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Huge Win for Refined Coal: DC Appeals Court Permits Tax Credits

On August 5, 2022, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the US Tax Court’s bench opinion in favor of partners and investors in a refined coal business. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has consistently fought taxpayers’ attempts to claim a tax credit for refining coal despite a clear congressional mandate in Internal Revenue Code section 45(c)(7)(A). The IRS has repeatedly taken the position that the partnerships formed to utilize the tax credits generated by the refined coal business are not bona fide because the partnerships could never make an economic profit without the tax credits.

In Cross Refined Coal LLC, the IRS examined the partnership’s 2011 and 2012 tax years and disallowed $25.8 million of refined coal production tax credits and $25.7 million of claimed operating losses. The IRS argued that:

  • The partnership did not exist as a matter of fact.
  • The partnership was not, in substance, a partnership for federal income tax purposes because it was not formed to carry on a business or for the sharing of profits and losses from the production or sale of refined coal by its purported members/partners, but rather was created to facilitate the prohibited transaction of monetizing refined coal tax credits.
  • The transaction was entered into solely to purchase refined coal tax credits and other tax benefits.
  • Claimed expenses were not ordinary and necessary or credible expenses in connection with a trade or business or other activity engaged in for profit.

After a two-week trial involving several witnesses and thousands of exhibits, the Tax Court held that the partnership was legitimate because its partners made substantial contributions to the partnership, participated in its management and shared in its profits and losses. The IRS appealed to the DC Circuit.

In affirming the Tax Court, the DC Circuit held that the partners intended to form a partnership and had legitimate non-tax motives for the business. The Court diffused any concern that the partnership included tax benefits, explaining that “there was nothing untoward about seeking partners who could apply the refined-coal credits immediately, rather than carrying them forward to future tax years.” The Court also recognized that “Congress expressly provided for coal refiners to employ this investment strategy, for the tax code specifies how the credit must be divided when a refining facility has multiple owners.” The Court was not persuaded by the IRS’s concern that the partners did not enter the partnership to obtain a pre-tax profit: “[a]ccording to the Commissioner, Cross’s partners did not have the requisite intent to carry on a business together because Cross was not ‘undertaken for profit or for other legitimate nontax business purposes.’” The Court disagreed, explaining:

As a general matter, a partnership’s pursuit of after-tax profit can be legitimate business activity for partners to carry on together. This is especially true in the context of tax incentives, which exist precisely to encourage activity that would not otherwise be profitable.

The DC Circuit found [...]

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Sixth Circuit Denies Proceeds Regulation Rehearing Request, Sets Up a Circuit Split

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently denied a taxpayer’s request for a rehearing en banc in Oakbrook Land Holdings, LLC v. Commissioner, No. 20-2117, leaving a highly contested conservation easement regulation in place and setting up a split between the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits.

In Oakbrook, the taxpayer argued that Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-14(g)(6)(ii), known as the “proceeds regulation,” was invalid because it did not satisfy the Administrative Procedure Act’s (APA) notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures. The regulation addresses how to allocate proceeds between donors and donees if an easement is judicially extinguished and the property is sold. In May 2020, the US Tax Court held that the regulation was “procedurally and substantively valid” under the APA. The Sixth Circuit agreed with the Tax Court, upholding the regulation.

The Sixth Circuit’s order issued July 6, 2022, indicated that neither the judges on the original panel nor any other judge on the full court requested a vote for a suggested rehearing. Last year, however, the Eleventh Circuit reached the opposite conclusion in Hewitt v. Commissioner, finding that the same regulation was invalid because it violated the APA. Thus, there is a clear circuit split on the issue.

Practice Point: The government did not seek a review of the Hewitt decision from the Supreme Court of the United States, so that ruling stands in the Eleventh Circuit. It remains to be seen whether the taxpayer in Oakbrook files a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court. With a split between the Sixth and Eleventh Circuits, it is possible this conservation easement battle could be headed to the Supreme Court to determine the fate of the proceeds regulation.




Weekly IRS Roundup November 1 – November 5, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of November 1, 2021 – November 5, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

November 1, 2021: The IRS released a memorandum, providing guidance on the refund recoupment process for employees of Specialty Collection Offer in Compromise. Beginning with offers accepted on or after November 1, 2021, the offer in the compromise refund recoupment process will no longer be applicable for offsetting tax periods included on Form 656.

November 1, 2021: The IRS released a memorandum, extending certain temporary guidance related to taxpayer contact, initial contact and asset evaluations with respect to Internal Revenue Manual SBSE-05-0321-0019, Extension of Temporary Guidance for Field Collection and Specialty Collection Offers in Compromise Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Resumption of NFTL Procedures. The memorandum also extends the waiver that requires a field call prior to acceptance of certain Offers in Compromise in accordance with IRM 5.8.4.8(10) until January 31, 2022. The temporary guidance regarding Notice of Federal Tax Lien (NFTL) determinations and filings was not extended.

November 2, 2021: The IRS released the IRS Chief Counsel code and subject matter directory for November 2021.

November 3, 2021: The IRS published a news release, reminding taxpayers that a special tax provision will allow more Americans to easily deduct up to $600 in donations to qualifying charities on their 2021 federal income tax return. A temporary law change now permits them to claim a limited deduction on their 2021 federal income tax returns for cash contributions made to qualifying charitable organizations.

November 3, 2021: The IRS published FAQs concerning carried interest reporting details for partnerships. The purpose of the FAQs is to provide guidance relating to both pass-through entity filing and reporting requirements and owner taxpayer filing requirements in accordance with US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) regulations revised in T.D. 9945 (concerning guidance under Section 1061, which recharacterizes certain net long-term capital gains of a partner that holds one or more applicable partnership interests as short-term capital gains).

November 3, 2021: The IRS published a news release, announcing that victims of Hurricane Ida in parts of Connecticut now have until January 3, 2022, to file various individual and business tax returns and make tax payments.

November 3, 2021: The IRS and Treasury published a notice and request for comments concerning third-party disclosure requirements in IRS regulations. Written comments are due on or before January 3, 2022.

November 5, 2021: The IRS published a practice unit concerning expense allocation and apportionment when calculating a foreign tax credit under Section 904. The practice unit was revised to correct an error and supersedes the August 29, 2016, practice unit with the same title.

November 5, 2021: The IRS and Treasury
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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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Weekly IRS Roundup October 18 – October 22, 2021

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of October 18, 2021 – October 22, 2021. Additionally, for continuing updates on the tax impact of COVID-19, please visit our resource page here.

October 18, 2021: The IRS announced that beginning October 18, its Large Business and International (LB&I) Division will accept all taxpayer requests to meet with IRS employees using secure video conferencing.

October 20, 2021: The IRS published an announcement, reminding employers that the next quarterly payroll tax return is due November 1, 2021. The IRS urged employers to use the speed and convenience of filing the returns electronically.

October 21, 2021: The IRS and US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) published a notice and request for comments concerning Form 4810 (Request for Prompt Assessment Under Internal Revenue Code Section 6501(d)). The form is used to help locate a return and expedite the processing of a taxpayer’s request. Written comments are due on or before December 20, 2021.

October 21, 2021: The IRS published an announcement, reminding the more than 759,000 federal tax return preparers that they must renew their Preparer Tax Identification Numbers (PTINs) now for 2022. All current PTINs will expire December 31, 2021.

October 21, 2021: The IRS published a notice, setting forth current standards that a limited liability company (LLC) must satisfy in order to receive a determination letter recognizing it as tax exempt under Section 501(a) and described in Section 501(c)(3). The notice also requests comments on these standards, as well as specific issues relating to tax exempt status for LLCs, to assist the Treasury and the IRS in determining whether additional guidance is needed concerning the standards that an LLC must satisfy in order to be exempt from taxation by reason of being described in Section 501(c). Written comments should be submitted by February 6, 2022.

October 22, 2021: The IRS published an announcement, reminding employers that they generally will not jeopardize the tax status of their pension plans if they rehire retirees or permit distributions of retirement benefits to current employees who have reached age 59 and a half or the plan’s normal retirement age. The IRS posted FAQs to help employers impacted by COVID-19, which resulted in labor shortages.

October 22, 2021: The IRS published Revenue Procedure 2021-42, providing guidelines and general requirements for the development, printing and approval of the 2021 substitute tax forms. The IRS accepts quality substitute tax forms that are consistent with the official forms and have no adverse impact on processing.

October 22, 2021: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandums and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Robbie Alipour in our Chicago office for this week’s roundup.




Second Circuit Weighs in on Tax Court’s Refund Jurisdiction

Borenstein v. Commissioner is an interesting opinion involving the intersection of canons of statutory construction and jurisdiction. Recently, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed the US Tax Court’s holding in Borenstein that the court lacked jurisdiction to order a refund of an undisputed overpayment made by the taxpayer. The case, which we discussed in a prior post, involved interpreting statutory provisions dealing with claims for a refund after a notice of deficiency was issued. The Tax Court’s holding was based on the application of the plain meaning rule to Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6512(b)(3), which limit its jurisdiction to order refunds of overpayments.

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Tax Reform Insight: New Foreign Tax Credit Rules May Warrant Restructuring Foreign Branches

The 2017 Tax Act added a separate foreign tax credit limitation category, or basket, for income earned in a foreign branch. As a result, certain US groups may be limited in their ability to use foreign income taxes paid or accrued by a foreign branch as a credit against their US federal income tax liability.

This new limitation can present a problem for a taxpayer with losses in some foreign branches and income in other foreign branches. Consider, for example, a US consolidated group that has $1,000 of losses from Foreign Branch X and $1,000 of income in Foreign Branch Y on which it pays $200 of foreign income taxes. The group would have zero income in its foreign branch basket, and therefore the $200 of foreign taxes would not be currently usable as a foreign tax credit. The credits can be carried over to other tax years, but they may never be tax benefited if the above circumstances continue.

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New Proposed Regulations Limit Use of Non-Government Attorneys

On March 28, 2018, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published Proposed Regulation § 301.7601-1(b)(3)(i) and (ii) which permits the IRS to hire outside specialists to assist in determining the correctness of a taxpayer’s tax liability. The Proposed Regulation also contains an exception specifically prohibiting the IRS from hiring outside attorneys to review summoned information or question witnesses providing testimony under oath.

The participation of outside attorneys became controversial during the audit of a large technology company when the IRS hired an outside law firm to augment its own resources for the transfer pricing audit of the company. On October 16, 2017, in response to the requirements of Executive Order 13789, requiring the Secretary of the Treasury to review all regulations issued after January 1, 2016, the Treasury Department and the IRS announced that they were considering proposing an amendment to Treas. Reg. § 301.7602-1(b)(3) in order to narrow the scope with respect to non-government attorneys. See our prior coverage here. (more…)




Tax Court Rejects IRS Reliance on “Cursory” Analysis in Revenue Ruling

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.




Appeals Large Case Pilot Program Draws Criticism

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. (more…)




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