As we previously discussed, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) closed its doors on December 28, 2018, until further notice. However, trial sessions scheduled for the weeks of January 7, and 14, 2019, were to proceed as scheduled. The Tax Court has updated its website to confirm that the trial sessions scheduled for the week of January 14, 2019, will proceed as scheduled, but that trial sessions scheduled for the week of January 28, 2019, in El Paso, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Lubbock are canceled. A decision regarding the trial sessions for the week of February 4, 2019, will be made on or before January 18, 2019.

As a result of the shutdown, the Tax Court did not issue any Orders or Opinions from December 31, 2018, to January 9, 2019. It started issuing Orders again on January 10, 2019, but no Opinions have been issued since December 27, 2018.

Practice Point: In addition to its impact on governmental agencies, the government shutdown continues to disrupt judicial operations. Some federal courts have continued to issue opinions during this time but activity in many cases has been postponed or canceled.

The United States Tax Court (Tax Court) has announced that it will be shutting down starting today, December 28, 2018 at 11:59 p.m., and will remain closed until further notice. However, trial sessions scheduled for the weeks of January 7 and 14, 2019, will proceed as scheduled. Electronic filing and electronic access to the Tax Court’s docket system will remain available and taxpayers may comply with statutory deadlines for documents required to be paper filed by timely mailing such documents using approved delivery services. Further updates will be provided on the Tax Court’s website.

Practice Point: The government shutdown continues to impact government agencies and the judicial system. For a detailed discussion of the impact of the shutdown on the Internal Revenue Service, see here.

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:

 

On September 12, 2018, the Senate confirmed, by a vote of 64-33, Charles P. Rettig to be Commissioner of the Internal Revenue for the term expiring November 12, 2022. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Rettig and his background here.

The IRS Commissioner presides over the United States’ tax system and is responsible for establishing and interpreting tax administration policy and for developing strategic issues, goal and objectives for managing and operating the IRS. This includes responsibility for overall planning, directing, controlling and evaluating IRS policies, programs, and performance. The IRS Commissioner is also required by statute under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7803 to ensure that all IRS employees are familiar with and act in accord with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

The nomination of Michael J. Desmond to be Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) remains pending in the Senate. We previously discussed the nomination of Mr. Desmond and his background here.

The IRS Chief Counsel serves as the chief legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code, as well as all other legal matters. Attorneys in the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office serve as lawyers for the IRS. Their role is to provide the IRS and taxpayers with guidance on interpreting Federal tax laws correctly, represent the IRS in litigation, and provide all other legal support required to carry out the IRS mission

On March 28, 2017, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) issued its opinion in Good Fortune Shipping SA v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 10, upholding the validity of Treas. Reg. § 1.883-4. The taxpayer had challenged the validity of the regulation’s provision that stock in the form of “bearer shares” cannot be counted for purposes of determining the more-than-50-percent ownership test under Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 883(c)(1), but the Tax Court held that the regulation was valid under the two-step analysis of Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), and applied it in ruling for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). We previously discussed the Tax Court’s opinion here. The taxpayer appealed the Tax Court’s decision to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (DC Circuit).

Continue Reading DC Circuit Reverses Tax Court and Holds Section 883 Regulations Invalid under Chevron Test

The US Tax Court (Tax Court), in a short opinion, provided a reminder to taxpayers that penalties for filing fraudulent returns cannot be avoided by subsequently filing amended returns. In Gaskin v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-89, the taxpayer admitted his original returns were fraudulent. While under criminal investigation, he attempted to cure the fraudulent filings by filing amended returns, reporting more than $100,000 of additional tax. Ultimately, the tax due exceeded the amount reported on the amended returns.

Despite admitting his original fraud, the taxpayer argued that the fraud penalty did not apply because the tax due only modestly exceeded the tax reported on his amended returns. The Tax Court disagreed. Relying on the regulations and Supreme Court precedent, the court held that the amount of the underpayment and the fraudulent intent are both determined by reference to original—not amended—returns. It therefore upheld imposition of the fraud penalty.

Practice Point: Don’t file fraudulent returns! All joking aside, this case reminds us that although filing an amended return can cure some infirmities on your return, you have to be very careful in choosing whether to amend a return. As long as you did your best to accurately calculate your tax due on your original return, you are not required to amend that return if you later find out you were wrong. This is true even if the statute of limitations is still open. Indeed, there is no requirement to amend a return. However, there may be reasons to file an amended return; for example, if you know that you will need to base a future return’s position on a previous return’s position (e.g., the amount of earnings and profits stated on the return). Taxpayers need to be mindful, however, that if you amend your return, it must be accurate to the best of your knowledge when you sign it as to all items and any other errors discovered after the original return was filed must also be corrected. Accordingly, you cannot amend only the favorable positions discovered after you filed your original return.

In a press release on April 24, 2018, the White House stated that President Trump has reappointed Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes for a second 15-year term.  Judge Holmes was originally appointed by President George W. Bush on June 30, 2003, for a term ending June 29, 2018.  Instead of seeking “senior status” on the Tax Court, Judge Holmes sought to be reappointed for a second term.

In a press release this morning, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Emin Toro to serve as a judge on the United States Tax Court (Tax Court). This is the latest in a wave of nominations to high-level tax positions within the government, as we have previously covered here and here.

Mr. Toro is currently a partner in the Washington, DC, office of Covington & Burling LLP. His practice focuses on the needs of multinational companies, including both tax controversies and counseling. Mr. Toro’s experience includes audits, administrative appeals, litigation and transfer pricing matters. He received his JD from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 2000 and clerked for the Honorable Karen LeCraft Henderson, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (2000–2001) and the Honorable Clarence Thomas, US Supreme Court (2002–2003).

The Tax Act created two new foreign tax credit limitation baskets – one for foreign branch income (new section 904(d)(1)(B)) and one for any amount includible in gross income under section 951A (i.e., GILTI) – however, it failed to amend section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) to reflect these changes to section 904(d)(1). As a result of this oversight, section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) currently instructs the taxpayer to treat foreign taxes imposed on amounts that do not constitute income under US principles as imposed on income described in the foreign branch income basket. In light of legislative history and Treasury regulations, such a failure to amend the Code appears to be a drafting error. This article addresses the relevant case law that, on balance, supports applying section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) as if its language and cross-reference had been properly amended.

Access the full article.

On February 26, 2018, the US Tax Court announced that Judge Maurice B. Foley has been elected Chief Judge to serve a two-year term beginning June 1, 2018. Judge Foley will replace Chief Judge Paige Marvel.

Judge Foley was appointed to the US Tax Court by President Clinton on April 9, 1995. He was reappointed by President Obama on November 25, 2011, for a second term ending November 24, 2026. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Swarthmore College, a JD from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and a master of laws in taxation from Georgetown University Law Center. Continue Reading New Chief Judge of US Tax Court