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Articles Posted in California Tax Lawyer

Most, if not all, Payroll Protection Program (PPP) borrowers are focused on the question of whether they will be able to have their PPP loan forgiven.  Many questions have arisen, and some but not all, have been answered by the Loan Forgiveness Application and instructions   released by the SBA on Friday, May 15, 2020.  Here are some of the highlights.

  • Annual “cash” payroll costs are capped at $100,000 per employee. While this is not news, the SBA calculates that this amount on a pro-rata basis for the 8 week “Covered Period” is $15,385. If you do the math, that is equal to 8 weeks per year divided by 52 weeks multiplied by $100,000. Some were hoping that those on a semi-monthly pay schedule could use a larger amount based upon 24 pay periods per year. Apparently not.
  • Alternative Payroll Covered Period. The Covered Period is generally eight weeks (actually 56 days) beginning on the date the loan is first funded. The Alternative Payroll Covered Period is only for employers with bi-weekly or more frequent payroll schedules. Therefore, it doesn’t appear to apply to employers who pay semi-monthly. It begins on the on the first day of the first payroll period following the PPP Loan Disbursement Date and ends 56 days later.  The following example is provided:  Alternative Payroll Covered Period: “… if the Borrower received its PPP loan proceeds on Monday, April 20, and the first day of its first pay period following its PPP loan disbursement is Sunday, April 26, the first day of the  Alternative Payroll Covered Period is April 26 and the last day of the Alternative Payroll Covered Period is Saturday, June 20.”  This suggests that one cannot include payments for a payroll period that begins before the PPP Loan Disbursement Date but is paid after that date. However, that is inconsistent with the Press Release issued concurrently by the SBA which states that the form and instructions provide “Flexibility to include eligible payroll and non-payroll expenses paid OR incurred during the eight-week period after receiving their PPP loan.” (emphasis supplied).  See more below.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, the IRS has provided relief to taxpayers by extending filing and other deadlines. Now, in an internal memorandum from Fred Schindler the Director of Headquarters Collection (SBSE), the IRS continues to provide relief to taxpayers with tax debt by suspending most tax collection activities. These changes mirror the previous relief provided by the IRS, and restates the relief contained in the People First Initiative.  Our tax litigation attorneys are advising our clients that they can expect enforced tax collection activities to be suspended unless there is an exigent circumstance including the loss of the opportunity for the government to collect taxes due. The expiration of the statute of limitations is one example.

The importance of the memo is that while it mostly repeats and fleshes out the People First Initiative, it is a direct “order” from the head of SBSE Collection to all Collection Executives. The People First Initiative is a bit more nebulous in terms of its actual impact on the activities of rank and file employees.  The collection activities outlined in the memo include most activities related to the collection process such as meeting with taxpayers, filing new Notices of Federal Tax Liens (NFTL), issuing levies, taking or scheduling seizures actions, and pursuing civil suit proceedings. Automated tax levy programs are also suspended. The memorandum also directs Collections not to default installment agreements for missed payments due between April 1 and July 15, 2020 (the suspension period).  Due to the ongoing and ever changing nature of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, the IRS may extend the suspension period and the incorporated relief provisions further.

It is important for taxpayers and their advisors to remember that even though collection enforcement activity will be rare from now through July 15th, once the suspension period ends the IRS may begin filing liens and levies with a vengeance. Our tax lawyers are therefore recommending to our clients that, to the extent practicable, they position themselves to take appropriate action to forestall collection after the suspension period ends. This includes submitting offers in compromise, and requesting installment agreements now.

In a 2019 U.S. Tax Court case, Palmolive Building Investors, LLC v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 4, (2019) (Palmolive II), the Tax Court held that both penalties determined by the Revenue Agent in a tax audit and additional penalties later determined  by an Appeals Officer in the IRS Independent Office of Appeals met the written approval requirements of I.R.C. § 6751; thus making Palmolive Building Investors, LLC (Palmolive) a two-time loser. Palmolive was initially in Tax Court in 2017 (Palmolive I) over a disallowed charitable deduction for a façade easement.  As the owner of a historical building in Chicago, it had donated a façade easement to a conservation organization and took a large charitable deduction for the easement. In addition to questioning the $33,410,000 valuation of the easement, the IRS argued that the mortgages on the building limited the easement’s protection in perpetuity. The Tax Court agreed and concluded that the façade easement was not protected in perpetuity and therefore failed to qualify for a charitable deduction under I.R.C. § 170(h)(5)(A).

Following the disallowance in Palmolive I, the taxpayer returned to the Tax Court to dispute whether the penalties assessed by the IRS complied with the provisions of IRC Section 6751(b)(1).  During a tax audit, a Revenue Agent had asserted in a 30-day letter that Palmolive was responsible for a 40% penalty for a gross valuation misstatement and a 20% negligence penalty. These two penalties were approved on Form 5701 by the Revenue Agent’s supervisor. Subsequently, a 60-day letter was issued. The taxpayer took its case to the IRS Office of Appeals. The Appeals Officer assigned to the case proposed four penalties: the two assessed by the Revenue Agent and the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties. The Appeals Officer’s immediate supervisor approved all of these penalties on Form 5402-c. In Tax Court, Palmolive argued that the initial determination of penalties was made by the Revenue Agent who did not assert the Substantial Understatement and Substantial Valuation Misstatement penalties; therefore the penalties asserted by the Appeals Officer were not approved as part of the first determination of the penalties.

In examining the validity of the penalty assessments, the court cited I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1) which states that penalties can only be assessed when the initial determination of such penalties are approved in writing by the immediate supervisor of the person making the determination. The court also pointed out that the Congressional motive behind enacting this provision was to make sure penalties were not used as bargaining chips. The court first noted that all penalties were approved in writing. The next issue was what defines an “initial determination” for the purposes if I.R.C. § 6751(b)(1). The court held that the initial determination is when the penalties were first communicated to the taxpayer. The court stated that the Revenue Agent’s 2008 mailing of the 30-day letter was the date of the initial determination and the Appeals Officer’s 2014 issuance of the Notice of Final Partnership Administrate Adjustment are both initial determinations. Since the IRS forms were signed by the respective supervisors prior to the time of the initial determinations, the penalties met the requirements of Section 6751(b) (1).

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A 2017 case is a stark $300,000 reminder that the IRS is not bound by statements made by its employees, such as Revenue Officers. Tommy Weder was a responsible officer of a corporation which failed to pay its payroll taxes, and as a result, he was assessed a trust fund recovery penalty (TFRP) pursuant to IRC Section 6672. After he paid the $300,000, he filed suit in federal district court in Oklahoma requesting a refund. His theory was that the company had paid $300,000 towards the trust fund taxes, and that, therefore, his personal liability was reduced by that amount. In most cases, a taxpayer must pay any tax in full (not just a portion) before he or she can file a suit for a refund. However, under the so-called Flora rule, payroll taxes are divisible taxes, therefore, the taxpayer must only pay the tax due for one employee for one quarter.

The IRS took the position that the payment was not properly designated toward the trust fund, and that it was therefore entitled to, and did, apply the payment towards non-trust fund taxes owed by the company, which of course doesn’t reduce the trust fund recovery penalty. Weder didn’t dispute that there hadn’t been a written designation of tax. The payment had been made through the IRS’ EFTS system, and there was no designation. Weder argued, however, that the Revenue Officer that had been assigned to collection had met with representatives of the company, including its CPA, and that the Revenue Officer had demanded that the payment be made through EFTPS, and represented that the payment would be applied to the trust fund taxes.

The court ruled that absent a WRITTEN designation by the company, the IRS was free to apply the payment in the “best interest” of the government. The Court relied on Rev. Proc. 2002-26, which provides that absent written directions, the IRS “will apply payments to periods in the order of priority that the Service determines will serve the Service’s best interest.” It pointed out that prior to Rev. Proc. 2002-26 being promulgated, the prior IRS guidance was contained in Rev. Rul. 73-2. CB 43. That Revenue ruling only required that taxpayers give “directions.”

How to Determine Residency for California State Income Tax Purposes
The California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) can come after snowbirds and other people who spend time in California, but maintain a tax residence in other states. For California income tax purposes, nonresidents are only taxed on income earned from California sources. Residents, on the other hand, are taxed on all of their income, even if it was earned outside of California, and even if it was earned outside of the country.

The difference between having a status as a California tax resident or nonresident can therefore amount to tens of thousands of dollars in potential tax liability, and tens of thousands of dollars in additional revenue to The Golden State. The general definition of a resident is an individual who is present in California for other than a transitory or temporary purpose, or someone who is domiciled in California, but it located outside of California other than for a transitory or temporary purpose.

The term “domicile” means the place where you voluntarily establish yourself and family, not merely for a special or limited purpose, but with a present intention of making it your true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment. Determining whether a visit is temporary or transitory depends on the purpose and length of the visit.

What to Do If You Are Accused of Tax Fraud
Tax fraud is a crime that involves intentional wrongdoing when failing to comply with a tax law. If you simply make a mistake when filing your taxes, the IRS may charge you with civil penalties, but they will not pursue any criminal charges. If, however, the IRS believes that you intentionally failed to meet your obligations as a taxpayer, you could face criminal penalties and jail time.

Tax fraud can result in up to 5 years and prison and a $500,000 fine. The IRS does not commonly pursue criminal charges, so if they have singled you out for a criminal tax violation, you should immediately consult with a tax attorney.

What to Do If You Are Accused of Tax Fraud

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