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Articles Tagged with Tax litigation

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).

How to Respond When the IRS Makes a Mistake
Charged with administering, enforcing, and collecting taxes from millions of Americans, the IRS understandably makes mistakes. If the IRS is trying to charge you penalties or assess taxes incorrectly, or is attempting to seize your bank account or put a lien on your house, you have options for disputing the IRS action and arguing your case.

How to Handle Incorrect Tax Assessments

If the IRS sends you a Notice of Deficiency and you do not believe you actually owe the tax, you should file a petition in Tax Court. You have 90 days from the date of the notice to file your petition. If you miss this chance, you will only be able to argue your case in court AFTER paying the full amount and filing a refund claim.

IRS “Substance Over Form” Argument Fails
The Sixth Circuit reversed a Tax Court decision and denied the IRS’s “substance over form” argument by allowing a clever tax reduction technique that was legal under the letter of the law. In Summa Holdings v. Commissioner, the court rejected the IRS’s position and declined to let Congress off the hook for allowing a loophole that was used by the taxpayer to avoid the contribution limits on Roth IRAs.

The Beneson family used a domestic international sales corporation” (DISC) to transfer money from their family-owned company to their sons’ Roth IRAs. DISC dividends are subject to a tax on unrelated business taxable income, but once the DISC dividends go into a Roth IRA, the earnings would grow tax-free, and the distributions would also not be subject to tax.

In other words, the Benesons avoided the Roth IRA contribution limits (currently $5,500 per account annually) using this strategy. Between 2002 and 2008, the Benesons transferred over $5 million into two Roth IRA accounts.

Can a California Tax Lawyer Help Me with Tax Problems in Other States
Tax laws vary greatly from state to state, and in fact, nine states don’t even charge a state income tax. With such diversity of tax laws, it isn’t feasible for a tax lawyer to be fully versed in the statutes of all the other 41 states. However, federal tax laws apply to all 50 states, and a tax attorney with experience dealing with the IRS may be able to assist you with federal tax problems even if you live or do business in another state.

A California Tax Lawyer for State and Federal Tax Problems

For federal tax problems, it’s important to find an attorney that specializes in tax matters. The United States Tax Court will admit attorneys that are members of the bar in any state or Washington D.C. without requiring an examination. If you have a case before the Tax Court, an attorney from another state can help you if they are admitted to practice before the Tax Court.

Tax litigation
Tax laws change regularly, and are a challenge to adequately decipher under the best of circumstances. Even with the requisite due diligence and the help of a CPA, you may find yourself the recipient of a letter from the IRS “inviting you to an audit.” If you’ve been audited by the IRS and disagree with their findings, all is not lost.

Your rights as a U.S. taxpayer include the right to contest an IRS bill which you feel is inaccurate or unfair by filing an appeal. The key to gaining a satisfactory result from an appeal is strict adherence to each step of the process. Guidelines and deadlines must be closely followed.

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