Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Tax Court Dissects Complex Acquisition Transaction With Senior and Subordinated Debt Characterization in Issue (10/27/21)

In Tribune Media Co. v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2021-122, here, issued yesterday, the Tax Court addressed a complex acquisition of the Chicago Cubs and held (in a 127 page opinion), that

  • Certain debt (subordinated debt (called “sub debt”)) was equity rather than debt for tax purposes (slip op. 56-90.)  The result of holding the sub debt to be equity was that, under the partnership disguised sale rules, gain was recognized to the extent of the sub debt.  Specifically, and more precisely, since the parties agreed that the partnership disguised sale rules applied, the Court held that the treatment of the sub debt as equity meant that the exception for debt-financed distributions did not apply to that debt.  (This aspect of the transaction planning had been designed to qualify as debt-financed distributions.)  This holding turned upon the debt-equity distinction familiar to tax practitioners and even students of tax law.  The Court held (Slip op. 90) that “Although the sub debt had the superficial appearance of bona fide debt, it more closely resembles equity.”

  • The senior debt in the transaction was bona fide recourse debt that could be allocated to support the debt-financed distribution exception to the disguised sale rules.  (Slip op. 91-119.)  With respect to the senior debt (slip op. pp. 118-119) the Court concluded (Slip op. 118-119, footnote omitted):

The Cubs transaction was a disguised sale in both form and substance. The economic reality of this transaction lies squarely within the intent of the disguised sale statute. The parties to the transaction formed a bona fide partnership that operates the Cubs franchise with assets contributed by Tribune. And the partnership in fact distributed cash to Tribune. This transaction also substantively fits into the debt-financed distribution exception for a disguised sale, receiving the distribution tax free up to the amount of the senior debt guaranteed by Tribune. CBH borrowed the senior debt, and Tribune guaranteed the senior debt. When such a transaction is explicitly provided for by Congress and followed by a taxpayer in both substance and form, we will not recharacterize it.The doctrine of substance over form is applied to prevent taxpayers from mislabeling transactions to achieve a desired tax consequence. Petitioners did not mislabel the transaction here; the economic substance of the Cubs transaction is a disguised sale with a debt-financed distribution, a structure contemplated by both the statute and the regulations.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Freeman Law International Tax Symposium on 11/18 and 11/19 (10/19/21)

The following international tax program may be of interest to FTPB readers:  Freeman Law International Tax Symposium on November 18 and 19 (link for information and registration here).  The Symposium has some great participants, some well-known to tax procedure and tax controversy enthusiasts, and covers topics such as international tax topics, including civil and criminal penalty enforcement, cryptocurrency enforcement trends, and global tax reform.

Monday, October 4, 2021

District Court Enforces Summons to Delaware Dept of Insurance for Micro-Captive Information (10/4/21)

The district court has enforced the IRS summons issued to the Delaware Department of Insurance (“DDOI”) for information and documents on about 200 micro-captive insurance companies that DDOI issued certificates of authority.  United States v. Del. Dep't of Ins., No. 20-829, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 186623 (D. Del. Sep. 29, 2021), CL here.  I previously wrote on the Magistrate’s Report and Recommendation (“Report”) to enforce the summons.  Magistrate Judge Recommends Enforcement of IRS Summons to Delaware Dept of Insurance for Information Filed by Micro-Captives (Federal Tax Procedure Blog 7/19/21), here.  Substantial portions of the district court’s Background are simply a copy and paste from the Magistrate’s Report.

DDOI raised arguments of error in the Magistrate’s Report related to the interpretation and application of the McCarran-Ferguson Act (“MFA”):

(1) by applying a “threshold test” of whether the conduct at issue constitutes the business of insurance for a non-antitrust case; and (2) by determining that the challenged conduct does not constitute the “business of insurance.” DDOI also argues that the Report erred by failing to recommend dismissal of the Petition on the grounds that the MFA reverse-preempted the Summons.

The resolution of this issue gets into arcana of the MFA, so I won’t delve into it here in detail.  In summary, the district court held that, in non-antitrust cases, there was a threshold requirement for MFA that the activity in question constitute the business of insurance.  In doing so, the district court has an interesting discussion of precedential authority in the Third Circuit regarding whether a subsequent panel opinion that seems inconsistent with an earlier panel precedential decision can reverse the earlier holding without en banc consideration.  The Court finds that, under Third Circuit, authority, the prior precedential opinion controls.  Interesting.

The district court also affirmed the Magistrate’s Report’s finding that the activity in question was record maintenance rather than insurance subject to MFA.

The district court then summarily rejected the DDOI argument for reverse preemption under the MFA.