Reliance on Tax Attorney & Licensed Appraiser Helps Taxpayer Preserve Deductions & Avoid Penalties

us_tax_courtIn Palmer Ranch v. Commissioner, a TEFRA partnership avoided accuracy-related penalties even though the Tax Court reduced the fair market value of its conservation easement by $3.98 million.

The taxpayer claimed a $23.94 million charitable contribution deduction on its 2006 partnership return. The IRS disallowed $16.97 million of the value under exam. At trial, the parties presented valuation experts who relied upon the comparable sales method to set the before and after value of the property. The taxpayer’s expert valued the land at $307,000 per acre, while the IRS expert came in at at $94,000 per acre. The Tax Court reviewed the four properties used by both experts and compared the property’s then-current use with its highest and best use. The taxpayers’ contended that 360 multifamily dwelling units could be developed on the 82-acre parcel. The IRS disagreed, emphasizing: a failed rezoning history; environmental concerns; limited access to outside roads; and neighborhood opposition. The Court rejected each of these arguments and found that “there is a reasonable probability that [the parcel] could have been successfully rezoned to allow for the development of multifamily dwellings.”

The IRS also argued that the real estate market was softening in 2006. Judge Goeke accepted the idea of a declining real estate market and reduced the taxpayer’s pre-encumbrance appraisal of the land from $25.2 million to $21 million. Using the same “after” value percentage (5% of the unencumbered property) the Court found that the fair market value of the conservation easement was $19.96 million.

Following the framework set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in United States v. Woods, the Court determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the IRC § 6662 penalties. The Court then accepted the taxpayers’ reasonable cause defense and disallowed the 20% penalty because the taxpayer: retained a tax attorney to advise them on the tax aspects of the easement donation; hired a credible, licensed appraiser, and made a good-faith attempt to determine the easement value.

Read the Tax Court opinion here: Palmer Ranch v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2014-79

Tax Court Rejects Expert Value, Imposes Penalties

us_Tax_Court_fasces-with-red-ribbonIn what may be the last word on Kaufman v. Commissioner, the Tax Court sustained the IRS’s complete disallowance of charitable deductions claimed for the donation of a façade easement. The case returned to the Tax Court on remand from the First Circuit Court of Appeals to determine the value of the easement and the application of accuracy-related penalties.

The taxpayers’ owned a 150 year-old row house in a designated historic district in Boston, Massachusetts subject to the South End Landmark District Residential Standards (“South End Standards”). In 2003, taxpayers’ entered into an agreement with the NAT to donate a façade easement over the property. The taxpayers contacted an appraiser, recommended by NAT, who appraised the value of the easement. The appraisal concluded that the total loss of value, including the easement and the value of the unused development rights, was $220,800. The taxpayers deducted that amount on their 2004 and 2005 tax returns as a charitable donation of a qualified conservation easement. The Commissioner challenged the deductions with a statutory notice of deficiency.

In Kaufman v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 182 (2010) (Kaufman I), the Tax Court ruled for the IRS in a motion for partial summary judgment. The Court held that the conservation easement failed to satisfy the “in perpetuity” requirements of the Treasury Regulations. The Court then issued a second opinion making additional findings, disallowing other items and imposing penalties on the remaining issues (Kaufman II). The taxpayers’ appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected the Tax Court’s ruling that the taxpayers’ mortgage lender agreement undercut the regulation’s “in perpetuity” requirement as a matter of law (Kaufmann III) and remanded for further consideration of the taxpayers’ charitable contribution deductions under the facts.

The primary issue on remand was the proper valuation of the façade easement. The taxpayers’ valuation expert used a sales comparison analysis with data from three comparable properties. Using the before-and-after method, he determined that the value of the property was $1,840,000 before the grant of the easement. The expert used a “method unique to him and not a generally accepted appraisal or valuation method” to determine that the total value of the property was reduced by 12% or $220,800 when encumbered by the façade easement.

The IRS’s expert discredited the taxpayer’s valuation stating that it was “the fruit of an inappropriate valuation methodology employing a wholly unsupported adjustment factor.” Notably, both the IRS expert and the taxpayer’s expert agreed, “neither the preservation agreement nor the preexisting restrictions hamper the potential for developing the property to its highest and best use…as a single family home.”

The Tax Court gave no weight to the taxpayers’ expert because of his close relationship with NAT, his limited experience appraising façade easements, and his use of a “unique” valuation methodology. The Court also conducted its own comparison of the façade easement restrictions and the South End Standards. The Tax Court found that the agreements were “basically duplicative” and there were no significant additional restrictions placed on the property by the façade easement.

The Court held in favor of the IRS finding that the façade easement had no fair market value when conveyed to NAT. The Tax Court also upheld the IRS’s imposition of accuracy-related penalties.

Read the full opinion here: Kaufman v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2014-52

IRS Releases Guidance on Convertible Virtual Currency: Bitcoin Treated As Property for Federal Tax Purposes

opengraphThe IRS released Notice 2014-21 on Tuesday, March 25th to provide guidance on the treatment of convertible virtual currencies, like Bitcoin, as property, not currency, for Federal tax purposes.

The IRS distinguishes between virtual currency, a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value, and convertible virtual currency, which has an equivalent value in real currency or can act as a substitute for real currency. The Notice specifically mentions Bitcoin as an example of a convertible virtual currency.

Notice 2014-21 only applies to convertible virtual currency. The Notice provides additional instructions for determining basis, calculating gain or loss, and necessary forms for reporting transactions using convertible virtual currency.

You can read the full Notice here:
IRS Notice 2014-21

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)