Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Ninth Circuit Withdraws Altera Opinions (8/7/18; 8/13/18)

The Ninth Circuit has withdrawn its opinions in Altera Corp. et al. v. Commissioner, ___ F.3d ___, 2018 WL 3542989, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 20524 (9th Cir. 2018), here., The withdrawal is by a one-sentence order dated 8/7/18 here.  The one sentence is:  "The Opinions filed July 24, 2018, are hereby withdrawn to allow time for the reconstituted panel to confer on this appeal."  There is no indication that there will be a need for oral argument, but, I suppose, Judge Graber could make the decision on that.  (That would mean that Judge O'Malley of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit would have to make another trip to San Francisco.)

The reconstituted panel consists of the two on the original panel--Judges Thomas and O'Malley, and a new one, Susan P. Graber, substituted for the deceased Judge.  Readers will recall that the earlier opinions were split with Judge Thomas holding for the Government and Judge O'Malley holding for the taxpayer.  The earlier opinions were issued with the deceased judge, Judge Reinhardt, having indicated his agreement with Judge Thomas prior to death, so Judge Thomas' opinion was the majority opinion.  I presume the reconstitution was caused by the issuance of the opinions after the death of Judge Reinhardt and the commotion that resulted from issuance of the deciding vote after death.

For the write up on the original up see Developments - Federal Tax Procedure Book 2018 Editions and Altera (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 7/25/18; 7/27/18), here.

I am sure that there will be much speculation on which way Judge Graber will decide.  For those with the time and interest in such speculations, perhaps a good place to start is her Wikipedia page here.  She was appointed by President Clinton.

Addendum 8/13/18 10:22AM:

Thursday, August 2, 2018

SSRN Posting of Article on IRS Guidance -- Rulemaking and Deference (8/2/18)

SSRN has posted for review and download my article on IRS Guidance.  titled IRS Guidance – Rulemaking and Deference to IRS Statutory Interpretation. Townsend, John A., IRS Guidance – Rulemaking and Deference to IRS Statutory Interpretation (July 27, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3212060`.

The Abstract is:
This article deals with one of the key intersections of federal tax law and administrative law: IRS rulemaking. The IRS makes rules that affect the public through regulations and subregulatory guidance. I first discuss the IRS process for issuing such guidance and the principal forms the IRS uses. I then discuss the administrative law concept of deference to agency statutory interpretations. In administrative law, the two key regimes for deference are Chevron deference and Skidmore deference. Chevron deference requires the court to defer to an agency interpretation in formal guidance when the statutory text being interpreted is ambiguous and the agency interpretation is a reasonable interpretation even though the court believes there is a more reasonable interpretation. In the IRS context, Chevron deference applies to Treasury Regulations. Skidmore deference requires the court to defer to an agency interpretation in subregulatory guidance to the extent that the interpretation is persuasive. (That Skidmore formulation may sound a bit odd, but I get into that in the article.)  
The nonmainstream discussion in the article has two interrelated components: First, Chevron does not apply to legislative regulations. Legislative regulations are regulations, exemplified in the tax area by the consolidated return regulations under § 1502, where Congress delegated to the IRS the power to make the law. Second, Chevron does apply to interpretive regulations--regulations which interpret the statutory text. Some authors assert that, if Chevron deference applies to give the interpretation the force of law, then the regulation is a legislative regulation with the APA requirements for legislative regulations--promulgation in the Federal Register and prospective application only. The same argument, presumably, would apply if Skidmore or any other deference is given to an IRS interpretation in subregulatory guidance, because by conferring deference the interpretation has the force of law. I disagree with those authors. I assert that a court adopting--deferring to, if you will--an agency interpretation of ambiguous statutory text does not transform interpretation into legislative rulemaking under the APA. Hence, for such agency interpretations promulgation in the Federal Register is not required and the interpretations can apply retroactively. The IRS usually does issue its formal interpretations in regulations subject to notice and comment, so that is not a key difference. But, IRS interpretive regulations can and often do have retroactive effect.
Additional Notes:

1.  This article started with the related discussion in the 2017 Editions of the Federal Tax Procedure Book.  It was too long for the intended audience of that book, so I excerpted that discussion and shortened the discussion of the topics for the book.  The more summary discussion in the Book is at pp. 37-69 of the Student Edition and pp. 53-94 of the Practitioner Edition.  Readers interested in the subject might first want to review the more summary discussion, particularly in the Practitioner Edition with footnotes.

2.  I substantially revised the longer discussion which I excerpted from the 2017 Book and, hopefully improved on it as I made it even longer.  Those interested in more detail than offered in the Book will find it here.

3.  I do discuss toward the end of the article the current political climate where Chevron deference has become a scapegoat for all the perceived ills of the administrative state.  My own view is that Chevron deference and its related deference forms (Auer and Skidmore) may not be perfect but offer a better framework for dealing with interpretations of complex statutory systems Congress expects agencies to administer.  Nonetheless, as I conclude the article, "But with these cross-currents of politics, repeal of Chevron may be a bad idea whose time has come."

Here is the Table of Contents for the Article: