Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Hoffman owns the historic Tremaine Building in Cleveland, Ohio. Over a decade ago, Hoffman donated an easement in the façade of the building and certain airspace restrictions associated with the building to the American Association of Historic Preservation (AAHP). Hoffman agreed not to alter the historic character of the façade or to build in the airspace above or next to the building—subject to certain conditions. Hoffman then sought a $15 million tax deduction for its donation of a “qualified conservation contribution,” I.R.C. 170(f)(3)(B)(iii). The IRS and Tax Court concluded that Hoffman was not entitled to a deduction because the donation was not “exclusively for conservation purposes.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. To be deductible, the donation must protect the conservation purposes “in perpetuity,” I.R.C. 170(h)(5)(A) and include “legally enforceable restrictions” that will prevent the donor from using its retained interest in the property in a way “inconsistent with the [donation’s] conservation purposes.” The donation agreement gives Hoffman the right to propose changes to the facade or airspace, after which AAHP has a 45-day window in which to prevent those changes. If the organization misses that window—for whatever reason—it loses the ability to stop the change. The provision violates the “perpetuity” requirement. View "Hoffman Properties II, L.P. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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Holland, a songwriter, sold his song-rights to music companies, in exchange for royalty payments. Holland failed fully to report his income. In 1986-1990, the IRS levied Holland’s royalty assets and recovered $1.5 million. In 1997, the IRS informed him that it intended again to levy those assets. Holland converted his interest in future royalty payments into a lump sum and created a partnership wholly owned by him, to which he transferred title to the royalty assets ($23.3 million). The partnership borrowed $15 million, for which the royalty assets served as collateral. Bankers Trust paid $8.4 million directly to Holland, $5 million in fees, and $1.7 million for Holland’s debts, including his taxes. The IRS did not assess any additional amounts against Holland until 2003. In 2005, the partnership refinanced the 1998 deal, using Royal Bank. In 2012, the IRS concluded that the partnership held the royalty assets as Holland’s alter ego or fraudulent transferee and recorded a $20 million lien against the partnership. In an enforcement suit, the partnership sold the royalty assets. The proceeds ($21 million) went into an interpleader fund, to be distributed to the partnership’s creditors in order of priority. The government’s lien ($20 million), if valid against the partnership, would take priority over Royal Bank’s security interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment for Royal Bank. Transactions to monetize future revenue, using a partnership or corporate form, are common and facially legitimate. Holland received adequate consideration in 1998. The IRS’s delay in making additional assessments rather than the 1998 transfer caused the government’s collection difficulties. View "United States v. Holland" on Justia Law

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The Gaetanos run a cannabis dispensary. After a failed business transaction, a third party sued the Gaetanos and their attorney, Goodman, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Goodman. An ethics inquiry uncovered multiple violations. Goodman lost his license to practice law. The Gaetanos severed their relationship with him. The IRS later audited the Gaetanos’ tax returns and contacted Goodman for assistance. Goodman threatened the Gaetanos that unless they gave him a “significant down-payment” he would see them “take[n] down”. They did not oblige, Goodman sent menacing emails. The Gaetanos contacted the IRS. Goodman assured the IRS that his information was not privileged but was obtained through on-line searches and a private investigator; he discussed several aspects of the Gaetanos’ business. Goodman then taunted the Gaetanos, who again notified the IRS. The Gaetanos filed suit, seeking to stop the government from discussing privileged information with Goodman and requiring it to destroy attorney-client confidences. The IRS asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a). The Sixth Circuit agreed that the Act bars the lawsuit; the “Williams Packing” exception does not apply. The exception requires that the taxpayer show that under no circumstances could the government prevail against their claims and that “equity jurisdiction otherwise exists.” The Gaetanos have not identified any privileged information that Goodman provided to the IRS and have adequate remedies at law. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law

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The IRS searched Ellis’s apartment and found personal identifying information for more than 400 people on printouts from the Alabama Department of Corrections’ database and in a TurboTax database on laptops seized from Ellis’s bedroom. Her computers had been used to file hundreds of electronic tax returns in 2008-2012. Ellis was charged with devising a scheme to submit fraudulent tax returns in “2012,” including eight counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and eight counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1), (c)(5) and 18 U.S.C. 2. After the government admitted that some of Agent Ward’s grand jury statements had been wrong, Ellis unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment. The court found that the “inaccurate statements did not have a substantial influence" given "overwhelming other evidence he presented.” Agent Ward testified that the intended loss from Ellis’s scheme was approximately $700,000, based on the total requested refunds, not the actual refunds. The court agreed and applied a 12-step ioffense level increase (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(H)), with a resulting Guidelines range for the wire fraud counts of 51-71 months. The court imposed a 48-month sentence for wire fraud and a consecutive, mandatory, 24-month sentence for aggravated identity theft and ordered forfeiture of $11,670, the total of the eight tax returns for which Ellis was convicted. The court imposed the government’s requested $352,183.20, in restitution to governmental entities. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss, the calculation of the forfeiture, and the restitution order, rejecting arguments that the government had not presented evidence that all of the refunds used to calculate restitution were part of the same scheme and that some of that amount was tied to conduct that occurred outside of the limitations period. View "United States v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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In operating his companies, Rankin failed to remit to the IRS employees’ withholding taxes and inaccurately reported his own earnings as royalties (26 U.S.C. 7202, 7206, 7212). Rankin interfered with and delayed IRS investigations, filing amended returns containing false information and falsely claiming that fire had destroyed his records. Rankin bragged about his efforts to beat the IRS at its own game. He was convicted of 17 tax-related counts, sentenced to 60 months in prison, and required to pay restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence, modifying his judgment to reflect that he need not pay restitution until his term of supervised release commences. The court rejected a challenge to Count 17, which alleged that during the relevant time, Rankin had “willfully misl[ed] agents of the IRS by making false and misleading statements to those agents and by concealing information sought by those agents who he well knew were attempting to ascertain income, expenses and taxes for [Rankin] and his various business entities and interests.” The indictment contains the elements of the charged offense and does more than merely track the language of the statute. It alleges a nexus between Rankin’s misleading conduct and the agents’ attempts “to ascertain [his] income, expenses and taxes,” an investigation that went beyond the “routine, day-to-day work carried out in the ordinary course by the IRS.” The indictment reflects that the investigation was pending and that Rankin was aware of it. View "United States v. Rankin" on Justia Law

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Anthony, his brother Christopher, their sister Sharon, and Sharon’s husband, Durand, sought tax refunds for 21 separate fictitious trusts that they created. They were successful in obtaining refund checks based upon many of these returns, receiving over $360,000. They were convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit identity theft, and illegal monetary transactions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that insufficient evidence supported Sharon’s convictions; that insufficient evidence supported the finding that Anthony and Sharon knew that they were using the names and personal identifying information of real people; that Anthony and Christopher were deprived of the effective assistance of counsel because their state-bar grievances against their attorneys created conflicts of interest; that the indictment was duplicitous regarding the aggravated-identify-theft charges and the district court failed to cure this defect by issuing a specific unanimity jury instruction; that the court’s aiding-and-abetting jury instruction was legally incorrect, and that insufficient evidence supported the court’s aiding-and-abetting jury instruction. View "United States v. Gandy" on Justia Law

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The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 authorized the IRS to gather information about tax shelters, 26 U.S.C. 6707A. The IRS requires taxpayers and certain third parties to submit records pertaining to “reportable transaction[s]” as defined by IRS regulations, subject to significant penalties. A “material advisor” who provides material aid to a taxpayer in carrying out reportable transactions and who derives a threshold amount of gross income from that aid, faces similar penalties. A material advisor who fails to maintain a list of taxpayers that he aided in carrying out reportable transactions faces a $10,000 per day penalty. Notice 2016-66 identified “micro-captive transactions” as “transactions of interest,” a subset of reportable transactions that have “a potential for tax avoidance or evasion,” but stated that the IRS “lack[s] sufficient information” to distinguish between those that are lawful and those that are unlawful. Plaintiff, a material advisor to taxpayers engaging in micro-captive transactions, challenged the Notice under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 500, and the Congressional Review Act, 5 U.S.C. 801, arguing that it was a legislative rule that required notice-and-comment rulemaking, was arbitrary, and required submission for congressional review. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint as barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a) and the tax exception to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. 2201, which divest federal district courts of jurisdiction over suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The court noted that the IRS does “not have a great history of complying with APA procedures.” View "CIC Services., LLC v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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Rotondo was the sole owner of Apex, which wholly owned four limited liability companies (Directional Entities). Apex and the Directional Entities provided services, such as human resources, to different clients. Rotondo sold the Directional Entities’ key asset, customer lists, to AES, which agreed to pay Rotondo a share of its gross profits in the form of “Consulting Fees.” Two entities sought to collect Rotondo’s Consulting Fees: Akouri loaned money to one of Rotondo’s other companies and had a security interest in Apex’s assets and a judgment against Rotondo and Apex for $1.4 million. Rotondo also owes the IRS $3.4 million. The IRS filed several notices of tax liens against Rotondo, Apex, and the Directional Entities. AES filed an interpleader action. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the IRS. The timing of a federal tax lien is measured by when the IRS gave notice of its lien, 26 U.S.C. 6323(a), (f); the timing of state security interests, like Akouri’s, is measured by when they become “choate”—i.e., complete or perfected. Akouri’s interest would be choate as of 2019, but the IRS’s tax liens date to before 2019. The court rejected Akouri’s attempt to recategorize the customer list assets as originally belonging to Apex rather than the Directional Entities. View "AES-Apex Employer Services, Inc. v. Rotondo" on Justia Law

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After Hawk died, his wife, Nancy, decided to sell the family business, Holiday Bowl and made a deal with MidCoast, which claimed an interest in acquiring companies with corporate tax liabilities that it could set off against its net-operating losses. Holiday first sold its bowling alleys to Bowl New England, receiving $4.2 million in cash and generating about $1 million in federal taxes. Nancy and Billy’s estate then sold Holiday Bowl to MidCoast for about $3.4 million,"in essence exchanging one pile of cash for another minus the tax debt MidCoast agreed to pay." MidCoast never paid the taxes. The United States filed a transferee-liability action against Nancy and Hawk’s estate. The Tax Court ruled for the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the Hawks were transferees of a delinquent taxpayer under 26 U.S.C. 6901, and that Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, which provides remedies to creditors (like the United States) when insolvent debtors fraudulently transfer assets to third parties. Holiday Bowl owed taxes. “Congress, with assistance from the courts, has constructed a formidable defense against taxpayer efforts to traffic in net operating losses and other corporate tax benefits.” View "Billy F. Hawk, Jr., GST Non-Exempt Marital Trust v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law