U.S. Supreme Court Reverses Sixth Circuit on FICA Withholding for Severance Payments

Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court.svgOn Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the United States Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in U.S. v. Quality Stores, Inc.

Find earlier discussion of the Sixth Circuit decision here.

Read the full opinion here:
United States v. Quality Stores, No. 12-1408 (March 25, 2014)

North Dakota Conservation Easements Prohibited by State Law

us_tax_courtIn a case that highlights the potential conflict between state law and the requirements for the deductible donation of a conservation easement, the Tax Court in Wachter v. Commissioner held that a North Dakota conservation easement failed the “in perpetuity” requirement under IRC § 170(h)(2)(C) because North Dakota state law limits the duration of an easement to 99 years.

The taxpayers, comprised of two sets of couples filing joint returns for the tax years in question, owned varying interests in two partnerships, WW Ranch and Wind River, LLC. The partnerships entered into a cooperative agreement with the Commodity Credit Corporation and the American Foundation for Wildlife to sell conservation easements on multiple parcels from 2004 through 2006.

The taxpayers made three cash gifts to the North Dakota Natural Resource Trust (NRT) totaling $485,650 from 2004-2006. On its partnership returns, WW Ranch reported bargain sales of conservation easements as charitable contributions of $349,000 for 2004, $247,550 for 2005, and $162,500 for 2006. The parties obtained two appraisals to each contributed parcel. Each appraisal valued the property according to a different land use, and the taxpayers used the difference in appraised values to determine the value of the conservation easements.

The IRS issued notices of deficiency disallowing the charitable contribution deductions for both the cash payments to NRT and the property contributions. The IRS filed a motion for partial summary judgment.

Under IRC § 170(h)(1) a contribution of real property is a qualified conservation contribution if:

  1. The property is a “qualified property interest”,
  2. The contributee is a “qualified organization”, and
  3. The contribution is “exclusively for conservation purposes.”

The IRS argued that because the North Dakota state law restricts easements to 99 years the conservation easements cannot satisfy the first and third requirements of IRC § 170(h)(1). The parties agreed that the state law here is unique; it is the only state with a statute that provides for a maximum duration that may not be overcome by agreement.

Under IRC 170(h)(2)(c) a “qualified property interest” means “a restriction (granted in perpetuity) on the use which may be made of the real property. The taxpayers argued that the possibility that the land would revert back to them, WW Ranch, or their successors in interest is the same as a remote future event under Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-14(g)(3) that will not prevent the easements from being perpetual.

A remote future event under Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-14(g)(3) if “on the date of the gift it appears that the possibility that such act or event will occur is so remote as to be negligible.” The Tax Court cited its opinion in 885 Inv. Co. v. Commissioner, defining “so remote as to be negligible” as “a chance which persons generally would disregard as so highly improbable that it might be ignored with reasonable safety in undertaking a serious business transaction.”

The Court granted partial summary judgment on the conservation easement issue in favor of the IRS finding that “on the dates of the donations it was not only possible, it was inevitable that AFW would be divested of its interests in the easements by operation of North Dakota law.” The case will continue to trial on the deductibility of cash contributions to NRT.

Read the full opinion here: Wachter v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 7

Tax Court Denies Taxpayers’ Second Attempt to Avoid Penalties

us_Tax_Court_fasces-with-red-ribbonIn Mountanos v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-38, the Tax Court denied the taxpayer’s request to consider alternative grounds for disallowing deductions conservation easement conveyance. The taxpayer sought to avoid 40% accuracy-related penalties assessed on the disallowance of the deductions in Mountanos v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2013-138 (Mountanos I) (see our Summer 2013 newsletter).

In Mountanos I, the taxpayer claimed a $4.9 million deduction return for conveying a conservation easement to the Golden State Land Conservancy. The IRS challenged the easement on multiple grounds, including valuation. The Tax Court found that the conservation easement had no value because the conveyance had no effect on the “highest and best use” of the property. The Court did not consider the respondent’s alternative arguments and imposed a 40% gross valuation misstatement penalty.

The taxpayer filed a motion seeking reconsideration of the Court’s decision on the 40% penalty. Relying on prior opinions of the court, the taxpayer argued that the Court should consider alternative grounds that the taxpayer fails to concede as the basis for calculating the penalty.

The Tax Court denied the taxpayer’s motion for reconsideration of the penalties because it would allow the taxpayer to “take two bites at the same apple.” Judge Kroupa also questioned the viability of the cases relied upon by the taxpayers in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Woods. Woods rejected the taxpayer’s reliance on the “Blue Book” formula in an attempt to avoid the gross valuation misstatement penalty.

Read the full opinion here: Mountanos v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2014-38

Route 231, LLC v. Commissioner: Tax Court Issues Memorandum Opinion on Transferability of Investment Tax Credits

us_tax_courtIn Route 231 LLC v. Commissioner, the Tax Court found that a partnership’s transfer of Virginia conservation easement tax credits to a partner who agreed to make a capital contribution of 53¢ for every $1 of tax credit received in exchange for a 1% partnership interest and the credits was not a capital contribution followed by an allocation of credits but rather was a disguised sale under IRC § 707, taxable to the partnership as income.

Read the full opinion here:
Route 231 LLC v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2014-30

IRS Releases Criminal Investigation Statistics

irs-sealThe IRS released its Criminal Investigation Annual Report for fiscal year 2013 on Monday, February 24. The fiscal year ended September 30, 2013, so the report covers the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first three quarters of 2013. The report shows increases in enforcement actions and convictions for tax crimes. IRS Criminal Investigation continues its focus on identity theft crimes, recommending prosecution of over 1,250 individuals who were involved in identity theft crimes in fiscal year 2013.
As of September 30, 2013, the IRS was able to report the following:

  • IRS Criminal Investigation initiated 5,314 cases and recommended 4,364 cases for prosecution.
  • A 12.5% increase in investigations initiated compared to the 2012 fiscal year.
  • An 18% increase in prosecution recommendations compared to the 2012 fiscal year.
  • The conviction rate for fiscal year 2013 was 93%.
  • Total convictions increased by over 25% from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2013.
  • 80% of convictions in fiscal year 2013 resulted in confinement to federal prison, halfway house, home detention, or some combination thereof.
  • IRS Criminal Investigation seized over $465 million in assets in fiscal year 2013.
  • Taxpayers forfeited over $517 million in assets in fiscal year 2013.

Notably, despite the controversy over regulation of return preparers, only 309 investigations of return preparers were initiated in fiscal year 2013, down from 443 in fiscal year 2012.

Here is the full report.

 

Shea Homes v. Commissioner: Tax Court Allows Homebuilder to Defer Recognition of Income from Home Sales

us_Tax_Court_fasces-with-red-ribbonIn Shea Homes, Inc. v. Commissioner, the Tax Court allowed a homebuilder to defer the recognition of income, using the completed contract method under IRC § 460(e)(1)(A), from home sales in a newly constructed development until the entire development was nearly complete.

The specific facts and contracts in Shea were crucial to the court’s determination.

Read the entire opinion here:
Shea Homes, Inc. v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 3 (2014).

Court of Appeals Rules that IRS Cannot Regulate Return Preparers

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of the lower court and held that the IRS does not have the statutory authority to regulate tax return preparers.

In a unanimous and rather direct opinion, the Court of Appeals listed six reasons why the 130 year old statute, 31 U.S.C. § 330, relied upon by the IRS was insufficient to authorize regulation of non-accountant and non-attorney tax return preparers.

  1. Tax return preparers do not represent taxpayers, they assist them;
  2. Tax return preparers do not practice before the IRS;
  3. Tax return preparers are not representing taxpayers a contested proceeding;
  4. If valid, the authority of the underlying statute would make all other statutes regulating tax return preparers, e.g. the IRC, moot;
  5. The statute’s text and legislative history do not support the broad regulatory powers claimed by the IRS; and
  6. Finally, the IRS didn’t apply the century-old statute to regulate tax return preparers until 2011 and before that the agency’s statements about return preparer regulation were inconsistent with the current interpretation.

The court summarized its view: “the traditional tools of statutory interpretation – including the statute’s text, history, structure, and context – foreclose and render unreasonable the IRS’s interpretation of Section 330.” It also advised the IRS that if it wishes to regulate tax return preparers it should introduce and pass new legislation.

Despite the resounding defeat, the IRS may still petition the appellate court a for rehearing en banc, which would presumably include the three recently appointed members of the D.C. Circuit. The deadline for that motion is March 28.

If the IRS seeks a writ for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court, it must file a petition by May 12.

Read the entire opinion here:
Loving v. IRS, No. 13-5061 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 11, 2014)

Famous Fridays: The Tax Education of Lauryn Hill

lauryn-hill-thelavalizardLauryn Hill is a popular hip-hop and soul musician who rose to fame as the lead singer of The Fugees in the mid-1990s. The Fugees’ second album, The Score, sold over six million copies in the U.S. and more than 17 million copies worldwide. The band split up soon thereafter and Hill released a solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to even greater acclaim and success. “Miseducation” won five Grammy Awards, spent 81 weeks in the Billboard 200, and topped out at 18 million in worldwide sales.

Following its release, Ms. Hill largely disappeared from the public eye to raise her six children, five of whom she had with Rohan Marley, the son of reggae legend Bob Marley. Despite her low profile, Ms. Hill earned over $1.8 million between 2005 and 2007, mostly from recording and film royalties.

In June 2012, Ms. Hill was charged with tax evasion for failing to file income tax returns for the years 2005 through 2007. She faced a prison sentence of up to three years (one per unfiled return). Ms. Hill pled guilty to the charges and promised to pay back the taxes she owed. During her trial she criticized the over-commercialization of the music industry and cited the safety of herself and her family as reasons for stepping back from her career.

Ms. Hill signed a recording contract with Sony to help pay her tax liabilities of over $900,000 but her sentencing hearing was delayed for two weeks because she had still not paid the back taxes. At sentencing the judge also considered Ms. Hill’s failure to pay her 2008 and 2009 tax liabilities and sentenced her to three months in prison with a $60,000 fine. A day before entering prison, Hill released a long letter addressing racism, slavery and the IRS.

Ms. Hill was released from prison last fall and is currently on tour across the U.S. She will be in Washington, D.C. on February 9 and Atlanta on Feb. 13

IRS Releases 2012 Schedule UTP Filing Statistics

irs-sealThe IRS recently released Schedule UTP filing statistics for the 2012 tax year. The statistics are not complete as returns from some late fiscal year filers and others still have not been processed.  The Schedule UTP filing statistics include updated totals for the 2011 tax year, originally reported here.

As of December 2013, the IRS was able to report the following:

  • 1,743 taxpayers filed Schedule UTP with their 2012 returns.
  • 4,166 uncertain tax positions were reported for 2012, down from 5,980 in 2011.
  • The percentage of taxpayers who filed Schedule UTP in multiple years was 55% for the 2012 tax year, down from 77% in 2011.
  • The average number of uncertain tax positions per taxpayer was 2.4 in 2012.
  • 42% of Schedule UTP returns included only one uncertain tax position
  • 55% of taxpayers filing Schedule UTP in 2012 were publicly traded companies.
  • The most frequently reported code sections underlying uncertain tax positions for 2012 were
    • § 41 Research Credit (22%),
    • § 482 Transfer Pricing (19%), and
    • § 263 Capitalization (4%).

Here are the 2012 IRS UTP Filing Statistics 2012
Read more about Schedule UTP here.

Famous Fridays: Pete Rose, Gambling Winnings Are Income Too

Pete RosePete Rose has faced his fair share of criticism for his gambling problems.  He was banned from Major League Baseball for betting on games while he was a manager.  He also underreported income from gambling, personal appearances, autograph signings, and memorabilia sales between 1984-1987.

During his playing career, Rose earned the nickname “Charlie Hustle” for his fierce competitiveness. He finished his major league career as the all-time hits leader with 4,256.  Rose also won three World Series, including two as a member of the Big Red Machine, three batting titles, one MVP, and made 17 All-Star appearances.  He managed the Cincinnati Reds from 1984 until 1989, when the 225-page Dowd Report was released to MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti.

The infamous Dowd Report contained banking records, betting records, and witness testimony indicating that Rose bet on baseball while managing the Reds.  Rose originally denied the allegations, but agreed to a ban from Major League Baseball in 1989.  Rose is still banned from Major League Baseball and has admitted on betting on games he managed.

Shortly after his ban from baseball, Rose was charged with failure to report over $350,000 in income from memorabilia sales, autograph signings, personal appearances, and gambling winnings from 1984 through 1987.  In 1990, Rose pled guilty to two felony charges of filing false tax returns. As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to charge Rose with the more serious crime of tax evasion.  He was sentenced to five months in prison and fined $50,000.

Rose continues to make money with appearances and memorabilia sales, presumably reporting all of it as income on his tax returns.