Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

by
Blake, who has an MBA, engaged in a fraudulent tax scheme but claims unnamed users in internet chat rooms persuaded him to pursue his hidden federal “legacy trusts.” Blake filed eight different individual tax returns using fraudulent information, at one point faking his own death. He was convicted of presenting a false or fictitious claim to a U.S. agency, 18 U.S.C. 287, and theft of government money, 18 U.S.C. 641. Blake’s base offense level was six; 16 levels were added for an intended loss in excess of $1.5 million (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(I)). Two more levels were added for obstruction of justice (3C1.1). Blake’s guidelines range was 51–63 months' imprisonment. Blake objected to including in the loss calculation $900,000 in claimed refunds in the 2008–2010 filings, arguing he was not responsible for those filings. He also claimed $300,000 should be the intended loss amount because he intended to obtain only his “legacy trust” funds which he believed were about that amount. Under Blake’s calculations, his guidelines range was 33–41 months. The district court rejected his arguments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 36 months in prison plus restitution. The district court did not commit reversible error. Blake's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was dismissed without prejudice as “better raised on collateral review.” View "United States v. Blake" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the appellate tax board (board) upholding the Commissioner of Revenue's assessment of an additional Massachusetts estate tax based on the value of a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust in computing a decedent's Massachusetts estate tax return, holding that there was not a constitutional or a statutory barrier to the assessment. Robert Chuckrow created a QTIP trust in New York. Adelaid Chuckrow (decedent) was the lifetime income beneficiary of the QTIP trust and deed domiciled in Massachusetts. The decedent's estate (estate) did not include the value of the QTIP trust assets in computing her Massachusetts estate tax return. After an audit, the Commission assessed an additional Massachusetts estate tax of almost $2 million based on the value of the QTIP assets. The board upheld the assessment. At issue before the Supreme Judicial Court was whether the intangible assets in the QTIP trust were includable in the gross estate of the decedent for purposes of calculating the Massachusetts estate tax under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 65C, 2A(a). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the QTIP assets were includable in the estate for purposes of the Massachusetts estate tax. View "Shaffer v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals that it lacked jurisdiction to review the failure by the Board of Tax Appeals (BOTA) to issue a full and complete opinion in an ad valorem tax dispute after the opinion was requested, holding that the court erred when it concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to review the allegation that BOTA illegally failed timely to issue a full and complete opinion. Taxpayers appealed Johnson County's ad valorem tax valuations for the 2016 tax year on seven commercial properties. The BOTA entered a written summary decision ordering lower values for each property. Five weeks later, the County asked BOTA to issue the full and complete opinion. BOTA failed to do so. The County petitioned the court of appeals for judicial review. The court of appeals dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded, holding that the court of appeals (1) had jurisdiction over the issue of whether BOTA acted properly in failing timely to issue a full and complete opinion; and (2) correctly dismissed the appeal as it pertained to the County's effort to obtain judicial review of the summary decision. View "In re Equalization Appeals of Target Corp." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the tax court increasing the assessed unit value of a pipeline system for tax years 2015 and 2016, holding that the tax court did not err in its calculations for the cost indicator of value but erred in assigning equal weight to the cost and income indicators of value. On appeal, the taxpayer (1) challenged the tax court's market value determination, asserting that the court erred in its treatment of construction work in progress and external obsolescence in the computation of the cost indicator of value; and (2) challenged the weight that the court assigned to the cost indicator of value, as opposed to the income indicator, in determining the unit value of the pipeline system. The Supreme Court held that the tax court (1) did not err in its calculations for the cost indicator of value; but (2) erred by concluding that it had no discretion to adjust the default weightings prescribed by Minnesota Rule 8100.0300, subpart 5 for the cost and income indicators of value. View "Enbridge Energy, Limited Partnership v. Commissioner of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the New Jersey Supreme Court in this appeal was whether a high-end restaurant operated by a for-profit entity, but housed in a building on the Kean University campus, qualified for a local property tax exemption. Gourmet Dining, LLC, owned and operated a fine dining restaurant named Ursino in a Kean University building. In October 2011, the Kean University Foundation, Inc., and Gourmet Dining entered into a Management Subcontract Agreement (MSA), which conferred on Gourmet Dining the exclusive right to operate, manage, and control Ursino. Gourmet Dining agreed to pay the Foundation an annual “management fee” and a percentage of Ursino’s gross revenue. The Tax Court granted summary judgment in favor of Union Township. Concluding that Gourmet Dining had not established that the subject property is used for a public purpose pursuant to N.J.S.A. 54:4-3.3, or that its actual use of the property was for “colleges, schools, academies or seminaries” as required by N.J.S.A 54:4-3.6, the court held that Gourmet Dining was not entitled to tax exemption under either provision. The Appellate Division reversed, relying on a holistic view: the restaurant is located on-campus; University students and their parents regularly dined there; Gourmet Dining’s annual management fees were used for scholarships; many of the restaurant’s employees are students; and the restaurant used produce grown on theUniversity grounds and provides the University with compostable waste. The Supreme Court reversed, holding the arrangement by which Gourmet Dining operates Ursino was taxable as a lease or lease-like interest. The public-benefit-oriented exemption provisions in issue were not intended to exempt the for-profit operator of a high-end, regionally renowned restaurant situated on a college campus, when the overriding purpose of the endeavor was focused on profitmaking. "Gourmet Dining, as the exclusive operator and manager of this restaurant establishment, must bear its fair share of the local real property tax burden." View "Gourmet Dining, LLC v. Union Township" on Justia Law

by
BNSF filed suit under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (4-R Act), alleging that the tax on its intangible personal property is "another tax that discriminates against a rail carrier" under 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The Ninth Circuit joined the Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, and Tenth Circuits and held that challenges to discriminatory property taxes may proceed under 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The court rejected the Department's claims to the contrary and explained that this is not a challenge to exemption-based discrimination. The panel agreed with the district court that the proper comparison class for BNSF was Oregon's commercial and industrial taxpayers, and that the intangible personal property tax assessment discriminated against BNSF in violation of the 4-R Act. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Oregon Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

by
Igboba was convicted on 18 counts under 18 U.S.C. 286, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 18 U.S.C. 287, and 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1), (b), and (c)(5), based on his participation in a conspiracy to defraud the government by preparing and filing false federal income tax returns using others’ identities. He was sentenced to 162 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, and required to pay restitution, special assessment, and forfeiture sums. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that when the district court increased his base offense level based on the total amount of loss his offense caused, U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1), it failed to distinguish between the loss caused by his individual conduct and that caused by the entire conspiracy and that the district court erred in applying a two-level sophisticated-means enhancement, section 2B1.1(b)(10). the district court could rightly attribute $4.1 million in losses to “acts and omissions committed, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, procured, or willfully caused by” Igboba. The court noted his “sophisticated” use of technology and multiple aliases. View "United States v. Igboba" on Justia Law

by
In 2009, Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch. In 2013, Merrill Lynch “merged with and into” Bank of America. In 2017, Bank of America filed a complaint, seeking to recover overpaid interest on federal tax underpayments and additional interest on federal tax overpayments arising under 26 U.S.C. 6601 and 6611. The claimed overpayment interest arose from overpayments made by Merrill Lynch. The government moved to sever the Merrill Lynch overpayment interest claims exceeding $10,000 and requested that the district court transfer them to the Court of Federal Claims or, alternatively, dismiss them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Magistrate Judge concluded and the district court affirmed that district courts have “subject matter jurisdiction over overpayment interest claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(1). The Federal Circuit vacated. The plain language of section 1346(a)(1) dictates that the term “any sum” refers to amounts that have been previously paid to, or collected by, the IRS, which, overpayment interest “[b]y its nature, . . . is not.” The conclusion that section 1346(a)(1) does not cover overpayment interest claims is consistent with the tax code’s broader statutory scheme; the legislative history does not contradict that conclusion. View "Bank of America Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

by
In the November 2018 general election, 61percent of San Francisco voters voted for Proposition C, entitled “Additional Business Taxes to Fund Homeless Services.” San Francisco filed suit to establish that Proposition C has been validly enacted through the voters’ initiative power. The City’s complaint against “All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C” was answered by three defendants: the California Business Properties Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the California Business Roundtable (the Associations). The Associations allege that Proposition C is invalid because it imposes a special tax approved by less than two-thirds of the voting electorate as required by Propositions 13 and 218. (California Constitution Art. XIII A, section 4 & Art. XIII C, section 2(d).) The trial court granted the City judgment on the pleadings. The court of appeal affirmed, citing two California Supreme Court cases interpreting other language from Proposition 13 and Proposition 218. The supermajority vote requirements that those propositions added to the state constitution coexist with and do not displace the people’s power to enact initiatives by majority vote. Because a majority of San Francisco voters who cast ballots in November 2018 favored Proposition C, the initiative measure was validly enacted. View "City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in Proposition C" on Justia Law

by
The Paula Trust, established for the sole benefit of Medeiros, a California resident, has two cotrustees—a California resident and a Maryland resident. Paula Trust held a limited partnership interest in Syufy, which in 2007 sold stock. Some of the capital gain income from the stock sale was allocated to Paula Trust. Paula Trust’s 2007 tax return reported $2,831,336 of capital gain including the stock sale. The trust paid California income tax of $223,425 and later filed an amended 2007 California fiduciary income tax return, requesting a refund, arguing that the capital gain was incorrectly reported as California-source income. The trustees declared they were “required to apportion the stock gain as California source and non-California-source income . . . according to the number of trustees resident in California” based on Rev. & Tax. Code 17743, which provides: “Where the taxability of income under this chapter depends on the residence of the fiduciary and there are two or more fiduciaries for the trust, the income taxable . . . shall be apportioned according to the number of fiduciaries resident in this state.” The court of appeal reversed a judgment ordering a refund in the amount of $150,655 of tax, plus interest of $68,955.70. The Revenue and Taxation Code imposes taxes on the entire amount of trust income derived from California sources, regardless of the residency of the trust’s fiduciaries. View "Steuer v. Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law