We have previously discussed, in March and October of 2016, the various levels of deference given to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance, whether it is in published or private form. For revenue rulings, courts traditionally apply Skidmore deference, which essentially looks at the persuasiveness of the ruling. Under this standard, and the IRS’s position in its procedural regulations, if a ruling contains the same material facts and its analysis is persuasive, courts will generally defer to it.

The Tax Court’s recent opinion in Grecian Magnesite Mining, Industrial & Shipping Co., SA, v. Commissioner, 149 TC No. 3 (July 13, 2017), is a friendly reminder that just because a revenue ruling addresses the same material facts present in a taxpayer’s case does not automatically mean that courts will side with the IRS. In Grecian, a revenue ruling contained three fact patterns which were essentially the same as the taxpayer’s facts. The ruling held that gain realized by a foreign partner upon disposing of its interest in a United States partnership should be analyzed on an asset-by-asset basis, and that to the extent the partnership’s assets would give rise to effectively connected income (ECI) if sold by the partnership, the departing partner’s pro rata share of such gain should be treated as ECI. Despite this conclusion, the Tax Court rejected the IRS’s argument that the ruling was entitled to deference and required upholding the IRS’s deficiency determination. Rather, the court noted that the ruling’s discussions of the relevant partnership provisions was “cursory in the extreme” and it criticized the ruling’s treatment of the United States taxation of international transactions. As a result, the court declined to accord any deference to the ruling and ultimately found that the taxpayer’s position was correct as to the issue addressed in the ruling.

Practice Point: Although many revenue rulings contained detailed discussions and analysis of the tax laws, some are based on blanket statements of law that are not supported by relevant authorities. In these situations, taxpayers and their advisors should carefully consider whether a court would afford any deference to such a blanket statement.

In October 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revised the Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) 8.6.1.4.4 to provide IRS Appeals Division (Appeals) with discretion to invite representatives from the IRS Examination Division (Exam) and IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) to the Appeals conference. Many tax practitioners opposed this change, believing that it undermines the independence of Appeals and may lead to a breakdown in the settlement process.

In May 2017, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation submitted comments recommending the reinstatement of the long-standing Manual provision regarding the limited circumstances for attendance by representatives from Exam and Counsel at settlement conferences. Additionally, the Tax Section’s comments were critical of the practice whereby some Appeals Team Case Leaders (ATCLs) in traditional Appeals cases are “strongly encouraging” IRS Exam and the taxpayer to conduct settlement negotiations similar to Rapid Appeals or Fast Track Settlement, such that many taxpayers do not feel they can decline such overtures. The Tax Section comments suggested that the use of Rapid Appeals Process and Fast Track Settlement should be a voluntary decision of both the taxpayer and IRS Exam and the use of these processes should be the exception rather than the rule. Continue Reading Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism

On March 30, 2017, the US Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) published a report identifying numerous violations of taxpayer rights from 2012 to 2014 by the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRS CID) in structuring cases. TIGTA examined over 300 investigations for structuring in this time period and identified 21 cases in which taxpayer rights had been compromised.

The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA) requires US financial institutions to file reports of currency transactions exceeding $10,000. A provision of the BSA, 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a), prohibits structuring, that is, setting up a transaction for the purpose of evading this reporting requirement. Violations of the law can result in fines, imprisonment and asset forfeiture. This law is administered by the US Department of the Treasury, and one of its major goals is to monitor traffic in illegal-source funds (i.e., funds used in drug transactions or to support terrorism). Continue Reading Taxpayer Advocate Questions IRS CID’s Narrow Reading of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights

On January 10, 2017, the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson released her 2016 Annual Report to Congress.

According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), the report was delivered to Congress with no prior review by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner, the Secretary of the Treasury or the Office of Management and Budget.  The primary sections of the report include:

  • 2016 Special Focus – IRS Future State: The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Vision for a Taxpayer-Centric 21st Century Tax Administration
  • Most Serious Problems Encountered by Taxpayers
  • Recommendations to Congress
  • Most Litigated Issues
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service Research and Related Studies
  • Literature Reviews

Practice Point: TAS, an independent organization within the IRS, is an excellent (and often underutilized) resource for individual and corporate taxpayers who may be at a standstill with the IRS – especially on a technical, administrative, or “red-tape” issue. Taxpayers of all shapes and sizes should consider, where appropriate, utilizing the TAS in appropriate circumstances where they are encountering delays in the administration of their tax disputes.

This post is the first in a four-part series addressing highlights of the Annual Report that may be of interest to our readers.