Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Supreme Court
by
The case revolves around the valuation of shares for estate tax purposes following the death of a shareholder. Michael and Thomas Connelly were the sole shareholders of Crown C Supply, a building supply corporation. They had an agreement that if either brother died, the surviving brother could purchase the deceased's shares. If he declined, the corporation would be required to redeem the shares. To ensure the corporation had enough money for this, it obtained $3.5 million in life insurance on each brother. When Michael died, Thomas chose not to purchase Michael's shares, triggering Crown's obligation to do so. The value of Michael's shares was agreed to be $3 million, which was paid to Michael's estate. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audited the return and disagreed with the valuation, insisting that the corporation's redemption obligation did not offset the life-insurance proceeds. The IRS assessed the corporation's total value as $6.86 million and calculated the value of Michael's shares as $5.3 million. Based on this higher valuation, the IRS determined that the estate owed an additional $889,914 in taxes.The District Court granted summary judgment to the Government, holding that the $3 million in life-insurance proceeds must be counted in Crown’s valuation. The Eighth Circuit affirmed this decision.The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the lower courts' decisions. The Court held that a corporation’s contractual obligation to redeem shares is not necessarily a liability that reduces a corporation’s value for purposes of the federal estate tax. The Court reasoned that a fair-market-value redemption has no effect on any shareholder’s economic interest, and thus, no hypothetical buyer purchasing Michael’s shares would have treated Crown’s obligation to redeem Michael’s shares at fair market value as a factor that reduced the value of those shares. The Court concluded that Crown’s promise to redeem Michael’s shares at fair market value did not reduce the value of those shares. View "Connelly v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Tyler's Hennepin County, Minnesota condominium accumulated about $15,000 in unpaid real estate taxes plus interest and penalties. The County seized the condo and sold it for $40,000, keeping the $25,000 excess over Tyler’s tax debt for itself, Minn. Stat. 281.18, 282.07, 282.08. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Tyler’s suit.The Supreme Court reversed. Tyler plausibly alleges that Hennepin County’s retention of the excess value of her home above her debt violated the Takings Clause. Whether the remaining value from a tax sale is property protected under the Takings Clause depends on state law, “traditional property law principles,” historical practice, and Supreme Court precedents. Though state law is an important source of property rights, it cannot “sidestep the Takings Clause by disavowing traditional property interests” in assets it wishes to appropriate. The County's use of its power to sell Tyler’s home to recover the unpaid property taxes to confiscate more property than was due effected a “classic taking in which the government directly appropriates private property for its own use.” Supreme Court precedent recognizes that a taxpayer is entitled to any surplus in excess of the debt owed. Minnesota law itself recognizes in other contexts that a property owner is entitled to any surplus in excess of her debt. The Court rejected an argument that Tyler had no property interest in the surplus because she constructively abandoned her home by failing to pay her taxes. View "Tyler v. Hennepin County" on Justia Law

by
When the IRS issues a summons, it must generally provide notice to any person identified in the summons, 26 U.S.C. 7609(a)(1). Anyone entitled to such notice may move to quash the summons. When the IRS issues a summons “in aid of the collection of” an assessment made “against the person with respect to whose liability the summons is issued,” no notice is required, 7609(c)(2)(D)(i).The IRS entered assessments against Polselli for more than $2 million in unpaid taxes and penalties. Revenue Officer Bryant issued summonses to three banks seeking financial records of third parties, including the petitioners. Bryant did not provide notice to the petitioners, but the banks did. The petitioners moved to quash the summonses. The district court concluded that no notice was required and that the petitioners therefore could not bring a motion to quash. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding that the summonses fell within section 7609(c)(2)(D)(i)'s exception to the general notice requirement.A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting an argument that 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) applies only if the delinquent taxpayer has a legal interest in the accounts or records summoned by the IRS. The statute identifies three conditions to exempt the IRS from providing notice: the summons must be “issued in aid of” collection of “an assessment made or judgment rendered,” and must aid the collection of assessments or judgments “against the person with respect to whose liability the summons is issued.” The statute does not mention legal interest. To “aid” means “[t]o help” or “assist.” A summons that may not itself reveal taxpayer assets may nonetheless help the IRS find such assets. View "Polselli v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

by
The Bank Secrecy Act requires U.S. persons with financial interests in foreign accounts to file an “FBAR” annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts; 31 U.S.C. 5314 delineates legal duties while section 5321 outlines the penalties, with a maximum $10,000 penalty for non-willful violations. Bittner—a dual citizen of Romania and the U.S.—learned of his reporting obligations in 2011 and subsequently submitted reports covering 2007-2011. The government deemed Bittner’s late reports deficient because they did not address all accounts as to which Bittner had either signatory authority or a qualifying interest. Bittner filed corrected FBARs providing information for 61 accounts in 2007, 51 in 2008, 53 in 2009 and 2010, and 54 in 2011. The government asserted that non-willful penalties apply to each account not accurately or timely reported. Bittner’s reports collectively involved 272 accounts; the government calculated a $2.72 million penalty. The Fifth Circuit affirmed.The Supreme Court reversed. The $10,000 maximum penalty for non-willful failure to file a compliant report accrues on a per-report, not a per-account, basis. Section 5314 does not address accounts or their number. An individual files a compliant report or does not. For cases involving willful violations, the statute tailors penalties to accounts. When one section of a statute includes language omitted from a neighboring section, the difference normally conveys a different meaning. The Act's implementing regulations require individuals with fewer than 25 accounts to provide details about each account while individuals with 25 or more accounts do not need to list each account or provide account-specific details unless requested by the Secretary. View "Bittner v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The IRS notified Boechler, a North Dakota law firm, of a discrepancy in its tax filings. When Boechler did not respond, the IRS assessed an “intentional disregard” penalty and notified Boechler of its intent to levy Boechler’s property to satisfy the penalty, 26 U.S.C. 6330(a), 6721(a)(2), (e)(2)(A). The IRS’s Independent Office of Appeals sustained the proposed levy. Under section 6330(d)(1), Boechler had 30 days to petition the Tax Court for review. Boechler filed its petition one day late. The Tax Court dismissed the petition. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, finding the 30-day filing deadline jurisdictional.The Supreme Court reversed. Section 6330(d)(1)’s 30-day time limit to file a petition for review of a collection due process determination is a non-jurisdictional deadline subject to equitable tolling. Whether Boechler is entitled to equitable tolling should be determined on remand. Jurisdictional requirements cannot be waived or forfeited, must be raised by courts “sua sponte,” and do not allow for equitable exceptions. A procedural requirement is jurisdictional only if Congress “clearly states” that it is. Section 6330(d)(1) provides that a “person may, within 30 days of a determination under this section, petition the Tax Court for review of such determination (and the Tax Court shall have jurisdiction with respect to such matter).” The text does not clearly mandate the jurisdictional reading; multiple plausible, non-jurisdictional interpretations exist. Non-jurisdictional limitations periods are presumptively subject to equitable tolling and nothing rebuts the presumption here. View "Boechler v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

by
IRS Notice 2016–66 requires taxpayers and “material advisors” to report information about "micro-captive" insurance agreements. The consequences for non-compliance include civil tax penalties and criminal prosecution. Before the first reporting deadline, CIC challenged the Notice as invalid under the Administrative Procedure Act and sought injunctive relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the action, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a), which generally requires those contesting a tax’s validity to pay the tax before filing a legal challenge.A unanimous Supreme Court reversed. A suit to enjoin Notice 2016–66 does not trigger the Anti-Injunction Act even though a violation may result in a tax penalty; it is not an action to restrain the “assessment or collection” of a tax, even if the information will help the IRS collect future tax revenue. CIC seeks to set aside the Notice itself, not the tax penalty that may follow its breach. CIC stands nowhere near the cusp of tax liability. The presence of criminal penalties forces CIC to bring an action in this form, with the requested relief framed in this manner. To disobey the Notice and pay the resulting penalty before suing for a refund would risk criminal punishment. Allowing CIC’s suit to proceed will not open the floodgates to pre-enforcement tax litigation. Because the IRS chose to address its concern about micro-captive agreements by imposing a reporting requirement rather than a tax, suits to enjoin that requirement are outside the Anti-Injunction Act. View "CIC Services., LLC v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

by
The IRS allows affiliated corporations to file a consolidated federal return, 26 U.S.C. 1501, and issues any refund as a single payment to the group’s designated agent. If a dispute arises, federal courts normally turn to state law to resolve the question of distribution of the refund. Some courts follow the “Bob Richards Rule,” which initially provided that, absent an agreement, a refund belongs to the group member responsible for the losses that led to it. The Rule has evolved, in some jurisdictions, into a general rule that is always followed unless an agreement unambiguously specifies a different result. Soon after the bank suffered huge losses, its parent, Bancorp, was forced into bankruptcy. When the IRS issued a $4 million tax refund, the bank’s receiver, the FDIC, and Bancorp’s bankruptcy trustee each claimed it. The Tenth Circuit examined the parties’ allocation agreement, applied the more expansive version of Bob Richards, and ruled for the FDIC.The Supreme Court vacated. The Rule is not a legitimate exercise of federal common lawmaking. Federal judges may appropriately craft the rule of decision in only limited areas; claiming a new area is subject to strict conditions. Federal common lawmaking must be necessary to protect uniquely federal interests. The federal courts applying and extending Bob Richards have not pointed to any significant federal interest sufficient to support the rule, nor have these parties. State law is well-equipped to handle disputes involving corporate property rights, even in cases involving bankruptcy and a tax dispute. Whether this case might yield a different result without Bob Richards is a matter for the court of appeals on remand. View "Rodriguez v. Federal Deposit Insurance Corp." on Justia Law

by
Rice formed a trust for the benefit of his children in his home state, New York, and appointed a New York resident as the trustee. The trustee has “absolute discretion” to distribute the trust’s assets to the beneficiaries. In 1997, Rice’s daughter, Kaestner, moved to North Carolina. The trustee later divided Rice’s initial trust into three subtrusts. North Carolina assessed a tax of $1.3 million for tax years 2005-2008 on the Kaestner Trust under a law authorizing the state to tax any trust income that “is for the benefit of” a state resident. During that period, Kaestner had no right to and did not receive, any distributions. Nor did the Trust have a physical presence, make any direct investments, or hold any real property in North Carolina. The trustee paid the tax under protest and then sued, citing the Due Process Clause. A unanimous Supreme Court affirmed state court decisions in favor of the trustee. The presence of in-state beneficiaries alone does not empower a state to tax trust income that has not been distributed to the beneficiaries where the beneficiaries have no right to demand that income and are uncertain to receive it. The Due Process Clause limits the states to imposing only taxes that “bea[r] fiscal relation to protection, opportunities and benefits given by the state.” When a state seeks to base its tax on the in-state residence of a trust beneficiary, due process demands a pragmatic inquiry into what the beneficiary controls or possesses and how that interest relates to the object of the tax. The residence of the beneficiaries in North Carolina alone does not supply the minimum connection necessary to sustain the tax. View "North Carolina Department of Revenue v. Kimberley Rice Kaestner 1992 Family Trust" on Justia Law

by
The State of Washington taxes “motor vehicle fuel importer[s]” who bring large quantities of fuel into the state by “ground transportation,” Wash. Code 82.36.010(4), (12), (16). Cougar, a wholesale fuel importer owned by a member of the Yakama Nation, imports fuel over Washington’s public highways for sale to Yakama-owned retail gas stations located within the reservation. In 2013, the state assessed Cougar $3.6 million in taxes, penalties, and licensing fees for importing motor vehicle fuel. Cougar argued that the tax, as applied to its activities, is preempted by an 1855 treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation that reserves the Yakamas’ “right, in common with citizens of the United States, to travel upon all public highways,” 12 Stat. 953. The Washington Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The statute taxes the importation of fuel, which is the transportation of fuel, so travel on public highways is directly at issue. In previous cases involving the treaty, the Court has stressed that its language should be understood as bearing the meaning that the Yakamas understood it to have in 1855; the historical record adopted by the agency and the courts below indicates that the treaty negotiations and the government’s representatives’ statements to the Yakamas would have led the Yakamas to understand that the treaty’s protection of the right to travel on the public highways included the right to travel with goods for purposes of trade. To impose a tax upon traveling with certain goods burdens that travel. View "Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Loos sued BNSF under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act for injuries he received while working at BNSF’s railyard. A jury awarded him $126,212.78, ascribing $30,000 to lost wages. BNSF asserted that the lost wages constituted “compensation” taxable under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA) and asked to withhold $3,765 of the $30,000. The district court and the Eighth Circuit rejected the requested offset. The Supreme Court reversed. A railroad’s payment to an employee for work time lost due to an on-the-job injury is taxable “compensation” under the RRTA. RRTA refers to the railroad’s contribution as an “excise” tax, 26 U. S. C. 3221, and the employee’s share as an “income” tax, section 3201. Taxes under the RRTA and benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act, 45 U.S.C. 231, are measured by the employee’s “compensation,” which both statutes define as “any form of money remuneration paid to an individual for services rendered as an employee.” The Court noted similar results under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act and the Social Security Act. View "BNSF Railway Co. v. Loos" on Justia Law