Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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The parties' dispute arose out of transactions originating from the savings and loan crisis during the 1970's and 1980's. Washington Mutual appealed a judgment entered in favor of the Government after a bench trial in a tax refund action. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, holding that Washington Mutual did not meet its burden of establishing a cost basis for its intangible assets. The panel concluded that the district court held Washington Mutual to the correct burden; did not make any clearly erroneous factual findings; permissibly determined that the cumulative fundamental flaws underlying the Grabowski Model rendered it incapable of producing a reliable value for the Missouri Branching Right; and was thus not required to sua sponte assign a value to that Right. Even assuming the Missouri Branching Right could be valued, Washington Mutual nonetheless failed to show reversible error as to the denial of its abandonment deduction. View "Washington Mutual v. United States" on Justia Law

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Taxpayers argue that they did not earn taxable income and are exempt from paying taxes because they have taken vows of poverty. The Bethal Aram Ministries (BAM) is a church formed by taxpayers that provides maintenance to taxpayers. The court concluded that the tax court's determinations are supported by substantial evidence. In this case, the payments were quid pro quo payments for services in setting up corporations sole and limited liability companies and not contributions to BAM. Furthermore, taxpayers have complete dominion and control over BAM and its accounts. Accordingly, the court affirmed the tax court's decision that payments received by taxpayers are taxable and that they are subject to self-employment tax. View "Gardner v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, three former baristas, filed a class action against Starbucks, challenging the legality of Starbucks’ practice of withholding state and federal taxes from baristas’ paychecks based on the cash tips they receive. As a general practice, the baristas do not report to Starbucks how much they receive in tips. Instead, for tax withholding purposes, the company simply imputes 50 cents per hour in estimated tip income to each barista and withholds state and federal taxes from the baristas’ paychecks based on that amount. The district court granted Starbucks' motion to dismiss. The court concluded that, under the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a), the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. The court also concluded that the federal-state comity doctrine bars the district court from awarding statutory damages on the state-tax component of plaintiffs’ claims, from which the federal-tax component cannot be severed. Because all of the claims are jurisdictionally barred or foreclosed by the comity doctrine, the court concluded that the entire action must be remanded to state court. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Fredrickson v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law

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The Commissioner appeals the Tax Court's decision in these consolidated cases that SHI did not have deficiencies for the tax years under consideration and that SHLP and Vistancia had no adjustments to partnership items for their tax years which were under consideration. The tax court determined that the Taxpayers had used an accounting method that clearly reflected their income during the tax years under consideration. The court affirmed the tax court's decision that on the record before it, the Taxpayers used a permissible method of accounting and that method of accounting clearly reflected their income. The Tax Court determined that, as a matter of fact, the subject matter included the house, the lot, “the development . . . and its common improvements and amenities.” In this case, the Tax Court did not clearly err when it determined the subject matter of the Taxpayers’ home construction contracts; the Taxpayers’ application of the 95 percent test and the CCM logically flows from that determination. View "Shea Homes v. CIR" on Justia Law

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I.R.C. 469 restricts taxpayers’ ability to reduce their taxable income using passive rental losses. At issue is whether section 469 entitles real estate professionals like petitioner to deduct rental losses without showing material participation in the rental property. The court held that section 469’s text, regulations, and relevant case law all point in one direction: though taxpayers who qualify as real estate professionals are not subject to section 469(c)(2)’s per se rule that rental losses are passive, they still must show material participation in rental activities before deducting rental losses. Congress endeavored to narrow the scope of permissible deductions for passive losses in real estate investments, in part by requiring material participation before losses may be deducted. The court concluded that real estate professionals were not exempted from this requirement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the government. View "Gragg v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff failed to timely file his 2001 tax forms and filed a Form 1040 seven years after it was due, and three years after the IRS assessed a deficiency against him. Plaintiff later filed for bankruptcy and sought to discharge his 2001 tax liability. The bankruptcy court permitted the discharge, but the district court reversed. In In re Hatton, the court adopted the Tax Court’s widely-accepted definition of “return.” The court held that plaintiff's tax liabilities are nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(B)(i). The court also held that Hatton applies to the bankruptcy code as amended, and that plaintiff’s tax filing, made seven years late and three years after the IRS assessed a deficiency against him, was not an “honest and reasonable” attempt to comply with the tax code. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Smith v. IRS" on Justia Law

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Marcus Katz contributed stock to MK Hillside, a partnership between him and his wholly owned corporation. After the IRS issued a Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA) to MK Hillside on January 2, 2008, finding that MK Hillside was a sham, lacked economic substance, and was formed and used principally to avoid taxes, Katz petitioned the tax court contesting the finding and asserting the statute of limitations. The IRS determined that 26 U.S.C. 6501(e)(1)'s six-year statute of limitations applied because Katz’s omission of the $198,000 credit from a collar termination on his 1999 return constituted more than 25% of the gross income reported on the return. The tax court denied summary judgment, holding that a trial would be necessary to determine whether Katz in fact omitted substantial income from his 1999 return. To avoid a trial, the parties agreed to a Stipulation of Facts and a Second Stipulation of Settled Issues. Based on those stipulations, the tax court held that the period for assessing tax on the 1999 MK Hillside partnership items was open as to Katz. The court concluded that, because the tax court had jurisdiction to consider Katz's argument, it necessarily had jurisdiction to reject it, at least for purposes of the partnership proceeding. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "MK Hillside Partners v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a complaint filed in 2011, by the late Al Davis and his wife, against the United States, seeking a refund of income taxes. Davis, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and the principal owner of the Oakland Raiders, argued that the IRS assessed the taxes outside the statue of limitations and in breach of a Closing Agreement between the IRS and the partnership that formally owned the Raiders. The district court entered judgment for Davis. In this case, the court held that, although the IRS admits that it breached Paragraph Q of the Closing Agreement by making the September 2007 assessments without giving Davis a second opportunity to review its calculations, the IRS's breach did not invalidate the assessments. Even though the breach denied Davis an opportunity to comment on the amounts of the assessments before they were made, it did not prevent him from challenging the assessed amounts by seeking an administrative refund claim or a refund action. Under the plain language of I.R.C. 6231(b)(1)(C), the court concluded that the IRS does not “enter into a settlement agreement with the partner” when it enters into a settlement agreement with the tax matters partner (TMP) and the individual partner is bound merely by operation of the tax court’s decision to which the partner is a party. Because the Closing Agreement and stipulations were not a “settlement agreement with” Davis within the scope of I.R.C. 6231(b), the assessments made on September 4, 2007 were timely, as they occurred within one year after the Tax Court decision became final. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. United States" on Justia Law

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The district court held that temporary foreign workers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and their employers are required to pay FICA taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare. Concorde and more than 4,000 temporary, nonresident former employees of Concorde, appealed the district court's entry of judgment on the pleadings in favor of the United States. The court concluded that, because FICA is a law that imposes an excise tax to support the Social Security system, it applies to the CNMI as it applies to Guam; FICA applies to all workers and their employers in Guam, regardless of their citizenship; and FICA also applies to all workers and their employers in the CNMI, including appellants, regardless of their citizenship. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Fang Lin Ai v. United States" on Justia Law

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Taxpayers received and then sold stock derived from the demutualization of five mutual life insurance companies from which they had purchased policies. At issue was whether a life insurance policyholder has any basis in a mutual life insurance company’s membership rights. The court held that taxpayers who sold stock obtained through demutualization cannot claim a basis in that stock for tax purposes because they had a zero basis in the mutual rights that were extinguished during the demutualization. The district court skipped a critical step by examining the value of the mutual rights without evidence of whether the taxpayers paid anything to first acquire them. The district court also erred when it estimated basis by using the stock price at the time of demutualization rather than calculating basis at the time the policies were acquired. Consequently, the court concluded that the IRS properly rejected taxpayers' refund claim in this case where they offered nothing to show payment for their stake in the membership rights, as opposed to premium payments for the underlying insurance coverage. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's denial of the government's motion for summary judgment. View "Dorrance v. United States" on Justia Law