Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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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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The case revolves around Ronald Lee Morgan, who filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in North Carolina. Morgan owned a home jointly with his wife as tenants by the entirety. He sought to exempt this home from the bankruptcy estate to the extent of his outstanding tax debt to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, the bankruptcy court disallowed the exemption. Morgan's wife did not jointly owe the debt to the IRS and did not file for bankruptcy. The trustee of the bankruptcy estate objected to Morgan's claim for an exemption, arguing that under North Carolina state law, tenancy by the entireties property is generally exempt from execution by creditors of only one spouse, but this rule does not apply to tax obligations owing to the United States.The bankruptcy court sustained the trustee's objection, and on appeal, the district court affirmed this decision. Morgan then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, arguing that for his IRS debt to override the entireties exemption, the IRS must have obtained a perfected tax lien on the property prior to the filing of the bankruptcy petition.The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling. The court concluded that Morgan's interest in his home as a tenant by the entirety is not "exempt from process" under "applicable nonbankruptcy law." The court rejected Morgan's argument that the IRS must have actually obtained a lien prior to the bankruptcy filing, stating that the absence of a judgment or lien has no bearing on the hypothetical issue of whether the debtor's interest would be exempt from process. The court also dismissed Morgan's contention that the IRS must perfect a lien against his property before he filed for bankruptcy. The court concluded that nothing in the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Craft limits its holding to instances where the IRS has perfected a tax lien against the property. View "Morgan v. Bruton" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Chamber of Commerce and three other trade associations sued to stop the enforcement of a new state tax in Maryland known as the Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax Act. The law requires large technology companies to pay a tax based on gross revenue they earn from digital advertising in the state. The plaintiffs alleged that the Act violates the Internet Tax Freedom Act, the Commerce Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the First Amendment. The United States District Court for the District of Maryland dismissed three of the counts as barred by the Tax Injunction Act, which prevents federal courts from stopping the collection of state taxes when state law provides an adequate remedy. The court dismissed the fourth count on mootness grounds after a state trial court declared the Act unconstitutional in a separate proceeding. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the first three counts, but vacated the judgment to the extent it dismissed those counts with prejudice, ordering that the dismissal be entered without prejudice. The appellate court also vacated the dismissal of the fourth count and remanded for further proceedings, as the plaintiffs' First Amendment challenge to the Act's prohibition on passing the tax onto consumers was not moot. View "Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Lierman" on Justia Law

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Four inmates at the Buckingham Correctional Center in Dillwyn, Virginia, commenced this action pro se against agents of the IRS, alleging that the IRS unlawfully denied them all or part of their COVID-19 stimulus payments. The complaint alleged that the IRS was categorically denying payments to inmates on account of their incarcerated status. The four inmates contended that the IRS had “violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law,” and they sought an injunction requiring the IRS to disburse the proper payments to them. The four inmates filed a motion to amend it by adding five additional inmates with the same claims. The three inmates whose claims were severed from the original action filed these appeals, challenging the legal and factual underpinnings of the district court’s order. They contend that the district court erred both in applying Section 1915(b)(1) as they were not proceeding in forma pauperis and in making factual findings that were not supported by the record.   The Fourth Circuit vacated the court’s order severing Plaintiffs’ claims and its order denying amendment and remanded. The court explained that Section 1915(b)(1), by its explicit terms, is restricted to in forma pauperis actions. The court wrote that because Plaintiffs here did not proceed in forma pauperis, the court should not have construed Section 1915(b)(1) and applied it to them, and it was an error to have done so. View "Aaron Ellis v. Daniel I. Werfel" on Justia Law

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Clary Hood, Inc. (“Hood, Inc.”), a South Carolina corporation engaged in land excavation and grading, with revenue of $44 million in 2015 and $69 million in 2016, paid its CEO a $5 million bonus in both of those years, deducting the payments on its income tax returns as reasonable business expenses under 26 U.S.C. Section 162(a)(1). The Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) contended that the bonuses were excessive, with the excess amount actually representing a disguised payment of dividends from profits, which could not be deducted. The Tax Court mostly agreed with the IRS and determined that Hood, Inc. could only deduct roughly $3.7 million for 2015 and $1.4 million for 2016 as reasonable amounts for total compensation to its CEO. Accordingly, it assessed tax deficiencies for both years in the total amount of roughly $1.96 million, as well as a penalty for 2016 in the amount of $282,398.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s findings with respect to the amount of reasonable deductions and consequent tax deficiency but vacated the imposition of the penalty. The court explained that because the record indicates that Hood, Inc. anticipated remedying Mr. Hood’s past under compensation in installments over multiple years and discussed that plan with its tax advisors, who approved it as reasonable, the court concluded that the Tax Court’s finding regarding the reasonable-cause defense for the 2015 tax year should also have applied to the 2016 tax year. Further, Hood, Inc. used a consistent methodology to determine the amount of Mr. Hood’s bonuses for both 2015 and 2016 with the advice of independent accountants. View "Clary Hood, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The IRS audited Plaintiff's and erroneously determined he owed tax for 2013 when he had actually overpaid. Plaintiff sought a timely 2012 tax refund based on the discovered miscalculation. Plaintiff claimed that, in the same envelope, he also requested a refund for the 2013 tax year, although the IRS claims it did not receive the 2013 refund request. Ultimately, the IRS awarded Plaintiff the requested 2012 refund, but denied the 2013 refund based on Plaintiff's failure to provide a timely request.Plaintiff sought enforcement of his 2013 refund, which the district court denied. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that Plaintiff failed to meet the required elements of the Mailbox Rule but plausibly alleged physical delivery of his refund request. Thus, the Fourth Circuit reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Stephen Pond v. US" on Justia Law

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When the ACA’s mandate and SRP were still in effect, a husband and wife (“Taxpayers”) did not maintain the minimum insurance coverage required by the ACA. The taxpayers did not include their $2409 SRP when they filed their 2018 federal tax return. The Taxpayers filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The IRS filed a proof of claim for the unpaid SRP and asserted that its claim was entitled to priority as an income or excise tax under Section 507 of the Bankruptcy Code. The Taxpayers objected to the government’s claim of priority. The bankruptcy court granted the objection, concluding that, for purposes of the Bankruptcy Code, the SRP is a penalty, not a tax, and therefore is not entitled to priority under Section 507(a)(8). The government appealed to the district court, which affirmed the bankruptcy court’s decision. The district court held that even if the SRP was generally a tax, it did not qualify as a tax measured by income or an excise tax and thus was not entitled to priority. The government thereafter appealed.   The Fourth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court concluded that that the SRP qualifies as a tax under the functional approach that has consistently been applied in bankruptcy cases and that nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB requires the court to abandon that functional approach. Because the SRP is a tax that is measured by income, the government’s claim is entitled to priority under 11 U.S.C. Section 507(a)(8)(A). View "US v. Fabio Alicea" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are “in the business of purchasing tax-lien certificates.” They attend government auctions where they bid on tax-delinquent properties and, if successful, either take title to the properties or earn interest while the owners try to redeem them. A Maryland statute has made that endeavor difficult in Prince George’s County. The problem: the statute directs the County to offer defaulted properties to a select class of people (comprising largely those living and holding government positions there) before listing the properties for regular public auction. Plaintiffs, who do not fit that limited class, claim the statute violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution.   The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and held that Section 14-817(d) violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause and that Section 14-821(b) cannot be severed from it, and remand with instructions to enter summary judgment in Plaintiffs’ favor, enjoining Defendants from conducting limited auctions under Section 14-817(d) going forward and allowing the transfer of the already-purchased liens. The court reasoned that no substantial reasons justify the favoritism, and the court must hold the statute unconstitutional. View "Chris Brusznicki v. Prince George's County" on Justia Law

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The Internal Revenue Service is barred from issuing a summons “with respect to any person if a Justice Department [criminal] referral is in effect with respect to such person.” I.R.C. Section 7602(d)(1). The IRS issued a summons for information to Equity Investment Associates, LLC. (“Equity”). Equity sought to quash that summons, arguing that an existing criminal referral for its lone agent must be treated as a referral for Equity itself.   The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the district court’s judgment. The court held under Section 7602, a business entity is a distinct person from its agents. And because the court only look to whether the taxpayer itself has been referred to the Justice Department, Equity cannot quash the summons. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion when denying Equity’s motion for an evidentiary hearing. And because Equity cannot meet that lower burden, it cannot meet the “heavy burden of disproving the actual existence of a valid civil tax determination or collection purpose.” View "Equity Investment Associates, LLC v. US" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, a Russian scientist, held a J-1 exchange visitor visa as a researcher sponsored by his employer. In 2010 and 2011, Petitioner received W-2 in the amount of $76,729 and $79,061, respectively. Petitioner filed 1040-NR forms, taking the position that all his earnings were exempt from taxation under the United States-Russia Tax Treaty (“Tax Treaty”). In 2014, the IRS sent Petitioner a notice of deficiency and Petitioner sought relief at the Tax Court.The Tax Court found in favor of Petitioner, holding that his W-2 income was properly considered “a grant, allowance, or similar payments” under the Tax Treaty. The court reasoned that “wages may be eligible for exemption so long as they are similar to a grant or allowance.”The Fourth Circuit reversed. The Tax Treaty provides that salaries, wages, and other similar remuneration are taxable; however, a grant, allowance, or similar payments payable to a person who is studying or doing research is exempt. Adopting the reasoning in Bingler v. Johnson, 394 U.S. 741 (1969), the court held the relevant question is “whether there is a “requirement of any substantial quid pro quo” that distinguishes compensation for employment from a “relatively disinterested, ‘no-string’” grant.” The Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the Tax Court for further proceedings. View "Vitaly Baturin v. Commissioner, Internal Revenue" on Justia Law