanks to Terence McAllister in our New York office for this week’s roundup.

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of December 17 – 21, 2018:

December 18, 2018: The IRS issued a news release providing guidance on excess business loss limitations and net operating losses following changes made by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

December 19, 2018: The IRS issued Revenue Ruling 2019-03, providing various prescribed rates for federal income tax purposes for January 2019.

December 19, 2018: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2019-06, prescribing discount factors used in computing unpaid losses under section 846 of the Code, as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

December 19, 2018: The IRS issued Notice 2019-04, extending temporary dyed fuel relief, initially provided in Notice 2017-30, through December 31, 2019.

December 20, 2018: The IRS issued proposed regulations implementing anti-hybrid provisions under sections 245A(e) and 267A of the Code, enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

December 20, 2018: The IRS issued proposed regulations dealing with the treatment of the sale of US trade or business partnership interests by foreign partners under section 864(c)(8) of the Code, enacted as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

December 20, 2018: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2019-09, updating guidance on when a taxpayer has provided adequate disclosure of tax positions for the purpose of avoiding penalties.

December 20, 2018: The IRS issued Notice 2019-06, informing taxpayers of its intent to issue proposed regulations addressing special enforcement matters under section 6241(11) of the Code, with regard to the centralized partnership audit regime.

December 21, 2018: The IRS issued final regulations implementing the centralized partnership audit regime under sections 6221 through 6241 of the Code.

December 21, 2018: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2019-08, providing guidance on deducting expenses under section 179(a) of the Code and deducting depreciation under section 168(g), as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

December 21, 2018: The IRS issued Notice 2019-05, expanding the list of hardship exemptions from the individual shared responsibility payment under section 5000A of the Code.

December 21, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Le Chen in our DC office for this week’s roundup.

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.