Tax Court Reverses Itself on Qualified Appraisals for Façade Easements

UESThe proper standard for a qualified appraisal in the façade easement context has been vigorously contested by the IRS in recent years. In a rare reversal on reconsideration, the Tax Court adopted the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ view of the necessary elements for a qualified appraisal in the context of these easement deductions. In short, the Court affirmed that the regulatory standard for a qualified appraisal requires only a method of valuation and a basis for valuation.

The decision under reconsideration was Friedberg v. Commissioner , TC Memo. 2011-238. In the reversal the Tax Court observed its practice of following the precedent of the U.S Court of Appeals to which a case may be appealed, first established in Golsen v. Commissioner, 54 T.C. 742 (1970).

In 2002, the taxpayers, Mr. Friedberg and Ms. Moss, purchased a townhouse in Manhattan’s Upper East Side Historic District for $9,400,000. In 2003, the National Architectural Trust (NAT) contacted Mr. Friedberg and asked him to donate a façade easement. Mr. Friedberg agreed and 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 unused development rights, was $3,775,000. The taxpayers deducted that amount on their 2003 tax return as a charitable donation of a qualified conservation easement. The Commissioner challenged the deduction with a statutory notice of deficiency. The taxpayers filed a petition in the Tax Court.

The Tax Court issued an opinion following cross-motions on summary judgment. One of the questions decided in favor of respondent was that the taxpayers had failed to provide a qualified appraisal under Treas. Reg. §1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii). In reaching that determination, the Court followed its findings in Scheidelman v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2010-151 (Scheidelman I) where it found that

“the mechanical application of a percentage diminution to the fair market value before donation of a façade easement does not constitute a method of valuation as contemplated under section 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii).”

Though Friedberg and Moss lost on that issue, not all of the argued issues were decided, including whether the appraisal was “qualified” as to the valuation of the unused development rights. The parties continued discovery on that question.

Meanwhile, in Scheidelman v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d 189 (2d Cir. 2012) (Scheidelman II), the Second Circuit vacated the Tax Court on the qualified appraisal standard referenced in the Friedberg opinion. The Court of Appeals held that Huda Scheidelman had obtained a qualified appraisal under the regulations because her appraisal adequately specified the appraiser’s method of, and basis for, determining the easement’s fair market value.

Friedberg and Moss were still hashing out interrogatories and depositions when the Second Circuit decided Ms. Scheidelman’s case. They filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court’s earlier ruling under Tax Court Rule 161. The Tax Court granted the motion.

On reconsideration, the Tax Court found that the appellate opinion “specifically alter[ed] the underlying law” applied in the 2011 Friedberg decision. The Tax Court held that under Scheidelman II

“any evaluation of accuracy is irrelevant for purposes of deciding whether the appraisal is qualified pursuant to section 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii)(J), Income Tax Regs.”

Accordingly, the Court re-examined the two elements necessary for a qualified appraisal under Treas. Reg. §1.170A-13(c)(3): (1) a method of valuation and (2) a specific basis for the valuation. With regard to the first element, the Court found that Mr. Freidberg’s appraiser provided sufficient information to enable the Commissioner to evaluate his underlying methodology. Thus it included a method of valuation. The Court then considered and found that the appraisal included “some research and analysis” which was enough to establish a specific basis for the appraisal. The legal standard met, the Court reversed its holding in favor of the government and granted summary judgment for the taxpayers on the question of whether they had obtained a qualified appraisal.

The case is hardly over for Friedberg and Moss though. The Court specifically did not opine on the reliability and accuracy of the appraisal, reserving that factual determination for trial. Nonetheless, the Court’s reconsideration reversed its legal ruling in favor of the government and re-established the appraisal as qualified under the regulations. Whether the merits of the appraisal will withstand the scrutiny of a trial remains to be determined.

Read the opinion here:
Friedberg v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2013-224

Tax Court Reasserts Position on Conservation Easements

Opining on a motion for reconsideration, the Tax Court has reaffirmed the circumstances under which a conservation easement might be extinguished without violating the regulatory requirement that the donation be made in perpetuity. Asked to account for an intervening change in the law based on First Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Kaufman v. Shulman, the Court declined to change its earlier decision in Carpenter v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2012-1.

In the matter under reconsideration, the parties reserved the right to extinguish the conservation easement by mutual agreement. Under those circumstances, the donee organization would have received its proportionate share of the proceeds following removal of the easement. The taxpayers argued that these circumstances met the in perpetuity “safe harbor” under Treas. Reg. Sec. 1.170A- 14(g)(6)(i) for terminated conservation easements.

The Court disagreed and emphasized that “extinguishment by judicial proceedings is necessary” to satisfy the regulation and that a proportionate share reserved for the donee organization is not an adequate substitute for guaranteeing the donation in perpetuity. The Court also reminded the taxpayers that in cases appealable to Federal Courts of Appeals that had not ruled on the issue – as was the case here – the First Circuit’s decision is not binding on the Tax Court.

Read the entire opinion here:
Carpenter v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2013-172

Government Denied Summary Judgment in Conservation Easement Case

white-cloud-wilderness-idahoThe U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho recently rejected the government’s pre-trial motion for summary judgment on the validity of a conservation easement donation, setting the stage for a trial on the facts of the transaction.

The District Court’s order and decision provides another ray of hope for Alan Pesky’s efforts to preserve his charitable contribution deduction for the conservation easement donation he made in 2002. Mr. Pesky has already been through a series of pre-trial motions. While this decision should have him headed for trial on the merits of the tax deductions for his donation, as we note below, the government has lobbed yet another missive over the transom.

The facts of the Pesky case are complicated but not necessarily unusual among high-net worth individuals with substantial real estate holdings who find themselves approached about a conservation easement donation. In stark summary, Alan Pesky was approached by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to acquire a parcel over which a conservation easement ultimately was granted to TNC. The acquisition involved a series of negotiations and collateral agreements which may or may not prove to be relevant in sustaining the deduction.

When the donation was complete, Mr. Pesky deducted a portion of the conservation easement donation on his 2002 tax return and carried forward the remainder on his 2003 and 2004 returns. The government has challenged the charitable deductions for all three years but had to assert fraud for the 2002 tax year because it failed to issue a notice of deficiency within the three-year statute of limitations. The government made additional assertions of fraud which were addressed in this order (and elsewhere).

This case is a fine example of the Government’s recent approach to conservation easement litigation. The government wants to win early dismissal of these cases on pre-trials motions without allowing an examination of the facts and is willing to renew and recycle arguments that have failed before and been flat out rejected in other Federal circuits.

The government moved for summary judgment based on three primary arguments. The first argument was that the conservation easement was part of a larger quid pro quo transaction between the taxpayers and TNC.  This argument has been considered in this context by the Tax Court in at least one reported decision but under substantially different facts than these.  Considering the factors that might influence a jury on this question, the U.S. District Court ruled that a genuine issue of material fact remained for consideration at trial and denied the government’s motion.

The government’s second argument was that there was no contemporaneous written acknowledgement of goods and services received. Though the government conceded the existence of such an acknowledgment, its argument was an extension of the quid pro quo position, i.e., that there was no charitable intent. The court also rejected the argument based on the potential for a genuine issue of material fact.  One might argue though that the taxpayer should prevail based on the substantial compliance doctrine adopted in Simmons v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2009-208 aff’d. 646 F.3d 6 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

Finally, the government argued that donation should fail because the Pesky’s property appraisal did not meet the standard for a qualified appraisal standard in the regulations. Again, the District Court leaned on potential for a genuine issue of material facts to deny the government’s motion.  Given the minimum threshold standard for a qualified appraisal set forth by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Scheidelman v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d 189 (2d Cir. 2012), the taxpayers should also prevail on this issue.

In all events, the court rejected all three of the government’s arguments.  The persistence of the government, however, should not be denied. Despite the court’s rejection of their positions just last Monday, the government had already filed a motion for reconsideration of the order on Friday requesting that the court take yet another look at these well-worn arguments.  The Pesky’s might yet have their day in court, but not before they cross a few more hurdles the government intends to through in the way.

Read the Order Denying the Government’s Motion for Summary Judgement here:
Pesky Order 7.8.13

Read the Government’s Motion for Reconsideration here:
Pesky Motion for Reconsideration 7.12.13

Tax Court: Side Letter Invalidates Facade Easement Donation

tread_HDIn a division opinion that reflects the increasingly technical aspects of defending conservation easement cases, the Tax Court has disallowed deductions for the contribution of cash and a façade easement to a qualified organization.  The charitable contributions were disallowed because the donee issued a “side letter” promising to refund cash contributions and rescind the easement over the donor’s property if the donation was “disallowed” by the Internal Revenue Service.

The taxpayers donated a façade easement over their home in the Treadwell Farms Historic District on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They obtained a qualified appraisal and took deductions based on their cash contributions and the value of the donated easement. The entire transaction was covered by the side letter. The IRS disallowed the deductions for the cash and easement donations and imposed penalties. The taxpayers petitioned the Tax Court.

The case was submitted to the Court without trial on stipulated facts. The Court found that the promises in the comfort letter made the gifts conditional and thus incomplete for purposes of the deduction. It found that the possibility that the IRS would disallow the contributions was not “so remote as to be negligible” – a standard imposed under the regulations governing the deductibility of conservation easements. The Court noted IRS administrative guidance issued prior to the donation announcing increased scrutiny of somewhat similar transactions and the donee organization’s “standard policy” to refund contributions for challenged transactions as evidence that an IRS disallowance was not “so remote as to be negligible.” The Court did not address the penalties, reserving that issue for future proceedings.

Read the entire opinion here:
Graev v. Commissioner, 140 T.C. No. 17 (2013)

Value Matters, Even as Tax Court Denies Conservation Easement Deduction

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbHAlthough disappointing to the petitioning taxpayer, yesterday’s Tax Court opinion in Mountanos v. Commissioner is of some relief to practitioners and counsel who follow conservation easement cases closely. Recent decisions in the Tax Court (Belk, Averyt) and the Courts of Appeals (Kaufman, Scheidelman) have turned on technical aspects of the Treasury regulations that govern the deductibility of these charitable contributions.

Mountanos, instead, is a “traditional” conservation easement case in that the validity of the donation, documentation and recordation of the easement were not at issue. We note, however, that the government did argue that the taxpayers did not acquire a “contemporaneous written acknowledgment” from the donee organization or a “qualified appraisal” as required under the applicable statute and regulations but the court did not address these arguments.

Rather this case turned entirely on the value attributed to the taxpayer’s donation of an 882 acre tract of undeveloped land in north central California. The taxpayer’s valuation was based on the before and after approach. Using that method, where the “before” value is based on the highest and best use of the property, the taxpayer’s $4.6 million valuation was based on use of the property as part vineyard and part residential development. The “after” valuation – that is, after the restrictive easement was imposed – was based entirely on recreational use (such as deer hunting).

Judge Kroupa was not persuaded that a 287 acre vineyard “was a legally permissible, physically possible and economically feasible use of the ranch.” The taxpayer’s restricted access to the property (across Federally controlled parkland) and lack of access to proper irrigation made the likelihood of a viable vineyard slim, even if it could have been economically viable (which the court found equally unlikely).

The proposed use of the property for residential development was no more impressive to the court. The entire parcel was subject to a contract with the county, governed by a state statute (the Williamson Act), that forbade residential development – even before the conservation easement donation had been made. The taxpayers did not put on evidence to convince the court that the state law restrictions would not apply if the taxpayer indeed tried to pursue residential development. Accordingly, the court concluded that the taxpayers failed to show that “the conservation easement had any value.”

The court also sustained the 40% gross valuation overstatement penalty asserted against the taxpayers. It is unclear whether the taxpayers put forth a reasonable cause defense to the penalty or not but the court noted that such a defense does not apply “in the case of a gross valuation overstatement with respect to property for which a charitable contribution deduction was claimed under section 170. Sec. 6664(c)(3).”

This was unquestionably a bad result for the taxpayers but still an encouraging note for taxpayers who have made carefully executed and fairly valued conservation or facade easements – you should at least have a day in court.

Read the opinion here:
Mountanos v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2013-138

Conservation Easement Deduction Denied as Quid Pro Quo for Subdivision Approval

The Tax Court denied the taxpayers’ deduction for the donation of a conservation easement where the taxpayer granted the easement pursuant to negotiations with a local zoning authority for approval of a subdivision exemption.

The deductibility of conservation easement donations is drawn from the general rule allowing the deduction of charitable contributions under IRC §170. Charitable contributions must be freely given, i.e., a gift, to qualify for the deduction. If the contribution is made in exchange for a specific benefit, i.e., a quid pro quo, then it does not qualify for the deduction.

The Tax Court found that the taxpayer’s donation of the easement was not a gift because it was “part of a quid pro quo exchange for Boulder County’s approving his subdivision exemption request.” The court also approved the application of the 20% substantial understatement penalty under IRC §6662(b)(2) against the taxpayer. The court denied the taxpayer’s reasonable cause argument to avoid the penalty, specifically noting the lack of testimony from the CPA who prepared the returns and invoking the “Wichita Terminal rule” to find for the government. The Wichita Terminal rule is drawn from a 67 year-old Tax Court case and generally provides that when a litigant fails to produce the testimony of a person that might be expected to testify, that failure gives rise to a presumption that the testimony would be unfavorable to the litigant’s case.

While the taxpayer lost on the 20% penalty, the court did reject the government’s argument for the 40% gross valuation penalty under IRC §6662(h)(2). In support of its position the commissioner alleged that the appraisal:

(1) was made more than 60 days before the grant of the second conservation easement; (2) does not describe the property; (3) does not contain the expected date of contribution; (4) does not contain the terms of the second conservation easement; (5) does not include the appraised fair market value of the second conservation easement on the expected date of contribution; and (6) does not provide the method of valuation Mr. Roberts used in that the report does not adequately identify the highest and best use of the property.

The taxpayer urged that the penalty did not apply under the exception provided in IRC §6664(c)(2) because the taxpayer obtained a “qualified appraisal” from a “qualified appraiser” and made a good faith investigation of the value of the property before making the donation. The court sided with the taxpayer and rejected the government’s arguments. The court voiced its particular concern with the government’s claim that the appraisal was not qualified because did not provide a method of valuation. The court noted that the appraisal specifically identified the well-established “before and after” valuation method and repeated, though without citation, the same concerns expressed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Scheidleman v. Commissioner, that is, that the government’s claim really was directed at the reliability of the report and not its validity or “qualification”.

Read the entire opinion here:
Pollard v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2013-38

Tax Court Denies Conservation Easement that Allowed Substitution of Property

us_tax_courtAs the IRS continues to challenge charitable deductions for the contribution of conservation and facade easements, the Tax Court is considering the details of these arrangements with greater scrutiny. In doing so, the Court is refining the law governing these transactions. In its most recent opinion on this issue, the Court clarified yet another requirement for taxpayers who wish to claim this charitable deduction.

In Belk v. Commissioner, the taxpayers donated a conservation easement over a 184 acre golf course and claimed a $10.5 million deduction on their 2004 tax return. The conservation easement agreement executed by the parties included a provision which allowed the owner of the property (i.e., the taxpayers) to substitute the property subject to the easement with “an area of land owned by Owner which is contiguous to the Conservation Area for an equal or lesser area of land comprising a portion of the Conservation Area.”

The IRS challenged the validity of the entire donation on the grounds that the real property interest (i.e., the golf course) was not donated in perpetuity because the substitution provision allowed it to be replaced by another property. The IRS argued that the substitution provision violated the requirement that the contribution be an interest in real property that is subject to a use restriction granted in perpetuity under IRC §170(h)(2)(C).

The IRS previously had argued that certain facade easements violated the “in perpetuity” requirement. See, Kaufman v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 182 (2010) (Kaufman I) and Kaufman v. Commissioner, 136 T.C. 294 (2011) (Kaufman II). The Kaufman argument, however, was based on the language of IRC §170(h)(5) which requires that the conservation purpose of the easement be protected in perpetuity. Though the IRS prevailed in the Tax Court, Kaufman and the §170(h)(5) argument was overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Kaufman v. Shulman, 687 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2012).

In Belk, the IRS, and apparently the taxpayers (see footnote 17), combined the two provisions of §170 while making the perpetuity argument. Judge Vasquez, writing for the Court, parsed the issue more carefully. He noted that §170(h)(2)(C) requires that the property must be subject to a perpetual restriction on use as distinguished from § 170(h)(5) which requires that the conservation purpose be protected in perpetuity. The Court made it clear that the two provisions were separate and distinct and based its decision on the former.

The Court held that the donation made by the Belk’s did not constitute a “qualified real property interest” under §170(h)(2)(C) because the conservation easement agreement allowed for substitution of the contributed property. The court found that the contributed property was not subject to a use restriction in perpetuity but in fact subject to the restriction only so long as the substitution provision in the agreement was not exercised. Accordingly, the charitable donation did not meet the requirements of §170(h) and the deduction was denied in full. The Court did not reach the question of conservation purpose or valuation.

Read the entire opinion here:
Belk v. Commissioner, 140 T.C. No. 1 (2013)

Second Circuit Vacates Tax Court in Façade Easement Case

Second Circuit Court of Appeals The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the U.S. Tax Court’s finding that Ms. Huda Scheidelman failed to obtain a qualified appraisal for the 2004 façade easement donation over her New York City home.

In March of 2003, Ms. Scheidelman and her husband completed a façade conservation easement application and made a fully refundable $1,000 deposit to the National Architectural Trust (“NAT”). The taxpayers waited to pursue the donation until 2004, so that they could save enough money to pay for the appraisal.  In April of 2004, the taxpayers hired an appraiser from a list of appraisers provided by NAT.

The appraiser’s report used the sales comparison approach to determine that the estimated market value of the property was $1,015,000.  Looking at historical comparisons of attached row homes in New York City, the appraiser determined that the façade easement value is about 11% to 11.5% of the total value of the property.  Using these estimates the appraiser found that the value of the façade conservation easement would be estimated at $115,000 or 11.33% of the fee simple value of the property.

After receiving the appraisal, NAT notified Ms. Scheidelman that all of the trust’s easement owners must make a cash contribution toward operating costs equivalent to 10% of the cash value of their easement. Ms. Scheidelman wrote NAT a check for $9,275. NAT accepted the appraisal and the City of New York recorded the conservation deed of easement for the property. The taxpayers attached Form 8283 to their 2004 tax return reporting a $115,000 gift to charity. They carried over $63,083 of the reported contribution to their 2005 and 2006 tax returns.

The IRS conducted an examination of Ms. Scheidelman and disallowed her cash contribution to NAT and the deductions for her conservation easement in all three years. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency and Ms. Scheidelman filed a petition with the United States Tax Court. In Scheidelman v. Commissioner the Tax Court ruled that she did not obtain a “qualified appraisal” under Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(3) because it did not use a sufficient method and basis of valuation. The Tax Court also disallowed a deduction for a cash contribution to NAT.

On appeal, the Second Circuit considered the Tax Court’s interpretation of Treas. Reg.  § 1.170A-13(c)(3), qualified appraisals. The appellate panel focused on the Tax Court’s interpretation of Treas. Reg. §§ 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii)(J)&(K), requiring that a qualified appraisal specify both a method and a basis of valuation. 

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the Tax Court’s conclusion that the appraiser did not provide a proper method of valuation under Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii)(J). The court held that the appraiser’s use of the “before and after” method and his reliance on a published IRS article proposing an acceptable discount range for facade easements was appropriate.

Reviewing the basis of valuation requirement under Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii)(K), the Second Circuit found that the appraiser’s approach was “nearly identical” to the method used in Simmons v. Commissioner. The court noted the similarities between the two cases and held that the appraisal provided by Ms. Scheidelman gave the IRS “sufficient information to evaluate the claimed deduction,” thus satisfying Treas. Reg. § 1.170A-13(c)(3)(ii)(K).

The Second Circuit also held that Ms. Scheidelman’s $9,275 cash donation was a deductible charitable contribution because NAT did not give her any goods or services, any benefit, or anything of value in return for her donation. The Court noted that although Scheidelman hoped to obtain a charitable deduction for her gifts, it was not a quid pro quo because the facade easement deduction would not come directly from the receipt of the cash gift. 

The case was remanded to the Tax Court for further findings on the value of the easement consistent with the findings of the Court of Appeals.

Read the entire opinion here:
Scheidelman v. Commissioner, 682 F.3d 189 (2nd Cir., June 15, 2012).

1st Circuit Vacates Tax Court on Historical Facade Conservation Easement

In a case that has been followed closely by many interested parties, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the taxpayers and the validity of their charitable contribution of an historical façade conservation easement in Kaufman v. Shulman. The 1st Circuit vacated the Tax Court’s legal ruling on partial summary judgment and remanded the matter for further findings on the questions of penalties and valuation.

The taxpayers in Kaufman owned an approximately 150 year-old row house in the historic district of South End in Boston. The home reflected mid-nineteenth century architecture and included a unique Venetian-Gothic style façade. In 2003, the taxpayers executed a “Preservation Restriction Agreement” donating an easement over the property to a qualified charitable organization for the purpose of protecting and preserving the historical features of the home. On the advice of the donee, the taxpayers obtained an appraisal of the contribution from an experienced appraiser who valued the easement at $220,800. The taxpayers took deductions on their 2003 and 2004 tax returns for the value of the donated easement, subject to the limits of IRC Sec. 170(b)(1)(E).

The property was subject to a mortgage when the taxpayers made the donation. The taxpayers obtained an agreement from the lender subordinating certain of the mortgage-holder’s rights in the property to the donee in accordance with the regulations governing the charitable donation of conservation easements. The agreement included several restrictive clauses, one of which became the focus of the Tax Court’s determination and the 1st Circuit’s ruling. That clause read as follows:

The Mortgagee/Lender and its assignees shall have a prior claim to all insurance proceeds as a result of any casualty, hazard or accident occurring to or about the Property and all proceeds of condemnation, and shall be entitled to same in preference to Grantee until the Mortgage is paid off and discharged, notwithstanding that the Mortgage is subordinate in priority to the [Preservation Restriction] Agreement.

Following an examination of their 2003 and 2004 returns, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency to the Kaufmans disallowing the deductions for the charitable contribution of the easement. The IRS maintained that the donation did not meet the regulatory requirements of Section 170(h). The taxpayers petitioned the U.S. Tax Court.

The Tax Court, in a division opinion by Judge Halpern, ruled for the IRS on a motion for partial summary judgment. Kaufman v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 182 (2010). The Tax Court held that the conservation easement as executed failed to satisfy the requirement of Treas. Reg. Sec. 1.170A-14(g)(6). The Tax Court’s position on summary judgment, as summarized by the First Circuit, was that

although the Kaufmans in the Preservation Restriction Agreement governing 19 Rutland Square granted the Trust an entitlement to a proportionate share of post-extinguishment proceeds, thus seemingly complying with the regulation, the lender agreement executed by Washington Mutual undercut this commitment–and so defeated the deduction–by stipulating that “[t]he Mortgagee/Lender and its assignees shall have a prior claim to all insurance proceeds . . . and all proceeds of condemnation, and shall be entitled to same in preference to Grantee until the Mortgage is paid off and discharged.”

Even though the Tax Court decided for the government “entirely” on the basis of Treas. Reg. Sec. 1.170A-14(g)(6), the Court of Appeals also addressed paragraphs (g)(1) (perpetuity), (g)(2) (remote events), and g(3) (subordination) of the regulation in its opinion. The First Circuit observed that the IRS’s arguments in support of the Tax Court’s decision under g(6) would “appear to doom practically all donations of easements, which is surely contrary to the purpose of Congress.” The appellate court continued that it “cannot find reasonable an impromptu reading [of a regulation] that is not compelled and would defeat the purpose of the statute, as we think is the case here.” So on the big issue in the case, whether the mortgage subordination clause that granted the lender a prior claim to insurance and condemnation proceeds defeated the deduction, the First Circuit vacated the Tax Court’s legal conclusion.

The First Circuit made clear that it did not rest its decision on either the application of paragraphs (g)(3), addressing the defeasance of the deduction by remote future events, or (g)(2) which the taxpayers argued would have upheld the subordination agreement regardless of the extinguishment provision. This caveat seems to preserve the Tax Court’s recent opinion in Mitchell v. Commissioner from the scope of this ruling.

The appellate panel also addressed the “in perpetuity” requirement of Treas. Reg. Sec. 1.170A-14(g)(1) and the language in the agreement stating that “nothing herein contained shall be construed to limit the [Trust's] right to give its consent (e.g., to changes in the façade) or to abandon some or all of its rights hereunder.” The First Circuit noted its agreement with the D.C. Circuit who decided the same issue in Commissioner v. Simmons, 646 F.3d 6 (D.C. Cir. 2011) and added that the question was not whether the paragraph was a reasonable interpretation of the underlying statute, Sec. 170(h)(5), but whether the IRS’s interpretation of the regulation was reasonable. The court concluded that the regulation did not support the IRS’s stringent view.

Read the entire opinion here:
Kaufman v. Shulman, Docket No. 11-2017P-01A (1st Cir., July 19, 2012)

Tax Court: Deed Is Substantiation of Conservation Easement Donation

The Tax Court continues to define the limits on the charitable donation of conservation easements while the IRS maintains its frontal assault on these transactions. In Averyt v. Commissioner, the Tax Court considered respondent’s motion for summary judgment and petitioner’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the question of whether or not the timely recorded deed of conservation easement satisfied the substantiation requirements of IRC Sec. 170(f)(8).

IRC Sec. 170(f)(8) generally requires that a charitable contribution of $250 or more must be substantiated with a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the donee organization. A written acknowledgement must include

(i) the amount of cash and a description (but not value) of any property other than cash contributed; (ii) whether the donee organization provided any goods or services in consideration, in whole or in part, for any property; and (iii) a description and good faith estimate of the value of any goods or services.

The IRS argued that, as a matter of law, the taxpayers had not met the substantiation requirements of Section 170(f)(8). The taxpayers argued that the conservation deed was a contemporaneous written acknowledgment of the charitable contribution that satisfied Section 170(f)(8).

The Commissioner relied on Schrimsher v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-71, where the court held that the contribution of a conservation easement was not deductible because the taxpayers did not receive a contemporaneous written acknowledgment from the donee organization. The taxpayers in Schrimsher relied on the conservation deed as evidence that the donee acknowledged the donation. The deed recited consideration of “the sum of TEN DOLLARS, plus other good and valuable consideration.” The Court held that the deed did not meet two of the three requirements of Section 170(f)(8) because it did not describe the property donated or provide a good faith estimate of its value.

The deed recorded in this case, however, recited consideration more particularly. The conservation easement in Averyt was granted “in consideration of the foregoing recitations and of the mutual covenants, terms, conditions, and restrictions hereinunder set forth.” The Court found that the deed language in this case compared favorably with the deed in Simmons v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2009-208, aff’d, 646 F.3d 6 (D.C. Cir. 2011) where the Court held that the deed satisfied the Sec. 170(f)(8) substantiation requirements. Accordingly, the Court found that the deed in this case met all of the requirements of Section 170(f)(8) including the provision that no goods or services were received in exchange for the donation.

The Court granted petitioner’s motion for partial summary judgment. The Court also determined that material questions of fact remained with regard to the other issues in dispute, so a trial may be forthcoming to determine those facts.

Read the opinion here:
Averyt v. Commissioner, TC Memo. 2012-198