Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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In 2005, the Ginsburgs, through their corporation (Hawthorne), acquired Brooklyn property and applied to participate in the Brownfield Cleanup Program. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved their application and the parties entered into an Agreement. The development was completed in 2011, converting an old shoe factory into a residential rental building. In 2011, the Ginsburgs granted the state an environmental easement; DEC issued a certificate of completion. Hawthorne applied for a brownfield redevelopment tax credit of $6,583,835.10 for tax year 2011, with the Ginsburgs’ share equaling $4,975,595.00, In 2013, the state paid the Ginsburgs a refund of $1,903,951.00 attributable to the brownfield redevelopment tax credit. They did not report the payment as income on their 2013 federal income tax return, claiming that this payment constituted a nontaxable refund. The IRS determined the Ginsburgs owed an additional $690,628.46 in federal income tax, which they paid. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, holding that the excess payment of the tax credit they had received from the state is federally taxable income and “does not qualify for any exclusion or exception from the federal definition of income.” The Ginsburgs freely chose to participate and take advantage of New York’s state tax credit program and have complete dominion and control over the payment because there is a legally adequate guarantee that they will be allowed to excess amount of the tax credit, barring actionable misconduct on their part. View "Ginsburg v. United States" on Justia Law

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Before selling their business, Page Printing, the Pettinatis followed the tax strategy suggested by their attorney and formed BASR, a general partnership. BASR assumed Treasury Note obligations, which increased its cost basis; each of the partners contributed all their Page shares to BASR in 1999. Two months later, BASR sold 100% of its Page stock for $6,898,245. When offset against its overstated cost basis, BASR realized a gain of only $263,934. The Pettinati partners reported their shares on their 1999 individual returns. In 2010, the IRS issued a final partnership administrative adjustment (FPAA), disallowing the tax benefits generated from BASR’s 1999 tax filing. Pettinati challenged the FPAA as untimely under I.R.C. 6501(a)’s three-year statute of limitations. BASR had “zero assets,” and had filed its last partnership return in 1999. BASR offered the government $1.00 to settle; the government refused. In 2013, the Claims Court granted BASR summary judgment. The Federal Circuit affirmed. In 2016, BASR sought litigation costs under 26 U.S.C. 7430(c)(4)(E). The Federal Circuit affirmed an award of $314,710.69, rejecting the government’s arguments: that BASR does not qualify for lcosts under section 7430(a) because a partnership is not a prevailing “party,” that BASR did not pay or incur costs because a partnership has no legal obligation, that the amount of individual tax liability was not “in issue” during the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) partnership-level court proceeding, and that the qualified offer rule did not apply. View "BASR Partnership v. United States" on Justia Law

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Sihota worked for the IRS for over 25 years. A 2011 IRS audit determined that, in 2003, Sihota reported a loss based on her purported ownership of NKRS, which was actually owned by Sihota’s son. The parties reached a settlement: Sihota acknowledged she had “acted negligently … resulting in an underpayment of ... $5341.00.” Sihota paid the assessment and penalty. The IRS terminated her employment, stating that Sihota was charged with either violating 5 CFR 2635.809 or 26 U.S.C. 7804, which requires the IRS to terminate any employee who willfully understates their federal tax liability, “unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” The Union invoked arbitration. A hearing was held four years after the IRS contacted the Union about scheduling. The arbitrator concluded that inclusion of the loss on her return was not willful neglect, reinstated Sihota’s employment, imposed a 10-day suspension, and held that Sihota was not entitled to back pay, citing laches and the scheduling delay. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, stating that it could not discern which charges were properly considered or would support the suspension. If the only charge before the arbitrator was under the statute, the arbitrator could not impose any penalty. While the Union’s delay is inexplicable and might have barred the claim if the IRS could show prejudice, after allowing Sihota’s claim to proceed, the arbitrator cannot rely on laches to reduce her back pay. View "Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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Ford sued to recover interest payments that it alleges the government owes on Ford’s past tax overpayments. Ford can only recover this interest if it and its Foreign Sales Corporation subsidiary were the “same taxpayer” under 26 U.S.C. 6621(d) when Ford made its overpayment and the subsidiary made equal tax underpayments. The Claims Court granted the government summary judgment for the government after concluding that Ford and its subsidiary were not the same taxpayer. The Federal Circuit affirmed, explaining the interplay between the “interest netting” provision of 26 U.S.C. 6621(d) and the Foreign Sales Corporation (FSC) statute that incentivized U.S. company exports in 1984-2000. Treating FSCs and their parents as different taxpayers under section 6621(d) does not create any tension between section 6621(d) and the FSC statute. The FSC statute encouraged corporations to export through FSCs, even if section 6621(d) did not provide an additional interest netting benefit for that arrangement. View "Ford Motor Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Sunoco blends ethanol with gasoline to create alcohol fuel mixtures. Sunoco filed consolidated tax returns, 2004-2009, claiming the Mixture Credit under 26 U.S.C. 6426 as a credit against its gasoline excise tax liability for the years 2005-2008. In 2013, Sunoco changed its tax position by submitting both informal and formal claims with the IRS to recover over $300 million based on excise-tax expenses for the years 2005-2008, claiming that it erroneously reduced its gasoline excise tax by the amount of Mixture Credit it received, which had the effect of including the Mixture Credit in its gross income. In its view, Sunoco was entitled to deduct the full amount of the gasoline excise tax under section 4081— without regard to the Mixture Credit—and keep the Mixture Credit as tax-free income. In 2015, the IRS issued a statutory notice of disallowance denying Sunoco’s claims. Sunoco filed a refund suit. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court in upholding the disallowance. The alcohol fuel mixture credit must first be applied to reduce a taxpayer’s gasoline excise-tax liability, with any remaining credit amount treated as a tax-free payment. View "Sunoco, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provides a cash grant to entities that “place[] in service” certain renewable energy facilities. The amount is determined using the basis of the tangible personal property of the facility. Alta placed windfarm facilities into service and sought $703 million in grants. The government awarded $495 million. Alta filed suit, seeking an additional $206 million. The government counterclaimed, asserting that it had overpaid $59 million. The difference was attributable to the calculation of basis. The portion of the purchase prices attributable to grant-ineligible tangible property (real estate, transmission equipment, and buildings) must be deducted: Alta argued that the entire remainder can be allocated to grant-eligible tangible personal property, with none allocated to intangibles. The Claims Court found in favor of Alta, rejecting the government’s argument that basis must be calculated using the residual method of 26 U.S.C. 1060, which applies to the acquisition of a business. The court reasoned that no intangible goodwill or going concern value could have attached to the windfarms at the time of the transaction. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Alta purchase prices were well in excess of their development and construction costs (book value), and the transactions involved numerous related agreements, such as the leasebacks and grant-related indemnities. Goodwill and going concern value could have attached, so those assets constitute a “trade or business” within the meaning of section 1060; the transactions count as “applicable asset acquisitions.” View "Alta Wind v. United States" on Justia Law

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During the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, many “thrift” institutions failed. The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, as insurer and regulator, encouraged healthy thrifts to take over failing ones in “supervisory mergers.” FSLIC provided incentives, including allowing acquiring thrifts to operate branches in states other than their home states and “RAP” rights. Regulations mandated that each thrift maintain a minimum capital of at least 3% of its liabilities, an obstacle for healthy thrifts acquiring failing ones. RAP permitted acquiring thrifts to use Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to treat failing thrifts’ excess liabilities as “supervisory goodwill,” which could be counted toward the acquiring thrifts’ minimum regulatory capital requirement and amortized over 40 years. Home Savings entered into supervisory mergers. Branching and RAP rights are considered intangible assets for tax purposes and are generally subject to abandonment loss and amortization deductions. In 2008, Home’s successor, WMI, sought a refund for tax years 1990, 1992, and 1993 based on the amortization of RAP rights and the abandonment of Missouri branching rights, proffering valuation testimony from its expert, Grabowski, about fair market value. The Ninth Circuit found WMI did “not prove[], to a reasonable degree of certainty, Home’s cost basis in the Branching and RAP rights.” WMI also filed suit in the Claims Court, seeking a refund for tax years 1991, 1994, 1995, and 1998, based on the amortization of RAP rights and the abandonment of Florida, Illinois, New York, and Ohio branching rights, with a valuation report from Grabowski. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court's rejection of the claims; Grabowski’s assumptions about the nature of RAP rights were inconsistent with market realities and, at times, unsupported. View "WMI Holdings Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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During the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1970s and 1980s, many “thrift” institutions failed. The Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, as insurer and regulator, encouraged healthy thrifts to take over failing ones in “supervisory mergers.” FSLIC provided incentives, including allowing acquiring thrifts to operate branches in states other than their home states and “RAP” rights. Regulations mandated that each thrift maintain a minimum capital of at least 3% of its liabilities, an obstacle for healthy thrifts acquiring failing ones. RAP permitted acquiring thrifts to use Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to treat failing thrifts’ excess liabilities as “supervisory goodwill,” which could be counted toward the acquiring thrifts’ minimum regulatory capital requirement and amortized over 40 years. Home Savings entered into supervisory mergers. Branching and RAP rights are considered intangible assets for tax purposes and are generally subject to abandonment loss and amortization deductions. In 2008, Home’s successor, WMI, sought a refund for tax years 1990, 1992, and 1993 based on the amortization of RAP rights and the abandonment of Missouri branching rights, proffering valuation testimony from its expert, Grabowski, about fair market value. The Ninth Circuit found WMI did “not prove[], to a reasonable degree of certainty, Home’s cost basis in the Branching and RAP rights.” WMI also filed suit in the Claims Court, seeking a refund for tax years 1991, 1994, 1995, and 1998, based on the amortization of RAP rights and the abandonment of Florida, Illinois, New York, and Ohio branching rights, with a valuation report from Grabowski. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court's rejection of the claims; Grabowski’s assumptions about the nature of RAP rights were inconsistent with market realities and, at times, unsupported. View "WMI Holdings Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Income earned by Americans typically is taxed in the U.S., regardless of where it is earned. European countries only tax income earned within their borders. To address possible “double taxation” the U.S. generally provides credits for taxes paid to foreign governments; European systems typically exempt from taxation income earned abroad. Congress, believing that the exemption method puts American companies at a trade disadvantage, has enacted various tax regimes, then received push-back from its European trading partners, who claimed each was an effective export subsidy. The 2000 ETI Act, intended to ease the burden of the tax revisions on domestic producers, was rejected in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Congress responded with the 2004 American Jobs Creation Act (AJCA), 118 Stat. 1418. Section 101 repeals the ETI provision that excluded extraterritorial income from taxation, effective for “transactions after December 31, 2004.” Section 101(d), provides: In the case of transactions during 2005 or 2006, the amount includible in gross income by reason of the amendments made by this section shall not exceed the applicable percentage of the amount which would have been so included but for this subsection. In 2005, WTO found that the ACJA improperly maintained prohibited ETI subsidies through transitional and grandfathering measures. Congress repealed section 101(f), effective for “taxable years beginning after” May 17, 2006. It did not repeal or revise section 101(d). Pursuant to a 2006 Agreement, DWA recognized qualifying extraterritorial income for 2006, invoked section 101(d), and excluded 60% from gross income. The IRS allowed the exclusion. DWA subsequently sought refunds for 2007-2009, claiming the section 101(d) exclusion. The Federal Circuit, disagreeing with the IRS and the Claims Court, held that section 101(d) unambiguously provides transitional relief for all extraterritorial income received from transactions entered into in 2005 and 2006, even income received in later years. View "DWA Holdings LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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In returns for 1995, 1996, and 1997, Stephens a shareholder of SF, a subchapter S corporation, reported "passive activity" passthrough income and passive activity losses (deductible from passive activity income) and passive activity credits (claimed against taxes allocable to passive activities). The IRS audited SF’s returns and Stephens’s individual returns for 1995 and 1996; the 1997 return was audited separately. The IRS concluded that Stephens had materially participated in some SF activities, finalized its audit of the 1995 and 1996 returns, and, in 2009, sent Stephens a notice of deficiency, as proposed in 2003 and 2008. Stephens did not contest the notice but made payment and never filed a formal refund claim, allegedly believing he could carry over the disallowed passive activity losses to 1997. The IRS extended the deadline for a 1997 refund claim to 2008. In 2009, Stephens mailed an amended 1997 return, seeking to carry over the 1995 and 1996 passive activity losses. In 2011, Stephens asserted the mitigation provisions, which, in specified circumstances, “permit a taxpayer who has been required to pay inconsistent taxes to seek a refund” otherwise barred by section 7422(a) (requiring that a “claim for refund or credit has been duly filed”) or section 6511(a), specifying the limitations period for refund claims. The IRS proposed to disallow the Stephenses’ refund claim as untimely and rejected an equitable recoupment argument. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the Stephenses suit, concluding that a timely refund claim was a “prerequisite for a refund suit.” View "Stephens v. United States" on Justia Law