Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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In 2002-2004, Mohamad was an Atek shareholder with no direct role in its operations. Mohamad timely 2002 and 2003 tax returns, paying the taxes due on shareholder income of $85,010 and $77,813 respectively. In 2007, Mohamad sought a refund for overpaid taxes, claiming he did not receive the full amount of reported shareholder income on which he paid taxes but received only $20,000 before Atek was shut down. He filed amended tax returns deducting the unpaid income as bad debt. The IRS maintains that it never received an amended tax return for 2003 and, consequently, there is no record of the IRS disallowing the 2003 refund claim. In 2018, the Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the 2002 and 2004 refund claims but vacated the dismissal of the 2003 claim and remanded to the Claims Court the questions: whether Mohamad filed a timely 2003 claim, and, if so, whether it was timely, and whether the IRS disallowed that claim.The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s holding that IRC 7502, as interpreted by Treasury Regulation 301.7502–1(e)(2)(i), displaced the common-law mailbox rule for determining IRS filing dates and, alternatively, that dismissal was appropriate for failure to show that the tax refund claim was filed within the three-year limitations period, IRC 6511. The issue was not “business debt” so Mohamad was not entitled to a seven-year limitations period. View "Taha v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2007, CalBio acquired two facilities and began upgrading them to biomass facilities. CalBio secured Authority to Construct permits that allowed construction and allowed the facilities to generate and sell electricity. The permits could be converted into Permits to Operate after the facilities met conditions, including emissions tests. CalBio labeled the facilities “in operation” in 2008. The facilities passed pre-parallel testing under PG&E interconnection agreements and began selling electricity on the spot market and later to PG&E. The facilities operated fairly continuously throughout 2009, occasionally noncompliant with emissions regulations.The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 123 Stat. 115, allowed entities to receive federal grants if they “placed in service” a renewable energy facility during 2009-2010 or began constructing property in 2009-2010. CalBio was experiencing financial difficulties but did not seek grants because its facilities had been placed in service in 2008. CalBio suspended operations in 2010 and sold the facilities. Akeida spent $15 million improving the facilities, which passed emissions tests in 2011. Akeida applied for grants, claiming that the facilities were placed in service when Akeida’s emissions improvements were certified.The Treasury Department largely rejected Akeida’s claims, reasoning that most of the property had been placed in service in 2008. The Claims Court and Federal Circuit agreed, applying Treasury’s regulatory definition of “placed in service,” which required it to determine the “taxable year in which the property is . . . availabil[e] for a specifically assigned function.” View "Ampersand Chowchilla Biomass, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Browns, U.S. citizens, lived in Australia while Mr. Brown worked for Raytheon. The IRS received the Browns' amended returns for 2015 and 2017, claiming the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, signed by attorney Castro, but not accompanied by powers of attorney. The Browns' second amended return for 2015, again signed by Castro, also did not append any powers of attorney. The IRS disallowed the refund claims, indicating that "as an employee of Raytheon . . . [Brown] may have entered into a closing agreement . . . irrevocably waiving” Browns’ rights to claim the Exclusion under section 911(a).The Browns filed a refund suit under 26 U.S.C. 6532 and 7422(a). The government argued that the Browns had not “duly filed” their administrative refund claims in accordance with section 7422(a) because they had not personally signed and verified their amended returns or properly authorized an agent to execute them. The Browns responded that the IRS had waived those requirements by processing their claims despite the defects and that the requirements were waivable regulatory conditions. The Claims Court dismissed the suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The Claims Court had jurisdiction; the “duly filed” requirement is more akin to a claims-processing rule than a jurisdictional requirement. However, the Browns did not meet that requirement, which derives from statute and cannot be waived by the IRS, nor did the IRS waive the requirement. View "Brown v. United Statesx" on Justia Law

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In 1989, Bilzerian was convicted on nine counts of securities fraud, making false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and conspiracy to commit certain offenses, and defraud the SEC and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Southern District of New York sentenced Bilzerian to four years in prison, imposed a $1.5 million fine, and ordered him to disgorge $62,337,599.53.In 2012, Bilzerian’s wife, Steffen, filed a pro se complaint in the Claims Court seeking an $8,243,145 tax refund under 26 U.S.C. 1341. The dispute stems from transactions that Bilzerian made in 1985-1986 related to the purchase and sale of certain common stocks, for which he was convicted of securities fraud. Steffen and Bilzerian later filed a second amended complaint as joined parties.In 2018, the court dismissed that complaint with prejudice. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs cannot establish a reasonable belief of having an unrestricted right to the disputed funds when the money was first reported as income. A reasonable, unrestricted-right belief cannot exist where a taxpayer knowingly acquires the disputed funds via fraud. The “taxpayer’s illicit hope that his intentional wrongdoing will go undetected cannot create the appearance of an unrestricted right.” View "Steffen v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Greens opened a Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) account around 1980, with their daughter, Kimble, as a joint owner. Kimble directed UBS to maintain the account as a numbered account and to retain all correspondence at the bank. Kimble married an investment analyst who agreed to preserve the secrecy of the account. The couple’s joint federal tax returns did not report any income derived from the UBS account nor disclose the existence of the foreign account. After the couple divorced, Kimble's tax returns were prepared by a CPA, who never asked whether she had a foreign bank account. In 2003-2008, Kimble’s tax forms, signed under penalty of perjury, represented that she did not have a foreign bank account.In 2008, Kimble learned of the Treasury Department’s investigation into UBS for abetting tax fraud; she retained counsel. UBS entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that required UBS to unmask numbered accounts held by U.S. citizens. Kimble was accepted into the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and agreed to pay a $377,309 penalty. Kimble withdrew from the OVDP without paying the penalty.The IRS determined that Kimble’s failure to report the UBS account was willful and assessed a penalty of $697,299, 50% of the account. Kimble paid the penalty but sought a refund. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment against Kimble, finding that she violated 31 U.S.C. 5314 and that her conduct was “willful” under section 5321(a)(5). The IRS did not abuse its discretion in setting a 50% penalty. View "Kimble v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2009, Meidinger submitted whistleblower information to the IRS under 26 U.S.C. 7623, concerning “one million taxpayers in the healthcare industry that are involved in a kickback scheme.” The IRS acknowledged receipt of the information, but did not take action against the accused persons. The IRS notified Meidinger of that determination. Meidinger argued that the IRS created a contract when it confirmed receipt of his Form 211 Application, obligating it to investigate and to pay the statutory award. The Tax Court held that it lacked the authority to order the IRS to act and granted the IRS summary judgment. The D.C. Circuit affirmed that Meidinger was not eligible for a whistleblower award because the information did not result in initiation of an administrative or judicial action or collection of tax proceeds.In 2018, Meidinger filed another Form 211, with the same information as his previous submission. The IRS acknowledged receipt, but advised Meidinger that the information was “speculative” and “did not provide specific or credible information regarding tax underpayments or violations of internal revenue laws.” The Tax Court dismissed his suit for failure to state a claim; the D.C. Circuit affirmed, stating that a breach of contract claim against the IRS is properly filed in the Claims Court under the Tucker Act: 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, agreeing that the submission of information did not create a contract. View "Meidinger v. United States" on Justia Law

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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

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Adkins sought a federal income tax refund, based on financial losses sustained as the victim of a fraudulent investment scheme. The IRS was unable to formalize the parties’ settlement before the statute of limitations on the refund request was set to expire. Adkins filed suit. Following a remand, the Claims Court ruled against Adkins.The Federal Circuit reversed. The court noted its previous holding that the Claims Court misconstrued the regulation concerning the timing of a theft loss deduction by reading Treasury Regulation 1.165- 1(d)(3) as imposing a higher burden on taxpayers who attempt to recover their losses after discovering a fraud than on taxpayers who claim the same loss immediately upon discovery and by holding that, where a taxpayer has filed a claim for reimbursement from those who defrauded her, the taxpayer may not claim a loss until that claim is fully resolved or abandoned. What a taxpayer must prove by reasonable certainty is that, as of the time the loss was claimed, there was no reasonable “prospect of recovery”; she is not required to prove that it was certain no recovery could be had. While one could establish the absence of any reasonable prospect of recovery by the abandonment of a claim, abandonment is not a prerequisite to such a showing. On remand, the Claims Court again required too much with respect to the showing required. View "Adkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs each own a wind farm that was put into service in 2012. Each applied for a federal cash grant based on specified energy project costs, under section 1603 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. The Treasury Department awarded each company less than requested, rejecting as unjustified the full amounts of certain development fees included in the submitted cost bases. Each company sued. The government counterclaimed, alleging that it had actually overpaid the companies.The Claims Court and Federal Circuit ruled in favor of the government. Section 1603 provides for government reimbursement to qualified applicants of a portion of the “expense” of putting certain energy-generating property into service as measured by the “basis” of such property; “basis” is defined as “the cost of such property,” 26 U.S.C. 1012(a). To support its claim, each company was required to prove that the dollar amounts of the development fees claimed reliably measured the actual development costs for the windfarms. Findings that the amounts stated in the development agreements did not reliably indicate the development costs were sufficiently supported by the absence in the agreements of any meaningful description of the development services to be provided and the fact that all, or nearly all, of the development services had been completed by the time the agreements were executed. View "California Ridge Wind Energy, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Walby was born in Michigan, and, in 2014-2018, lived and worked in Michigan. For the 2014 taxable year, Walby’s employer, Baker, withheld $9,751.60 in federal income taxes. In 2015, Walby claimed exemption from all withholdings and executed an “Affidavit of Citizenship,” which she submitted to the State Department, declaring that she was a sovereign citizen of the state of Michigan and, “because she was not restricted by the 14th Amendment ... she was not a United States citizen thereunder but rather a nonresident alien not subject to income taxes.” In 2016, at the direction of the IRS, Baker resumed withholding. Walby did not file federal tax returns for 2014–2018 but, in 2019, filed claims for refunds of the taxes withheld from her 2014 and 2016–2018 paychecks.The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Walby’s tax refund lawsuit concerning her 2014 return as untimely. A timely administrative refund claim must be filed within two years of the taxes being paid. The claims for the years 2016–2018 were timely but were properly dismissed as meritless. Walby could not establish a loss of U.S. nationality and even if she were a nonresident alien, Walby qualified as a U.S. resident for tax purposes under I.R.C. 7701 by virtue of her substantial presence. The court rejected a request for sanctions. View "Walby v. United States" on Justia Law