Supreme Court of the United States

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

In Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. 467 US 837 (1984), the Supreme Court of the United States established a framework for assessing an agency’s interpretation of statutory provisions. First, a reviewing court must ask whether Congress “delegated authority to the agency generally to make rules carrying the force of law,” and whether the agency’s interpretation was promulgated under that authority. United States v. Mead Corporation, 533 US 218, 226–27 (2001). Delegation may be shown in a variety of ways, including “an agency’s power to engage in adjudication or notice-and-comment rulemaking, or by some other indication of a comparable congressional intent.” Id. at 227. If an agency has been delegated the requisite authority, the analysis is segmented into two steps.

Under step one, the reviewing court asks whether Congress has clearly spoken on the precise question at issue. See Chevron, 467 US at 842. If so, both the court and agency must follow the “unambiguously expressed intent of Congress,” and the inquiry ends. Id. at 842–43.

If the statute under review is ambiguous or silent, the reviewing court moves to step two: whether the agency’s interpretation is based on “a permissible construction of the statute.” Id. at 842. This inquiry asks whether the interpretation is reasonable and not “arbitrary, capricious, or manifestly contrary to the statute.” Chevron, 467 US at 843; see also Judulang v. Holder, 565 US 42, 53 n.7 (2011); Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 579 US ____, 136 S. Ct. 2117, 2125 (2016). If the agency’s interpretation passes muster, then the agency’s interpretation is given Chevron deference, and afforded the force of law. The Chevron two-part analysis applies to tax regulations issued by the United States Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education & Research v. United States, 562 US 44, 55 (2011). Continue Reading Senate Attempts to Repeal Chevron Deference

Two petitions for certiorari pending before the Supreme Court of the United States ask the Court to resolve the question of whether a tax return filed after an assessment by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a “return” for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code (BC). The answer to this question will determine whether a bankrupt taxpayer’s tax debts can be discharged or are permanently barred from discharge. According to these petitions, the courts of appeal are divided as to the answer.

BC § 523(a) generally allows a debtor to discharge unsecured debt, except for, inter alia, tax debts of debtors who: (1) failed to file tax returns; (2) filed fraudulent tax returns; or (3) filed late tax returns, where a bankruptcy petition is filed within two years of the date the late return was filed. See BC § 523(a)(1)(B)(i), (B)(ii), (C).

Continue Reading IRS Opposes Granting of Certiorari in Cases Addressing Definition of Return

In Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, Sup. Ct. No. 15-415 (June 20, 2016), the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated a regulation issued by the US Department of Labor (DOL) under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). In doing so, it affirmed long-standing precedent regarding the procedural requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and addressed the effect of noncompliance with those requirements on the deference, if any, courts must afford agency pronouncements. Thus, even though it is not a tax case, it is likely to have an effect on cases in which taxpayers argue that a treasury regulation is invalid.

The Court’s holding here is based upon an agency’s unexplained change in a long-standing position. The FLSA requires employers to pay overtime compensation to covered employees who work more than 40 hours in a given week. It exempts from this requirement “any salesman, partman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at a covered dealership. From 1978 to 2011, the DOL’s position was that such employees were exempt from the overtime-pay rule. This position was set forth in a number of published pronouncements, including proposed regulations in 2008. However, when the regulations were finalized in 2011, the DOL took the opposite position. In a suit brought by a number of service advisors against a dealership for overtime pay, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit resolved the matter by giving Chevron deference to the DOL’s interpretation embodied in the 2011 regulations, holding for the plaintiff employees. The Supreme Court majority denied Chevron deference and remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit for further proceedings on the meaning of the underlying statutory language. Continue Reading Supreme Court Issues Opinion Addressing Interplay between APA Procedural Compliance and Chevron Difference

As we previously discussed, the issue of deference is a hot topic in the tax arena.  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States recently passed on the opportunity to address the continuing validity of what is commonly known as Auer deference.  This level of deference sometimes applies when an agency interprets its own regulations.

In United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. Bryana Bible, S.Ct. No. 15-861, the Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari, leaving in place an opinion by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that deferred to the Department of Education’s interpretation in an amicus brief of the regulatory scheme that it enforces.  In a scathing dissent from the denial of certiorari, Justice Thomas stated that the Auer doctrine “is on its last gasp” and that the Court should have taken the opportunity to reconsider and re-evaluate the doctrine.  The Supreme Court’s rules require that at least four Justice must vote to accept a case.  Although Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito have recently acknowledged that the doctrine should be reconsidered, the other vocal member in favor or reconsideration was the recently deceased Justice Scalia.  It remains to be seen whether another current Justice will join these three Justices in the future to vote to revisit the issue.

In an earlier blog post, we discussed the US Tax Court’s ruling in QinetiQ U.S. Holdings, Inc. v. Commissioner, No. 14122-13 (Dec. 27, 2013). The taxpayer had argued that the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS’) notice of deficiency containing 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 Tax Court disagreed, emphasizing that it was well settled that the court is not subject to the APA. To refresh, 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. Continue Reading Update on APA Challenges to Notice of Deficiency