On December 10, 2018, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of James L. Kisor v. Peter O’Rourke, Acting Secretary of Veteran Affairs, S.Ct. Dkt. No. 18-15. Although this is not a tax case, it has significant implications for taxpayers and tax practitioners. The reason: the Court will finally squarely address the issue of whether it should overrule its controversial opinions in Auer v. Robbins, 519 US 452 (1997) and Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 US 410 (1945). Those opinions held that an agency is uniquely positioned to interpret any ambiguity in its own regulations and, therefore, such interpretations should be afforded controlling deference so long as reasonable. The Court’s decision to grant certiorari in Kisor is significant because the sole question to be considered is “[w]hether the Court should overrule Auer and Seminole Rock” and not how to apply that doctrine.

In the tax context, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division have both argued that interpretations taken in unpublished guidance are eligible for Auer deference, even if such positions are articulated for the first time on brief in a pending case in which the agency is a party. Courts have not been uniform in their application of Auer. For example, the Tax Court has indicated that to receive deference the IRS’s position should be in published guidance while some courts have given deference to statements made on brief.

The death of Justice Scalia, who ironically wrote Auer but later advocated for its demise, seemed to strike a blow to those seeking to overrule it. However, with the recent additions of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, it appears that the Supreme Court many now have a majority of Justices in the anti-Auer camp given that Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito have all expressed doubts about the doctrine in the past. Additionally, the continuing role of Chevron deference has been questioned and, if Auer is overruled, Chevron could be the next deference battleground.

We will continue to follow this case closely and provide updates in the future. In the meantime, the links below contain prior discussions on Auer and other forms of deference in the tax context.

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of November 19 – 23, 2018:

November 19, 2018: The IRS in a news release reminds taxpayers that the non-recognition treatment for like-kind exchanges under Code Section 1031 is now limited to certain exchanges of real property.

November 19, 2018: The IRS issued the final regulations under Code Section 267A on allocating costs to certain property produced or acquired for resale by a taxpayer.

November 19, 2018: The IRS issued Revenue Procedure 2018-56, expanding the list of changes of methods of accounting for which the taxpayers may obtain automatic consent under the regulations of Code Section 267A.

November 20, 2018: The IRS issued a notice to request comments on Form W-8CE, Notice of Expatriation and Waiver of Treaty Benefits, which the taxpayers use to notify expatriating payers of information necessary to determine the proper tax treatment of their payments.

November 20, 2018: The IRS in IRS Tax Reform Tax Tip 2018-179 advises that certain taxpayers may benefit from converting an S corporation into a C corporation due to the new, 21 percent tax rate.

November 23, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Alex Cheng-Yi Lee in our DC office for this week’s roundup.

Andy Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Emily Mussio recently authored an article for Law360 entitled, “A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand.” The article discusses the IRS’s contentious history in handling Code Section 199 and the taxpayers’ continued battle to claim the benefit – even after its recent repeal.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Law360, November 2018.

Last May, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that approximately 70 percent of all taxpayers in Tax Court cases and approximately 90 percent of taxpayers in small tax cases are self-represented. The Tax Court encourages assistance by pro bono attorneys at its calendar calls, and strives to provide information to taxpayers about how they may be able to connect with those attorneys (more background on the Tax Court’s efforts can be found here). Although pro bono attorneys appear at Tax Court calendar calls to assist self-represented taxpayers, ethical rules may limit the ability of these attorneys to provide certain kinds of legal assistance. For example, once an attorney makes an appearance in a court case, typically the attorney cannot simply withdraw and stop representing the client. The attorney may have to get both the client’s and court’s consent to withdraw from the representation. The inability to provide legal advice for one or more occasions without potentially being stuck on a case is perceived to dissuade many practitioners from providing pro bono service.

In response to these concerns, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation recently provided comments to the Tax Court regarding potential amendments to its rules relating to appearance and representation before the Tax Court. The ABA comments encourage the Tax Court to consider a limited appearance rule for pro bono attorneys appearing at the calendar call. This one-time appearance representation may encourage more attorneys to get involved in providing pro bono legal assistance to taxpayers. We will provide an update on any future action that the Tax Court may take in this regard.

Links to McDermott posts and articles about tax pro bono efforts by volunteer attorneys are listed below:

 

We have previously discussed ongoing developments with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) program. In brief summary, CAP is a real-time audit program that seeks to resolve the tax treatment of all or most return issues before the tax return is filed. The CAP program began in 2005 on an invitation-only basis with 17 taxpayers, and was subsequently expanded to include pre-CAP, CAP and CAP Maintenance components. Taxpayers and IRS leadership generally praised the CAP program as one of the most successful corporate tax enforcement programs, with surveys showing that more than 90 percent of CAP taxpayers reported overall satisfaction with the program.

The fate of CAP has been uncertain in recent years given the IRS’s shift in the examination process to identifying and focusing on specific areas of risk and the continued dwindling of IRS resources. In 2016, we discussed whether this change might result in the death of the CAP program and the IRS’s announcement that it was formally assessing the program. In August of this year, the IRS announced that the CAP program will continue, with some modifications.

At a September 26 conference, the IRS indicated that it wanted to expand the CAP program, but that changes were needed to keep the program sustainable over the long term given issues with increased examination times for CAP audits based primarily on issues involving transfer pricing, research credits under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 41, and former Code Section 199. The IRS indicated that it needed to resolve two issues for the CAP program: (1) eligibility and (2) suitability. Regarding eligibility, the IRS indicated that only public companies will likely be allowed into the program. Regarding suitability, factors include: (1) responses to IRS information requests; (2) good-faith efforts to resolve issues; (3) disclosure of tax shelters, material items, investigation or litigation; (4) frequency of claims; and (5) complying with the terms of the program’s memorandum of understanding.

The IRS has also released a Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) Recalibration discussion document, dated September 28, 2018. The discussion document provides more detail on the IRS’s current thinking regarding the CAP program and the two issues identified above. The document indicates that no new applications will be accepted for 2019 but that the IRS expects to accept new application for the 2020 tax year. In addition to general application information, taxpayers with international cross-border activity and research and experimentation activities will be required to submit additional information.

Practice Point: Taxpayers that are currently in the CAP program or that are considering applying to the program should review the IRS’s recent discussion document to identify potential changes to the program and whether the program would be a good fit. For many taxpayers, the CAP program has been—or could be­—a great program for resolving tax disputes in a timely fashion and gaining finality on tax position at an early date. The IRS may use their “suitability” criteria to weed out which taxpayers should be in the CAP program. Query whether a taxpayer will be suitable for CAP if they have identified an issue that is listed in one of the IRS’s “campaigns.” Only time will tell. We have heard that some CAP teams are overburdened and may have little training on new tax reform issues, requiring them to seek assistance from their CAP taxpayers. This might be a good opportunity to educate your CAP team on how your specific facts align with tax reform.

Presented below is our summary of significant Internal Revenue Service (IRS) guidance and relevant tax matters for the week of September 3 – 7, 2018:

September 4, 2018: The IRS reminded taxpayers that they have until September 28, 2018, to apply for the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

September 5, 2018: In response to taxpayer inquiries, the IRS clarified that taxpayers generally can deduct business-related payments to charities or governmental entities even if they also receive a state or local tax credit.

September 6, 2018: The IRS released a Practice Unit on “Determining an Individual’s Residency for Treaty Purposes.”

September 6, 2018: The IRS published Revenue Procedure 2018-47, which provides guidance to regulated investment companies regarding the application of the section 4982 excise tax to amounts included in income under the new Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965 transition tax.

September 7, 2018: The IRS published Revenue Ruling 2018-25, establishing the interest rates applicable to over- and under-payments of tax.

September 7, 2018: The IRS released PMTA 2018-016, concluding that it can use it math error authority, not only on intake and before refunds have been issued, but also anytime within the three-year statute of limitations period under Code Section 6501(a).

September 7, 2018: The IRS released its weekly list of written determinations (e.g., Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum and Chief Counsel Advice).

Special thanks to Kevin Hall in our DC office for this week’s roundup.

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the ending of the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), its formal amnesty program for taxpayers with previously undisclosed interests in foreign assets and financial accounts. The program deadline is September 28, 2018, and all submissions must be substantially completed by that deadline. Partial or “placeholder” submissions will not qualify. All requests for preclearance into the program must be submitted by Friday, August 24, 2018.

A number of other disclosure options will remain available after September 28, 2018, including the popular IRS streamlined compliance procedures. Regardless, taxpayers with potential questions or concerns regarding reporting of their foreign holdings should seek advice immediately in light of upcoming deadlines.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued PMTA 2018-016, reaffirming its position that for taxpayers making an election under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965(h) to pay the transition tax over eight years through installment payments, any overpayments of 2017 tax liabilities cannot be used as credits for 2018 estimated tax payments or refunded, unless and until the overpayment amount exceeds the full eight years of installment payments.

The IRS’s position has affected many taxpayers, and practitioners expressed their concerns to the IRS to no avail.

Access the full article.

 

On July 27, 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Alta Wind v. United States, reversed and remanded what had been a resounding victory for renewable energy. The US Court of Federal Claims had ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to claim a Section 1603 cash grant on the total amount paid for wind energy assets, including the value of certain power purchase agreements (PPAs).

We have reported on the Alta Wind case several times in the past two years:

Government Appeal of Alta Wind Supports Decision to File Suit Now

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Court Awards $206 Million to Alta Wind Projects in Section 1603 Grant Litigation; Smaller Award to Biomass Facility

Act Now To Preserve Your Section 1603 Grant

SOL and the 1603 Cash Grant – File Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

In reversing the trial court, the appellate court failed to answer the substantive question of whether a PPA that is part of the sale of a renewable energy facility is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 cash grant.

Trial Court Decision

The Court of Federal Claims awarded the plaintiff damages of more than $206 million with respect to the cash grant under Section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Section 1603 Grant). The court held that the government had underpaid the plaintiff its Section 1603 Grants arising from the development and purchase of large wind facilities when it refused to include the value of certain PPAs in the plaintiffs’ eligible basis for the cash grants. The trial court rejected the government’s argument that the plaintiffs’ basis was limited solely to development and construction costs. Instead, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the arm’s-length purchase price of the projects prior to their placed-in-service date informed the projects’ creditable value. The court also determined that the PPAs specific to the wind facilities should not be treated as ineligible intangible property for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. This meant that any value associated with the PPAs would be creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant.

Federal Circuit Reverses and Remands 

The government appealed its loss to the Federal Circuit. In its opinion, the Federal Circuit reversed the trial court’s decision, and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions. The Federal Circuit held that the purchase of the wind facilities should be properly treated as “applicable asset acquisitions” for purposes of Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 1060, and the purchase prices must be allocated using the so-called “residual method.” The residual method requires a taxpayer to allocate the purchase price among seven categories. The purpose of the allocation is to discern what amount of a purchase price should be ascribed to each category of assets, which may have significance for other parts of the IRC. For example, if the purchase price includes depreciable plant equipment and non-depreciable property (e.g., cash and marketable securities), the residual method asks the taxpayer to allocate the total purchase price between the property classes.

The Federal Circuit remanded the case back to the Claims Court to determine the proper allocation of the purchase prices of the wind facilities.

Why Is This Case Important?  

If you are in the renewable energy industry, this decision is likely very important. Indeed, there are numerous taxpayers who did not receive the full amount of their Section 1603 Grant based upon the government’s reduction of the claim for the value of a PPA. This case will have precedential effect on those taxpayers’ claims. Moreover, the decision will affect how the industry prices deals for renewable facilities. These transactions have historically involved substantial financial modeling based upon cash flows.

The Federal Circuit Left the Primary Issue Unanswered

The Federal Circuit left the primary issue in the case, whether the PPA is creditable for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant, to the trial court to decide on remand. Accordingly, if the trial court determines that the PPAs cannot be divorced from the wind farm facilities assets, they will be correctly allocated to “Class V” in IRC section 1060, and will be credit able for purposes of the Section 1603 Grant. Implicitly, this is what the trial court had already decided, and the result would obtain the same economic result for the plaintiff as its original ruling. We will continue to follow this matter to see whether the trial court follows the prevailing thinking on this issue and of a decade of legal support.

We previously discussed the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) surprising position that for taxpayers making an election under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 965(h) to pay the transition tax over 8 years through installment payments, any overpayments of 2017 tax liabilities cannot be used as credits for 2018 estimated tax payments or refunded, unless and until the overpayment amount exceeds the full 8 years of installment payments. The IRS’s position has affected many taxpayers, and practitioners have expressed their concerns to the IRS.

On June 4, 2018, the IRS responded to these concerns. Rather than changing its position, the IRS has doubled down; however, the IRS has taken the small but welcome step of allowing some penalty relief for taxpayers affected by the earlier guidance as set forth in new Questions and Answers 15, 16 and 17.

Based on discussions with the IRS, it appears that the IRS’s position is based on the view that it has broad authority under Code Section 6402 to apply overpayments against other taxes owed, and that Code Section 6403 requires an overpayment of an installment payment to be applied against unpaid installments. Thus, the IRS maintains that the Code Section 965 tax liability is simply a part of the tax year 2017 liability, and it is, except for Code Section 965(h) and a timely election thereunder, payable and due by the due date of the 2017 tax return. Any future installments for the Code Section 965 liability are, in the IRS’s view, not part of a tax for a future tax year that has yet to have been determined, as the tax has already been self-assessed by the taxpayer for 2017. Accordingly, the IRS views any overpayments as being applied within the same tax period to the outstanding Code Section 965 tax owed by the taxpayer even though taxpayers making a timely Code Section 965(h) election are not legally required to make additional payments until subsequent years. Continue Reading Tax Reform Insight: IRS Doubles Down on Retention of 2017 Overpayments to Satisfy Future Section 965 Installment Payments