Monday, March 27, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Whistleblower Who Blew Too Hard
Section 7623(b)(1) says that the IRS must reward whistleblowers when the information they provide causes the IRS to start “any administrative or judicial action” to collect unreported or unpaid taxes. In such cases, whistleblowers can get an award of up to 30% of the proceeds actually collected from such actions. Id. So what happens if the whistleblower's information does not lead to an administrative or judicial action against the particular taxpayer fingered by the whistleblower, but instead prompts the IRS to create a general administrative program to target taxpayers like the one fingered by the whistleblower?
That was the claim in Thomas Shands v. Commissioner, 160 T.C. No. 5 (Mar. 8, 2023) (Judge Greaves). There, the whistleblower claimed entitlement to 30% of some $1 billion collected from the IRS’s second Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) in 2011. His theory was that his blowing the whistle on one particularly influential tax evader prompted both the creation of the second OVDI and a rush by taxpayers to voluntarily disclose under the program.
The Tax Court ruled that Mr. Shands’ claim was overblown (pun totally intended). Both the statute and implementing regulations make it clear that the relevant “administrative or judicial action” is one against particular identified taxpayers. The creation of a general administrative program such as OVDI was not the kind of action that triggered a mandatory award. Therefore, under the newly restricted reading of its authority to review whistleblower petitions, the Tax Court held that it lacked jurisdiction to review whether his information really did or did not contribute to OVDI. The IRS simply had not started a requisite administrative or judicial action. Details below the fold.
March 27, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, March 20, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: Another Reason To Keep Good Records
Last week’s Lesson looked at the inherent unreliability of third-party information returns. Taxpayers need to keep good records to refute those errors. This week’s Lesson continues that theme: keeping good records can help avoid a bank deposits analysis. When the IRS is forced to reconstruct income using the bank deposits method, it puts taxpayers in the hard place of having to prove why every bank deposit should not be counted as gross income for that year.
A pair of opinions issued by Judge Buch on the same day gives us a lesson on the unhappy consequences to taxpayers when their poor record-keeping leads the IRS to use a bank deposits method to reconstruct income. In both Kevin B. Cheam and Julie Lim v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-23 (Feb. 27, 2023), and Lundy Nath and Tanya Nath, T.C. Memo. 2023-22 (Feb. 27, 2023), the taxpayers’ failure to keep adequate books and records forced the IRS to conduct a bank deposits analysis, thus putting the burden on the taxpayers to show which bank deposits represented something other than gross income. In neither case could the taxpayers show the Court nontaxable sources of income for the deposits the IRS asserted were unreported income. And their record-keeping failures also hurt them in the usual way on the deduction side as well. Details below the fold.
March 20, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, March 13, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Inherent Unreliability Of Third-Party Reporting
Third-party reporting has long been crucial to tax administration. Empirically, it helps taxpayers comply with their reporting duties. Congress first starting requiring information returns in 1917 and keeps expanding the concept to reach new economic situations, such as the rise of the gig economy and on-line marketplaces.
But third-party information returns are inherently unreliable because they report payments, not income. That is the lesson we learn in Tanisha Trice v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-15 (Feb. 13, 2023) (Judge Gustafson). In this case we learn the lesson with respect to Social Security Disability reporting. There, the Form SSA-1099 reported payments to Ms. Trice of $15,365. Judge Gustafson explains why that alone was not enough to support the Notice of Deficiency as to the payments that Ms. Trice denied receiving. As to those, the IRS was required to produce additional evidence under §6201(d) because Ms. Trice had reasonably objected to that amount and had fully cooperated with the IRS. Details below the fold.
March 13, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)
Monday, March 6, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: Fill Out The Damn Form
The fuss has focused on FBARs. The FBAR requirements and penalty provisions have been hotly litigated. Recently the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Bittner v. U.S., deciding that the penalties were not as harsh as the government thought they should be.
But forget FBAR. Today’s lesson is about a different, yet equally important, foreign account reporting requirement: the one found in 26 U.S.C. §6048 that relates to foreign trusts. The FBAR stuff is over in 31 U.S.C. §5314. Completely different title.
And today’s lesson is not about penalties. It’s about the assessment limitations period. In Leigh C. Fairbank and Barbara J. Fairbank v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-19 (Feb. 23, 2023) (Judge Weiler), we learn that a failure to comply with the §6048 reporting requirement by never filing the proper form---not even during audit---extends the time in which the IRS can assess really old tax deficiencies. How old? Try 15 years old. Regardless of the outcome in Bittner, folks need to learn this lesson! Details below the fold.
March 6, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 27, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The New Evidence Rule In Spousal Relief Cases
When a taxpayer requests spousal relief under §6015, the IRS must decide whether to grant it. If the IRS denies relief, the taxpayer can petition the Tax Court. §6015(e). In 2019 Congress created a modified administrative record rule for how the Tax Court is supposed to conduct that review. Taxpayer First Act, 133 Stat. 981, 988.
It’s awkward. Congress tells the Court to review the IRS decision de novo but, at the same time, tells the Court to do that using only a limited information set consisting of (a) “the administrative record established at the time of the determination” and (b) “any additional newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence.” §6015(e)(7).
Sydney Ann Chaney Thomas v. Commissioner, 160 T.C. No. 4 (Feb. 13, 2023) (Judge Toro), is a reviewed opinion where a unanimous Tax Court interprets the phrase “newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence” broadly rather than narrowly, thus creating a new evidence rule (pun intended) that robustly protecting its ability to conduct the required de novo review. Ironically, the decision worked against the taxpayer in this case because it was the IRS that here wanted to introduce new information (the taxpayer’s social media posts). The taxpayer objected that those posts had been publicly available during the administrative proceeding; therefore they were not newly discovered or previously unavailable. The Court rejected that argument and admitted the posts as evidence.
Today’s case is also an illustrative contrast to the T.C. opinion I discussed in last week’s post. That was a case where the taxpayer was proceeding pro se. And there the Court had no benefit of briefing from both sides. I think the Court’s opinion showed it. In today’s case, the taxpayer was (eventually) represented by one of the best tax attorneys I know, Megan Brackney. Thus the Court had the benefit of a well-presented taxpayer argument. The Court also had the benefit of a strong amicus brief submitted jointly by the Center for Taxpayer Rights, the Community Tax Law Project, the UC-SF LITC and the Villanova LITC. That made the Tax Court’s opinion all the more robust, which is what it will need if and when its decision is reviewed in turn by a Court of Appeals.
Spoiler alert. This post is a little longer than normal. Sorry, Lew.
February 27, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Limited Review Of Passport Revocation Certifications
Today’s lesson is about §7345, created by Congress in 2015. The idea behind §7345 is simple. If you owe taxes and the government threatens to take your passport, you are more likely to pay up. But its operation is complex. It requires the IRS to first certify to the State Department that a taxpayer has a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” Then the State Department is authorized to take certain actions based on that certification. Section 7345 permits taxpayers to seek Tax Court Review of IRS Certifications.
The Tax Court does not get many passport cases. According to the Court’s FY 2024 Budget Request, of the 29,000 petitions filed in 2022, only 25 were §7345 petitions. For those who are interested in learning more about the Court’s budget request, Keith Fogg posted this great review over on Procedurally Taxing.
So when the Tax Court gets a passport case, it often uses it to shape its §7345 jurisprudence by issuing precedential Tax Court opinions. Today’s case is one of those. Blake M. Adams v. Commissioner, 160 T.C. No. 1 (Jan. 24, 2023) (Judge Toro), teaches two lessons. First, the Court holds that it will not look behind the IRS certification to redetermine the merits of the tax liabilities that make up the certification. Second, the Court also decides it lacks authority to determine whether the assessment underlying the Certification was procedurally defective.
Note that this is a case where the taxpayer was unrepresented. While the Court’s desire to settle important §7345 issues is understandable, I question whether doing so in a pro-se case is desirable. Next week we will see a case where the Court wrote a much stronger opinion after first suggesting that the pro se taxpayer find counsel (who then filed briefed the issue) and also accepting an amicus brief. I offer my thoughts on this below the fold.
February 21, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 13, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: Mortgage Interest Deductions When The Payor Is Not The Borrower
Families can be complicated. Tax law can be complicated. Put those complications together and you get today’s lesson: family obligations to pay interest on a mortgage don’t support the §163 deduction even though they might, informally, be as binding as legal obligations.
In Hrach Shilgevorkyan v. Commissioner, T. C. Memo. 2023-12 (Jan. 23, 2023) (Judge Ashford), the taxpayer paid half the interest due on a mortgage, but he was not the borrower. The loan had been obtained by his brothers. And while the complex rules for §163 allow interest deductions in some circumstances when the payor is not also the borrower, this taxpayer was unable to show how the complexities of his particular family arrangement fit into the complexities of the statute. Details below the fold.
February 13, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, February 6, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Tax Court Is Not Your Advocate
Today I present two lessons. First, we learn why diabetes is not a per se disability sufficient to avoid penalties for early 401(k) distributions. Second, we learn that pro se litigants cannot rely on the Tax Court to consider potential arguments they could have raised, but did not.
Diabetes is a well-known and widespread disease, afflicting some 37.3 million people in the U.S., according to the CDC’s 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report. That’s just over 11% of the US population. Medical complications abound, as detailed in this report from the Diabetes Institute Research Foundation.
Managing diabetes and its attendant complications can be difficult and expensive. In recognition of that, Canada gives this tax credit to Canadians who must manage the disease. And in the U.S., many of the costs associated with diabetes qualify for the medical expense deduction under §213. See e.g. IRS Publication 502 (2021) at p. 7 (explaining that cost of blood sugar test kit for diabetes is a qualifying medical expense).
In Robert B. Lucas v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-9 (Jan. 17, 2023) (Judge Urda), the unemployed taxpayer took an early distribution from his 401(k) plan to help make ends meet, which included helping to manage his diabetes. The issue was whether he had to pay the §72(t) 10% penalty for early distributions. He could avoid the entire penalty if his diabetes qualified as a disability, and he could avoid some of it if the distribution was used for expenses allowable as a §213 deduction. As to the first, Judge Urda teaches us why diabetes is not, in and of itself, a disability sufficient to escape the 10% penalty. As to the second, Judge Urda notes the issue but, because the taxpayer did not raise it, “[w]e accordingly deem the issue forfeited.” Op. at 4. In doing that, Judge Urda teaches an important lesson on the role of the Tax Court.
Details below the fold.
February 6, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)
Wednesday, February 1, 2023
2nd Circuit To Decide Whether Vermont Law School Can Cover Underground Railroad Murals Against Artist's Wishes
Following up on my previous posts (links below), Bloomberg Law, Law School’s Covering of Slavery Murals Probed by 2nd Cir.:
Vermont Law School found a somewhat receptive Second Circuit as it defended a ruling allowing it to permanently cover murals depicting the Underground Railroad without violating an artists’ rights law.
Artist Samuel Kerson argued that the school hiding his two 1994 murals behind bolted-in acoustic panels violated the Visual Artists Rights Act, or VARA, during Friday’s oral argument at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. But the school says it complied with the law when it hid murals that students complained about for decades as “cartoonish” depictions of slaves and promotion of the “white savior complex.”
The dispute raises questions regarding how far VARA limits the property rights of the owners of their physical art, and the reach of exceptions written into the law. The US District Court for the District of Vermont’s ruling said that “no court has ruled that VARA protects the artist’s interest in keeping his art visible or on display.”
February 1, 2023 in Legal Ed News, Legal Education, New Cases | Permalink
Monday, January 30, 2023
WSJ Op-Ed: The Ninth Circuit Upholds A Wealth Tax
Wall Street Journal Op-Ed: The Ninth Circuit Upholds a Wealth Tax, by Christopher Cox (Former Rep. (1989-2005) & SEC Chair (2005-2009)) & Hank Adler (Chapman):
The 16th Amendment authorizes the federal government only to tax income, but some members of Congress would love to tax wealth as well. That is widely understood to be unconstitutional, but a recent ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding a form of wealth tax could upend that conventional wisdom if it is allowed to stand.
The case, Moore v. U.S., involves a unique provision of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which imposed a one-time retroactive tax applicable to individual U.S. shareholders of foreign corporations. Under previous law, U.S. taxpayers had to pay taxes on overseas corporate income when that income was repatriated to the U.S. in the form of dividends. The 2017 act abolished the tax on overseas income, bringing the U.S. tax system into line with those of most other developed countries. But it also created a “mandatory repatriation tax” on the corporation’s undistributed income since 1986, payable not by the corporation but its shareholders.
The result was that without selling their stock or receiving a dividend, U.S. investors were deemed to have received “income” and suddenly became liable for the new tax. ...
Lesson From The Tax Court: Corporations In The Bardo
Lincoln in The Bardo is not a book for everyone. It’s main characters (none of whom are Lincoln) are caught in the bardo, an indeterminate space between death and final after-life, whatever one conceives that to be. But they are slow to realize it, clinging to a belief in their continued existence as they were. Filled with unreliable narrators and casually vacillating in time and space, the novel is not an easy read. But it is well worth the effort, being a lovely meditation on the meaning of life and the meaning of death.
XC Foundation v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-2 (Jan. 5, 2023) (Judge Lauber), is an easy read about a corporation in the bardo. It teaches a practical lesson: always ensure that your corporate client is fully alive and well under state law before you try to file a petition. There, a corporation attempted to file a petition to contest an IRS decision to revoke its 501(c)(3) status. Well, actually, the corporation did not file the petition. It couldn’t. It was caught in a kind of bardo, an indeterminate space between corporate life and permanent corporate death. California, the state that had given it life, had suspended its charter, killing its capacity to sue and be sued. But like the characters in the novel, it ignored its own death and tried to convince the Tax Court to do so as well. It turns out that taxpayers in the bardo cannot file petitions that the Tax Court can hear, just as Lincoln could not hear the pleas of the novel's characters. They are the pleas of ghosts. Details below the fold.
January 30, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, January 23, 2023
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Meaning Of 'Business Premises' In §119
It’s a new year. And what better way to start than with the fundamental lesson I teach my students in our first few classes: “Everything is income. Everything including all your non-cash receipts.” Yeah, I actually sing that to the class, to the tune of Everything is Awesome from the Lego movie. It scans. Treas. Reg. 1.61-1(a) emphasizes that point when it tells us that “Gross income includes income realized in any form, whether in money, property, or services.”
So employer-provided housing is income to an employee, just as if the employer paid the employee cash and the employee spends that cash to rent a house. But we all know that Congress also permits taxpayers to exclude certain types of income from taxation. Part of the art of tax practice is to try and find applicable exclusions to reduce the gross income that must be reported. One such exclusion is §119 which sometimes permits an exclusion for the value of housing provided by an employer to an employee.
In Cory H. Smith v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2023-12 (Jan. 12, 2023) (Judge Toro), we learn a useful lesson about the scope of the business premises requirement in §119: housing that is not within the physical boundaries of the employer’s facilities is highly unlikely to qualify for the §119 exclusion. Mr. Smith’s employer hired him to work in Pine Gap, Australia. It provided a house for him to live in about 11 miles away from his office, in a small city outside of Pine Gap. While Mr. Smith initially properly reported the provided housing as income, he later got mixed up with some super aggressive tax advisors who convinced him to amend his returns to exclude the housing. His tax advisors told him he could do that under §911, even though that reneged a Closing Agreement he had signed. That bum advice gave us Lesson From The Tax Court: The Finality Of Closing Agreements, TaxProf Blog (Sept. 12, 2022). Today, Judge Toro examines and rejects Mr. Smith’s alternative loser argument that he could exclude housing allowance payments under §119. Details below the fold.
January 23, 2023 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, December 12, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Taxpayers Behaving Badly 2022
This will be my last new post until January. Next Monday, December 19, my annual Year Of Lessons From The Tax Court will appear in this space. It is a chronological listing of all the Lessons I posted in 2022, with links to each Lesson, the primary case discussed, and the judge who wrote the opinion. You can find last year's edition here.
I will be spending my days (except for Christmas Day) grading exams. Grades are due Monday, January 2 and then I resume teaching on January 11, so you will not likely see my next Lesson From The Tax Court until January 23 (the week after the MLK holiday).
As is now customary, my last new blog of the year is a list of some of the cases I read during the year where something in the facts made me just shake my head (SMH in texting parlance). You can find the previous lists here (for 2018), here (for 2019), here (for 2020), and here (for 2021). This year I have five to share with you. I present them in chronological order. I invite you to consider which of them may be examples of just an empty head and which are examples of something worse.
And again this year I am giving out a Norm Peterson Award. You will find more explanation below the fold.
December 12, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax News, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, December 5, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: It’s Not Income If You Pay It Back In Time
We all know that taxpayers do not have to report loans as income. But it's not clear why. It has something to do with the obligation to repay. It might be the obligation to repay burdens other assets so the loan does not represent an actual increase in wealth. Or it might be the obligation to repay creates an open transaction that crosses tax years and, for good administrative reasons, we simply presume the loan amount will be repaid in full. For more details, see Lesson From The Tax Court: The Phantom Of The Tax Code—Discharge Of Indebtedness, TaxProf Blog (Feb. 19, 2018).
But what about when a taxpayer simply receives a payment that is not a loan, but appears to be a payment the taxpayer has a right to keep? When it later turns out to be erroneous, and the taxpayer repays it, was it even income to start with? Today we learn that if repayment of an erroneous distribution occurs in the same tax year as the distribution, there is no income to report. That was good news for the taxpayers in Elijah Servance and Corliss Severance v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2022-23 (Nov. 21, 2022) (Judge Copeland), who received disability payments from Hartford Life Insurance Co. that they repaid in the same year. The IRS said the payments were income. The Tax Court held for the taxpayers. Sure, the taxpayer lost the other, bigger, issue in the case—the one that got the Tax Analyst Headline of “Couple Could Not Exclude Retirement Benefits From Income.” But this smaller issue about their disability insurance payments gives us two great lessons: one in tax law and one in tax procedure. Details below the fold.
December 5, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, November 21, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Employer/Employee Gift Rule
Relationships can be messy. That is true whether they are work relationships or romantic relationships. But it is especially true for romantic relationships with co-workers. Throw in a power disparity (in either direction) and the relationship becomes even trickier. That is why I suspect most readers subscribe to the standard advice to avoid romantic relationships with co-workers—even if they honor that advice in the breach. After all, the standard advice is often easier said than done. Humans are not little neat boxes where you can separate relationships into “work” and “personal.” It’s messy.
That messiness invades tax law. The Supreme Court has said as much in how it tells us to apply the §102(a) exclusion from income for gifts. Congress has tried to lessen the §102(a) mess with a bright line rule in §102(c) that prohibits the exclusion when a gift is from employer to employee. Call that the employer/employee gift rule. In Jennifer Joy Fields and Walter T. Fields v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2022-22 (Nov. 10, 2022) (Judge Panuthos), we see the employer/employee gift rule applied to a CEO’s decision to help an employee buy a home with company money. Despite their personal relationship, the employer/employee relationship meant there was no exclusion.
Today’s lesson seems especially timely in light of the approaching holiday season with all its messy relationship and gift-giving complexities. Details below the fold.
November 21, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (9)
Monday, November 14, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: An Object Lesson For Tax Professionals
It is not always easy to follow the advice you give others. A common question I get is "how long should I keep my tax records?" My somewhat snarky reply is “as long as you need to.” The response is not entirely snarky because even though each tax year stands alone, events that occur in one year might have tax repercussions many, many years later.
In Betty Amos v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-109 (Nov. 10, 2022) (Judge Urda), the taxpayer failed to keep records as long as she needed to is. It is an object lesson for all of us. Ms. Amos was a highly successful tax practitioner, a CPA, who had decades of high-level business experience. On her 2014 and 2015 returns she reported about $100,000 of IRA income against which she claimed over $4 million of net operating losses (NOLs) that dated back to 1999. While she could produce her 1999 tax returns showing the NOLs, she could not produce the underlying records substantiating what she had then reported, causing Judge Urda to write “It beggars belief that she would be unaware...[of] her responsibility to demonstrate her entitlement to the deductions she claimed.” Op. at 11. Details below the fold.
November 14, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (7)
Monday, November 7, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Impact Of De Novo Review In Spousal Relief Cases
I don't just inflict misery on tax students. I also teach a class in Civil Procedure to first year law students. One recurring lesson there concerns the different standards courts of appeals use when reviewing trial court decisions. I want my students to learn to that the applicable standard of review matters. It not only makes a huge difference in the outcome of the current case, but it also can make a huge difference in the precedential effect of that case on later cases.
We learn today how the different standards of review affect both outcomes and precedential value of old spousal relief cases. We also learn how the Tax Court might be induced to finesse the bastardized administrative record rule in §6015(e)(7). In Pia O. Bacigalupi v. Commissioner, Docket No. 20480-21 (Order of Oct. 27, 2022) (Judge Holmes), the IRS Office of Appeals decided Ms. Baciglupi should be held to the joint liability she had agreed to bear when she signed the joint returns. They were unmoved by her present circumstances and denied her request for §6015(f) equitable relief. Despite the record review rule, Judge Holmes allowed her to testify, and on the basis of that testimony disagreed with the IRS about two crucial factors for spousal relief. Under an abuse of discretion review, that disagreement would not have mattered but under the de novo review, it made all the difference. The de novo review standard also allowed Judge Holmes to ignore certain precedents unfavorable to Ms. Baciglupi. Notice, however, this is just an unpublished bench opinion, so don’t get too excited. For more about that, I recommend Keith Fogg’s excellent post from last week on bench opinions in general and this case in particular. Meanwhile, you will find today's lesson in more detail below the fold.
November 7, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 24, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Fake It Till You Make It
Today’s lesson is how to win a valuation dispute with the IRS. I don’t teach much about valuation in my basic tax course. When we work problems involving property, the problems generally tell students to assume a certain fair market value (FMV) for the property. For example, when I teach the deductions allowed by §170 for contributions of property to a charity, what I want students to learn is the reduce-to-basis rule. To work that particular rule, those problems just assert an FMV because I’m trying to get them to focus on what kind of property is being donated and to what kind of charity. See e.g. last week’s lesson “The Reduce-To-Basis Rule For §170 Deductions,” TaxProf Blog (Oct. 17, 2022).
I tell students that in real life, valuation is often open to dispute. That is because facts matter. And facts may often be disputed. Moreover, assumptions matter as well. And assumptions may often be questioned.
This week, we learn a great lesson from the Tax Court on how to win a valuation dispute against the IRS: have a better expert. While that is easy to say, the 43-page opinion in Champions Retreat Golf Founders LLC et al. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-106 (Oct. 17, 2022) (Judge Pugh), teaches how it is not always easy to do. Today’s case involves the valuation of a conservation easement. The taxpayer’s expert was not the best, but the IRS’s expert was worse. So the taxpayer won. The lesson is kind of like the old joke that you don’t have to outrun the bear: a taxpayer’s valuation does not have to be the best possible; it just has to be better than the IRS’ valuation. Details below the fold.
October 24, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)
Monday, October 17, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Reduce-To-Basis Rule For §170 Deductions
Basis is probably the most important concept I teach in my intro income tax course. I like thinking of basis as the tax history of a piece of property. It tracks what ought not to be taxed upon eventual sale or exchange of that property under the calculations required by §1001. But a proper understanding and tracking of basis can also be important for other reasons, such as determining the amount of a §165 loss ... or calculating the amount of a §170 deduction for charitable donations.
Donald Furrer and Rita Furrer v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-100 (Sept. 28, 2022) (Judge Lauber), teaches a lesson on the importance of basis in determining the amount of a §170 deduction for the donation of property to charity. We also learn a cautionary lesson on the use and mis-use of Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts (CRATs). The taxpayers here were farmers who donated crops to a CRAT and then attempted to claim a §170 deduction based on the fair market value of the donated crops. That ran afoul of the reduce-to-basis rule. Details below the fold.
October 17, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, October 11, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Know Your TMP
In my now 22 years of teaching tax, I have assiduously avoided teaching partnership taxation. With any luck, I’ll never have to. Inside and outside basis still confuse the heck outta me. But I do teach tax procedure, so I’ve been forced over the years to learn something about the rules governing audits of partnerships.
If there is one stand-out lesson I’ve learned, it’s the one Judge Buch teaches us in Trevor R. Pettennude v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-79 (July 18, 2022): individual partners are often at the mercy of their Tax Matter Partner (TMP) when it comes to participating in partnership-level determinations. The burden is on each partner to know their TMP, and to ensure they are in the loop on important partnership matters. That may even more true post-TEFRA. In today’s case, Mr. Pettennude was a tiny partner in a large coal tax credit shelter partnership. The IRS caught on and audited the partnership. No one told Mr. Pettennude about either the audit or its results (not happy ones) until the IRS told him he owed about $850,000 in additional taxes. He tried to contest that in a CDP hearing. It did not go well. Details below the fold.
October 11, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, October 3, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Don’t Confuse Dummy Returns With Substitutes For Returns
The act of filing a return is central to tax administration. Section 6011 sets out the general requirement: “any person made liable for any tax imposed by this title” must file a return “according to the forms and regulations prescribed by the Secretary.” Section 6012 gets more granular and gives more specific requirements and exemptions from filing.
When a taxpayer fails to file a return, even after being reminded to do so, the IRS can simply send the taxpayer a Notice of Deficiency (NOD), and let the taxpayer either agree to the proposed tax liability or petition Tax Court. Or the IRS can follow the §6020 Substitute For Return (SFR) process whereby it creates a return for the taxpayer either with or without the taxpayer’s cooperation.
Regardless of how the IRS deals with the non-filer, an IRS employee first needs to create an account in the computer system for the relevant tax period. They do that by inputting the proper Transaction Code and preparing what is called a “dummy return” to support it. But there is one important difference between dummy returns used to set up the NOD process and dummy returns used to set up the SFR process: the §6651(a)(2) failure to pay penalties only apply to the failure to pay taxes shown on a “return.” Thus, the penalties do not apply to bare NODs. They do apply to SFRs. That’s why today’s lesson is useful.
In William T. Ashford v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-101 (Sept. 29, 2022) (Judge Vasquez), we learn what to look for in the IRS files to see whether a dummy return used by the IRS leads to a proper SFR or not. We also learn why you cannot always trust the advice you see on the IRS website. Details below the fold.
October 3, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)
Monday, September 26, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Honor The Corporate Fiction
A corporation has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked. So supposedly said Baron Thurlow long, long ago. It is but a legal fiction. It’s not the Borg (which is science fiction, not legal fiction).
The fictional nature of corporations creates all kinds of gnarly problems in criminal law, in constitutional law and, as we learn today, in tax law. When I was in practice my clients often confused their personal selves with the closely held corporate doppelganger I created for them. They repeatedly ignored the corporate fiction. They were the kings of their empires and, like Louis XIV, they felt they were the corporation and the corporation was them. I am sure many readers can relate to that!
In John E. Vorreyer and Melissa D. Vorreyer, et al. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-97 (Sept. 21, 2022) (Judge Greaves) two of the “et al” taxpayers ignored the corporate fiction to their detriment: they paid debts of their S Corporation from their personal funds and attempted to deduct those payments on their personal income tax returns as a §162 deduction. While the payments were in fact ordinary and necessary expenses for the carrying on a farm business, the corporate fiction prevented the taxpayers from taking the deduction on their individual returns. It was not their farm business. It was their corporation's. Details below the fold.
September 26, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, September 19, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Checks ... Still Matter
Who uses paper checks anymore? Not my kids. My daughter even prefers to incur a surcharge for using her debit card to pay her rent rather than walking a paper check to the rental office. The practical reason, she says, is that when she uses her debit card she can immediately see the impact on her checking account balance by looking at her “available balance” number in her banking app. If she wrote a check, she’d have to wait until the check cleared and she fears over-drawing her account.
That delay—between the time a person writes and check and the time it gets reflected in their checking account—is what gives us our lesson in Estate of William E. Demuth Jr. et al. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-72 (July 12, 2022 )(Judge Jones). In that case the issue was the value of an investment account on the date of the decedent’s death. On that date there were 10 checks totaling $436,000 that had been written on the account but had not cleared. The Executor did not include that amount on the Form 706 because the recipients of the checks had deposited them before the decedent died. Their accounts had been credited. They had been paid. Or so thought the Executor. The IRS, however, thought that the checks had not been paid because they had not cleared the decedent’s bank. So the money still belonged to the taxpayer and should have been included in the valuation of his Estate.
In (mostly) agreeing with the IRS, Judge Jones gives us a useful lesson on basic commercial law principles. Maybe my kids won't care, but enough folks still use checks that it's a lesson worth remembering. Details below the fold.
September 19, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (8)
Monday, September 12, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Finality Of Closing Agreements
Section 7121 authorizes the IRS to enter into “an agreement in writing” with taxpayers “in respect of any internal revenue tax for any taxable period.” Such agreements are called “Closing Agreements.” As implied by that name, the big idea here is that such agreements are meant to “close” a particular tax issue or a particular tax year or years. Accordingly, the general rule is that such agreements are final: they “close” the ability of either the IRS or the taxpayer to later assert a different position with respect to the matters covered in the Closing Agreement.
In Cory H. Smith v. Commissioner, 159 T.C. No. 3 (Aug. 25, 2022) (Judge Toro), the Tax Court teaches a lesson on that finality rule. There, the taxpayer had signed a Closing Agreement for multiple years promising not to claim the §911 exclusion for foreign earned income. He then reneged by filing amended returns (for some years) and original returns (for other years), breaking that promise. Even though the opinion is a 43-page precedential opinion, the lesson is relatively simple: Closing Agreements are final; one must be very careful when signing one because final means final.
What is also interesting (at least to me) is why the Tax Court may have taken extra effort to hammer on the finality rule and issue this opinion as a T.C. opinion. It seems Mr. Smith did not act alone. He appears to have received some dubious advice from his tax return preparer, an Enrolled Agent (EA) who awkwardly styles himself as “Dr.” Castro. Op. at 16, note 20. That EA seems to have also given the same bum advice to a bunch of other taxpayers. The Court notes that “at least 19 other cases pending in our Court involve the same issue as the one presented here.” Op. at 11, note 14. So making this first-out opinion a precedential opinion should help to efficiently dispose of all the rest. The Court makes the effort to note that all 19 of the other cases involve this same EA. This leads to some thoughts about potential §6694 penalties.
Details below the fold.
September 12, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Saturday, September 10, 2022
Tax Court Seeks Amicus Briefs On Innocent Spouse Jurisdictional Issue
A recent Tax Court order seeks amicus briefs on an interesting jurisdictional issue in innocent spouse cases under § 6015(e). Frutiger v. Commissioner, Nos. 25835-21 & 31153-21 (Sept. 7, 2022) (Judge Buch):
Under section 6015(e)(1), if the Commissioner denies innocent spouse relief, the taxpayer who sought relief may file a petition with the Tax Court to challenge the Commissioner’s final determination. The petition must be filed within 90 days of the date the Commissioner mails the final determination letter to the taxpayer. I.R.C. § 6015(e)(1)(A). The Court has previously held that this deadline is jurisdictional. Pollock v. Commissioner, 132 T.C. 21 (2009) but see Boechler v. Commissioner, 142 S. Ct. 1493 (2022).
If the Commissioner mailed his final determination to Mr. Frutiger on June 16, 2021, the 90-day period for timely filing a petition with this Court ended September 14, 2021. Mr. Frutiger’s petition was mailed to the Court on September 16, 2021, and received by the Court on September 20, 2021.
Without additional information, it appears that Mr. Frutiger’s petition was untimely. For the Court to determine whether the petition was untimely, the Commissioner must provide proof of when he mailed the notice of determination to Mr. Frutiger. If proof of mailing is not available, the Commissioner must address whether the presumption of administrative regularity would apply in determining when the notice of determination was sent. Lastly, if the petition was untimely, the Commissioner must address whether the Court lacks jurisdiction over an untimely petition in an innocent spouse case filed under section 6015(e)(1)(A). Accordingly, it is ...
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Substantiation Means More Than Receipts
It's the day after Labor Day. So it's fitting for a post about a taxpayer who labored for a good cause only to learn that the Tax Code does not allow deductions for the cost of providing such labor unless linked to a trade or business. Yes, this is a §162 travel-away-from home case. Deductions claimed under §162 for business travel away from home most often get cut down by the buzz saw of the substantiation requirements in §274. Today’s short lesson reminds us that substantiation means more than meeting §274’s demand for adequate receipts. It requires meeting §162’s requirement for an adequate connection between those expenses and an identifiable trade or business.
While §162 is a pretty low bar, the taxpayer in George C. Luna v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2022-18 (Sept. 1, 2022) (Judge Carluzzo), was unable to meet it. Sure, he had adequate receipts for his travel to Brazil. But he could not connect them to the labor he did for a living, in Los Angeles. He could connect them to his separate labor of studying the impact of social media on Brazilian children to help them deal with those impacts. While laudable, however, that activity was not a trade or business. Details below the fold.
September 6, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, August 29, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Law Of Unintended Consequences
To say the Internal Revenue Code is complex is like saying a virus is hard to see. It understates the obvious. NSS. Today the Tax Court teaches us one consequence of that complexity: the meaning and scope of one statute (§6103) can be altered by the later addition of another statute (§7623(b)). The former is the statute that requires the IRS to keep taxpayer information confidential. The latter is the statute that allows whistleblowers to obtain Tax Court review of a denial of a whistleblower award.
In Whistleblower 972-17W v. Commissioner, 159 T.C. No. 1 (July 13, 2022) (Judge Toro), the Court said the IRS had to give a whistleblower the unredacted returns and return information of three taxpayers that the whistleblower informed on. Folks, this is a reviewed opinion and all 15 of the reviewing judges agreed with Judge Toro’s decision (one judge did not participate). While the decision is rational, its conclusion is certainly not a slam dunk. IMHO it misses the forest for the trees, resting on a curious presumption about the statutory text in 6103. Whether or not readers agree with that, we can all agree this case illustrates how a later statute may give new meaning to the words in an older statute. That is an inherent difficulty in interpreting statutory language that is part of such a wickedly complex Code.
Trigger warning: today’s post runs a bit longer than normal. So the refresh rate will likely bother those who click through. I am so sorry for that! But this lesson is really just so cool that I hope you will persevere.
August 29, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, August 22, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: State Law Label Did Not Control Federal Tax Consequences
Some things never change: people get married, people get divorced. Sure, the divorce rate has fallen somewhat, as this thoughtful 2018 Time Magazine analysis explains. But people continue to marry, and some non-trivial percentage of those marriages will end in divorce. Plenty of work for family lawyers.
Other things constantly change: tax law, for example! While divorce is primarily a matter of state law, good family lawyers need to keep an eye out for the tax consequences of divorce. They need the tax lesson we learn today. Despite recent changes in taxation of certain divorce payments, it's a lesson that never gets old: state law cannot trump federal tax law.
In Alejandro J. Rojas and Elena G. Rojas v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-77 (July 18, 2022) (Judge Thornton), the taxpayer was obligated to pay his ex-wife what the divorce decree labeled “family support” under California law. Under state law, none of those payments were for child support. Alejandro decided that the state law label entitled him to deduct those payments in 2016 as alimony under former §215. The Tax Court decided otherwise, finding that all the payments were child support for federal tax purposes, despite the state law label. State law did not control federal tax consequences. Details below the fold.
August 22, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink
Monday, August 15, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Taxpayer Could Not Prove His Way Out Of §162(f)
The basic rule is simple: the taxpayer bears the burden of proof. That is, all income is gross income unless the taxpayer proves a statutory entitlement to an exclusion; and no expenditure is deductible unless the taxpayer proves a statutory entitlement to a deduction.
Complexity comes in the statutes that allow exclusions and deductions. But the basic burden does not change: it is ultimately the taxpayer who must persuade either the IRS or the Tax Court of their entitlement to the exclusion or deduction claimed.
Clement Ziroli and Dawn M. Ziroli v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-75 (July 14, 2022) (Judge Nega), shows us how the burden of persuasion applies in the complexity of a deduction statute. There, the taxpayer sought to deduct an expenditure that was allowed by §162(a) but might or might not be disallowed by the §162(f) prohibition of deductions for penalties. The taxpayer was unable to persuade the Tax Court that the expenditure was not a penalty. He could not prove the negative. Hence, no deduction.
The lesson relates back to the idea we looked at last week: the ambiguity of penalties. Here, that ambiguity worked against the taxpayer because of the burden of persuasion. Details below the fold.
August 15, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (5)
Monday, August 8, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Non-Receipt of 1099 Does Not Get You Out of Penalties
When we think of penalties we naturally think of punishment. I mean, to channel Steven Wright, if a penalty is not punishment when why does the word start with “penal”? Both this week and next week’s lesson teach us how penalties serve other purposes as well. Today, in Lionel E. Larochelle and Molly B. Larochelle v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2022-12 (July 12) (Judge Leyden), we learn why non-receipt of a Form 1099 does not constitute reasonable cause to escape the §6662(a) penalty for making a substantial understatement of tax. Next week we will look at whether a court-ordered disgorgement of illegal gains is a penalty for purposes of a §162(f) prohibition on deductions for governmental fines or penalties. Today’s short lesson awaits below the fold.
August 8, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, August 1, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Excise Tax On Messed Up IRA Rollover Different From Income Tax
The tax laws are conflicted. They encourage retirement savings by permitting taxpayers to deduct contributions to their Individual Retirement Accounts (IRA’s). But that encouragement is hedged by various restrictions and caps as well as a special excise tax imposed on contributions that exceed the applicable caps. And Congress crosses its fingers if taxpayers take early distributions. Those can result in penalties as well as inclusion in gross income. However, Congress uncrosses those fingers if the early distributions are properly rolled into another IRA.
Given these various statutory hedges and crossed-fingers, it’s no wonder that navigating the tax rules for retirement accounts is tricky! Particularly tricky are managing rollovers from one type of retirement plan to another. Mistakes there can have both income tax consequences and excise tax consequences. Thus, we must always keep straight the difference between different types of taxes, just like we saw in last week’s lesson.
This week, we learn how excise tax consequences are different than income tax consequences of a messed up IRA rollover. In Clair R. Couturier, Jr. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-69 (July 6, 2022) (Judge Lauber), the taxpayer escaped a huge income tax liability for messing up some of the rollover rules because the limitation period for assessment had run, but got snagged for a $8.5 million excise tax for excess IRA contributions. Yeah, we’re talking a lot of money here, putting enough at risk for the taxpayer to hire one of the best tax lawyers in the country to represent him. Alas, even Lavar Taylor could not pull him out of the $8.5 million hole. He tried to argue that the IRS was bound by the income tax characterization of the transaction. The Court rejected that argument because...an excise tax is not an income tax. Details below the fold.
August 1, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 25, 2022
WSJ: The Fine Print Cost A Widow A $464,000 Charitable Tax Deduction
Wall Street Journal Tax Report, The Fine Print Cost a Widow a $464,000 Tax Deduction:
Charitable donors, beware: A widow has lost a $464,000 tax deduction for a gift to a museum because her tax paperwork lacked a few key words.
The recent Tax Court decision in Albrecht v. Commissioner [T.C. Memo. 2022-53 (May 25, 2022)] is a fresh reminder of how rigid the standards for charitable deductions often are.
Here are the facts in the case. Over the years Martha Albrecht and her husband amassed a large collection of Native American jewelry and artifacts. In late 2014 Ms. Albrecht, by then a widow, donated about 120 items to the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, N.M., a well-known institution.
On her 2014 tax return, Ms. Albrecht claimed a charitable-donation deduction of $463,676 for her gift. Although her income wasn’t large enough to take the entire deduction for 2014, the law allowed her to carry over and use the remainder for five more years. Attached to her return was a five-page Deed of Gift detailing the donation.
Among other things, the deed said the gift was irrevocable and unconditional. However, Ms. Albrecht didn’t have what the law calls a “contemporaneous written acknowledgment” from the museum explicitly saying whether or not she received goods or services in return for her donation.
Bryan Camp, a professor at Texas Tech University’s law school and a noted tax blogger, calls this “the magic language requirement,” although the wording can vary. Even if no goods or services were provided to Ms. Albrecht by the Wheelwright, she needed this statement in hand before filing her tax return to be eligible for a deduction. This requirement has been in the law since 1994, after Congress enacted it to crack down on padded and dubious deductions.
Lesson From The Tax Court: No §6015 Equitable Relief For §6672 Penalties
The Internal Revenue Code is full of taxes and penalties. Oh my, so many taxes and penalties! You must always stay aware of which kinds of taxes or penalties are at issue in order to know what rules of law apply. This week and next week will give us two lessons on the importance in keeping straight the different kinds of taxes and penalties.
In Angela M. Chavis, 158 T.C. No. 8 (June 15, 2022) (Judge Lauber), the taxpayer was seeking spousal relief under §6015(f) from Trust Fund Recovery Penalties assessed per §6672 against her and her then-husband. The liability for §6672 penalties is joint and several. And, if you squint, the text of §6015(f) appears to allow relief from any joint and several liability. Today we learn not to squint. Section 6015(f) provides relief only from joint liability for income taxes. Trust Fund Recovery Penalties are not income taxes. So no spousal relief for §6672 penalties. You will find a bit more (but not much) below the fold. It’s a short lesson for a hot summer day.
July 25, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, July 18, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Difference Between Rejecting An OIC And Reviewing A Rejection
Tax collection is a process, not an event. The process can last ten years or more. During that time many different events may occur. Different events may bring with them different decision-makers within the IRS. The secret sauce of representing clients is that when you hit an unfavorable decision-maker, try to find a new one. An example of that is getting a CDP hearing. CDP hearings allow taxpayers to pause collection while they ask for alternatives to full collection, such as Offers In Compromise (OICs). The CDP hearing is conducted by a Settlement Officer (SO) in the IRS Independent Office of Appeals (Appeals).
Thus, the SO represents a new layer of decision-making. But what do you get with this new decision-maker? Today’s lesson teaches that you may not get what you think.
Michael D. Brown v. Commissioner, 158 T.C. No. 9 (June 23, 2022) (Judge Lauber), address what I think is a common misconception about CDP hearings: that Appeals makes decisions about collection alternatives. It does not. It reviews decisions made by the relevant IRS function. At issue in Brown was whether the IRS waited more than two years to reject his OIC, which was proposed as part of a CDP hearing. If so, then his low-ball OIC would be deemed accepted under §7122(f). Although the IRS unit that evaluated his OIC rejected it after a few months, the formal Appeals decision in the CDP hearing came more than two years later. Mr. Brown went to Tax Court, claiming the benefit of §7122(f). The Tax Court said no. Appeals did not reject the OIC; all it was doing was reviewing the rejection decision made by the IRS.
This was not a slam dunk win for the IRS. I think it’s worth your time to see why. Details below the fold.
July 18, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 11, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: TP Did Not File Return By Giving Copy To IRS Employee
Figuring out when or whether a taxpayer has filed a return is important for many reasons. On the one hand, proper filing limits the time for the IRS to assess. Thus taxpayers generally want the courts to find they have filed. On the other hand, filing a frivolous or fraudulent return can lead to penalties. In those situations, taxpayers want the courts to find they have not filed!
Sometimes a taxpayer will give an IRS employee a copy of a return they claim was previously filed. Does that constitute the filing of a return? Well, it depends. Just like last week, I think it useful to compare the Tax Court and Circuit Court cases.
In a logic-challenged opinion, the Ninth Circuit recently decided giving a copy did constitute filing a return ... for for statute of limitations purposes. See Seaview Trading, LLC v. Commissioner, 447 F.3d 706 (9th Cir. 2022), rev’g T.C. Memo. 2019-122. While I agree with the dissenting judge that “the majority's analysis and conclusions are logically absurd and should not be the holding of this court,” there is no denying the decision was good news for taxpayers.
Now comes the Tax Court and in Chule Rain Walker v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-63 (June 15, 2022), Judge Nega decides that giving an IRS employee a copy of a frivolous return does not constitute filing a return ... for frivolous penalty purposes!
Win-win for taxpayers? As usual, the devil is in the details, which you can find below the fold.
July 11, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: No §163 Deduction From Foreclosure Proceeds
It’s not just Death and Taxes that are certainties in life. Having lived through the economic downturns in 1973, 1981, 2001, and 2008, I now believe we can add Recessions to the list. And another one seems to be coming. So this may be a good time to pay attention to Ronald W. Howland, Jr. and Marilee R. Howland v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-60 (June 13, 2022) (Judge Weiler), where we learn some of the obstacles taxpayers face in taking a §163 interest deduction when foreclosure proceeds only partially pay off a loan balance that includes principal and accrued interest.
In Howland, the Court did not permit any §163 deduction. This week and next I'm going to try something new and compare the Tax Court case with a recent Circuit Court case. I think the comparison is instructive. This week, we compare Howland to the recent 9th Circuit opinion in Milkovich v. U.S. 24 F.4th 1 (9th Cir. 2022), where the 9th Circuit did permit a §163 deduction from foreclosure proceeds. Both Howland and Milkovich arose from the Great Recession. Looking at the similarities and difference of the two cases gives us the lesson, which is in part a cautionary tale on how at least some of the obstacles to deduction may be self-created.
Details below the fold
July 5, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, June 27, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: A Reasonable Basis For Deducting Scrubs?
My students—especially those with accounting backgrounds—come to class expecting that tax law is all about bright line rules and lots of calculations. They are either disappointed, frustrated, or relieved to find that tax law is like other law: it’s words, words that are generally complex, often opaque, and frequently mysterious. That’s why taxpayers need competent tax practitioners to advise them!
Some tax practitioners are more aggressive and some are more cautious. Today’s lesson is for the more aggressive ones. In Raul Romana and Maria Corazon Romana v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2022-9 (June 16, 2022), Judge Carluzzo generously allowed a taxpayer to deduct the cost of a her “scrublike clothing.”
Those of us who are more cautious will disregard this decision. It’s an outlier and, no, I certainly would not advise my client to start deducting the cost of this type of clothing! At the same time, however, the opinion may well provide aggressive taxpayers and their advisors protections from penalties if and when they try this trick at home. The substantive tax lesson is short and sweet. The penalty lesson is more complex, opaque, and mysterious.
Details below the fold.
June 27, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: How To Tell When Land Is Held As A Capital Asset
When a taxpayer buys land and later sells it, the character of the resulting gain or loss will depend on whether taxpayer held the land as an investment or instead held it like inventory, to be sold to customers as part of a trade or business. It is not always easy to tell how the land is being held and courts look at a variety of factors.
The lesson I take from William E. Musselwhite Jr. and Melissa Musselwhite v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-57 (June 8, 2022) (Judge Ashford), is that how the taxpayer self-reports the activity in years prior to the year of disposition is one important factor in determining when land is held as investment. There, Mr. Musselwhite acquired four lots in what was to become a residential development. No development happened. For years he consistently reported holding the lots for investment. But when he eventually sold them for a big loss he and his wife reported the loss as ordinary, claiming on that return that he held the land for development. In an informative opinion, Judge Ashford held Mr. Musselwhite to his prior reporting position. Details below the fold.
June 21, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, June 13, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Ask The Right Court
It’s sweet to beat the tax man. It’s even sweeter when you can make the government pay your litigation costs and attorneys fees under §7430. But the bitter lesson for today is that you must be careful to ask the right court. Law is hierarchical. You can appeal a lower court’s adverse decision to a higher court. But you cannot appeal a higher court’s adverse decision to a lower court!
In Celia Mazzei v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-43 (May 2, 2022) (Judge Thornton), the taxpayer asked the wrong court for attorneys fees and because of that had nowhere to go when the court denied fees. Ms. Mazzei had fought the IRS for over 10 years, losing in Tax Court in a reviewed opinion in 2018. Undaunted, she appealed to the Ninth Circuit. She won! Yay! Her attorneys then filed a “protective” motion with the Ninth Circuit for both her appellate litigation costs (about $70,000) and her trial court litigation costs (some $330,000). The government argued that its litigating position was substantially justified.
The Ninth Circuit’s response was disappointingly succinct: “denied.” Undaunted, Ms. Mazzei’s attorneys then asked the Tax Court for the $330,000 in trial court litigation costs. The government opposed the motion for the same reason it gave the Ninth Circuit. Judge Thornton, however, rejected the §7430 request for a different reason. He ruled that the Ninth Circuit’s single word left the Tax Court powerless to act on the request. Appeals go up the hierarchy, not down. The taxpayer had asked the wrong court. Details below the fold.
June 13, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 6, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Taxpayer Held To His Word(s) Regarding Alimony
Congress eliminated the deduction for alimony in the December 2017 Reconciliation Act (informally called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or TCJA). The concept is still important, however. First, the legislation grandfathered in alimony payments made pursuant to divorce or separation instruments executed on or before December 31, 2018. So the question of whether a payment qualifies as alimony will thus still be important for many taxpayers for years to come. Second, the definition continues to play an important role in analyzing the support requirements for dependents. See §152(d)(5).
Determining whether payments constitute alimony is not always easy and errors can lead to §6662 penalties for careless taxpayers and their advisors. Jihad Y. Ibrahim v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2022-7 (May 16, 2022) (Judge Weiler), teaches us the importance of the words used in divorce instruments. There, Dr. Ibrahim sought to deduct $50,000 in payments to his ex-wife. He called them as alimony on his return. But the marital separation agreement and the divorce decree did not call them that. The IRS disallowed the deduction as contrary to the plain language in the divorce decree. Despite Dr. Ibrahim’s ingenious arguments, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS and held the taxpayer to his word(s). Details below the fold.
June 6, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Sharp Corners Of The §170 Substantiation Requirements
The sainted Justice Holmes once wrote: “Men must turn square corners when they deal with the Government.” It is no accident that Justice Holmes wrote that in a tax case. Rock Island R.R. v. United States, 254 U.S. 141, 143 (1920). Of all the corners in all the laws governing citizen interaction with government, tax laws contain some of the squarest. This is a lesson we’ve seen before. See Lesson From The Tax Court: The Structure Of Substantiation Requirements of §170, TaxProf Blog (Sept. 24, 2018). But I think it’s a lesson worth repeating: the substantiation rules in §170 contain some very sharp corners. The lesson is important for high-end donations such as the one in today’s case. And it is not just a lesson for taxpayers, but also for charities.
In Martha L. Albrecht v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-53 (May 25, 2022) (Judge Greaves), the taxpayer made a very large donation to a museum and claimed a §170 charitable donation deduction on her return. The IRS said that the 5-page document memorializing the gift did not meet the statutory substantiation requirements for such a gift. The Tax Court agreed. Thus, no §170 deduction. Details below the fold.
May 31, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, May 23, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Counting The Days
Most people know that the IRS generally has three years to audit a return. Calculating the proper three-year period, however, requires close attention to both the start date and the end date. You need to count those days properly. I tried to drill into my students the practice of always consulting a calendar when attempting to calculate the proper dates. Christian Renee Evert v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-48 (May 9, 2022) (Judge Marshall), reinforces that teaching: to calculate the period in which the IRS can assess a tax, you need to properly count the days in the three year period.
May 23, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1)
Sunday, May 22, 2022
Tax Experts Say Section 107 Housing Allowance For Clergy Remains Safe Despite Recent Cases And Greedy Abuses
Christianity Today, Churches Still Depend on Clergy Housing Allowance:
Despite recent legal cases and reports of greedy abuses, experts say the longstanding benefit remains safe.
Wth the federal tax filing deadline looming, a Virginia court case may have some ministers wondering whether their ministerial housing allowance is secure.
The case isn’t about the housing allowance. But to some, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, it suggests courts may be willing to meddle increasingly in clergy affairs, including housing.
At issue was denial of a property tax exemption for a church parsonage in Fredericksburg, Virginia. New Life in Christ Church sought the tax exemption for a church-owned home inhabited by two youth ministers, married couple Josh and Anacari Storms. The city denied the exemption because it claimed the church’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), does not allow women to be considered ministers.
New Life in Christ said the city misunderstood its doctrine. Ordination and certain duties, like preaching, are limited to men in the PCA, according to the church, but the denomination’s governing documents permit congregations latitude in hiring nonordained persons like the Stormses for various ministry jobs. Yet a trial court sided with Fredericksburg, as did the Virginia Supreme Court.
The US Supreme Court declined to hear the church’s appeal in January. Now the church must continue paying the annual property tax bill of $4,589.15. The Supreme Court’s action provoked a dissent from Gorsuch.
“The City continues to insist that a church’s religious rules are ‘subject to verification’ by government officials,” Gorsuch wrote. “I would grant the [church’s] petition and summarily reverse. The First Amendment does not permit bureaucrats or judges to ‘subject’ religious beliefs ‘to verification.’”
Is the case a harbinger of increased willingness to scrutinize ministerial housing in court? Pastors across America hope not. While fewer churches own traditional parsonages, the majority take advantage of the federal clergy housing allowance and say it benefits both their families and their churches. ...
Monday, May 16, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Only One Exclusion For Military Retiree Disability Payments
My dad served as a doctor in the military for 30 years, 23 days. Starting this week, he will have been retired for longer than he served. When he first retired, he received a monthly pension check from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) and that was all. A few years later he learned that his hearing loss, likely from his time in Vietnam, qualified him for disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He applied for, and received, a 30% disability rating. He then started receiving two checks each month, one from DFAS and one from the VA.
My dad’s DFAS check is included in gross income but his VA check is not, thanks to §104(a)(4). If he had never applied for the disability rating, however, §104 would still permit him to exclude part of his DFAS check to the extent he would have be entitled to a disability check from the VA. Confused? Today’s lesson will help!
In Tracy Renee Valentine v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-42 (Apr. 28, 2022) (Judge Gustafson), the taxpayer was a veteran and received two checks per month, one from DFAS and one from VA for disability compensation. She wanted to exclude not only the VA disability check, but she also wanted to exclude part of her DFAS check. But she mis-read §104(a)(4)’s interplay with §104(b). Judge Gustafson teaches us the proper way to read the rules. Basically, veterans get only one exclusion for their disability payments. Details below the fold.
May 16, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, May 9, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Avoiding The 2-Year Lookback Period In Bankruptcy
Today’s lesson is about how to maximize the discharge of tax liabilities through bankruptcy. It's a lesson on timing. Last year I blogged two cases showing how a bankruptcy tolls both the collection and assessment limitation periods in the Tax Code. See Lesson From The Tax Court: For Whom The Bankruptcy Tolls, TaxProf Blog (July 19, 2021). Today’s lesson is the flip side: we learn how taxpayers who want to discharge old tax liabilities through bankruptcy need to be careful about how the two-year lookback exception to discharge may be tolled by provisions in the Tax Code.
I offer today’s lesson in honor of Bob Pope, who died on April 29th. Bob was one of those remarkable attorneys who could navigate the complex interplay of bankruptcy and tax law. He was one of the founders of the Tax Collections, Bankruptcy and Workouts Committee in the ABA Section of Taxation, along with Paul Asofsky, Fran Sheehy, Ken Weil, and Mark Wallace. He will be missed.
Bob would appreciate today’s lesson. In Robert J. Norberg and Debra L. Norberg v. Commissioner, T. C. Memo 2022-30 (Apr. 5, 2022) (Judge Lauber), the taxpayers filed their 2016 return in February 2019 without paying the tax they reported due. When the IRS started collection, the Norbergs asked for a CDP hearing. When they got to Tax Court in September 2020 they filed a bankruptcy petition, hoping to wipe out the liability. They failed because they mis-timed their bankruptcy petition. An irony is that these taxpayers could have likely gotten their desired discharge if they had ignored the siren song of CDP. Bob could have taught them that. And, if you click below the fold, you too can learn this lesson on how to maximize the discharge of tax liabilities in bankruptcy.
May 9, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (3)
Monday, May 2, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: Distinguishing Employees From Independent Contractors
Pro Publica has proudly proclaimed that “If You’re Getting a W-2, You’re a Sucker.” I know lots of workers who would strongly disagree. For them, being a W-2 worker (a/k/a “employee”) is far more beneficial than their realistic alternative, which is being a 1099 worker (a/k/a “independent contractor”). The Pro-Publica story was channeling this Brookings Institution study which noted how business owners can often hide their income but workers cannot because their employers rat them out with W-2s.
But most workers have no realistic choice. Just ask your next Uber or Lyft driver. For them, as for many others in various industries—from child-care to health-care to landscaping and construction—the choice is not whether or not to hide income. Their choice is only whether their income gets reported to the IRS on a Form W-2 or a Form 1099. The upside of being an employee is lower employment taxes and eligibility for unemployment benefits. The potential downside is no §199A and no ability to deduct unreimbursed job expenses, given the current nastiness codified in §67(g).
And the choice of status is often on the employer. Employers must decide whether and when to treat their workers as employees or as independent contractors. Today’s lesson shows how they might be on the hook if they make the wrong classification. Pediatric Impressions Home Health, Inc. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-35 (Apr. 12, 2022) (Judge Greaves), teaches us how Tax Court distinguishes employees from independent contracts. It also shows us a potential safe harbor that employers can use to escape the unpaid obligations if it turns out they erroneously classified employees as independent contractors. Details below the fold.
May 2, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)
Monday, April 25, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: The Unforeseen Circumstances Rule For §121 Home Sale Exclusions
The Tax Code gives homeowners many tax breaks. Chief among them is the ability to exclude up to $500k of gain from the sale of a principal residence (for married taxpayers filing jointly). Taxpayers seeking this exclusion must meet some basic requirements, set out in §121. Taxpayers who fail the requirements, however, may still qualify for an exclusion under the unforeseen circumstances rule in §121(c).
Steven W. Webert and Catherine S. Webert v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-32 (Apr. 7, 2022) (Judge Gustafson), teaches a lesson on the operation of the unforeseen circumstances rule. There, unforeseen circumstances arguably forced the taxpayers to move out of their home during a real estate bust in 2009. Apparently unwilling to sell short, they rented out the home until the market recovered and eventually sold it for a gain of about $195k in 2015. They attempted to exclude the gain under §121, claiming they were entitled to do so because of the unforeseen circumstances rule in §121(c). The IRS thought the claim had no merit. Curiously, the Tax Court did not (yet) agree. Beats me on why. I explore the rule, and the mystery of why the IRS lost its Summary Judgment motion, below the fold.
April 25, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 22, 2022
Solo Practitioner, Backed By Latham & Watkins, Wins SCOTUS Tax Ruling
National Law Journal, Solo Practitioner, Backed by Latham & Watkins, Wins SCOTUS Tax Ruling:
A Fargo, North Dakota, solo practitioner, with help from Latham & Watkins, scored a unanimous victory in the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday for herself, and low-income taxpayers and small businesses.
The court, in an opinion by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, ruled in Boechler v. IRS that the 30-day time limit for filing a petition in the U.S. Tax Court to challenge the IRS’s decision to seize property to collect tax debts is not a jurisdictional limit and can be equitably tolled.
Monday, April 18, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: What’s Excluded From The §132 Exclusion?
Tax Day is here! And what better way to observe the day than a lesson on §132, a lesson that evokes the ghost of Dan Rostenkowski, whose curmudgeonly visage appears to the right. For those who don’t know, Rostenkowski was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 1981 until 1994 when, in the great tradition of Illinois politicians, he was indicted on various counts of fraud, eventually pleading guilty to mail fraud. Yes, political corruption in Illinois actually has its own Wikipedia entry.
During his time as head of the House tax writing committee, Rostenkowski oversaw multiple major legislative changes. Perhaps his crowning glory was his role in the 1986 Tax Reform Act, which has long been viewed as a triumph (however short-lived) of sound tax reform.
Today’s lesson has its genesis in the earlier Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, PL 98-369, 98 Stat. 494. There, Congress wrote a new §132 to exclude from gross income a long list of traditional employee fringe benefits. In Douglas Mihalik and Wendy J. Mihalik v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2022-36 (Apr. 13, 2022) (Judge Gustafson), Mr. Mihalik received free airline tickets for himself and members of his family. He sought the exclusionary shelter of §132. While §132 is very broadly written to cover various family members of an employee, Judge Gustafson teaches us how some family members are excluded from the exclusion. Details below the fold.
April 18, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, April 11, 2022
Lesson From The Tax Court: 50 Ways To Lose Your Interest Abatement Request
Obtaining an abatement of interest reminds me of Paul Simon’s song 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. Sure, the “50 ways” in the song title is misleading. By my count, Simon gives us only four. And some are singularly unhelpful for real life advice. I mean, “make a new plan, Stan”? Really? But the hyperbole does it’s job: it draws attention to idea there are the multiple ways to break off a relationship.
My Lesson title is also hyperbolic, but serves the same purpose. When a taxpayer wants the IRS to abate interest charges, there are lots of ways to lose. Jeremy Edwin Porter v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2022-23 (March 28, 2022)(Judge Greaves) gives us a nice review of some of them. There, the hapless taxpayer was trying to get interest abated for, among other periods, a 34 month period where the Tax Court did not rule on pending discovery motions. The Court sustained the IRS rejection of the abatement request because, even if the delay was unreasonable, and even if it was not attributable to Mr. Porter, it was caused by the Tax Court, not the IRS. Ouch.
This gives us a good excuse to review the many ways the IRS can reject an interest abatement request. And perhaps learn how to be a diligent litigant so as to keep your client’s case moving along during Tax Court litigation. I hope today’s lesson is more helpful than Simon’s song. At least it won't be an earworm. Details below the fold.
April 11, 2022 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)