Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Appellants, a medical doctor and the subchapter S Corporation for which he works, filed suit against the IRS due to penalties it assessed against them for their failure to inform the IRS about questionable deductions the Corporation took for contributions it made for life insurance benefits. The district court granted summary judgment to the IRS.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's decision determining that the IRS was correct to issue penalties based on the ground that appellants did not file the required notice. In this case, the multi-employer welfare benefit plan is at least substantially similar to the type of plans that the IRS has indicated do not qualify for the exemption from IRC 419 and the corresponding IRC 419A(f)(6) deduction. Therefore, the district court correctly decided to grant summary judgment to the IRS. View "Turnham v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of TriNet in an action brought by TriNet, as the successor-in-interest of Gevity, a professional employer organization (PEO). Gevity claimed tax credits from 2004 to 2009 based on its payment of FICA taxes on the tip income of its client companies' employees. The IRS asserts that such credits were not allowed because Gevity was not the "employer" entitled to claim the credits as that term is defined in 26 U.S.C. 3401(d). The court concluded that, under the statutes applicable to the period at issue, Gevity was the statutory employer entitled to claim the FICA tip credit because it—not its client companies—controlled the payment of the wages subject to withholding. View "TriNet Group, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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After Pine Mountain granted North American Land Trust conservation easements, Pine Mountain claimed tax deductions for the easements under I.R.C. 170. The IRS denied the deductions and the tax court held that the 2005 and 2006 easements were not "granted in perpetuity" within the meaning of section 170(h)(2)(C) because, although Pine Mountain had agreed to extensive restrictions on its use of the land, it had reserved to itself limited development rights within the conservation areas; that the 2007 easement complied with section 170(h)(5)(A)'s requirement that the easement's conservation purposes be "protected in perpetuity," notwithstanding its inclusion of a clause permitting the contracting parties to bilaterally amend the grant; and that the value of the 2007 easement is $4,779,500—which, it turns out, is almost exactly midway between the parties' wildly divergent appraisals.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. The court held that the 2005 and 2006 easements satisfy section 170(h)(2)(C)'s granted-in-perpetuity requirement; that the existence of an amendment clause in an easement does not violate section 170(h)(5)(A)'s protected-in-perpetuity requirement; and that the tax court applied the wrong method for valuing the 2007 easement. View "Pine Mountain Preserve, LLLP v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court's conclusion that debtors' 2001 tax liability was not dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(C) because debtors "willfully attempted . . . to evade or defeat" that liability. The court found substantial evidence of attempted evasion and concluded that the bankruptcy court did not clearly err in finding that debtors acted willfully when they redirected their funds away from paying their debt and toward their personal luxuries. The court has held that excessive discretionary spending constitutes circumstantial evidence of willfulness. Furthermore, the bankruptcy court also inferred willfulness from debtor's exploitation of the offer-in-compromise process. View "Feshbach v. Department of Treasury Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs filed suit against their accounting firm for negligence, the firm settled the case by paying plaintiffs $800,000. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the government as to plaintiffs' deduction of litigation expenses as a business expense, because the litigation between plaintiffs and the firm was personal in its character and origin. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the government as to plaintiffs' $1.4 million deduction for a purported loss, because the settlement agreement bars plaintiffs from deducting any fraction of the settlement for the covered transactions.With respect to the $800,000 settlement payment exclusion, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of the government. Assuming that Clark v. Comm'r, 40 B.T.A. 333, 335 (1939), was correctly decided, and that its rationale applies in a case like this one where the accounting malpractice related not to the preparation of a tax return but to the structuring of an underlying transaction, the court held that plaintiffs failed to sustain their burden of demonstrating that the $800,000 settlement was excludable. In this case, plaintiffs failed to meet their burdens of showing their entitlement to the exclusion and the amount of that exclusion. The court explained that the IRS' tax deficiency notice was presumed correct, and plaintiffs did not overcome that presumption. View "McKenney v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated the tax court's decision upholding the Commissioner's disallowance of a charitable deduction for taxpayer's donation of a conservative easement over property that included a private golf course and undeveloped land. The court explained that the deduction was proper if the donation was made for "the protection of a relatively natural habitat of fish, wildlife, or plants, or similar ecosystem," or was made for "the preservation of open space . . . for the scenic enjoyment of the general public" under I.R.C. 170(h)(4)(A)(ii) & (iii)(I). The court reasoned that, without the golf course, this easement would easily meet these criteria. The court held that the Code does not disqualify an easement just because it includes a golf course. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Champions Retreat Golf Founders, LLC v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the tax court's order denying taxpayer's motion to restrain collection to the extent it related to the gross valuation-misstatement penalty. At issue was whether, under the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA), a tax court presiding over partner-level deficiency proceedings has jurisdiction over a gross valuation-misstatement penalty previously determined to be applicable at the partnership level where the partnership was determined to be a "sham" and "lacking economic substance."The court held that the Internal Revenue Code, as in effect during the relevant time, applicable regulations, and Supreme Court precedent make clear that the valuation-misstatement penalty at issue here relates to an adjustment to a partnership item and, consequently, is explicitly excluded from the tax court's deficiency jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court held that the tax court presiding over partner-level deficiency proceedings does not have jurisdiction over gross valuation misstatement penalties imposed against a partnership previously determined to be a "sham" and "lacking economic substance." View "Highpoint Tower Technology Inc. v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order upholding the bankruptcy court's decision to deny an exemption to pension money and certain tax-exempt funds or accounts, including IRAs under Fla. Stat. 222.21. The court held that debtor forfeited his exemption when he engaged in self-dealing transactions prohibited by the IRA's governing instruments. In this case, debtor conceded that he incurred over one hundred thousand dollars in tax penalties for abusing his IRA, but nonetheless sought to shield the IRA from distribution to his creditors. View "Yerian v. Webber" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the government in an action brought by plaintiff, seeking to recover taxes she previously paid to the government. The court held that, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the evidence supported the conclusion that she satisfied all the elements of 26 U.S.C. 1341, which allows a taxpayer who paid taxes on what she erroneously believed to be her income to recoup those unnecessary tax payments. Under section 1341, plaintiff had just as much of a right to recover the taxes she previously paid on the $300,000 she received and then gave back as did her ex-husband to recover the taxes he paid on his $300,000 that he returned.Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. On remand, the district court should determine whether any genuine dispute as to any factual issues necessary to resolve the inquiry on each of the section 1341 factors exists and, if so, any dispute should proceed to trial. If there is no such factual dispute, the district court should enter judgment in favor of plaintiff. View "Mihelick v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the tax court's judgment in favor of the IRS in an action challenging the IRS's notice of deficiency. The court held that taxpayers waived their argument that the fraud exception was triggered only when the taxpayer intends to evade tax, not when the return preparer intends to evade tax. The court declined to exercise its discretion by not enforcing the waiver doctrine. Finally, the court held that the tax court did not abuse its discretion by admitting the return preparer's out-of-court statements. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the tax court. View "Finnegan v. Commissioner" on Justia Law