Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2014, Salvatore Groppo pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the transmission of wagering information as a "sub-bookie" in an unlawful international sports gambling enterprise. He was sentenced to five years' probation, 200 hours of community service, a $3,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. In 2022, Groppo moved to expunge his conviction, seeking relief from a potential tax liability of over $100,000 on his sports wagering activity. He argued that the tax liability was disproportionate to his relatively minor role in the criminal enterprise.The district court denied Groppo's motion to expunge his conviction. The court reasoned that expungement of a conviction is only available if the conviction itself was unlawful or otherwise invalid. The court also stated that the IRS's imposition of an excise tax does not provide grounds for relief as 'government misconduct' that would warrant expungement.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that because Groppo alleged neither an unlawful arrest or conviction nor a clerical error, the district court correctly determined that it did not have ancillary jurisdiction to grant the motion to expunge. The court explained that a district court is powerless to expunge a valid arrest and conviction solely for equitable considerations, including alleged misconduct by the IRS. View "USA V. GROPPO" on Justia Law

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A group of online travel companies (OTCs), including Hotels.com, Expedia, and Priceline, were found liable by the Jefferson County Circuit Court for unpaid taxes under several Arkansas tax statutes. The court ordered the OTCs to pay the unpaid taxes, along with penalties, interest, and attorney's fees. The OTCs appealed, arguing that the court erred in imposing the taxes and awarding penalties.The case began in 2009 when the Pine Bluff Advertising and Promotion Commission and Jefferson County, Arkansas, filed a declaratory-judgment action against the OTCs, seeking a declaration that the OTCs were liable for local gross receipts tax and local tourism tax. The City of North Little Rock intervened in the case in 2011, alleging a similar claim. The circuit court granted class certification in 2013. In 2018, the circuit court denied the OTCs' motion for summary judgment and granted the class appellees' motion, finding that the OTCs were liable for the taxes.The Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the lower court's decision. The court found that the OTCs were not entities subject to the pre-2019 versions of the state and local gross receipts tax and the state tourism tax. The court also found that the OTCs did not rent, lease, or furnish rooms under the plain meaning of the local tourism tax statute. Therefore, the court held that the OTCs were not liable for the pre-2019 hotel taxes. The court did not address the OTCs' remaining arguments for reversal. View "HOTELS.COM, L.P. V. PINE BLUFF ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION COMMISSION" on Justia Law

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In 2015, GPT Maple Avenue Owner, LP (GPT) purchased a property that was subject to a lease to Equinix, LLC (Equinix). At the time of GPT’s acquisition, the remaining term of the lease was 26 years. The Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office (Assessor) determined that GPT’s acquisition resulted in a “change in ownership” permitting reassessment for property tax purposes because, at the time of the sale, the remaining term of the lease was under 35 years. This was based on the statutes implementing Proposition 13, which state that whether the transfer of a lessor’s interest in taxable real property results in a change in ownership generally depends on the length of the remaining lease term at the time of the transfer.Equinix appealed the Assessor’s 2015 change in ownership determination to the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board, which found in favor of the county. Equinix and GPT then presented a refund claim to the county, which the county denied. Equinix and GPT filed a lawsuit, and the trial court ruled in favor of the county, concluding that, under the “express language” of the relevant statutes, the sale of the Property to GPT in March 2015 resulted in a change in ownership because at the time of sale the remaining term of Equinix’s lease was less than 35 years.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division One, the court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The court found that under the unambiguous language of the relevant statute, the 2015 transaction is a change in ownership permitting reassessment. The court rejected the appellants' arguments that the statute is inconsistent with Proposition 13 and another section in the statutory scheme. The court also rejected the appellants' argument that the statute is inconsistent with the overarching rules set forth in another section of the law. The court concluded that the Legislature was not required to adhere to the task force’s recommendations and that the statute as enacted did not render the law illogical. View "Equinix LLC v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Meyer, Borgman & Johnson, Inc. (MBJ), a structural engineering firm, sought research tax credits for expenses incurred in creating designs for building projects. MBJ claimed approximately $190,000 in tax credits for the years ending September 30, 2010, 2011, and 2013. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue denied these credits.The United States Tax Court affirmed the Commissioner's decision, ruling that MBJ's research was "funded" within the meaning of 26 U.S.C. § 41(d)(4)(H), and therefore, MBJ did not qualify for the credits. The Tax Court's decision was based on a summary judgment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed the Tax Court's decision de novo. MBJ argued that the Tax Court erred because its right to payment was contingent on the success of its research, and its contracts had inspection, acceptance, and quality assurance provisions. MBJ claimed that its payments were contingent on the success of its research because it was required to create a design that met all the owner's requirements, complied with all pertinent codes and regulations, and was sufficiently detailed for a contractor to successfully construct it.However, the Court of Appeals disagreed with MBJ's arguments. It found that MBJ's contracts did not expressly or by clear implication make payment contingent on the success of MBJ’s research. The court distinguished between "successful performance"—meeting detailed, barometers of success—and "proper performance"—providing deliverables pursuant to a general professional standard of care and promising work free from negligence, error, or defects. The court found that MBJ's contracts fell into the latter category.The Court of Appeals affirmed the Tax Court's ruling that MBJ’s research did not merit the research tax credit. View "Meyer, Borgman & Johnson, Inc. v. CIR" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Alon Farhy, a U.S. permanent resident who failed to report his ownership of Belizean corporations to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), violating Section 6038(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Farhy acknowledged his violation and the resulting penalties of nearly $500,000 under Section 6038(b). However, he disputed the IRS's method of collecting the penalties, arguing that the IRS lacked statutory authority to assess and administratively collect Section 6038(b) penalties. Instead, he contended that the government must sue him in federal district court to collect what he owes under Section 6038(b).The Tax Court agreed with Farhy, concluding that the Code does not empower the IRS to assess and administratively collect Section 6038(b) penalties. The court held that the IRS could only collect Section 6038(b) penalties through a civil suit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, not through the administrative collection methods that it had used for over forty years.The case was then brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court disagreed with the Tax Court's interpretation. It held that the text, structure, and function of Section 6038 demonstrate that Congress authorized the assessment of penalties imposed under subsection (b). The court reversed the Tax Court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to enter a decision in favor of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. View "Farhy v. Cmsnr. IRS" on Justia Law

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The case involves Fuller Mill Realty, LLC (Fuller Mill) and the Rhode Island Department of Revenue Division of Taxation (the Division). Fuller Mill was part of the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Tax Credits Program, administered by the Division. Fuller Mill entered into an agreement with the Division in 2016 for a project. In 2018, the Division notified Fuller Mill that it had forfeited its rights to any historic tax credits for its project due to inactivity. After administrative proceedings and providing supplemental documentation, Fuller Mill's tax credits were reinstated. However, due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Division rescinded Fuller Mill's tax credits in 2020 for failing to complete the project by the agreed deadline. Fuller Mill requested an administrative hearing to challenge the rescission.The Division denied the request for a hearing, leading Fuller Mill to file an appeal in the District Court. The Division filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, arguing that Fuller Mill had waived its right to an administrative hearing and appeal in a stipulation of settlement and dismissal. The District Court denied the Division's motion to dismiss, leading the Division to file a petition for writ of certiorari, which was granted by the Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island found that the terms of the April 2021 stipulation were clear and unambiguous, stating that Fuller Mill had knowingly and voluntarily waived its right to an administrative hearing and to a District Court appeal. The court concluded that the hearing judge erred in denying the Division's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court quashed the order of the District Court and remanded the case to the District Court with directions to dismiss the case. View "Fuller Mill Realty, LLC v. Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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Scott and Gayla Moore, a married couple, claimed a tax credit under Section 41 of the Internal Revenue Code for research expenses for the 2014 and 2015 tax years. The Moores treated the salary and bonus of Gary Robert, the President and COO of Nevco, Inc., as Section 41 expenses. Nevco, a Subchapter S corporation, was solely owned by Gayla Moore, and thus all of its tax attributes flowed to her. The Moores argued that Robert spent a significant amount of time conducting or supervising research.The United States Tax Court held a trial and found that the record did not support the Moores' claim that Robert spent any given fraction of his time conducting or directly supervising "qualified" research. The court noted that Robert lacked written records of how he spent his time, which is a requirement under 26 C.F.R. §1.41–4(d). Furthermore, Robert could not estimate how much of his time was devoted to "qualified" research, as defined by Section 41(d)(1). The court also found that Robert did not engage in either "direct supervision" or "direct support" of Nevco’s director of engineering, whose salary the Commissioner of Internal Revenue was willing to treat as a "qualified research" expense.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court's decision. The Court of Appeals found that the Tax Court's inability to answer the questions of whether Robert's research was "qualified" and how much time he devoted to it was not a legal error, but a factual finding. The Court of Appeals reviewed this finding for clear error and found none. The Court of Appeals also noted that the Moores bore the burdens of production and persuasion, and thus the Tax Court's conclusion was dispositive against them. View "Moore v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The case involves Donald Herrington, who was charged with multiple counts of perjury, obtaining money by false pretenses, filing false or fraudulent income tax returns, failure to file an income tax return, and drug possession. Herrington chose to represent himself in court, waiving his right to counsel. He was eventually convicted on several charges and sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment. Herrington appealed his conviction, arguing that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated and that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to bring two meritorious arguments on direct appeal.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which rejected Herrington's arguments and denied his petition. Herrington then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. The court found that Herrington knowingly, unequivocally, and voluntarily waived his right to counsel, thus affirming that aspect of the district court's decision. However, the court agreed with Herrington that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the jury was erroneously instructed on the requirements for a conviction for failure to file a tax return. The court reversed this part of the district court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to issue a writ of habeas corpus unless Herrington is afforded a new state court appeal in which he may raise this claim. View "Herrington v. Dotson" on Justia Law

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This case involves two appeals by West Maui Resort Partners LP and Ocean Resort Villas Vacation Owners Association against the County of Maui. The appellants, who manage nearly 700 time share units, challenged their Maui County tax assessments, arguing that the County's tax assessments were unconstitutional and violated the County's own code. They contended that the County's creation of a Time Share real property tax classification acted as an illegal tax on time share visitors. They also argued that time share units and hotel units have an identical "use" for real property purposes, and therefore, should be taxed in the same real property tax classification.The Tax Appeal Court granted summary judgment for the County in both cases. The court concluded that the County acted within its constitutional authority to tax real property in creating the Time Share classification and taxing properties assigned to it. The court also found that the County had several legitimate policy purposes rationally related to the creation of the Time Share classification, including raising revenue for infrastructure maintenance and addressing time share properties' unique impacts on the community.The appellants appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, which transferred the cases to the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i. The Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Appeal Court's summary judgment for the County in both cases, concluding that the County did not exceed its constitutional authority when creating the Time Share classification, nor did it violate its own code in doing so. The court also held that the Time Share classification's creation and rates were constitutional under the equal protection clauses of the Hawai‘i and U.S. Constitutions. View "In Re: West Maui Resort Partners LP v. County of Maui" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Walt Disney Company and International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), both multinational corporations, and their dispute with the Tax Appeals Tribunal of the State of New York. The corporations challenged the state's taxation scheme that was in effect from 2003 to 2013. The scheme allowed corporations that paid franchise taxes in New York to deduct income received as royalty payments from members of the same corporate group in calculating their taxable income. The deduction was only allowed if the royalty payment came from a related entity that had already paid a New York tax on the same income. The state Department of Taxation and Finance determined that both corporations improperly deducted royalty payments they received from affiliates in foreign countries that were not subject to New York franchise taxes. The corporations argued that the denial of the deduction was contrary to the statute and violated the Commerce Clause's prohibition on discrimination against foreign commerce.The corporations challenged the denial of their royalty tax deductions and the notices of deficiency with the New York State Division of Tax Appeals. The Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) determined that the deduction authorized under the law only applied where the royalty came from a subsidiary that had been subjected to the add back requirement contained in the law. The ALJs denied the petitions and sustained the notices of deficiency. The Tax Appeals Tribunal subsequently affirmed both decisions. The corporations then commenced proceedings in the Appellate Division, which affirmed the determinations and dismissed the petitions. The corporations appealed to the Court of Appeals.The Court of Appeals affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. The court held that the Appellate Division correctly interpreted the statutes as permitting a tax deduction only where a related subsidiary was subject to the add back requirement. The court also found that any burden on interstate or foreign commerce created by this tax scheme was incidental and did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause. The court rejected the corporations' argument that the tax scheme was facially discriminatory against out-of-state commerce and failed the internal consistency test. The court concluded that the tax scheme treated groups with related members who did not pay taxes in New York the same as those with related members who did, and that the scheme did not result in duplicative taxation in all situations. View "In re Walt Disney Company and Consolidated Subsidiaries v Tax Appeals Tribunal" on Justia Law