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Articles Posted in California Tax Lawyer

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

How to Get California Income Tax Relief
California tax problems can come as a result of an IRS tax audit, if the IRS sends the result to the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB). The FTB can also initiate its own audit, or you can simply find yourself in a difficult financial situation and be unable to pay your California income tax debt.

The FTB offers a number of ways to get tax relief. If you have a complex tax situation that requires professional assistance, talk to a tax attorney before you agree to any tax relief programs.

Installment Agreements

When to Work With a Tax Litigation Lawyer as Well as a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If you have a large amount of tax debt, it is possible that you also have other types of debt that are causing financial difficulties. You may be considering bankruptcy if you have a combination of tax debt, secured debt, and unsecured debt. In this case, you might be unsure whether to seek advice from an expert tax litigation lawyer or a bankruptcy lawyer.

When to Talk to a Tax Litigation Lawyer

There are certain tax issues that require assistance from a tax lawyer, regardless of whatever other financial problems you are experiencing. If you have any of the following issues, you should contact a tax attorney:

The Most Common Criminal Tax Violations
The IRS reported 2,672 convictions for criminal tax violations in the 2016 fiscal year. While criminal tax charges are not common, the penalties —which can include jail time — are severe enough to cause any taxpayer to be concerned.

Most criminal tax penalties can result in a five-year prison sentence and $100,000 fine. You can also be charged with civil penalties for the same violations, and you may have any professional licenses revoked.

Common Criminal Tax Violations