Tax Court: No Penalties for Son of Boss Participants

In a memorandum opinion related to a division opinion we reported earlier this year, the Tax Court has found that underpayment and accuracy-related penalties asserted against investors in a “Son of Boss” tax shelter, did not apply to the participant taxpayers because they established reasonable cause under IRC § 6664(c)(1). However, the Court did sustain the government’s determination, which apparently was uncontested by the taxpayers, that they had underreported tax because of their involvement with the Son of Boss transactions.

The opinion offers a thorough discussion of the taxpayers’ conduct and the applicable standards for reasonable cause. The language and findings may provide useful guidance for taxpayers, and their counsel, seeking to avoid penalties by establishing reliance upon their advisors.

Read the entire opinion here:
Rawls v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2012-340

U.S. Supreme Court: Six-Year Statute of Limitations Does Not Apply to An Overstatement of Basis

In a huge win for the taxpayers in this case and many other similarly situated taxpayers, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its opinion in United States v. Home Concrete & Supply, LLC yesterday. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the six-year statute of limitations applicable to unreported income, IRC 6501(e), did not apply when a taxpayer overstated basis, and thus understated income. The Supreme Court embraced the principle of stare decisis and followed its opinion in Colony, Inc. v. Commissioner, 357 U. S. 28 (1958) to decide the question.

The case was selected for consideration to resolve a split in the circuits that ostensibly began with the 9th Circuit’s decision in Bakersfield Energy Partners, LP v. Commissioner, 128 T.C. 207 (2007), affd. 568 F.3d 767 (9th Cir. 2009) but soon became known as the “Intermountain issue” after the Tax Court’s decision in Intermountain Insurance Service of Vail LLC v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 211 (2010) which followed Bakersfield. The Intermountain decision came to exemplify a series of cases that received disparate treatment in the Courts of Appeals. The Court of Appeals came down in favor of the government in the 7th Circuit, the D.C. Circuit and the Federal Circuit though for different reasons. The 4th and 5th Circuit sided with the Tax Court and the 9th Circuit deciding that the 6 year statute of limitations did not apply to overstated basis. These cases attracted particular attention from both tax practitioners and the government because the overstated basis in each instance was the product of tax strategies (mostly Son of Boss transactions) that the government had listed or deemed abusive as a tax shelter.

The Supreme Court’s decision determined the straightforward question of whether an understatement of basis extends the traditional 3-year statute of limitations to 6 years under IRC 6501(e). It does not. However, many scholars and tax procedure wonks were hoping that the court would provide some guidance on the procedural validity and applicability of Treasury Regulation 301.6501(e)-1. Treas. Reg. 301.6501(e)-1 was promulgated as a temporary regulation in 2009 with a retroactive date of application to “correct” the 6-year statute of limitations controversy. The Temporary Regulation was published simultaneously with a Proposed Regulation to the same effect but without a pre-publication comment period. Some argued that such a move violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), notably among them Tax Court Judges Halpern and Holmes. (See their concurrence in the Tax Court’s Intermountain opinion.) The concern of many observers was not only the procedural validity of the regulation as promulgated but also whether an agency could promulgate a regulation that would have the effect of invalidating a Supreme Court interpretation of an ambiguous statute (which presumably this regulation would have done). The Supreme Court’s decision in National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. v. Brand X Internet Services, 545 U.S. 967 (2005), certainly suggested that the latter outcome was possible and the parties and amici briefed that issue extensively.

In the end, the Supreme Court invalidated the regulation on the narrow ground that did not apply because of the precedent established in Colony, Inc. It did not address the validity of the regulation’s promulgation under the APA or the broader question of whether a regulation could invalidate a Supreme Court interpretation. Presumably those questions will be left for another day.

Read the Supreme Court Opinion here:
U.S. v. Home Concrete & Supply, LLC., Docket No. 11-139 (April 25, 2012)

Tax Court: Tax Motivated Distressed Asset Transaction Disallowed

Superior Trading LLC v. Commissioner, which consolidated several pending petitions, represented the Tax Court’s first consideration of the Distressed Asset Debt/Distressed Asset Trust (“DAD”/”DAT”) transaction cases.  The Superior Trading transaction, a DAD transaction, operated through the contribution of significantly distressed, but not yet worthless, foreign assets to a partnership owned by the taxpayer seeking the tax loss. Under prior law, no election under section 754 was made at the time of the contribution which allowed the high basis, or purported face value, of the distressed assets to carry over to the partnership following the contribution. The contributed partnership interest was then redeemed, triggering recognition of the contributed built in loss which then passed through to the taxpayer.

The Court characterized the transaction as tax motivated on the first page of the opinion, comparing it to the widely litigated Son-of-Boss transactions. On the substantive issues, the Court found that the taxpayer failed to show that the distressed foreign assets had a tax basis prior to their contribution to the partnership. The Court then applied the step transaction doctrine to collapse the contribution of the debt to the partnership, and the redemption of that interest, into a single transaction. It characterized that transaction as a sale of the assets and further held that the taxpayers failed to prove the amount paid for the asset, thus again denying the recognition of any tax basis in the assets. The Court also rejected the taxpayer’s good faith and reasonable cause defenses and upheld the imposition of accuracy-related penalties.

Read the opinion here:
Superior Trading LLC v. Commissioner, 137 T.C. No. 6 (2011)

Tax Court: 6 Year Statute of Limitations Still Does Not Apply to Understated Basis Cases

The U.S. Tax Court in a reviewed opinion, accompanied by two concurrences, rejects the applicability of final Treas. Reg. Sec. 301.6229(c)(2)-1(b) and follows its opinions in Intermountain Insurance Service of Vail v. Commissioner and Bakersfield Energy Partners, LP v. Commissioner to hold that the 6 year statute of limitations does not apply to an understatement of income. The majority opinion, sua sponte, considered the final regulations in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Mayo Foundation v. United States.

Read the Tax Court’s opinion here:
Carpenter Family Investments, LLC v. Commissioner, 136 T.C. No. 17 (2011)

7th Circuit: Overstatement of Basis triggers 6 Year Statute of Limitations

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturns the Tax Court holding that a taxpayer’s overstatement of basis in a Son of Boss tax shelter is an omission of income under § 6501(e) triggering the six year statute of limitations.

For commentary on the implications of this opinion visit Tax Appellate Blog.

Read the Opinion:
Beard v. Commissioner, No. 09-3741 (7th Cir. Jan. 26 2011)

District Court: Tax Effect of a Son of Boss Transaction Denied

In a lengthy opinion, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts disallowed the tax benefits accruing from a Son of Boss transaction promoted by KPMG and entered into by the former U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, Richard Egan.

Fidelity International Currency Advisor A Fund, LLC v. United States, Docket 05-40151 et. al. (D. Mass May 17, 2010)