Friday, April 26, 2013

JCT Staff Report on Selected Tax Procedure and Administration Issues" (4/26/13)

This blog entry was just also posted on my Federal Tax Crimes Blog, here.

The Staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation has published "Present Law And Background Information Related To Selected Tax Procedure And Administration Issues" dated April 14, 2013, available here.

The three principal topics are (as presented):
I.  Background and Federal Tax Provisions and Practices Implicated in Identity Theft Fraud
II.  Authority to Regulate the Conduct of Paid Tax Return Preparers.
III. Civil Tax Penalties as a Factor in Voluntary Compliance.
I focus here on the last item -- Civil Tax Penalties as a Factor in Voluntary Compliance.  The subtopics are:
A. Civil Assessment Process
B. Civil Tax Penalties
Overview of penalties
Legislative and other history
Selected Issues Raised by Practitioner Groups and Others
The first first of these subtopics -- A. Civil Assessment Process -- is short and probably already known to readers of this blog.  Hence, I do not dwell upon that portion of the Report.  The first two divisions of the second subtopic - B. Civil Tax Penalties -- is probably also known to readers, hence I focus only on the last (Selected Issues) and quote it in its entirety (footnotes omitted), although it too is cryptic.
Whether penalties encourage voluntary compliance 
One criticism of the current regime is that many of the penalties which have been enacted, particularly over the past decade, seem to be designed for the purpose of raising revenue or punishing taxpayers rather than encouraging voluntary compliance. To support this assertion, practitioner groups and others have pointed to the strict liability penalty created under section 6662(b)(6) which imposes a penalty on transactions which lack economic substance and the strict liability penalty provided under section 6707A for failure to disclose reportable transactions. They argue that the lack of a reasonable cause defense under these provisions eliminates the opportunity, and the incentives, to remediate and to become compliant. Under section 6707A, for example, the penalty may be imposed even if the failure to disclose the transaction is not willful but instead inadvertent (perhaps because the taxpayer could not identify whether a transaction was a reportable transaction).

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Self-Proclaimed "Simple Man," "Utterly Uneducated" in Tax and Finance, but Still a Self-Made Multi-Millionaire Loses his Bullshit Tax Shelter Case (4/15/13)

JAT NOTE: This blog is the same as a blog posted earlier on my Federal Tax Crimes Blog.  See A Self-Proclaimed "Simple Man," "Utterly Uneducated" in Tax and Finance, but Still a Self-Made Multi-Millionaire Loses his Bullshit Tax Shelter Case (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 4/13/13), here.

In Kerman v. Commissioner, ___ F.3d ___, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7032 (6th Cir. 2013), here, the Sixth Circuit rejected the Kerman's claim for tax benefits or, at least, relief from penalties from a bullshit tax shelter, this one of the Cards variety that has met with uniform rejection from the courts.  I just gave you the final result.  But the opinion starts this way (usually you can tell the result from the opening):
A tax shelter can be legitimate — if the reported transaction has economic substance. But the shelter Mark Kerman participated in lacked such substance. The transaction had no purpose other than the creation of an income tax benefit. After Kerman claimed the benefit on his tax return, the IRS disallowed the deduction and imposed a valuation misstatement penalty pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6662(e), which was increased to 40 percent of the unpaid tax pursuant to § 6662(h). The tax court affirmed the IRS's decision. Kerman appeals, contending that the shelter was legitimate and that, even if it was not, the penalty should not be imposed. Because the transaction lacked economic substance and Kerman lacked reasonable cause or good faith to believe that it did, we AFFIRM.
Mark Kerman is a college-educated multi-millionaire.
Toward the end of the opinion another key signal dot is connected as follows:
Finally, Kerman argues, the tax court gave him too much credit. He's just a simple man, "utterly uneducated in the complex tax arena — let alone the more byzantine tax-shelter realm." Appellant's Br. 48. Consequently, he was forced to rely on personal advisors. And, he argues, his reliance was reasonable even if his advisors had conflicts of interest.
So, what should I say about the opinion?  Prudence and respect for my readers time counsels that I should not say anything except the bullet points from the case.  So, I won't.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Estate Did Not Have Reasonable Cause For Failure to Timely File Estate Tax Return (4/11/13)

My immediately preceding blog entry is titled Estate Had Reasonable Cause for Failure to Timely File Estate Tax Return Based on Attorney's Advice (4/6/13), here.  I now present a new decision with the opposite result.  In Knappe v. United States, 713 F.3d 1164 (9th Cir. 2013), here, the executor received erroneous advice from his expert accountant regarding the extended due date for filing the estate tax return.  The case appears closer to the leading decision in the Supreme Court's Boyle case (United States v. Boyle, 469 U.S. 241 (1985)) than the Estate of Liftin decision discussed in the preceding blog.  Hence, in Knappe, the Ninth Circuit applied the Boyle result -- i.e., no relief from the penalties.  Why?

In Knappe, the executor was advised by a tax accountant with whom he had dealt previously that the estate could file for an extension of time to file the estate tax return and pay the tax.  The executor authorized the accountant to file the extension.  The extension requested was for six-months additional time to file the return and one year discretionary additional time to pay.  The IRS granted the extensions as requested -- 6 months and one year respectively.  However, for some reason, the accountant believed he had requested a one-year extension for both.  The return was then filed after the 6-month extended due date but before the one-year period.  The IRS imposed the late filing penalty.

The Ninth Circuit first laid out the Code's background (footnote omitted):
An estate-tax return, Form 706, must be filed within nine months of the decedent's death. 26 U.S.C. § 6075(a); 26 C.F.R. § 20.6075-1. An executor may apply for an automatic six-month extension of time to file Form 706 by filing Form 4768 on or before the due date of the return and checking the appropriate box. 26 C.F.R. § 20.6081-1(b). While the IRS "may grant a reasonable extension of time for filing any return," "no such extension shall be for more than 6 months" except in the case of taxpayers who are abroad. 26 U.S.C. § 6081(a). 
Extensions of the deadline to pay the estate tax operate differently. Treasury Department regulations specify that the IRS may grant an extension of time to pay estate taxes, at the written request of the executor, "for a reasonable period of time, not to exceed 12 months." 26 C.F.R. § 20.6161-1(a)(1).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Estate Had Reasonable Cause for Failure to Timely File Estate Tax Return Based on Attorney's Advice (4/6/13)

In Estate of Morton Liftin v. United States, 110 Fed. Cl. 119 (2013), here, the Court of Federal Claims, Judge Miller, held that the estate's failure to timely file the estate tax return because it was waiting for the surviving spouse to obtain citizenship, thus qualifying  bequests to her for the marital deduction, constituted reasonable cause sufficient to prevent the application of the late filing penalty.  Readers who have only a passing familiarity with the Supreme Court's holding in United States v. Boyle, 469 U.S. 241 (1985) may think the holding inconsistent.  It is not, as the Judge Miller explained.  I quote the relevant portion of the opinion (some case, page citations and quotation marks omitted for readability):
To avoid a penalty for a late-filed return, the taxpayer bears the "heavy burden" of proving its failure to file timely was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. Boyle, 469 U.S. at 245 (citing I.R.C. § 6651(a)(1)). In order to prove "reasonable cause," a taxpayer must show that it "exercised 'ordinary business care and prudence' but nevertheless was 'unable to file the return within the prescribed time.'" "Willful neglect" requires a "conscious, intentional failure or reckless indifference." 
In Boyle, the Supreme Court observed that "[c]ourts have differed over whether a taxpayer demonstrates 'reasonable cause' when, in reliance on the advice of his accountant or attorney, the taxpayer files a return after the actual due date but within the time the adviser erroneously told him was available." The Court's decision in Boyle did not resolve those differences. The Court did state, however, that: 
When an accountant or attorney advises a taxpayer on a matter of tax law, such as whether a liability exists, it is reasonable for the taxpayer to rely on that advice. Most taxpayers are not competent to discern error in the substantive advice of an accountant or attorney. To require the taxpayer to challenge the attorney, to seek a "second opinion," or to try to monitor counsel on the provisions of the Code himself would nullify the very purpose of seeking the advice of a presumed expert in the first place. "Ordinary business care and prudence" do not demand such actions. 
By contrast, one does not have to be a tax expert to know that tax returns have fixed filing dates and that taxes must be paid when they are due. In short, tax returns imply deadlines. Reliance by a lay person on a lawyer is of course common; but that reliance cannot function as a substitute for compliance with an unambiguous statute. Among the first duties of the representative of a decedent's estate is to identify and assemble the assets of the decedent and to ascertain tax obligations. Although it is common practice for an executor to engage a professional to prepare and file an estate tax return, a person experienced in business matters can perform that task personally. It is not unknown for an executor to prepare tax returns, take inventories, and carry out other significant steps in the probate of an estate. It is even not uncommon for an executor to conduct probate proceedings without counsel.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Majority of Circuits Hold that the Bankruptcy Automatic Stay Does Not Apply to Tax Court Proceedings (4/5/13)

In Schoppe v. Commissioner, ___ F.3d ___, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 6266 (10th Cir. 2013), here, the Tenth Circuit held that the automatic stay provision in 31 U.S.C. § 362(a)(1), here, does not stay a Tax Court proceeding (including the appeal from the Tax Court involved in Schoppe).  In so doing, the Court discussed a circuit court split on the issue and sided with the majority of the circuits.  I commend the decision for its discussion of the competing authorities.

I have added the following to my Federal Tax Procedure Book (footnotes omitted):
2. The filing of bankruptcy will impose an automatic stay of: 
the commencement or continuation, including the issuance or employment of process, of a judicial, administrative, or other action or proceeding against the debtor that was or could have been commenced before the commencement of the case under this title, or to recover a claim against the debtor that arose before the commencement of the case under this title. 
The question has arisen whether this automatic stay applies to Tax Court proceedings.  The Circuit Courts are split on the issue based on differing interpretations of the nature of Tax Court proceedings with respect to the textual requirement that the stayed proceeding be a proceeding “against the debtor.”  Courts focusing on the taxpayer as the initiator of the Tax Court proceeding itself, hold that the Tax Court proceeding is not a case “against the debtor” and thus deny the stay.  This is the majority holding.  The Ninth Circuit, however, takes a broader view of the Tax Court case as being a continuation of a tax assessment proceeding commenced by the IRS against the debtor via the audit and imposes the stay.

The authorities cited in my footnotes (omitted here) are contained in the Schoppe decision linked above.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Transferee-of-Transferee Liability (4/4/13)

In Frank Sawyer Trust of May 1992 v. Commissioner, 712 F.3d 597 (1st Cir. 2013), here, the First Circuit recognized that something suspicious had gone on in the "Midco" transaction case.  The quintessential circumstance that give rise to the Midco transaction is a closely-held C corporation that has sold all of its appreciated assets at a substantial gain, thus having only cash and a potential tax liability coming due at the end of the year.  For example, assume a sale of a $150,000,000 asset with $100,000,000 gain arising from the sale.  Assume a tax liability that likely would arise from the sale of $20,000,000.  The net value of the corporation is $130,000,000 -- i.e., $150,000,000 cash (the net sales proceeds) less $20,000,000 tax.  The shareholders can realize that value  by liquidating the corporation after paying the tax.  Or they can sell the stock to a third party who, logically, would be willing to pay only $130,000,000 because that is all the buyer would realize by taking the cash out of the corporation, provided that the corporate level tax were paid.  I am sure readers see an opening here.  What if the buyer could do something to cause the corporation to pay less tax? Then so long as the buyer can do that at less cost than the tax savings, then the buyer might be willing to pay more than $130,000,000.  For example, assume that the buyer could put an asset into the corporation that has a built-in loss of $100,000,000 and then use that loss to offset the $100,000,000 gain, so that there is no corporate level tax and thus there is $150,000,000 cash available for the buyer to take out.  Sweet.  And, what if the loss asset was phony, but the buyer stripped the $150,000,000 cash out of the company before the IRS realized the loss was phony and came looking for its $20,000,000 tax, plus penalties and interest?  And, what if the buyer through some complicated transactions, stripped the cash out in a way that the IRS cannot recover from the buyer (say the buyer spent it all or disappeared).

Now, go back and focus on the seller's side.  In a logical world, the seller might still sell the corporate stock for $130,000,000, for that is all that it is worth.  Why would the seller demand more?  All the seller has is corporate stock worth $130,000,000.  So, at least in theory, why would a buyer -- even one who thinks he can cause the tax liability to disappear -- pay much more than $130,000,000?  Presumably, in such a case, the logical buyer might pay just enough more to the seller that seller would have some incentive to fool with the buyer.  For example, in this case, the seller might insist upon $130,500,000 (that is a $500,000 sweetener to sell to the buyer rather than liquidate and get $130,000,000).  But that is not the way these deals -- at least the abusive ones -- get done.  The buyers put in a real sweetener -- that is they split the pot of gold, the tax of $20,000,000 -- between the buyer and seller.  For example purposes, let's say that the buyer agrees to pay $140,000,000 cash, meaning that the buyer gets $10,000,000 otherwise going to tax and the seller gets $10,000,000 otherwise going to tax.  (In the case, the deal was described as:  "a price equal to the value of the companies' assets (which by that point consisted only of cash) minus 50% of the value of the companies' tax liabilities.")  Sweet deal for both.