Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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For more than a decade, Van Den Heuvel received cash payments from VHC, a company founded by his father and owned by his family. These payments primarily supported Ron’s business ventures but also helped him pay personal taxes and cover other personal expenses. Ron did not pay VHC back. The company wrote down these payments as “bad debts” for which it received tax deductions. After a years-long audit, the IRS concluded that VHC never intended to be paid back and that these payments were not bona fide debts qualifying for the deduction under either 26 U.S.C 166 or 162.The Tax Court upheld this determination and rejected VHC’s alternative theories as to why the payments qualified for a deduction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed.VHC bears the burden of demonstrating that its payments to Ron were bona fide debts that arose from a debtor-creditor relationship in which it expected Ron to pay VHC back in full. VHC has not shown that it presented such evidence to the Tax Court or that the Tax Court made grave errors in its evaluation of the evidence. View "VHC, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Blake, who has an MBA, engaged in a fraudulent tax scheme but claims unnamed users in internet chat rooms persuaded him to pursue his hidden federal “legacy trusts.” Blake filed eight different individual tax returns using fraudulent information, at one point faking his own death. He was convicted of presenting a false or fictitious claim to a U.S. agency, 18 U.S.C. 287, and theft of government money, 18 U.S.C. 641. Blake’s base offense level was six; 16 levels were added for an intended loss in excess of $1.5 million (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(I)). Two more levels were added for obstruction of justice (3C1.1). Blake’s guidelines range was 51–63 months' imprisonment. Blake objected to including in the loss calculation $900,000 in claimed refunds in the 2008–2010 filings, arguing he was not responsible for those filings. He also claimed $300,000 should be the intended loss amount because he intended to obtain only his “legacy trust” funds which he believed were about that amount. Under Blake’s calculations, his guidelines range was 33–41 months.The district court rejected his arguments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 36 months in prison plus restitution. The district court did not commit reversible error. Blake's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was dismissed without prejudice as “better raised on collateral review.” View "United States v. Blake" on Justia Law

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Rogers designed and implemented a scheme to generate artificial but tax‐deductible losses for high‐income U.S. taxpayers. The “DAD” scheme worked through a partnership’s acquisition of highly distressed or uncollectible accounts receivable from retailers located in Brazil and subsequent conveyance of interests in the receivables to U.S. taxpayers, who deemed them uncollectible and used the concocted loss to reduce their tax liability. DAD schemes were outlawed in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004. Rogers then devised a modified transactional structure employing trusts.The Seventh Circuit agreed with the Tax Court that the structural modifications only perpetuated fraudulent tax avoidance and that the Sugarloaf partnership was a sham before and after purported changes. All of Sugarloaf’s income for 2006, 2007, and 2008 should be allocated to an entity wholly owned by Rogers that served as Sugarloaf’s tax matters partner. The court warned that the IRS, Tax Court, and Seventh Circuit “have devoted substantial resources over multiple proceedings to deciphering foreign and domestic transactions, understanding complex tax structures, and separating the fair from the fraud. None of this has gone well for Rogers or his partnership, the Sugarloaf Fund ... caution to those who persist in pressing claims lacking any merit.” View "Sugarloaf Fund, LLC v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Jacobsen’s former wife, Lemmens, embezzled $400,000 from her employer, income that was not reported on the couple’s jointly filed income taxes. After Lemmens was convicted, the IRS audited the couple’s joint tax returns for 2010 and 2011 and proposed total net adjustments attributable to omitted embezzlement income of over $300,000, with corresponding deficiencies and accuracy-related penalties of over $150,000. Jacobsen sought relief under the tax code’s “innocent spouse” provision, 26 U.S.C. 6015(b), and equitable relief provision, section 6015(f). The Tax Court granted Jacobsen innocent spouse relief for 2010 but denied all relief for 2011. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Jacobsen acknowledged that with the exception of his knowledge for 2011, the Tax Court correctly assessed the positive, negative, or neutral impact of each of the seven factors listed in Revenue Procedure 2013-34 and acknowledged that he had “reason to know” of the embezzlement income by the time he filed their 2011 tax return. He argued that the Tax Court erred when it concluded that he had actual knowledge of the unreported income for 2011. While the Tax Court could have easily decided that Jacobsen was entitled to equitable relief, nothing in the record indicates the Tax Court misapprehended the weight to be accorded Jacobsen’s knowledge or treated it as a decisive factor barring relief. View "Jacobsen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Before 2008, Cook County ordinances required the Assessor to assess single-family residential property at 16%, commercial property at 38%, and industrial property at 36% of the market value. In 2000-2008, the Assessor actually assessed most property at rates significantly lower than the ordinance rates. In 2008, the Assessor proposed to “recalibrate” the system. The plaintiffs claim that their assessment rates may have been lawful but were significantly higher than the actual rates for most other property owners and that they paid millions of dollars more in taxes in 2000-2008 than they would have if they were assessed at the de facto rates. The taxpayers exhausted their remedies with the Board of Review, then filed suit in state court, citing the Equal Protection Clause, Illinois statutory law and the Illinois Constitution. Years later, their state suit remains in discovery.Claiming that Illinois law limits whom they can name as a defendant, what evidence they can present, and what arguments they can raise, the taxpayers filed suit in federal district court, which held that the Tax Injunction Act barred the suit. The Act provides that district courts may not “enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had in the courts of such State,” 28 U.S.C. 1341. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting the County’s concession that Illinois’s tax-objection procedures do not allow the taxpayers to raise their constitutional claims in state court. This is the “rare case in which taxpayers lack an adequate state-court remedy.” View "A.F. Moore & Associates, Inc. v. Pappas" on Justia Law

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Insurance executive Menzies sold over $64 million in his company’s stock but did not report any capital gains on his 2006 federal income tax return. He alleges that his underpayment of capital gains taxes (and related penalties and interest imposed by the IRS) was because of a fraudulent tax shelter peddled to him and others by a lawyer, law firm, and financial services firms. Menzies brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Illinois law. The district court dismissed all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Menzies’s RICO claim falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element. Menzies failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or a similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue. A fraudulent tax shelter scheme can violate RICO; the shortcoming here is one of pleading and it occurred after the district court authorized discovery to allow Menzies to develop his claims. Menzies’s Illinois state law claims were untimely as to the lawyer and law firm defendants. The claims against the remaining financial services defendants can proceed. View "Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP" on Justia Law

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Chapter 70 of the Wisconsin Tax Code governs the taxation of manufacturing and commercial companies aside from railroads and utilities. Chapter 76 governs the taxation of railroads and utilities, including air carriers, pipeline companies, and water conservation and regulation companies. The Code contains exemptions from the general property tax, including an exemption for “all intangible personal property,” which covers custom computer software. Manufacturing and commercial taxpayers generally qualify for the intangible personal property exemption; railroads and utilities do not and are the only taxpayers that Wisconsin requires to pay taxes on intangible property, including custom software. Union Pacific claimed the value of its custom software as exempt. The Department of Revenue audited Union Pacific and concluded that for the years 2014 and 2015, it owed $2,631,104.77 in back taxes and interest after disallowing that deduction. Union Pacific filed suit, arguing that the tax singles out railroads as part of an isolated and targeted group in violation of the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Union Pacific. The intangible property tax exempts everyone except for an isolated and targeted group of which railroads are a part. View "Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Wisconsin Department of Revenue" on Justia Law

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In March 2009 Truitt joined the Moorish Science Temple of America, which calls itself a sovereign “ecclesiastical government” and teaches that neither the states nor the federal government have authority over its members. Members purport to hold something akin to diplomatic immunity. In late 2009, Truitt filed seven nearly identical tax returns, each falsely claiming that she was entitled to a $300,000 refund. The IRS identified six returns as fraudulent, but for unknown reasons, approved one and sent her a check for the full amount. Within weeks the IRS demanded that she return the funds. She did not respond but spent the money on jewelry, a condominium, tickets to sporting events, and an investment. Truitt was convicted of making false claims against the United States, 18 U.S.C. 287 and theft of government funds, 18 U.S.C. 641. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Truitt’s challenge the exclusion of her expert witness, psychologist Dr. Fogel, who proposed to testify that Truitt was a member of a “charismatic group”—a cult-like organization that indoctrinates its members. Truitt argued that she lacked the requisite mens rea for the crimes. The judge properly excluded the testimony under “Daubert” and Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 704(b), reasonably concluding that Fogel lacked the relevant expertise and his methods were not reliable. View "United States v. Truitt" on Justia Law

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Carroll and Lizzie Raines purchased their Mundelein home in 1975 as joint tenants. When Raines’ wife died, he became the sole owner until his 2009 death. Raines died intestate with six heirs. In 2007, Raines had filed federal income taxes for tax years 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004. The IRS assessed taxes, penalties, and interest that remained unpaid. In 2010, the government recorded a notice of a $115,022.42 federal tax lien with the Lake County Recorder of Deeds. The Notice incorrectly identified “Carrol V. Raines” as the debtor, omitting the second “l” from his first name, and failed to include a legal description or permanent index number, but did correctly identify the property address. Raines’ heirs conveyed their interest in the property to Chicago Title Land Trust, which made improvements and capital investments in the property. In 2017, the government instituted proceedings to foreclose the tax lien, naming Chicago Title, other financial institutions, and municipal entities. The district court found that the defendants had adequate notice of the lien, which conformed to 26 U.S.C. 6323, so the government could enforce the lien. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding a determination that the Affidavit of Bond, a title insurance executive who has conducted thousands of title searches and prepared thousands of title reports, commitments, and insurance policies, was inadmissible because it consisted of undeclared expert testimony and improper legal conclusions. The errors did not make the Lien undiscoverable. View "United States v. Z Investment Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit organization, “[t]akes legal action challenging entanglement of religion and government, government endorsement or promotion of religion.” FFRF paid its co-presidents a portion of their salaries in the form of a housing allowance, seeking to challenge 26 U.S.C. 107, which provides: In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include— (1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or (2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home. Having unsuccessfully sought refunds from the IRS based on section 107 they sued. The district court granted FFRF and its employees summary judgment, finding that the statute violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit reversed, applying the “Lemon” test. The law has secular purposes: it is one of many per se rules that provide a tax exemption to employees with work-related housing requirements; it is intended to avoid discrimination against certain religions in favor of others and to avoid excessive entanglement with religion by preventing the IRS from conducting intrusive inquiries into how religious organizations use their facilities. Providing a tax exemption does not “connote[] sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the [government] in religious activity.” FFRF offered no evidence that provisions like section 107(2) were historically viewed as an establishment of religion. View "Gaylor v. Peecher" on Justia Law