Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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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

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The Fourth Circuit concluded on the merits that, under the Bankruptcy Code and the applicable state fraudulent transfer statutes, tax penalty obligations are not voidable, and relatedly, tax penalty payments are not recoverable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's decision upholding the bankruptcy court's dismissal of the trustee's claims seeking to void tax penalty obligations owed by the debtor to the IRS and to recover prior payments made by the debtor to the IRS upon such obligations.The court found the Sixth Circuit's decision in In re Southeast Waffles, LLC, 702 F.3d 850 (6th Cir. 2012), persuasive and concluded that tax penalties do not fit within the obligations contemplated in the North Carolina Uniform Voidable Transactions Act. Because tax penalties are not obligations incurred as contemplated by the Act, it cannot be the "applicable law" required for the trustee to bring this action under 11 U.S.C. 544(b)(1). If there is no applicable law for the trustee's section 544(b)(1) claim, the court concluded that the claim must be dismissed. The court noted that its conclusion about the tax penalty payments turns on the legitimacy of the underlying tax penalty obligation; not the fact that the payments reduced the amount of the tax penalty obligations dollar for dollar. Since the underlying tax penalty obligation is not voidable, neither are Yahweh Center’s payments on that obligation. View "Cook v. United States" on Justia Law

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Barringer was the Executive Vice President and a Board member of J&R, a Virginia manufacturing company. By 2014, J&R was delinquent on filing and paying its 941 (employee withholding) taxes. Fearing personal liability, Barringer submitted a Hardship Withdrawal Form requesting $311,859.04 from her 401(k) account “[t]o prevent eviction or ... foreclosure of the mortgage on [her] principal residence.” Barringer deposited the funds into J&R's account to pay the delinquent taxes. Barringer’s mortgage balance was approximately $200,000 at the time; her payments were not delinquent. In 2016, J&R was again behind on its 941 taxes. Barringer requested a final distribution from her 401(k) account, falsely citing the end of her employment with J&R. Barringer again deposited the funds, plus some of her personal savings, into the J&R account. Instead of paying delinquent taxes, Barringer paid herself and vendors. After providing misinformation to federal agents, Barringer was convicted of willfully failing to collect and truthfully account for and pay taxes, 26 U.S.C. 7202, and making materially false statements to federal agents, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions and 36-month sentence. Any error in the denial of Barringer’s pretrial motion to dismiss the wire fraud counts was harmless because the court subsequently granted her motion for a judgment of acquittal on those charges. Barringer’s false statements to investigators were “material to a matter within the jurisdiction of the agency.” The court upheld an abuse-of-trust enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3B1. View "United States v. Barringer" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit held that, after the Commissioner of Internal Revenue conceded that a taxpayer owed $0 and was entitled to the removal of any lien or levy, the United States Tax Court did not have jurisdiction to determine that the taxpayer overpaid and to order a refund. The court affirmed the district court's judgment, explaining that, when as here, the Commissioner has already conceded that a taxpayer has no tax liability and that the lien should be removed, any appeal to the Tax Court of the Appeals Office's determination as to the collection action is moot. The court stated that the phrase "underlying tax liability" does not provide the Tax Court jurisdiction over independent overpayment claims when the collection action no longer exists. View "McLane v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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To finance the purchase of a home in 2008, Wood borrowed $39,739.44. About six years later, Wood defaulted, with an unpaid balance of $23,066.66. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which had insured the loan, paid that amount and sent Wood a Notice of Intent to Collect by Treasury Offset, using income tax overpayments. In 2017, Treasury offset Wood's federal tax overpayment of $9,961 toward the debt. In 2018, Wood filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, opting to exempt any 2017 income tax overpayment. Treasury nonetheless offset a $6,086 overpayment.Wood requested that the bankruptcy court void HUD’s lien and order a return of the $6,086. The court concluded that a debtor’s tax overpayment becomes property of the estate, protected by the stay, and the debtor may exempt the overpayments and defeat a governmental creditor’s right to setoff. The district court agreed, stating that because Treasury had knowingly intercepted the overpayments after the Woods filed for bankruptcy, equity did not favor granting permission to seek relief from the automatic stay.The Fourth Circuit remanded. The protections typically accorded properly exempted property under 11 U.S.C. 522(c) do not prevail over the government’s 26 U.S.C. 6402(d) right to offset mutual debts. Although the government exercised that right before requesting relief from the automatic stay, there is no reason to abridge the government’s 11 U.S.C. 362(d) right to seek the stay’s annulment. View "Wood v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment affirming the IRS's disallowance of a charitable deduction that plaintiffs claimed on their 2011 joint income tax return. After plaintiffs purchased real property, they donated the existing house on the underlying land so that they could build a new one in its place. However, the charity ended up disassembling some of the house, salvaging useful components, and leaving the remainder for demolition by plaintiffs' contractor. Plaintiffs took a charitable deduction of $675,000 on their income tax return, representing the appraised value of the house as if it were moved intact to another lot. The IRS disallowed the deduction under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(3). Plaintiffs paid the additional taxes assessed by the IRS and filed suit against the United States, seeking a refund of approximately $213,000.The court concluded that defendants donated their entire interest in the house and that they supported their donation with a "qualified appraisal" of the contributed property. In this case, the house was never recorded in the public land records, Plaintiff Linda Mann always retained record ownership of the house. Furthermore, even if the court were to accept that the donation agreement both "constructively severed" the house from the land and conveyed contractual ownership of the house to the charity, Linda still remained the record owner of the house responsible for real-estate taxes. The court also concluded that, even setting aside the consequence of Linda's continuing as the house's record owner, both the donation agreement considered as a whole and the substance of the transaction demonstrate that Linda failed to transfer her entire interest in the house to the charity. The court explained that Linda maintained the benefits and burdens of ownership of the remaining components which she ultimately paid her contractor to demolish. Therefore, she did not donate, as personal property, her entire interest in the house to the charity, making plaintiffs' attempt to claim the value of the entire house as a charitable deduction improper. Finally, the court concluded that the $313,353 appraisal used to claim the deduction was not a qualified appraisal of the contributed property under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(11)(C). View "Mann v. United States" on Justia Law

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For the purpose of applying 31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)'s civil penalty, a "willful violation" of the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) reporting requirement includes both knowing and reckless violations, even though more is required to sustain a criminal conviction for a willful violation of the same requirement under section 5322.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's conclusion that the undisputed facts establish that defendants' failure to file the FBARs for 2007 and 2008 was objectively reckless. In this case, among other things, defendants knew that they were holding a significant portion of their savings in a foreign bank account and earning interest income on that account; defendants knew that interest income was taxable income and that foreign income was taxable in the United States; and defendants reported interest income to their accountant from domestic banks and foreign income earned in Saudi Arabia but failed to report foreign interest income. Furthermore, the Finter Bank account was a numbered account with "hold mail" service; the Swiss bank accounts were by no means small or insignificant and thus susceptible to being overlooked by defendants; and defendants stated that they did not have a foreign bank account on their tax returns. The court also affirmed the district court's conclusion that the civil penalty for a willful FBAR violation is established by 31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)(C)–(D), not 31 C.F.R. 1010.820(g). Finally, the civil penalties against defendants were timely assessed, and the enforcement action was timely filed. View "United States v. Horowitz" on Justia Law

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After the tax court determined that petitioners failed to report approximately $41.2 million of compensation income that they realized when certain restricted stockholdings that they owned became substantially vested in January 2004, the tax court upheld the Commissioner's decision to impose accuracy-related penalties for negligence and substantial understatement of tax liability, and denied petitioners' post-trial attempt to offset their underreported income with various net operating loss carrybacks.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the tax court, holding that the tax court did not err in holding that petitioners each realized and were required to report $45.7 million of taxable income when their UMLIC S-Corp. stock substantially vested in taxable year 2004. In this case, even if the Surrender Transactions could somehow be seen as rescinding petitioners' employment and compensation agreements with UMLIC S-Corp., the court agreed with the tax court's conclusion that those transactions were totally devoid of economic substance and must be disregarded for federal income tax purposes. The court also held that the tax court did not err in upholding the accuracy-related penalties imposed by the Commissioner. Finally, the court rejected petitioner's claim that the tax court erred in refusing to consider their net operating losses (NOL) carryback claim during post-trial computation proceedings conducted pursuant to Tax Court Rule 155. View "Estate of Arthur E. Kechijian v. Commissioner" on Justia Law