Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The IRS recorded liens for unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties against the debtors’ residence. After debtors filed for bankruptcy, the IRS filed a proof of claim. The portion of the claim that was secured by liens on the residence and attributable only to penalties was $162,000. The debtors filed an adversary proceeding, asserting that the IRS’s claim for penalties was subject to avoidance by the trustee and that because the trustee had not attempted to avoid this claim, debtors could do so under 11 U.S.C. 522(h). The trustee cross-claimed to avoid the liens and alleged their value should be recovered for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate.The bankruptcy court dismissed the adversary complaint. The trustee and the IRS agreed that the penalty portions of the liens were avoided under 11 U.S.C. 724(a). The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Ninth Circuit affirmed. Section 522(h) did not authorize the debtors to avoid the liens that secured the penalties claim to the extent of their $100,000 California law homestead exemption. Section 522(c)(2)(B), denies debtors the right to remove tax liens from their otherwise exempt property. Under 11 U.S.C. 551, a transfer that is avoided by the trustee under 724(a) is preserved for the benefit of the estate; this aspect of 551 is not overridden by 522(i)(2), which provides that property may be preserved for the benefit of the debtor to the extent of a homestead exemption. View "Hutchinson v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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Berkovich filed California state tax returns as required for 2003-2005. In 2008, the IRS assessed about $145,000 of additional federal income taxes against Berkovich for those years. He did not notify the California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) of the increased federal assessments as required. (Cal. Rev. & Tax Code 18622(a)). The FTB learned of the federal assessments from the IRS. It assessed Berkovich additional state income taxes, approximately $45,000 plus penalties and interest. Berkovich did not challenge the assessments nor pay the additional state taxes. In 2012, Berkovich filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition. After the bankruptcy discharge, the FTB filed a complaint, alleging that the state tax debts were nondischargeable under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(1)(B)(i) because Berkovich failed to report the increased federal tax assessments to the FTB and failed to challenge the FTB’s notices of proposed tax assessment. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel held that Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Berkovich’s tax debt was not discharged in bankruptcy because the debt derived from a “report or notice” “equivalent” to a tax return. Section 523(a)(1)(B) provides that, if a taxpayer fails to file a required “return, or equivalent report or notice,” the relevant tax debt is not discharged. California law requires a taxpayer to “report” to the FTB if the IRS changes the taxpayer’s federal income tax liability. View "Berkovich v. California Franchise Tax Board" on Justia Law

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Guam’s Department of Revenue concluded that Guerrero owes approximately $3.7 million in unpaid taxes because he did not pay his full tax liability for the tax years 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002 after belatedly filing his returns for these years. The parties dispute when the Department assessed Guerrero’s taxes because the official records are missing, likely due to water, mold, and termite damage at the storage facility. Guam filed tax liens on real property that Guerrero owns with his former spouse in joint tenancy, then filed suit to collect Guerrero’s tax deficiencies through foreclosure. Guerrero argued that the Department cannot prove that it timely assessed his taxes, timely levied the tax liens, nor timely commenced its action, 26 U.S.C. 6501(a), 6502(a)(1). Guam invoked the presumption of regularity based on the Department’s standard procedure and internal documents to establish that Guam acted within the statute of limitations.The district court partially ruled in favor of Guam, on the issues of the presumption of regularity and the timeliness of the Department’s actions. The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The presumption of regularity applied and Guerrero failed to rebut it. Guam established the timeliness of its assessment of Guerrero’s unpaid taxes, its filing of the tax lien, and its commencement of this action through the internal documents and testimony from the Department’s employees. View "Government of Guam v. Guerrero" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's preliminary injunction in favor of BNSF in an action brought by BNSF, alleging that several California counties are taxing railroad property at a higher rate than the rate applicable to commercial and industrial property in the same assessment jurisdiction, in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(3).As a preliminary matter, the panel held that the district court had jurisdiction over the action under section 11501(c), and the panel has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a). The panel concluded that the district court applied the correct preliminary injunction standard under section 11501, which does not require courts to consider traditional equitable factors. Rather, binding circuit precedent establishes that a railroad is entitled to a preliminary injunction if its evidence demonstrates reasonable cause to believe that a violation of section 11501 has been, or is about to be committed. The panel also concluded that the district court properly analyzed BNSF's tax rate under the Trailer Train framework, and concluded that the counties were overtaxing BNSF's property in violation of section 11501(b)(3). The court suggested, as proceedings continue, that the district court consider in the first instance whether the State or the county is the proper assessment jurisdiction. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. County of Alameda" on Justia Law

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California cigarette tax regulations apply to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes by a federally chartered tribal corporation wholly owned by a federally recognized Indian tribe.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by Big Sandy, a chartered tribal corporation wholly owned and controlled by the Big Sandy Rancheria of Western Mono Indians, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Attorney General of California and the Director of the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration regarding taxes applied to inter-tribal sales of cigarettes.The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's fifth cause of action on jurisdictional grounds pursuant to the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and properly declined to apply the Indian tribes exception to the Tax Injunction Act's jurisdictional bar. The panel also concluded that the district court properly dismissed the Corporation's remaining causes of action challenging the Directory Statute and California's licensing, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements in connection with cigarette distribution. In this case, the Corporation challenged the Directory Law on two grounds: (1) applying the challenged regulations to the Corporation's cigarette sales to tribal retailers on other reservations violates "principles of Indian tribal self-governance;" and (ii) federal regulation of "trade with Indians within Indian country" under the Indian Trader Statutes preempts the challenged regulations as applied to the Corporation's intertribal wholesale cigarette business. The panel concluded that the district court properly dismissed both theories for failure to state a claim. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. View "Big Sandy Rancheria Enterprises v. Bonta" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit joined its sister circuits in concluding that, when Congress expressly departs from substance-over-form principles, the Commissioner may not invoke those principles in a way that would directly reverse that congressional judgment.The panel reversed the tax court's decision in favor of the Commissioner on a petition for redetermination of federal excise tax deficiency where petitioners established a Foreign Sales Corporation to reduce the tax paid on income that was then distributed as dividends to Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). The panel concluded that the unusual statutory provisions at issue here expressly elevated form over substance in the relevant respects, and thus the tax court erred by invoking substance-over-form principles to effectively reverse that congressional judgment and to disallow what the statute plainly allowed. View "Mazzei v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of jurisdiction of a declaratory judgment action concerning a dispute arising from the withholdings required under the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA) and the Fixed, Determinable, Annual, or Periodical income (FDAP) rules. Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that, among other things, withholding money from their agreed purchase price to pay the federal taxes required under FIRPTA and the FDAP rules is not a breach of their real estate contract with Namaca.Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, a federal court may issue a declaration resolving the parties' competing legal rights in a case of actual controversy within its jurisdiction, except with respect to federal taxes. In this case, plaintiffs argue that because the FIRPTA and FDAP withholdings are made before the IRS assesses tax liability, the taxation exception does not apply because a declaration concerning their withholding obligations will not restrain the ultimate assessment of taxes. However, the panel held that the Declaratory Judgment Act's bar is not conditioned on a determination of ultimate tax liability. Furthermore, it is coextensive with the Anti-Injunction Act despite the broader language of the former. Therefore, the panel upheld the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' request for a declaratory judgment that withholding money from their agreed purchase price to pay the taxes allegedly owed under FIRPTA and the FDAP rules is not a breach of their real estate contract. View "Gilbert v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, one of the largest marijuana dispensaries in the United States, appealed the Tax Court's decision on a petition for redetermination of federal income tax deficiencies. At issue is whether a cannabis dispensary that purchases the marijuana it resells and that values its inventory using the cost method must account for its inventory cost in accordance with section 1.471-3(b) of the Treasury Regulations.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court's decision, declining to consider plaintiff's constitutional claim that that I.R.C. 280E violates the Sixteenth Amendment because plaintiff failed to raise the claim in the Tax Court. The panel rejected plaintiff's contention that some of its expenditures, even if they cannot be deducted under section 280E, can be excluded from income as part of its inventory cost under general inventory tax accounting rules. Rather, the panel concluded that the Tax Court did not err in concluding that plaintiff's inventory cost is determined by Treas. Reg. 1.471-3(b), which applies to a purchaser and reseller of the products it sells. Finally, the panel declined to consider plaintiff's contention, which was not raised before the Tax Court, that the Tax Court should have allowed at least some of plaintiff's claimed exclusions as "necessary charges incurred in acquiring possession of the goods" under Treas. Reg. 1.471-3(b). View "Patients Mutual Assistance Collective Corp. v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment in an action brought by the United States against taxpayer for tax penalties and interest involving her failure to report foreign financial accounts. In this case, taxpayer did not timely file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts form (FBAR) disclosing her foreign financial accounts in the United Kingdom. The IRS found that taxpayer violated the reporting requirements of 31 U.S.C. 5314 and imposed multiple penalties under 31 U.S.C. 5321(a)(5)(A) based on her belated submission of a single FBAR.The panel held that section 5321 authorizes the IRS to impose only one non-willful penalty when an untimely, but accurate, FBAR is filed, no matter the number of accounts. In this case, taxpayer was required to file one FBAR for the 2010 calendar year by June 30, 2011 and failed to do so; she committed one violation and the IRS concluded that her violation was non-willful; and thus the maximum penalty for such a violation "shall not exceed $10,000." View "United States v. Boyd" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that Shaun Allahyari's alleged security interest in property owned by his son, Komron Allahyari, a tax delinquent, was not entitled to priority over later-recorded federal tax liens. First, the panel concluded that the district court erred: (1) by holding that the deed of trust between Shaun and Komron recorded on July 26, 2005 was not entitled to priority over the later-recorded federal tax liens under local law; the 2005 Deed of Trust is protected under Washington law; and (2) by failing to consider whether past consideration is sufficient to support an agreement giving rise to a security interest under Washington law.The panel also concluded that the district court applied the incorrect standard of proof to its finding under Washington's Fraudulent Transfer Act. Finally, the panel concluded that, because 26 U.S.C. 7403(a) authorizes the United States to "subject any property, of whatever nature, of the delinquent, or in which [the delinquent] has any right, title, or interest, to the payment of such tax or liability," the United States may assert any affirmative defenses that would be available to the delinquent—including that the statute of limitations has run on payments due to senior liens. Accordingly, the panel reversed and remanded for reconsideration. View "United States v. Allahyari" on Justia Law