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Contracting in Anticipation of Tax Reform—Can a Tax Transaction Really Be Rescinded?

Tax reform is on the horizon. It’s in the press every day, but until US Congress can get together and make a final decision, it’s all conjecture. So what can taxpayers do to prepare for the inevitable? One idea is to enter into a transaction now with the expectation that certain tax provisions will be enacted, and if those tax provisions are not enacted by December 31, 2021, unwind the transaction as if nothing ever happened—the proverbial tax “do-over,” “mulligan,” or “oopsie.” There is basis for this strategy under the doctrine of rescission.

A transaction rescission occurs when all parties agree to void the transaction as if nothing occurred. (Think of the parties physically ripping up the formal, executed contracts.) This may sound a bit silly, but if the parties can enter into a transaction, why shouldn’t they be able to decide to void it?

The doctrine of rescission is well-entrenched in the law and finds its roots in contract law, but it can also be applicable (and effective) in tax law. While the doctrine of rescission is nowhere to be found in the Internal Revenue Code or the Treasury Regulations, case law ensures taxpayers that the doctrine is available in a tax context. (See: e.g., Penn v. Robertson, 115 F.2d 167 (4th Cir. 1940).)

Likewise, in Revenue Ruling 80-58, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) endorsed the doctrine of rescission, and the facts in that ruling demonstrate the boundaries of the doctrine. In February 1978, A (a calendar year taxpayer) sold a tract of land to B and received cash for the entire purchase price. The contract of sale obligated A, at the request of B, to accept reconveyance of the land from B if at any time within nine months of the date of sale B was unable to have the land rezoned for B‘s business purposes. If there was a reconveyance under the contract, A and B would be placed in the same positions they were prior to the sale. The IRS ruled that “the original sale is to be disregarded for federal income tax purposes because the rescission extinguished any taxable income for that year with regard to that transaction.” There are numerous private letter rulings that provide additional examples of the IRS’s approval of the doctrine of rescission.

Importantly, the doctrine of rescission as applicable to tax issues is governed by the “annual accounting concept.” This concept pervades tax law and measures behavior for tax purposes based upon the tax year of the taxpayer. As the Supreme Court of the United States held, each taxable year is a separate unit for tax accounting purposes. (See: Security Flour Mills Co. v. Comm’r, 321 U.S. 281 (1944).) So the idea is, if a taxpayer enters into a transaction and the transaction is voided before the end of the year, for tax purposes it’s as if the transaction never occurred.

So, if any taxpayers are thinking about engaging in a transaction they may [...]

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Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. (more…)




Tax Court Rejects IRS Argument that Corporate Taxpayer Failed to File Valid Return

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. (more…)




Tax Court Addresses “Issue of First Impression” Defense to Penalties

We previously posted on what we called the “issue of first impression” defense to penalties and the recent application of this defense by the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) in Peterson v. Commissioner, a TC Opinion. We noted that taxpayers may want to consider raising this defense in cases where the substantive issue is one for which there is no clear guidance from the courts or the Internal Revenue Service. Yesterday’s Memorandum Opinion by the Tax Court in Curtis Investment Co., LLC v. Commissioner, addressed the issue of first impression defense in the context of the taxpayer’s argument that it acted with reasonable cause and good faith in its tax reporting position related to certain Custom Adjustable Rate Debt Structure (CARDS) transactions. For the difference between TC and Memorandum Opinions, see here.

The Tax Court (and some appellate courts) has addressed the tax consequences of CARDS transactions in several cases, each time siding with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In its opinions in those other cases, the Tax Court has found that the CARDS transaction lacks economic substance. The court in Curtis Investment concluded that the CARDS transactions before it was essentially the same as the CARDS transactions in the other cases with only immaterial differences. Applying an economic substance analysis, the Tax Court held the taxpayer issue lacked a genuine profit motive and did not have a business purpose for entering into the CARDS transactions. (more…)




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