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Tax Blawg

Tax Talk for Tax Pros

Introduction

Welcome to TaxBlawg, a resource from Chamberlain Hrdlicka for news and analysis of current legal issues facing tax practitioners. Although blawg.com identifies nearly 1,400 active “blawgs,” including 20+ blawgs related to taxation and estate planning, the needs of tax professionals have received surprisingly little attention.

The Wall Street Journal's Tax Blog gives “tips and advice for filers,” and Paul Caron’s legendary TaxProf Blog is an excellent clearinghouse for academic and policy-oriented news. Yet, tax practitioners still lack a dedicated resource to call their own. For those intrepid souls, we offer TaxBlawg, a forum of tax talk for tax pros.

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Posts tagged Penalties.

Last week, the United States Department of Justice asked a federal court in San Francisco to force HSBC India to disclose the names of U.S. customers whom the Justice Department suspects are evading U.S. tax laws.  According to the Justice Department’s brief, HSBC India solicited U.S. residents of Indian origin to open bank accounts.  HSBC apparently advised those individuals that the bank would not disclose the existence of the accounts, or any interest earned on those accounts, to the U.S. government.

Meanwhile, two individuals recently pled guilty to tax evasion in connection ...

During a webinar the other week regarding the impact of the Mayo Foundation decision on taxpayers, I discussed the effect of Mayo on taxpayers’ decisions to take positions that are contrary to IRS rules or regulations.  Part of that discussion examined the 20-percent accuracy-related penalty that can be imposed on such positions under Code section 6662.

As our readers may know, if a taxpayer takes a position on a return that is contrary to an IRS rule or regulation, the taxpayer may avoid the imposition of the accuracy-related penalty by following the requirements of Treas. Reg. § 1.6662-3.  In general, that regulation provides that, when a taxpayer takes a position contrary to a regulation, the penalty for disregarding rules or regulations does not apply if (i) the position is disclosed on “a properly completed and filed Form 8275-R,” (ii) the position represents a “good faith challenge” to the validity of the regulation, and (iii) the taxpayer has a reasonable basis for the position.  Treas. Reg. § 1.6662-3(a), (c)(1), (c)(2).

At the end of the webinar, an audience member asked whether the requirement to disclose a position on Form 8275-R included a position that was contrary to a revenue ruling.  As so often happens in tax law, the answer creates as many questions as it resolves.  Because one person’s question is likely shared by others, it seems appropriate to discuss the issue in a blawg post.

Categories: Administrative

Nowadays, newspapers and tax journals often contain articles about international tax issues, particularly the duty of U.S. persons to file an annual Form TD F 90-22.1 ("FBAR") to report their interests in foreign financial accounts.  As general knowledge of the FBAR increases, the chances of taxpayers avoiding penalties on grounds that they did not act "willfully" decrease. Nevertheless, one recent case fought before both the Tax Court and a federal district court, in United States v. Williams, 09-cv-437 (E.D. Va. 2010), offers support for the notion that where there's no will ...

Since codification of the economic substance doctrine in March 2010, taxpayers have expressed fears that IRS will assert the doctrine unpredictably, resulting in an in terrorem effect among taxpayers because of the lack of clear authorities interpreting the doctrine and the new 40% strict-liability penalty for falling on the wrong side of it.  To promote predictability in the exam processes, taxpayers have requested that Treasury or the IRS issue formal guidance instituting prescribed procedures to assert the penalty.  The government had declined these requests, but officials have promised queasy taxpayers that IRS will only assert the penalty after certain approvals.  For example, in September, LMSB Commissioner Heather Maloy issued a directive mandating that any assertion of the penalty during exam must be approved by the appropriate director of field operations.  Then, as reported by Tax Analysts, Associate Chief Counsel (Procedure and Administration) Deborah Butler said in October that Chief Counsel would review any notice of deficiency that applied the economic substance penalty before it was sent to the taxpayer.

We now tackle the third question raised by our original post about Canal Corp. v. Comm’r: when (if at all) should courts defer to the opinion of a reputable tax advisor in deciding whether to uphold an assessment of penalties against a taxpayer?

To be clear, deference in this context does not mean that courts should defer to an advisor’s opinion regarding the substantive merits of a transaction.  If penalties are at issue, the substantive merits (or lack thereof) of a transaction have already been decided.  Instead, deference in this context refers to whether courts should presume that a taxpayer's receipt of an opinion written by a reputable advisor is sufficient to avoid the imposition of penalties on a transaction, notwithstanding a perceived conflict of interest on the advisor's part.

Following up on our earlier post, Deconstructing Canal Corp. v. Commissioner – Part I, we now examine the second question raised by Judge Kroupa’s opinion.  Specifically, where a taxpayer relies on the opinion of an advisor to establish a “reasonable cause and good faith” defense to the imposition of penalties, have the modifications to the penalty preparer rules of Code section 6694 obviated the need for a judicial rule disallowing taxpayer reliance on the opinion of an advisor who has a conflict of interest?

Categories: Litigation

Many practitioners were taken aback by the recent Tax Court decision in Canal Corp. v. Commissioner, where Judge Kroupa issued a stinging opinion that not only recast a leveraged partnership distribution as a disguised sale, but also upheld penalties against the taxpayer for what the judge characterized as the taxpayer’s unreasonable reliance on the opinion of its tax advisor.  Judge Kroupa’s analysis, which should be on the forefront of every tax advisor’s mind, raises a number of interesting, if thorny, questions, including:

  1. Should a fixed and/or contingent fee arrangement necessarily render tax advice unreliable for purposes of avoiding a substantial understatement penalty under the “reasonable cause and good faith” exception?
  2. Has the enactment of section 6694 undercut the rationale for prohibiting taxpayers from relying on advisors that have a conflict of interest?
  3. When (if at all) should courts defer to the opinion of a reputable tax advisor in deciding whether to uphold an assessment of penalties against a taxpayer?

Today, we tackle the first of these three questions.

Categories: Litigation

The passage of President Obama's health-care legislation will no doubt have long-lasting consequences for the economy in general and the health-care industry in particular.  Less noticed by the general public, but central in the minds of tax professionals, has been a single provision in the accompanying reconciliation bill that codifies the so-called "economic substance" doctrine.  Having often been introduced in bills that eventually died in the catacombs of the legislative process, many practitioners were beginning to believe that codification was a cousin of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster - often spotted, but never confirmed.

Categories: Legislation

Let's face it: employees are wonderful.  We couldn't do without them.  However, they can be expensive.  Beyond their base compensation, employers must pay federal taxes – in addition to withholding the employee's share of income tax, FICA and Medicare, there is an employer’s share of Medicare and FICA that must deposited regularly.  There's also annual FUTA tax, as well as quarterly state unemployment tax.  And there are benefits, ranging from medical coverage, to vacations, to sick leave, to name just three, that employers must pay.

When business is down, it is natural to try to find ...

The recent decision in Bemont Investments, LLC v. United States, USDC E.D. Tex., No. 4:07-cv-00009 (March 9, 2010) is another burr in the IRS’s saddle when it comes to enforcement of the substantial valuation and gross valuation misstatement penalties.  These two penalties, particularly the 40% gross valuation misstatement penalty, are powerful weapons in the IRS’s arsenal to deter taxpayers from entering into transactions the IRS considers abusive.  Bemont, out of the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, was a Son of BOSS case that the IRS characterized as a sham ...

Categories: Litigation