Paul L. Caron
Dean


Monday, September 16, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Administrative File Notes Are Not Ex-Parte Contact

Tax Court (2017)Tax collectors have an tough and lonely job.  I know.  I collected taxes for Arlington County, Virginia shortly after law school.  And when I was in IRS Office of Chief Counsel, my clients were Revenue Officers (ROs), the IRS employees whose dolorous job is to collect unpaid taxes. 

When a taxpayer receives a CDP hearing, ROs are prohibited from making ex part contacts with anyone in Appeals about the substance of the collections under review.  If the RO wants to communicate with anyone in Appeals about matters that are not ministerial, administrative, or procedural, they must give taxpayers an opportunity to participate in the discussion. Rev. Proc. 2000-43, §3, Q&A-6.   If they violate the ex-parte prohibition, then the CDP hearing becomes tainted and the ex part nature of the contact must either be cured or else the case be reassigned.  Rev. Proc. 2012-18, §2.10(1).

Not every communication from an RO to Appeals is a prohibited ex parte contact.  Last week’s case of Jason Stewart and Kristy Stewart v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-116 (September 10, 2019) (Judge Kerrigan) teaches a lesson in what does not constitute a prohibited communication from an RO to the Settlement Officer in a CDP hearing.  Details below the fold.

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September 16, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax News, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 19, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: A Lesson Of Interest

Tax Court (2017)Politicians love to brag about the voluntary nature of the U.S. tax system.  Back in 1862, the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue, George Boutwell, reported glowingly that, “sustained by the patriotic sentiments of the people, it is a matter for congratulation that the taxes assessed have, with few unimportant exceptions, been paid with cheerfulness...”  Those with boots on the ground had a different view: “Human nature must greatly change, before we shall find that patriotism is more universal than selfishness,” wrote the tax assessor Charles Emerson in 1867.

Good tax administration works with, rather than fights against, the selfishness of human nature.  One way to do that is by creating structural mechanisms that put taxpayers into a default posture of compliance.  Withholding is one of those.  Another way is to give taxpayers incentives to accurately comply with their reporting and payment obligations, incentives such as avoiding penalties and interest.

Enhancing taxpayer compliance is a central purpose of both penalties and interest.  See Policy Statement 20-1 in IRM 1.2.1.12 (08-01-2019).  Last week’s case of Jon D. Adams v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-99 (Aug. 12, 2019) (Judge Urda) is an object lesson in how penalties and interest do that.  In particular the case illustrates how the difficulty in obtaining relief from interest, coupled with the very robust statutory interest rates, suggest that imposition of interest is more than just a mechanism to compensate the government for the lost time value of money; it is a compliance tool.

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August 19, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Know The Difference Between IRAs And 401(k)s

Tax Court (2017)Every year I lecture on the time value of money.  Part of the lecture compares a normal taxed savings account funded with after-tax dollars to a tax-free retirement account funded with pre-tax dollars.  At the end of my assumed 40-year investment period the difference astonishes the students and drives home my main point about the time value of money.

The effectiveness of my point does not depend on which type of tax-deferred retirement account is being used.  I figure most of my students will make use of a traditional IRA, or Roth, or spousal, or will be able to make use of a 401(k) plan or a 408(k) SEP plan.  It does not matter which type of plan they use: the power of tax deferral works in all of them.

But the type of retirement plan can make a huge difference to the treatment of early withdrawals.  That is the lesson from last week’s case of Lily Hilda Soltani-Amadi and Bahman Justin Amadi v. Commissioner, T.C. Summary Opinion 2019-19 (Aug. 8, 2019) (Judge Armen).  The taxpayers there had made an early withdrawal from their 401(k) plan to help buy their first home.  The distribution would have been penalty-free had it come from an IRA.  But it came from a 401(k) and so, while permitted, it carried with it the §72(t) 10% penalty.  Details below the fold.

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August 12, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, August 5, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Appeals Is Still Part Of The IRS, Really!

Tax Court (2017)I find it useful to think of tax administration as comprising two overarching functions: (1) determining tax liabilities and (2) collecting tax liabilities.  The IRS Office of Appeals (“Appeals”) supports both functions by mediating disputes between taxpayers and either the IRS exam function or collection function.  In Aldo Fonticiella v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-74 (June 13, 2019), Judge Gerber teaches us that even though Appeals has a different (and wider) set of powers that often allow it to settle disputes without litigation, it still functions as an integral part of the IRS, no matter how many times Congress puts “Independent” in its title.

Taxpayers unhappy with Appeals look for creative ways to avoid its decisions.  In 2011, one such taxpayer argued that all Appeals work product violated the U.S. Constitution.  His theory was that Appeals Officers were “Officers of The United States” within the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.  That meant they had to be appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate.  Because they were not, they could not wield any power over taxpayers.  That made all their work illegal and without effect.  In Tucker v. Commissioner both the Tax Court (135 T.C. 114, 2010) and the D.C. Circuit (676 F.3d 1129, 2012) rejected the argument.  Not a single judge agreed with the taxpayer.

Creativity begets creativity.  In Fonticiella, Judge Gerber considers and rejects a companion argument, that Appeals is a “de facto independent agency” whose very existence is an affront to the U.S. Constitution.  While that is a loser argument today, it may become a winner eventually as Congress keeps trying to transform Appeals into a mini-me Tax Court.  The recently enacted Taxpayer First Act, P.L. 116-25, moves in that direction, although not far enough, IMHO, to affect the rationale for Judge Gerber’s decision.  You can read more about it below the fold.

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August 5, 2019 in Bryan Camp, IRS News, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 22, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Role Of Abuse In Spousal Relief Claims

Tax Court (2017)Divorce brings all kinds of consequences.  Today’s lesson is about one of the tax consequences.  In last week's case of Brigette Ogden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-88  (July 15, 2019) (Judge Halpern), the divorced taxpayer sought to be relieved of her obligation to pay tax reported on two prior joint returns.  She sought relief based in part on a claim of spousal abuse and a claim that a state court’s divorce decree absolved her of responsibility.  Judge Halpern’s opinion teaches lessons about: (1) the relationship of spousal abuse to spousal relief in §6015, (2) the relationship of state courts to federal tax law, and (3) the relationship of sub-regulatory IRS guidance---here a Revenue Procedure---to Tax Court review of an IRS decision about spousal relief.  Details below the fold.  It's all about relationships.

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July 22, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 8, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: When Does A Business Start?

Tax Court (2017)It takes money to make money.  Generally Congress allows taxpayers to deduct the money it takes from the money they make.  That’s the idea in §162.  But §162’s deceptively simple language----allowing a deduction for all “the ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred in carrying on a trade or business”---has gaps, to be filled by other statutes.  For example, §§183 and 212 apply the §162 idea to activities that are not a “trade or business” but still produce income and have associated costs.  And then there is that pesky timing issue: which costs are “expenses” that should be deducted in the current year and which costs should only allowed to be deducted over a longer period of time?  Sections 168(k) and 179 allow taxpayers to accelerate deductions of certain capital costs that otherwise would not qualify as “expenses” under §162’s simple language.

Section 195 deals with another gap:  how to treat the costs of starting a business.  Section 162 does not permit deductions until such time as the taxpayer is actually “carrying on” the business.  Section 195 allows taxpayers to reach back to the time before the business started and deduct their start up costs.  But to get to use §195 a taxpayer must actually start their business.  Last week’s case of Steven Austin Smith v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2019-12 (July 1, 2019) (Judge Vasquez) teaches a nice lesson about what it means to start a business.  There, the court found that a taxpayer was indeed carrying on his business even in a year where he had no sales income.  To be sure, he still lost because he was unable to substantiate his expenses.  There’s a bit of a lesson there as well.  But the main lesson is about when a business starts.

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July 8, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure, Tax Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, July 1, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Yachts Are Pigs

.Tax Court (2017)You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.  According to Wikipedia, that is a late 20th century update to an older expression "A hog in armour is still but a hog.”  Both convey the same idea: superficial alterations do not change the essence of a thing.   

Two recent cases from the Tax Court teach a tax version of that lesson: no matter how much you dress up a yacht in a business suit, it’s still a pleasure boat.  First, in Carlos Langston and Pamela Langston v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-19 (Mar. 21, 2019) (Judge Nega), we once again learn a lesson from the Langstons, the same taxpayers who tried to convince Judge Nega that they had converted their home into an income-producing asset.  That was the subject of this prior lesson.  Here, in the same case, they also tried to pass off a modest 58’ 2006 Meridian 580 yacht as a business asset.  I say "modest" advisedly because the second case is Charles M. Steiner and Rhoda L. Steiner v. Commissioner, T. C. Memo 2019-25 (April 2, 2019)(Judge Ruwe) and it involves a decidedly immodest 155’ Super Yacht called “Triumphant Lady.”  After the Steiners decided to sell that yacht they first tried to dress it up as a leasing venture to reduce their considerable carrying costs pending sale. 

Turns out, size did not matter.  Both taxpayers floundered on two of the several sharp shoals in the Tax Code that sink attempts to pass off pleasure boats as businesses.  Taxpayers lured by the siren song of tax breaks should learn the lessons you will find below the fold.

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July 1, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 24, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Ipse Dixit Cannot Fix It

Tax Court (2017)Mitchel Skolnick and Leslie Skolnick, et al. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-64 (June 3, 2019) (Judge Lauber) teaches an important lesson about the proper use of expert witnesses.  In Skolnick, the Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s expert witness valuation of of 153 horses at two points in time 7 years apart because the expert did not adequately disclose the facts and methodology used to value each horse.  Judge Lauber held that the taxpayer could not fix the value of the horses through expert’s ipse dixit.

The form of the lesson is also instructive.  Even though the parties went to trial this past April, Judge Lauber’s opinion does not decide the case...directly.  The opinion merely grants an interstitial motion, called a motion in limine, to exclude the expert’s report from the evidentiary record.  One might ask why the Court would take the time to issue an opinion on just one aspect of a case after the bother of a trial.  Why did not the Court just issue an opinion on the merits of the dispute?  After all, if the expert’s opinion is worthless enough to exclude from evidence, it is unlikely to really be helpful in deciding the merits of the case. 

I give my thoughts on both lessons below the fold, although I won’t blame you if you prefer to just watch this classic Monty Python sketch “The Argument Clinic.” Ipse Dixit is the form of argument that predominates in the sketch and is part of what makes it funny.  In real life, however, taxpayer representatives who do not heed today’s lesson will not be laughing. 

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June 24, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Your Brand Is Your Business

Tax Court Logo 2Self-promotion is as American as P.T. Barnum.  So is wanting to avoid tax.  In K. Slaughter v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-65 (June 4, 2019), Judge Wells teaches a lesson that all YouTube influencers and their return preparers need to learn: it is difficult to avoid self-employment tax on earnings from self-promotion.  Ms. Slaughter argued that her “brand” was an intangible asset separate from her business of writing crime novels, and so earnings attributed to her brand were not self-employment income.  The Court rejected her attempt to assign part of her earnings to what amounted to her investment in herself.  Her brand was itself her business.  Hey, at least she avoided penalties because her tax position was her accountants’ idea.  However, that leaves the accountants potentially vulnerable to penalties under §6694.  Details below the fold.   

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June 17, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Long Tail of OICs and IAs

Tax Court (2017)Today’s lesson is about dogs and tails. Tax practitioners often work hard to get their clients into some kind of Offer In Compromise (OIC) or Installment Agreement (IA) with the IRS. Those are the dogs. But a successful IA or OIC involves more than just making timely payments on the deals. It involves an ongoing commitment to properly file returns and pay taxes for up to five years. That’s the long tail. And, to mix metaphors, that long tail can come back to bite a taxpayer who falls out of compliance. That’s the lesson we learn from two recent opinions: (1) Edward F. Sadjadi and Cynthia M. Sadjadi, T.C. Memo. 2019-58 (May 29, 2019) (Judge Cohen) (IRS can collect original liability against taxpayers who fully paid their OIC); (2) Kevin Scott Millen v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-60 (May 30, 2019) (Judge Lauber) (taxpayer had his IA terminated even though he never missed a payment).

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June 10, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 3, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Another Pyrrhic CDP Win

Tax Court (2017)Last week, I discussed the case of Mr. Kearse, whose three lawyers secured him a CDP win some five years after filing a Tax Court petition.  They got the win because of an IRS screw-up.  They did not get the underlying assessment invalidated.  They did not get a merits determination of the underlying liability.  They did not kill future collection.  They got delay.  I questioned what value that whole process added for either Mr. Kearse or taxpayers in general.  

This week I discuss the case of Linda J. Romano-Murphy v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 16 (May 21, 2019) (Judge Morrison).  Ms. Romano-Murphy, representing herself, secured a CDP win some 10 years after she first filed her Tax Court petition.  She got the win because of an IRS screw up.  Unlike Mr. Kearse's team she got the underlying assessment invalidated.   Once again, however, I question whether this win created value for either this taxpayer or taxpayers generally.

The case took 10 years because Ms. Romano-Murphy initially lost her Tax Court case on the merits of her liability.  She appealed to the 11th Circuit in 2013 on a procedural issue.  Three years later that court rendered its opinion that the IRS had screwed up by not following a new rule that the 11th Circuit discovered buried in an implication in the statutory language of §6672, a rule no one else had spotted during the 20 years the statute had been in operation.

The new rule is a procedural one: when the IRS proposes to assess a Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP) under Section 6672 and the taxpayer timely asks for a hearing with the Office of Appeals, then the IRS may not assess the liability until after Appeals performs its review and issues a document that reflects its final determination. 

The 11th Circuit sent the case back to the Tax Court to decide whether the IRS screw-up was harmless error.  In a 87-page opinion, the Tax Court said the IRS error was not harmless and held that the assessment was void.  It reversed the Appeals CDP determination since the IRS cannot collect a void assessment.

You may think this is great result for Ms. Romano-Murphy.  She got the assessment invalidated!  I wish I shared that happy outlook.  Alas!  I think the result is really just a win of delayed assessment and later collection.  And I cannot see how the 10-year delay benefits either the taxpayer or tax administration.  Details below the fold.

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June 3, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: CDP Win Is Not Always A Victory

Tax Court Logo 2CDP officially stands for Collection Due Process.  I snark that it really stands for Collection Delay Process, because delay in administrative collection activities is really the main result taxpayers get from CDP.  But it’s not all snark.  At the administrative level, delaying the automated collection processes can be good for everyone.  Taxpayers can use that delay to work out collection alternatives and thus avoid the disruption of random ACS levies and NFTLs.  The IRS can bring more folks into ongoing compliance.  Win-win.

At the Tax Court level, however, delay generally helps neither taxpayers nor the IRS.  That is the lesson I see from two Tax Court cases decided last week:  (1) Jevon Kearse v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-53 (May 20, 2019) (Judge Ashford); and (2) Linda J. Romano-Murphy v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 16 (May 21, 2019) (Judge Morrison).  In both cases, the taxpayers “won” the case; the Tax Court entered a judgment for the taxpayers because of IRS screw-ups.  It is not clear, however, that the decisions did anything more than delay collection.  It appears the IRS can fix the procedural errors and then re-start collection.  If so, then the delay might actually hurt the taxpayers because of increased interest and penalties.  Or it might hurt the increasingly underwater federal fisc (and the rest of us) because delay increases the risk of taxpayers hiding or dissipating assets.

I will discuss Kearse this week and will discuss Romano-Murphy next week, when I’ve had more time to think on and condense that 87 page (!) opinion.

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May 28, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 20, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Mostly Dead Corporation Cannot File Petition

Tax Court (2017)As we learned from this scene in The Princess Bride, there’s dead...and then there’s mostly dead. 

In Timbron Holdings Corporation v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-31 (April 8, 2019) (Judge Vasquez), the Tax Court decided that it could not hear the petition filed by a mostly dead corporation.  In reaching this conclusion, Judge Vasquez carefully followed existing Tax Court precedents to hold: (1) a corporation whose charter is suspended under California law (i.e. is mostly dead) has no capacity to file a Tax Court petition; (2) the corporation’s lack of capacity is not a defense that the government must raise but is instead an element of §6213’s jurisdictional requirements; and (3) “reliance on equity and policy considerations [cannot] overcome a jurisdictional defect.”

The idea that §6213 is a jurisdictional statute is an old idea.  Really old.  Decrepitly old.  If the right right case goes up on appeal, I think an appellate court will likely decide that old idea is dead.  Deceased.  Kaput.  Expired.  Gone.  Done in.  All-the-way dead.  Parrot dead.  To beat the dead horse, an appellate court is likely to find that §6213 is not a jurisdictional restriction on the Tax Court but is instead a “claims processing rule,” a term the Supreme Court uses to describe limitations that are important but not jurisdictional.  You can find the deathly dull details in my forthcoming article (Fall 2019 issue of The Tax Lawyer).

Timbron is not the right case to take on appeal.  I think the result would be the same even if §6213 were treated as a straight-forward non-jurisdictional limitations period.  But, either way, the result creates a curious contradiction in the Tax Court Rules.  Details below the fold.

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May 20, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 13, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Get It In Writing!

Tax Court (2017)Last week’s case of Jason Aaron Cook v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-48 (May 7, 2019) (Judge Colvin), teaches a straightforward lesson: if you are not the custodial parent of a child and want to claim the child as your “dependent” within the meaning of §152, you need to obtain a Form 8332, or an equivalent document, from the custodial parent.  You need to get it in writing.

The case also teaches a more fundamental lesson in some of the complexities of family taxation.  The lesson here shows how the tax law indirectly defines families through the concept of dependents.  When a taxpayer can claim someone as a dependent, that triggers a host of different tax rules for that taxpayer---mostly good.  The cumulative effect creates the rules of family taxation. 

The biggest group of dependents are children, at least until more Boomers hit their dotage.  When spouses stay together the idea of defining families through the concept of dependents works pretty well.  When spouses split up, however, it becomes much harder figuring out the appropriate family unit to tax.  Section 152(e) uses a concept of "custodial parent."  Last week’s case is a good illustration of the Tax Code’s basic approach, and its limitations.

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May 13, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: It Takes More Than Winning To Get Attorneys Fees Under §7430

Tax Court Logo 2It’s always nice to beat the IRS in court.  It is even sweeter when you can also make the IRS pay your attorneys fees.  But that is not so easy, even when you win.  In last week’s Tax Court opinion in Jason Bontrager v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-45 (May 1, 2019) (Bontrager II) Judge Lauber teaches a short lesson about the attorneys fees award provisions in §7430.  Section 7430 balances policies of paying taxpayers when the government loses with protecting the federal fisc when the government’s litigating position was reasonable.

Bontrager II was a proceeding where the taxpayer sought to recover reasonable litigation costs under §7430 after having won the most significant issue in the case.  Mr. Bontrager followed all the proper administrative steps to get attorneys fees.  Yet he failed to get fees because Judge Lauber found that the IRS’s losing position was substantially justified.  That idea of substantial justification often prevents attorneys fees.  But if you click the "continue reading" button you can learn the one weird trick taxpayers use to overcome it!  (Except it’s not really a trick.  And it’s not really weird.  It’s right in the statute.  I am just trying to get you to read on.)

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May 6, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Role Of The Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Taxpayer Bill of RightOver the years Congress has enacted various pieces of legislation that it labels “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TBOR).  The original TBOR came in 1988 as part of the Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1988.  It was followed by a free-standing TBOR II in 1996, and then TBOR III in 1998, enacted as part of The IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. 

All three of these TBORs created substantive changes in the tax laws, such as adding procedures for the IRS to follow, giving taxpayers greater access to the Tax Court, giving taxpayers the right to sue under certain circumstances, creating the Taxpayer Advocate Service, etc. 

In 2015, Congress did something different.  It enacted yet another TBOR but this time the substantive command was framed as an additional duty given to the Commissioner, not additional rights given to taxpayers.  The new duty is to “ensure that employees of the Internal Revenue Service are familiar with and act in accord with taxpayer rights as afforded by other provisions of this title.”  There follows a list of 10 nobly worded vagaries, such as “the right to quality service” and “the right to a fair and just tax system” and “the right to finality” which is somewhat in tension with “the right to challenge the position of the Internal Revenue Service” and “the right to appeal a decision of the Internal Revenue Service in an independent forum” (think Collection Delay Process).  You can find the complete high-minded list in §7803(a)(3)

Taxpayers want TBOR IV to be more than pretty words.  They want §7803(a)(3) to give them substantive rights.  The recent case of Maria Ivon Moya v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 11 (Judge Halpern) (April 17, 2019), teaches a lesson about that.  The case did not directly involve §7803(b).  It instead involved the administrative adoption of taxpayer rights in 2014, the year before the statute’s enactment.  Still, the Tax Court’s decision here is an important lesson that presages what is likely to happen when a taxpayer tries to allege violations of the statutory TBOR IV: do not waste Tax Court opportunities to argue the merits of an NOD by complaining about procedural errors. 

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April 29, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lesson For Tax Day: When Tax Prep Software Gets It Wrong

THRI have been using tax prep software since at least the early 1990’s as my tax journey has followed the dimensions of my life journey: from single to married to parent; from renter to owner to landlord; and from debtor to investor.  If I have learned anything over the years about tax prep software, it is this: you cannot trust tax software to get it right.

This year, the H&R Block software wanted to give me a larger §25A American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) than I was entitled to take.  For reasons I describe below the fold, I let the software do that.  Yes folks, I filed a false tax return!  And, no, it won’t get me in trouble, for reasons that may surprise you.  Today I give you a “you can do this at home” lesson on how to deal with erroneous tax prep software.  Happy Tax Day. 

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April 15, 2019 in Bryan Camp, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Hoist By His Own Petard

Tax Court (2017)In 17th Century warfare, armies used a primitive explosive device called a petard to help breach castles and walled cities.  It was basically a bell filled with gunpowder that would be shoved in a tunnel or hole facing the wall or gate to be breached.  The operator, called an enginer (pronounced “engine-ur” with emphasis on first syllable) would light the fuse and scramble back.  If all did not go well, however, the enginer might be blown up (hoisted) in the resulting explosion.  Thus the expression.  It’s an extremely common trope in fiction starting at least as far back as Hamlet, and continuing in modern times, as this lovely time-wasting website extensively details.

In tax law taxpayers build both primitive and sophisticated devices to avoid taxation.  Last week’s decision in Allen R. Davison III v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-26 (April 3, 2019)(Judge Ashford) involves a taxpayer whose tax reduction device consisted of layering partnerships.  How ironic, then, that it blew up his chances for pre-payment litigation over the merits of a tax assessment.  He did not learn that unhappy lesson until both the IRS and then the Tax Court refused to let him litigate the merits of his tax liability in the CDP process.  Details below the fold.

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April 8, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 25, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Nothing Personal

Tax Court (2017)The Tax Code is built on a dichotomy between business and personal.  That is one of the ideas that runs throughout each semester of my basic tax class.  Whether a taxpayer is entitled to deduct an item of expense depends on whether the Code classifies the expense as business or personal.  In one box go expenditures needed to carry on an activity engaged in for profit.  Section 162 allows taxpayers to deduct the money it takes to make money.  In another box go expenditures made for personal consumption.  Section 262 disallows a deduction for such expenses.  One finds the same dichotomy in §165, which permits taxpayers to deduct business losses, but not non-business losses.

Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish business from personal.  In life, the difference is not a dichotomy but a continuum with expenditures often made for mixed purposes.  Still, taxpayer activity falls into either the deductible box or the non-deductible box.  There is no in-between.  The expense (or loss) is deductible or it’s not.  Congress helps taxpayers figure out into which box they fall with various statues.  Treasury helps them with various regulations.  And courts help with decisions like two Tax Court decisions from last week. 

Last week the Tax Court issued two opinions that teach lessons about distinguishing business activity from personal activity.  First, Carlos Langston and Pamela Langston v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-19 (Judge Nega) presents a really nice twist on the classic problem of how to tell when a taxpayer has converted a personal residence into an income-producing property.  There, the taxpayer's actual rental was not sufficient to convert a property formerly used as a personal residence into a property held for the production of income.  That surprised me.  Second, Edward G. Kurdzeil, Jr. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2019-20 (Judge Holmes) concerns whether a taxpayer’s very expensive plane restoration activity was a business or a hobby.   I will blog Langston this week and Kurdziel next week. 

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March 25, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Form 2848 Does Not Change Your Address

Tax Court (2017)Generally, it’s nice to be noticed.  Tomorrow is my 24th wedding anniversary and I remain truly grateful that my wife noticed me one day long ago at a contra dance at Glen Echo.  That notice continues to this day, fully reciprocated. 

But sometimes it’s not so nice, such as when the notice comes from the IRS.  And when Congress wants the IRS to “notice” taxpayers (pun intended), it generally requires the IRS to send that notice to their last known address. 

The last known address rule is critical to learn.  Congress puts that rule in about 20 different statutes, helpfully listed in Rev. Proc. 2010-16.  The governing regulation generally allows the IRS to comply with the rule by using the address in its Master File database.  There are some exceptions.  In a blog last November, I discussed one exception: certain events can trigger an IRS duty of due diligence to go beyond the address in its database. 

Last week the Tax Court taught us about another exception in Damian K. Gregory and Shayla A. Gregory v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 7 (Mar. 13, 2019) (Judge Buch).  There, Tax Court let us know, in a fully reviewed opinion, that a Power of Attorney (Form 2848) does not have the legal effect of telling the IRS that a taxpayer has changed their official address of record.  This is important because, as long-time practitioners know, Form 2848 used to work for that purpose (albeit as a backstop).  Time to unlearn that old lesson!  Details below the fold.

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March 18, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, March 11, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Murphy’s Law Of Mailing

Tax Court (2017)When something goes right most of the time, we generally are not prepared for when it goes wrong.  Last week’s opinion in Teri Jordan v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-15 (Mar. 4, 2019) (Judge Buch) teaches that lesson as applied to the §7502 statutory mailbox rule.  It also teaches us what we need to know to avoid the unhappy outcome for Ms. Jordan.

Most folks know something about the statutory mailbox rule in §7502.  Or at least think they do.  Almost everyone has a general idea if they mail their tax returns or, as here, their Tax Court petition on the last day of the deadline for filing, all will be well.  That generally works out for them because the U.S. mail is reliable.  That reliability leads many folks to think they can print off a stamp or postage label from an internet provider and drop the petition off at their nearest U.S. Post Office (USPS).  Or taking it to the counter of a Fed Ex or UPS “store” is the same as taking it to a USPS counter.  Again, those actions usually result in a timely petition. 

More savvy (or cautious) taxpayers, however, not only know the mailbox rule, they also know Murphy’s law.  They know the best way to beat Murphy’s law of mailing is to use Registered Mail or Certified Mail.  Ms. Jordan was not one of the savvy.  She  used a private postage label printed out from Endicia.com to mail her Tax Court petition.  That proved to be a mistake.  To see how her case is a lesson for all of us, read on.

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March 11, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: No Human Review Needed For Automated Penalties?

Tax Court (2017)Section 6751(b)(1) prohibits the IRS from assessing any penalty against a taxpayer “unless the initial determination of such assessment is personally approved (in writing) by the immediate supervisor of the individual making such determination...”  The Tax Court will not sustain a penalty unless the IRS produces evidence that the required personal approval has taken place before the IRS first notifies the taxpayer (typically in either a 30-day letter or the NOD) about the penalty.  Section 6751(b)(2) provides an exception to the personal approval requirement for “any...penalty automatically calculated through electronic means.” 

Craig S. Walquist and Maria L. Walquist v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 3 (Feb. 25, 2019) (Judge Lauber) was one of two reviewed opinions issued last week that gave the IRS important wins on the scope of §6751.  In Walquist the Automated Correspondence Exam (ACE) system hit the taxpayers with a §6662 substantial understatement penalty.  No IRS employee even knew about it until after the taxpayers petitioned Tax Court in response to the automated NOD.  Thus, there was no supervisory approval as required by §6751(b)(1).  The Court decided, however, that the IRS was entitled to the §6751(b)(2) automatic computation exception to the supervisory approval requirement. 

At one level, this was an easy case against two unsympathetic taxpayer hobbyists.  At another level, however, the decision may create problems down the road because the facts of the case are more modest than the scope of the Court’s language.  That tension between facts and language may end up harming other taxpayers ensnared by the IRS automated processes.  As usual, you will find the more complete story below the fold.

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March 4, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Drawing The Line

Tax Court (2017)Tax law often involves line drawing.  Doyle v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-8 (Feb. 6, 2019) (Judge Holmes) teaches two line-drawing lessons, one about the §104(a)(2) exclusion for payments received on account of physical injury and the other about “above-the-line” vs. “below-the-line” deductions. 

Mr. Doyle was a whistle-blower who sued his former employer after it fired him.  The parties settled the case without trial.  The former employer agreed to pay Mr. Doyle a total of $350,000 for lost wages and another $250,000 for emotional distress.  The payments were each split evenly between 2010 and 2011.  For each year the employer sent Mr. Doyle a W-2 for $175,000 and a 1099-MISC for $125,000.  In addition, Mr. Doyle paid some amount in attorneys fees.

The issue litigated in Tax Court was about the $125,000 emotional distress payments in each year.  It appears Mr. Doyle’s tax return preparer, one Herbert Hunter, took what can only be described as a bizarre reporting position.  No.  Wait.  It can also be described more kindly as “weird.”  That’s how Judge Holmes puts it.  A Judge with a less generous disposition might use the word “fraudulent.”

You be the judge.  To deal with the $125,000 payments for emotional distress, Mr. Hunter created a fake Schedule C, with a “999999” NAICS code (“unclassified establishment”).  On the 2010 Schedule C he reported the $125,000 payment, and then zeroed it out by two offsetting deductions: one for $23,584 for “legal and professional services,” and one for $101,416 for “personal injury.”  Mr. Hunter prepared the 2011 in much the same way, only then the deduction for legal fees was $33,000.  ”Weird”?  “Bizarre”?  “Fraudulent”?  Take your pick.  

By the time Mr. Doyle got to Tax Court, he at least had an attorney who understood the difference between an exclusion and a deduction.  One issue was whether the emotional distress payments were excludable under §104(a)(2).  The resolution of that issue is one of the line-drawing lessons today. 

But there was a second issue in the case, one that teaches a second line-drawing lesson. Mr. Doyle’s attorney, one Steven G. Early, seems to have totally missed the second issue, involving the proper place to deduct attorneys fees.  Judge Holmes missed that as well.  Sadly, I must confess I also missed it.  But Professor Gregg Polsky caught it (and I thank him for bringing it to my attention).  So I will pass that lesson on to you.  Keep reading. 

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February 25, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, February 18, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Jurisdiction To Determine Jurisdiction

Tax Court (2017)Last week’s case of Steven Samaniego v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-7 (Feb. 6, 2019) (Judge Lauber) teaches a great (and short) lesson about the Tax Court’s subject matter jurisdiction.  Mr. Samaniego had asked for a CDP hearing but the Office of Appeals thought his request was untimely.  So it gave him an Equivalent Hearing and issued a Determination Letter to reflect its decision.  Mr. Samaniego petitioned the Tax Court.  Problem: the Tax Court does not have jurisdiction to review an Equivalent Hearing.  Solution: Judge Lauber treated the hearing as a CDP hearing because he found that the Office of Appeals had miscounted the applicable time period.  Hey Presto! Jurisdiction.  But getting Tax Court review turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory for the taxpayer, because Judge Lauber found no error. 

As we gear up for post-shutdown litigation over late-filed petitions this case is a useful lesson about how the Tax Court will take seriously its obligation to determine the scope of its own jurisdiction.  The case also shows the Court's willingness to look through form to substance when doing so.  I see the case as a direct descendant of Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 138 (1803).  Details below the fold.

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February 18, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: Taxpayer’s Shell Game Defeats IRS

Tax Court (2017)Those who perform shell games often view them as games of skill.  Those who lose money view them as blue collar swindles.  I personally lost money at one on the streets of New York in the early 1980’s, a tuition payment to the School of Hard Knocks. 

Sophisticated taxpayers use shells—layers of entities—to protect assets in a white collar version of the shell game.  In last week’s Campbell v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-4 (Feb. 4, 2019) (Judge Kerrigan), it looks like the IRS lost money to one.  There, in a CDP proceeding, the Court found that the IRS abused its discretion in refusing an OIC of $12,600 to satisfy a $1.1 million tax liability.  The interesting part of the decision for me was trying to figure out how the taxpayer’s various shells affected the ability of the federal tax lien to attach to property or rights to property of the taxpayer.  Just based on what the Court wrote in its opinion, I think it possible that the IRS Chief Counsel attorney did not do enough to educate the Court on how to properly analyze the extent of IRS collection powers.

Of course, I am always trepidatious when critiquing an opinion, especially when the opinion is missing information that might well fix some of the problems I see.  Here, in particular, it may be me who is confused by the taxpayer’s shell game.  As usual, I welcome anyone who spots holes in my thinking to comment.

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February 11, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Pain of Disappointment

SabanThere are two pains in life. There is the pain of discipline and the pain of disappointment. If you can handle the pain of discipline, then you’ll never have to deal with the pain of disappointment.
Nick Saban

Nick Saban may be a great coach, but that aphorism is unhelpful in its opaqueness. Perhaps he means that if you are disciplined enough, or prepared enough, no type of disappointment can hurt you because you will have done your best. If that’s his idea, litigators likely disagree. The pain of disappointment permeates any litigator’s professional life. Even the most disciplined litigators have to deal with the disappointment of adverse fact finding by a judge or jury. 

Last week it was government litigators’ turn to feel the pain of disappointment, in the case of 2590 Associates v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2019-3 (Jan. 31, 2019). The case teaches a substantive lesson about the §166 bad debt deduction and a procedural lesson about the power of fact-finders, here Judge Goeke. It's a fun case to follow a Super Bowl Sunday because it tangentially involves Nick Saben. The mainstream press erroneously types it as Nick Saban's win over the IRS. That is wrong.  Saban was neither a party to the litigation nor did its outcome affect his taxes. He had already taken his winnings long before the litigation even commenced. Details and lessons below the fold.

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February 4, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, January 14, 2019

Lesson From The District Court: OIC Rejection Is No Basis For Wrongful Collection Suit Under §7433

NJCourthousesAlas!  A closed Tax Court issued no opinions last week.  Curse that federal shutdown!  But the federal district courts did issue opinions.  The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts website says they have enough money (from fees) to run through January 18th.  And their opinions teach lessons as well.

Today’s lesson comes from a lawsuit filed against the United States by Mr. Nicholas Morales, Jr. in 2017.  He sued under §7433, a statute that gives taxpayers a cause of action against the government when any IRS employee negligently, recklessly, or willfully "disregards" any statute or associated regulation in title 26 “in connection with any collection of Federal tax.”  His Complaint alleged that IRS employees had disregarded §7122 in refusing his Offer In Compromise.     

The Federal District Court for the District of New Jersey has issued two opinions in the case: Morales v. United States (Morales I) on March 26, 2018 and Morales v. United States (Morales II) on January 2, 2019.  Both opinions are marked “Not for Publication.”  They are not, however, marked “Not for Blogging”!  That’s a good thing because they actually make for a good basic lesson about the scope and limits of §7433.  You will find the lesson below the fold.

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January 14, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Cheeky' Way To Avoid The Fraud Penalty

Tax Court (2017)Courts and commentators often tout the voluntary nature of the United States tax system.  In one sense, the claim is true.  The tax determination process ultimately rests on taxpayers disclosing their financial affairs and paying what they owe---through withholding or otherwise---without overt government compulsion.  It is voluntary just like stopping one's car at a red light---at midnight with no traffic---is voluntary.  It takes each citizen's disciplined self-enforcement of the legal duty to keep both the tax and transportation systems running smoothly.

But saying the system is voluntary is also misleading.  The discipline of self-reporting and payment cannot be divorced from the constant coercive threat of discovery and the resulting civil or criminal sanctions.  It's Bentham’s Panopticon.  Congress weaves together civil and criminal penalties to enforce the legal duties to report and pay taxes.  It leaves the ever unpopular IRS to swing the net.  By my count, Chapter 68 of the Tax Code contains 48 separate civil penalty provisions to catch out taxpayers.

Today’s lesson concerns the §6663 fraud penalty.  On December 26, 2018, the Tax Court issued its opinion in Richard C. Mathews v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2018-212.  The decision was a holiday gift to a pro se taxpayer who was contesting deficiencies (and fraud penalties) assessed well after the normal three year limitation period had expired.  The IRS relied on the fraud exception in §6501(c)(1) but was unable to convince Judge Vasquez that the taxpayer had the necessary fraudulent intent.  This was likely a surprising result to the IRS because the taxpayer had: (1) lied to IRS agents; (2) massively unreported gross receipts for the two years at issue and many years before that; and (3) been convicted of the §7206 crime of subscribing to false tax returns for the years at issue.  To find out how the taxpayer dodged the fraud penalty bullet, read on.

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January 7, 2019 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Taxpayers Behaving Badly

TTax Court (2017)his will be my last Lesson From The Tax Court for 2018.  Exam-grading season has started and I need every hour to give student exams the time and attention they deserve.  I will emerge from the flood of exams by January 4th and so my next Lesson will likely appear on Monday, January 7th.  Writing these blog posts is loads of fun and I appreciate the opportunity Paul has given me for sharing my thoughts with you.

For my last Lesson this year, I have saved some cases that I think will make your head shake in disbelief (SMH in text parlance).  Sometimes such cases teach a useful lesson, such as the one where the taxpayer took over $100,000 in charitable deductions over several years by using the original prices of clothing she bought on clearance.  That taught a useful lesson about valuation and about substantiation, so I blogged it here.

The cases today are simply object lessons.  Practitioners probably don’t need this lesson.  But still, it may be useful to be reminded that there are perfectly ordinary people out there---folks you might well enjoy spending the holidays with or who might make a marvelous mincemeat pie---who are either so overconfident or greedy when it comes to taxes that they end up being an object lesson for the rest of us.  So as you read about the following cases, I invite you to consider whether these taxpayers (and sometimes their attorneys) were unlucky, overconfident, greedy or something else, and whether, but for the grace of God, it could have been you or one of your clients?

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December 3, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, November 26, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: NOD Reprints Are Not Copies, But May Still Trigger Presumption Of Correctness

Tax Court (2017)One of the challenges of administering the tax laws to hundreds of millions of taxpayers is recordkeeping.  Since the 1960’s the IRS has increasingly met this challenge by computerizing its systems of records. As a consequence, it often no longer keeps paper copies of important documents but instead relies on accurate recordation of those documents in its computerized system of accounts.  For example, when the IRS sends out a Notice of Deficiency (NOD), an IRS employee inputs data to reflect the content of the NOD and inputs to reflect the issuance of the NOD.  If a taxpayer (or representative) later wants to see what was in that particular NOD, the IRS can re-print the content of that NOD but does so on a new form.  That’s not a copy.  It’s a reprint.

The difference between a copy and a reprint was an important to last week’s case of Jeffrey D. Gregory v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2018-192 (Nov. 20, 2018).  There, Mr. Gregory contested the Office of Appeals’ CDP determination that the IRS had taken the proper administrative steps to assess his 2009 tax liability.  In particular, Mr. Gregory argued that because the IRS was unable to produce an actual copy of the actual NOD it actually sent him, the Office of Appeals could not credibly verify that the IRS had properly sent the NOD.  The IRS argued that its computer records created all the evidence necessary for the Court to apply a strong presumption of correctness that the NOD existed and had been properly mailed.

Judge Halpern’s careful and thorough opinion is well worth your time, but in case you have too much holiday shopping yet to do, today’s blog will give you the short of it.  The takeaway lesson  here is that the IRS does not have to have an actual copy of an NOD to show it complied with administrative requirements, so long as it has sufficient other evidence to trigger a strong  presumption of correctness the courts give to IRS records.

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November 26, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Counting The Days

Tax Court (2017)As a young child I counted the days to Christmas starting December 1st, using advent calendars.  As I grew older, advertisements taught me that not all days were equal; one counted “shopping days” differently than calendar days.  As I now grow old, the Christmas season starts the day after Halloween, briefly tolled by days around Thanksgiving. 

Counting days is important in tax law, both for substance (e.g. figuring holding periods, allocating expenses between business days and personal days) and procedure (e.g. applying limitation periods).  Fortunately, how one counts days in tax has not changed much since I was a child.  So the lesson we find in last week’s case of Randy Richardson and Melisa Richardson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-189 (Nov. 13, 2018), should stick with us for a while. 

Richardson involves a married couple who filed a CDP petition contesting NFTLs filed against them.  Shortly after filing their CDP petition they filed a bankruptcy petition and received a discharge.  When the IRS denied CDP relief, the Richardsons sought Tax Court review, arguing that the IRS did not correctly account for the discharge they got in bankruptcy.  They ended up before Judge Lauber.  The resulting lesson is how counting days can be important to resolving the question of what taxes the IRS can later collect.  Even more important, it’s a lesson on when NOT to use CDP, but to instead request an “Equivalent Hearing.”  Details below the fold.  You can count on it.

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November 19, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Hotel California Rule

Tax Court (2017)I love classic rock from the 70’s. Not just for all the great music, but for the way that the bands help me teach tax. For example, Fleetwood Mac teaches a lesson about §162 deductions for uniforms. I know, I know, you would think that lesson would come from the Village People, but it was Stevie Nicks who filed a petition in Tax Court after the IRS disallowed her deduction for stage clothing.

The Eagles’ classic “Hotel California” provides an excellent way to think about Tax Court procedure, as we can learn from the recent case of Daniel Sadek v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-174 (Oct. 16, 2018).  In that case, the Tax Court dismissed as untimely Mr. Sadek’s 2017 petition contesting a 2011 NOD that the IRS had sent Mr. Sadek. The NOD was for $25 million and Mr. Sadek has not yet had a day in court to contest that amount. Oh, sure, he can sue for a refund but only if he fully pays the deficiency.  Flora v. United States, 362 U.S. 145 (1960). He could also file bankruptcy and ask the bankruptcy court to determine his tax liability under its powers in 11 U.S.C. §505. But Mr. Sadek’s best hope might come in a CDP hearing. That is what I want to explore in this post.

I think this case teaches a lesson about the relationship between the Tax Court’s deficiency jurisdiction and its CDP jurisdiction. The question is whether Mr. Sadek, who has now lost in Tax Court, will be able to contest the merits of the $25 million in a CDP hearing.  To answer that question, we need to understand the Hotel California rule and how it affects a taxpayer’s ability to turn what is ostensibly a hearing about collection into a hearing about tax liability.

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November 12, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Last Known Address Rules Apply To The Rich And Famous Too

Tax Court (2017)The rich really are different, and not just because they don't cut coupons.  It often seems that they escape the rules that apply to the rest of us.  Thus, there is understandable fascination when rich bad actors get a comeuppance.  That is probably why so many folks blogged last week's decision about Wesley Snipes, where the Tax Court found that the Office of Appeals did not abuse its discretion in rejecting Snipes' OIC that would pay less than 4% of his $23.5 million tax liability.  "Tax Girl" Kelly Erb put up this terrific post if you want the salacious details.

Today I want to look at a different bad actor, one just as rich as Snipes, albeit a bit less famous.  The recent case of Daniel Sadek v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-174 (Oct. 16, 2018), raises the question of whether the IRS is entitled to rely upon its records when sending an NOD to a rich and famous taxpayer who “everyone knew” had fled to Lebanon to ride out an FBI investigation.

In 2011 the IRS sent Mr. Sadek an NOD for over $25 million in tax deficiencies for the year 2005 and 2006.  Mr. Sadek did not file his Tax Court petition until 2017.  The IRS moved to dismiss because, it said, the petition was filed way after the expiration of the §6212 period to petition the Tax Court.  Mr. Sadek also moved to dismiss because, he said, the NOD was not sent to his last known address.  The IRS had sent the NOD to an address Mr. Sadek had left long before 2011.

The Tax Court indeed dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.  But since the Tax Court might lack jurisdiction either because of an IRS screw-up (not properly sending the NOD) or because of a taxpayer screw-up (not timely filing a petition) it is important to understand which party messed up and why.

The case teaches a useful lesson about when and how the IRS can rely on its own records in order to meet the last known address requirement.  I think Judge Goeke here got the right result, but I do question how he got there and so I offer what I (oh so modestly) believe is a better path.

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November 5, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: When Payments To A Pastor Are Not Gifts

Tax Court (2017)I don’t think Jesus ever charged for his services.  Jesus instead lived off of gifts.  Sure, some gifts got him in trouble, such as when Mary gave him expensive perfume and his followers complained he should have sold it to raise money for the poor. See John 12:1-8 (dramatized in this clip from Jesus Christ, Superstar).  But mostly Jesus worked off a sandal-strap budget.  He trusted in the generosity of those he encountered on the way. 

Modern preachers usually take a salary for their services.  Churches systematically solicit money from their congregation, both during each worship service and by encouraging yearly pledges.  And the main component of at least most Protestant church budgets (at least based on my experience) is personnel costs, the largest one being compensation for the pastor or minister. 

But modern preachers can receive gifts as well.  And while salary is taxable, gifts are not, thanks to §102.  The question becomes when are payments salary and when are they gifts?  In the recent case of Wayne R. Felton and Deondra J. Felton v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-168 (Oct. 10, 2018), Judge Holmes teaches a great lesson how to answer that question. 

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October 29, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The TFRP Trap For Accommodating Payroll Service Providers

Tax Court (2017)In last week's blog post about Loveland v. Commissioner, we learned that declining the opportunity to go to Appeals for a post-assessment hearing did not bar the taxpayer from raising the non-appealed issue in a later CDP hearing.  This was good for the taxpayer because the declined hearing was non-reviewable whereas the CDP hearing was reviewable (albeit lightly) by the Tax Court.  And we all clapped when the Tax Court remanded the case to Appeals to properly consider the OIC issue and gave Appeals some guidance on how to do that. The Tax Court thought that lesson so important that it made Loveland a reviewed opinion.

This week gives a contrasting lesson.  The contrast will not have you clapping.  This week's case involves the more common lesson that that a pre-assessment opportunity for a hearing with Appeals does indeed preclude the taxpayer from raising the issue in a later CDP hearing.  So it is not a reviewed opinion.  But I also see a second lesson here, about exposure to the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (TFRP).  I see this case as one about a Payroll Service Provider who went too far in accommodating her client's needs and thereby exposed herself to the TFRP, perhaps needlessly.   This lesson may make you put you hands together, but more likely in prayer for your clients who are in the business of providing payroll services. 

The case is Joanna Kane v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-122 (Aug. 6, 2018), and the details, as usual, lie below the fold.  

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October 22, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Using CDP To Stop The Collection Train

Tax Court (2017)I am not a fan of the Collection Due Process (CDP) provisions Congress stuffed into the Code in 1998.  I call them “Collection Delay Process.”  It’s not that I favor taxpayer abuse!  But I think the source of abuse is rarely bad-acting IRS employees.  Bulk processing is generally the culprit.  The combination of computer-processing and over-whelmed employees creates an assessment process that runs over taxpayers who do not understand how to stop it or slow it down and who cannot afford to hire lawyers to do that for them.  And then, the end of that assessment process starts the engine of the collection train.  CDP is designed to keep the train from going down the wrong collection track before it leaves the station.  But CDP is a badly designed mechanism.  That was my conclusion in 2009, after I studied almost 1,000 CDP cases.  I have seen nothing in the past 10 years to change my mind.  

Those who disagree with me point to cases like the one I’m blogging about today: James Loveland Jr., and Tina C. Loveland v. Commissioner, 151 T.C. No. 7 (Sept. 25, 2018), a reviewed decision written by Judge Buch.  This is one of the rare cases where the Tax Court found that the IRS had abused its discretion in deciding to proceed with collection.  Here it looks like CDP prevented the collection train from running over the Lovelands.  The case provides a good lesson for what works, and what does not work, about CDP.  Keith Fogg also has a good post on this case over at Procedurally Taxing, explaining why it is a reviewed opinion.

The case is also an interesting lesson about Tax Court Procedure.  While the case is ostensibly a ruling on an IRS motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Buch effectively grants Summary Judgment to the taxpayers...who never asked for it.  This disposition—while sensible enough---is apparently an unwritten rule of Tax Court procedure.  At least I did not see a rule.  Nothing in 121.  Maybe I missed it.  But I think the Court is silently borrowing from Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56.

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October 15, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: When Non-Receipt Of An IRS Notice Matters

Tax Court (2017)In 2015, Congress added what is commonly called the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” to the Tax Code.  Currently codified in §7803(a)(3), it lays upon the IRS Commissioner the duty to ensure that IRS employees “are familiar with and act in accord with taxpayer rights as afforded by other provisions of this title.”  Section 7803(a)(3) then lists 10 (natch!) rights including “the right to be informed” and “the right to appeal a decision of the Internal Revenue Service in an independent forum.”  I wonder whether the person who drafted that last quoted language, or any of the folks who reviewed it, discussed whether it makes any grammatical sense for one to “appeal...in” a forum?  

Putting aside the grammatical question, readers might well question the impact of these rights on IRS operations.  The recent case of Paul T. Venable, II v. Commissioner, T. C. Memo. 2018-144 (Sept. 10, 2018), suggests an answer for the two rights I quoted above: the right to be informed and the right to appeal an IRS decision to an independent forum.  It teaches a lesson about the rare situation where the lack of actual receipt of an IRS notice can be important to a taxpayer’s ability to get judicial review of an IRS decision.  But the lesson does not come from the language in §7803(a)(3).  Nope, the lesson comes from language in “other provisions” in the Code, notably the CDP provisions in §6330(c).

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October 1, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Substantial Substantiation Rules In §170

Tax Court (2017)The great philosopher George Carlin understands the problem of stuff.  My wife and I have too much stuff.  My wife, however, hates yard sales.  And we cannot afford a bigger house.  So we give a lot of stuff away. 

When Congress ratcheted up the substantiation requirements for deducting non-cash charitable contributions in 1993, we stopped giving to Goodwill.  That is because Goodwill did not change their pre-printed receipt form to say the now-required magic language “no goods or services were given in exchange for this donation.”  While some of our donations were below the $250 threshold, the aggregate value of our donations of similar items regularly exceeded that amount.  I remember one year I had to go up several layers of management to even get a letter with that language sent to me before I could file my taxes.  So we now favor other charities.

I was not just being picky in wanting a proper contemporaneous receipt, as the recent case of Estelle C. Grainger v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-117 (July 30, 2018) demonstrates.  The taxpayer there was massively confused about the basic valuation rules for donations of property.  That’s one lesson here.  But I think another important lesson in this case is just how difficult the substantiation rules in §170 can be for substantial amounts of non-cash charitable contributions.  It was certainly an eye-opener for me, particularly the lesson about Form 8283.

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September 24, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (10)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: No Stopping The Perpetual Debate About Conservation Easements

Tax Court (2017)The recent case of Harbor Lofts Associates, Crowninshield Corporation, Tax Matters Partner v. Commissioner, 151 T.C. No. 3 (Aug. 27, 2018) teaches yet another lesson on the importance of the perpetuity requirements when claiming a charitable deduction for the donation of a conservation easement. Last October I blogged about another conservation easement case, Palmolive Building Investors v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. No. 18 (Oct. 10, 2017). I did not get into the substance of the law in that blog, but instead focused on the Golsen rule and why the Tax Court needed to put its best analytical foot forward. I referred readers to Peter Reilly’s great blog post on Palmolive for the substance.

I encourage readers who don't know the Golsen rule to review the Golsen post, because Harbor Lofts is a case that the taxpayers may appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. That is important because it’s the First Circuit who disagreed with the Tax Court’s position regarding the subordination requirement at issue in Palmolive. While today’s case involves a different part of the perpetuity requirement (and so there is no First Circuit precedent to bind the Tax Court), the Tax Court is again agreeing with the IRS in reading the perpetuity requirement strictly, this time finding that a long-term lease is not sufficient to meet the perpetuity requirements. If the Tax Court’s opinion is appealed to the First Circuit, the First Circuit may decide to take the same liberal interpretation of the perpetuity requirement as it did in Kaufman v. Shulman, 687 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2012), the case that was like Palmolive.

Today’s post will therefore comment on the Tax Court’s approach to interpreting the perpetuity requirements for conservation easements.  Long story short, I agree with it.  The First Circuit’s liberal approach, while understandable, is wrong.  This post will explain why. To do so, I will have to dip into the substantive law with the caveat, as always, that what I say is subject to correction from alert readers who know this area better than I do.  In particular, I will doubtless expose my ignorance by asking why the taxpayers did not structure the donation differently.  It was likely for a reason that I just cannot see.  The fun starts below the fold. 

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September 10, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Scholarship, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Power Of The Form 872 Waiver

Tax Court (2017)This past week I learned a lesson about partnership tax returns from the case of Inman Partners, RCB Investments, LLC, Tax Matters Partner, v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-114 (July 23, 2018).  Partnership taxation is definitely out of my comfort zone, so I am quite grateful for the help of my colleagues on the double-super-secret-tax-profs-rule-the-world listserv that Paul Caron started back in 1995, shortly after the internet got its graphical interface.  They got me straight on some terminology and sent me off reading some cool stuff.  Still, readers may well spot error, and if you do, please give a correction in the comments.  I am especially hesitant when I think I spot an error in a Tax Court opinion as I did here.  I know full well the error could be mine.

Inman is a case where the partners, but not the partnership, had signed a Form 872 waiver for their 2000 tax year.  The IRS issued a FPAA to Inman Partners.  Inman petitioned the Tax Court and it’s argument was a procedural one: the FPAA was too late because it was issued more than three years after the due date of the Partnership Return.  In response the IRS said “Hey, we got these here waivers!”  Inman said: “those were just signed by the individual partners and were not signed by the partnership and so they cannot waive the limitation period for the FPAA against the Partnership.”   

Judge Holmes held that the language in the Form 872 was strong enough to also waive the limitation on assessment for the related partnership for an earlier tax period.  It might be, however, that the language worked only because of the statutory scheme then in place for partnership audits.  Congress nuked that scheme in the December 2017 tax reform legislation.  Does Inman give us any insights on whether the Form 872 language still works?  For a quick swim through the murky waters of partnership procedure, I invite you to dive below the fold. 

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July 30, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Naked Assessments!

Tax Court (2017)The Notice of Deficiency (NOD) is almost always clothed with a presumption of correctness. Some might say “cloaked” or “shrouded” are a better terms because what the presumption does is shield all that happened prior to the NOD from judicial scrutiny. Courts will generally not go behind the NOD to examine how the IRS came up with its numbers unless and until the taxpayer gives the court a good reason to disbelieve the NOD (or successfully invokes §7491(a), the provision that shifts the burden of production from the taxpayer to the IRS).

It is easy to apply the presumption of correctness in situations where the NOD is simply denying deductions or exclusions. That is because the taxpayer already bears the burden of proving an entitlement to deductions and exclusions. So if the taxpayer cannot come up with the proof, then too bad, so sad.

It is more difficult to apply the presumption in situations where the NOD asserts that the taxpayer failed to report gross income. In that situation, the IRS must have some basis for the assertion of omitted income. That is, the presumption of correctness does not allow the IRS to just make up numbers. In the seminal case of United States v. Janis, 428 U.S. 433 (1976), the Supreme Court said that “where the assessment is shown to be naked and without any foundation” then the burden shifts to the IRS to show facts that link the taxpayer to the alleged omitted income. I really love the delightfully mixed metaphor the Fifth Circuit used in Carson v. Commissioner, 560 F.2d 693, 696 (5th Cir. 1977): "The tax collector's presumption of correctness has a herculean muscularity of Goliath-like reach, but we strike an Achilles' heel when we find no muscles, no tendons, no ligaments of fact."

Two recent Tax Court cases teach a lesson on what “ligaments of fact” suffice to prevent an NOD from being “naked and without any foundation.” In both of these omitted income cases, the IRS was able to produce enough facts to get back the presumption, but in very different ways. The cases are: Gerald Nelson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-95 (June 28, 2018); and Mohammad Najafpir v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-103 (July 3, 2018).

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July 9, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The One Return Rule

Tax Court (2017)Sometimes I get irritated. When I do I speak in short sentences. Really short. So when I read Judge Buch’s opinion in the recent case of Gary Gaskin and Jessie Gaskin v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-89 (June 20, 2018), I was struck by his frequent use of short sentences. Really short. Kinda like he was really irritated. And why wouldn’t he be? Mr. Gaskin had filed admittedly fraudulent tax returns but now wanted to contest the fraud penalties! Mr. Gaskin thought he should escape fraud penalties because he had later filed amended returns that had, in his view, cured the fraud.  Judge Buch's opinion teaches an important lesson we should all learn. I call it the “one return rule.” It’s a short lesson. You will find it below the fold.

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July 2, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: A Haunting

Tax Court (2017)Four cases from the last couple of weeks illustrate the continued fallout from the Tax Court’s recent about-face in its reading of §6751(b)(1). Graev v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. No. 23 (Dec. 20, 2017)(commonly called Graev III because it was the Tax Court’s third published opinion regarding Mr. Graev’s case). The good folks at Procedurally Taxing have been following Graev III’s impact here, here and here (to name a few). These four cases add a new wrinkle.

In all four cases, the Service had failed to produce evidence in the initial trial that it had complied with §6751(b)(1). And for good reason. All four cases had gone to trial before the Court issued its opinion in Graev III. At the time of trial the Tax Court’s fully reviewed position on §6751(b)(1) was that consideration of penalty approval was premature when contesting an NOD.

In all four cases the Service asked the Tax Court to re-open the record to allow it to introduce the theretofore-unrequired-but-now-required evidence. The cases were heard by three different Tax Court judges. In two cases, the Court allowed the record to be reopened and in two cases the Court refused. Taken together, the cases illustrate how the fallout from the Tax Court’s Graev decision continues to elevate procedure over substance. As a result, similarly situated taxpayers receive very different outcomes based both on which IRS attorneys work the cases, what information the attorneys have, perhaps most importantly, which Tax Court judge decides. Four cases, three judges, two opposing outcomes, all in one discussion, waiting for you below the fold.

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June 4, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Reach Of Equity

Tax Court (2017)Justice Holmes famously said that people “must turn square corners when they deal with the government.” It is no coincidence that he said that in this 1920 tax case. Tax law has many sharp corners that frustrate both taxpayers and the IRS alike. For an example of where the sharp corners of procedure caused the IRS to lose a $10 million assessment, see Philadelphia-Reading Corp. v. Beck, 676 F.2d 1159 (3rd Cir. 1982).

But equity can sand down some of those sharp corners. Last week's post looked at the innocent spouse case of the Commie L. Minton a.k.a. Connie L. Keeney v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-15 (Feb. 5, 2018). That case illustrated how Congress had inserted a statutory command for the IRS and the Tax Court to use equity to relieve a spouse of an otherwise jointly owed liability. This week, the case of Emery Celli Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady, P.C. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-55 (Apr. 24, 2018), teaches another lesson about equity in the Tax Law. Here, there is no Congressional command to use equity. Instead, the Tax Court uses a long-standing principle of equity created and apply by the courts. It is called equitable recoupment.

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May 14, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: The Role Of Equity

Tax Court (2017)For various reasons that legal historians can drone on about for hours, the United States legal system started out in 1789 as not one system of courts but two systems of courts. One was system was made up of courts of law, staffed by folks with titles like “Judge” or “Justice.”  The other system was made up of courts of equity, staffed by folks with titles like “Chancellor” or “Vice Chancellor.”  The basic idea was that each system had its own set of powers and you could only get to the equity courts if the law courts lacked the power to give you the relief you sought.

This was a really awkward relationship and a constant source of embarrassment and confusion.  The great legal historian F. W. Maitland put it this way in his 1910 Lectures On Equity:  “I do not think that any one has expounded or ever will expound equity as a single, consistent system, an articulate body of law.  It is a collection of appendixes between which there is no very close connection.”  (p. 19)  And in this 1913 law review article, Professor Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld discussed the difficulty of teaching equity as a system of rules separate from legal rules.

One awkwardness was that often the same individual would wear both hats.  For example, you might file an action at law and have proceedings before the “Judge” sitting as a court of law.  The Judge had power to award damages but did not have power to order depositions.  So you would need to file a completely separate proceeding in equity, seeking a “Bill of Discovery” from the Vice Chancellor because the Vice Chancellor had the power to order depositions (but had no power to award damages).  But you would file that in the same building and be heard by the same individual. So one day the “Judge” would say “I have no power to order discovery” but the next day the very same individual, sitting as “Vice Chancellor,” would suddenly have the power to grant your Bill.

I tell you all this because although the two systems have been merged in federal courts since 1938 (although some states, such as Delaware and Mississippi, keep the two systems separate) federal judges still tend to compartmentalize the two.  The Tax Court in particular has wrestled with the role of equity from its inception.  Two recent Tax Court cases teach useful lessons about the role of equity in Tax Court proceedings.  This week I will look at the innocent spouse case of the Connie L. Minton a.k.a. Connie L. Keeney v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-15 (Feb. 5, 2018).  Next week I will discuss the very interesting case of Emery Celli Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady, P.C. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2018-55 (Apr. 24, 2018), a case that will introduce us to the doctrine of equitable recoupment.

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May 7, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 9, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: One Year At A Time

Tax Court (2017)

Last week the Tax Court issued 19 opinions, including one articulate opinion on Collection Due Process that teaches an interesting, albeit esoteric, lesson about the bulk-processing nature of tax administration.  I will save that case, Scott T. Blackburn, v. Commissioner, 150 T.C. No. 9, for another week, or perhaps our colleagues over at Procedurally Taxing will blog it.

In today’s post I want to look at two of last week’s opinions that I think teach a more basic lesson about the important way in which each tax year is separate from all others.  The two cases are: (1) Shane Havener and Amy E. Costa v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2018-17 (Apr. 4, 2018); and (2) Gary K. Sherman and Gwendolyn L. Sherman v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2018-15 (Apr. 2, 2018). 

Notice that both of these are what are called “Summary” Opinions.  That means the taxpayer in each one elected the small case procedures allowed by IRC §7463 and implemented by Tax Court Rules 170 et. seq.  As most readers no doubt know, the upside of that election is relaxed procedural rules (notably rules of evidence) and the downside is that the loser may not appeal to a higher court.  The idea is that these are cases where the dispute between the taxpayer and the IRS is really one about factual matters and not about the law. That is why when you access these cases through the Tax Court website, the website pops up the following message in all-caps: “Pursuant To Internal Revenue Code Section 7463(b), This Opinion May Not Be Treated As Precedent For Any Other Case.” 

The very reason why these cases make for lousy precedent, however, is why they often make for good lessons about basic tax concepts.  The lesson I see in these two cases is about the appropriate accounting period, a particularly timely lesson this week since April 16th (the deadline for filing returns this year since April 15th falls on a Sunday) is right around the proverbial corner. 

To economists, the most accurate accounting period is one’s lifetime.  That is, the best measure of income is what happens over our lifetime.  But because governments need revenue sooner, because not all taxpayers die (think corporations), and because even if tax revenue would even out in the long, long, long run, the transition costs to a lifetime accounting period would be untenable, Congress created a yearly accounting period for income tax (and shorter accounting periods for excise taxes such as the employment tax). 

That yearly period ends on December 31st for most of us mere mortals.  The yearly questions we ask are “how much income did I have during the last year?” and “what expenditures did I make that I can deduct from the income I made?”  The point of today's lesson is that we must ask those questions every year and just because we get a wrong answer in one year does not entitle us to continue using that wrong answer in later years. 

More below the fold.

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April 9, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Underwater Debtors

Tax Court (2017)Last week’s lesson was about the tax consequences to the borrower when the lender cancels the debt. This week’s case looks at the other side of the transaction to teach a lesson about what constitutes debt. Section 166 allows a lender who gives up trying to get back borrowed money to deduct the bad debt, effectively treating current income as a return of the lost capital. Similarly, a lender who sells debt to a third party for less than basis can calculate a loss under §1001 and may be able to treat that loss as a long-term capital loss.

But to have either a bad debt under §166 or a loss under §1001, there must be a “debt” in the first place. That is the lesson from last week’s case of Michael J. Burke and Jane S. Burke v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-18. There, the taxpayer attempted to take both long-term and short-term capital losses in 2010 and 2011 through a mix of §166 deductions and claimed capital losses from sale of debt at less than basis. The alleged bad debts arose in connection with a scuba diving business in Belize. On audit, the IRS disallowed the deductions, creating a deficiency in taxes totaling some $444,000. The dispute was whether the Burkes had “debt” to lose. Judge Holmes’ opinion does a deep dive into the meaning of “debt” and shows why the taxpayer’s arguments here were all wet. If you think I’ve gone overboard in my water metaphors, Judge Holmes’ opinion is drenched with them. Makes for a splashy opinion.

More below the fold.

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February 26, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Arguments Are Not Evidence

Tax Court (2017)One common error my students make is to confuse asserting an argument with supporting the argument. For example, a student on my Civil Procedure exam might write “We will argue that the Plaintiff’s domicile is in Texas and not Oklahoma.” That sentence tells me only that an argument exists. It does not support the argument with an explanation about why Plaintiff’s domicile might be thought to be in Texas. I try to teach my students they must connect assertions with the evidence necessary to show why the assertions are true. So I feel like a failure when I read exam answers like that. I think most profs have similar feelings when grading.

Lawyers sometimes make a similar error when representing clients in court: they make assertions and even spin a plausible story, but neglect to support those assertions or the story with credible evidence. To be fair, sometimes an attorney has no choice: the client may simply not have provided the needed information, and the attorney must nonetheless argue something! But arguments are not evidence.

Last week’s decision in Brandon Brown and Christi Cloaninger Brown v. Commissioner, T.C. Sum. Op. 2018-6 (Feb. 5, 2018), teaches this lesson. Sure, it’s “just” an S case, but even if those cases are not formal precedent, they can still teach valuable lessons. Here, the case is also a nice illustration of when it makes sense to use the §7463 Small Case procedures and how the burden shift in §7491(a) can sometimes actually be important.

I’ll consider each lesson below the fold.

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February 12, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Forms Follow Function In Return Filing

Montana Road SignLaw is often a mixture of form and function.  Formalist rules help create order and certainty but sometimes do so at the expense of justice and meaning.  Discerning and following the function or purpose of the law may create juster outcomes but sometimes does so at the expense of certainty.  All can agree that there is a time and a place for each mode of analysis, but the devil is in the details. 

The speed limit sign to the right illustrates the difference.  It's a sign you might have encountered driving through Montana up until 1999 when the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the "reasonable & prudent" rule was unconstitutionally vague.  It gives two rules for drivers:  a bright-line night rule that you may not drive faster than 65 mph and a fuzzy day rule that gives no set speed limit but just says you may not drive unreasonably or imprudently. 

In applying the speed limit sign, formalists and functionalist might disagree on when the night rule applies. A formalist might look to the dictionary definition of night as the period between sunset and sunrise and so apply the night rule at the minute after sunset. But a functionalist might say that the purpose of the night rule is to set a limit when night-time conditions make it presumptively unsafe to drive faster. So a functionalist might not apply the night rule until later after sunset, and might also apply it during the “day” when a weather event, such as a haboob or an eclipse, creates sufficiently night-like conditions. Of course, formalist thinkers might disagree among themselves if they use different dictionary definitions of “night."  Likewise, functionalist thinkers might disagree among themselves if they have different ideas about the purpose of the night rule.

Last week’s reviewed opinion Melissa Coffey Hulett a.k.a. Melissa Coffey, et al v. Commissioner, 150 T.C. No. 4 (January 20th, 2018) is a case where the Tax Court takes a largely functional approach to IRC §6501(a) statute of limitations on assessment and yet the functionalists on the Court disagree with each other about the proper outcome.  Section 6501(a) says that the IRS has a period of three years “after the return was filed” to assess “any tax imposed by this title.” The opinion for the Court, authored by Judge Holmes, is a mix of formalism and functionalism, using the passive voice in the statutory language as an opening to implement one important purpose of §6501: closure. A concurring opinion by Judge Thornton gives a more robustly functionalist view, resting entirely on the closure purpose of the statute.  And a spirited dissent, authored by Chief Judge Marvel, also presents a functionalist analysis but one that focuses on a different purpose of the statute to come to a different outcome in the case.

What I find particularly interesting about this case is how all three approaches seem to be inconsistent with the Tax Court’s approach to interpreting the §6501(c) exception to §6501(a)’s general three year rule. That statute presents a similar question of statutory interpretation but all of the opinions in last week’s case are contrary to the Tax Court’s rationale in Allen v. Commissioner, 128 T.C. 37 (2007).

Details below the fold.

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February 5, 2018 in Bryan Camp, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Lesson From The Tax Court: Treasury Regulations And The APA

Tax Court (2017)No doubt there is a lot of dirty bathwater in the Treasury Regulations, codified in title 26 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The upside of the current administration’s anti-regulation focus is that it is allows Treasury to prioritize scrubbing unneeded regulations. Treasury reported on its progress in October noting that “the IRS Office of Chief Counsel has already identified over 200 regulations for potential revocation, most of which have been outstanding for many years.”

To be sure, it’s a small upside. Some regulations become outdated because they are simply overtaken by statutory changes. For example, Treas. Reg. 1.217-2(b)(1) allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of meals when moving to start a new job. That was fine under the statute Congress originally enacted in 1969, but it became obsolete when Congress modified the statute in 1986 to specifically disallow meal expenses as a deductible item. And now, of course, Congress has repealed the moving expense deduction entirely, but the regulations will still be there.

Other regulations become outdated because of societal change. My favorite example is former Treas. Reg. 1.162-6 which started off this way: “A professional man may claim as deductions the cost of supplies used by him....” To modern eyes, that regulation obviously denied deductions to taxpayers not in the trade or business of being a “professional man” ...such as anyone who was only a man as a hobby and not as profession. Think Victor, Victoria. Treasury nuked that reg in 2011.

The scrubbing effort carries a small upside because outdated regulations generally do little harm. I tell my students that is why you have to read the actual statutory language first. In real life, of course, tax practitioners rely on the commercial services like BNA, CCH or RIA to summarize the rules and those services keep current. Taxpayers reporting their 2017 taxes are unlikely be blindsided by the moving regulations into trying to deduct meal expenses in a move. Likewise, taxpayers reporting their 2018 taxes are unlikely to try and deduct moving expenses at all, much less in reliance on the regulations.

But the focus on throwing out the bathwater presents an obvious danger to the baby. The ham-fisted 2-for-1 requirement of Executive Order 13711 is not just focused, it’s myopic. Another danger is posed by the myopic thinking that the word “regulation” has the same meaning for all agencies and that the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) applies in lock-step to all agencies. Both myopias ignore the vast difference in purpose of regulations issued by different agencies.

Last week’s Tax Court opinion in SIH Partners LLLP, et al. v. Commissioner, 150 T.C. No. 3, January nicely illustrates the purpose and use of tax regulations. In it, the taxpayer tried to invalidate a 45 year old regulation for failing to meet APA requirements. The Tax Court has a nice opinion applying the APA with sensitivity to the tax regulation process and suggests a clearer view of what makes tax regulations different from those of many other agencies.

More below the fold.

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January 22, 2018 in Bryan Camp, IRS News, New Cases, Tax, Tax Practice And Procedure | Permalink | Comments (2)