Articles Posted in Tax Law

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The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (42 U.S.C 18001) includes “guaranteed issue” and “community rating” requirements, which bar insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on health; requires individuals to maintain health insurance coverage or make a payment to the IRS, unless the cost of buying insurance would exceed eight percent of that individual’s income; and seeks to make insurance more affordable by giving refundable tax credits to individuals with household incomes between 100 per cent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line. The Act requires creation of an “Exchange” in each state— a marketplace to compare and purchase insurance plans; the federal government will establish “such Exchange” if the state does not. The Act provides that tax credits “shall be allowed” for any “applicable taxpayer,” only if the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. 18031],” An IRS regulation interprets that language as making credits available regardless of whether the exchange is established by a state or the federal government. Plaintiffs live in Virginia, which has a federal exchange. They argued Virginia’s Exchange does not qualify as “an Exchange established by the State,” so they should not receive any tax credits. That would make the cost of buying insurance more than eight percent of their income, exempting them from the coverage requirement. The district court dismissed their suit. The Fourth Circuit and Supreme Court affirmed. Tax credits are available to individuals in states that have a federal exchange. Given that the text is ambiguous, the Court looked to the broader structure of the Act and concluded that plaintiffs’ interpretation would destabilize the individual insurance market in any state with a federal exchange. It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in that manner. Congress made the guaranteed issue and community rating requirements applicable in every state, but those requirements only work when combined with the coverage requirement and tax credits. View "King v. Burwell" on Justia Law

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Maryland has a “state” income tax, Md. Tax-Gen. Code 10–105(a), and a “county” income tax, sections 10–103, 10–106. Residents who pay income tax to another jurisdiction for income earned in that other jurisdiction get a credit against the state tax but not the county tax. Nonresidents who earn income from Maryland sources must pay the state income tax; nonresidents not subject to the county tax must pay a “special nonresident tax.” Residents who earned pass-through income from a Subchapter S corporation that earned income in several states claimed an income tax credit on their Maryland tax return for taxes paid to other states. The Comptroller allowed a credit against state income tax but not against county income tax and assessed a tax deficiency. The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that the tax unconstitutionally discriminated against interstate commerce. The Supreme Court affirmed: Maryland’s personal income tax scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The Court noted previous decisions invalidating state tax schemes that might lead to double taxation of out-of-state income and that discriminated in favor of intrastate over interstate economic activity. That conclusion is not affected by the fact that these cases involved a tax on gross receipts rather than net income, and a tax on corporations rather than individuals. Maryland’s income tax scheme fails the internal consistency test; if every state adopted its tax structure, interstate commerce would be taxed at a higher rate than intrastate commerce. The scheme is inherently discriminatory and operates as a tariff. The Court rejected an argument that, by offering residents who earn income in interstate commerce a credit against the state portion of the tax, Maryland receives less tax revenue from residents who earn interstate, rather than intrastate, commerce income; the total tax burden on interstate commerce is higher. View "Comptroller of Treasury of Md. v. Wynne" on Justia Law

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Alabama imposes sales and use taxes on railroads purchasing or consuming diesel fuel, but exempts their competitors: trucking companies and companies that transport goods interstate through navigable waters. Motor carriers pay an alternative fuel-excise tax on diesel, but water carriers pay neither sales tax nor excise tax. CSX, an interstate rail carrier, alleged discrimination against a rail carrier under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulation Reform Act, 49 U.S.C. 11501(b)(4). The Supreme Court held that a tax “discriminates” when it treats “groups [that] are similarly situated” differently without sufficient justification. On remand, the Eleventh Circuit held that CSX could establish discrimination by showing that Alabama taxed rail carriers differently than their competitors, but rejected Alabama’s argument that the fuel-excise tax on motor carriers justified the sales tax on rail carriers. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded. CSX’s competitors are an appropriate comparison class; the class need not consist of “general commercial and industrial taxpayers.” The Act’s subsections (b)(1) to (b)(3), addressing property taxes, limits the comparison class to commercial and industrial property in the same assessment jurisdiction. Subsection (b)(4) contains no such limitation, so the comparison class is based on the claimed theory of discrimination. When a railroad alleges discrimination compared to transportation industry competitors, its competitors in that jurisdiction are the comparison class. The comparison class must consist of individuals similarly situated to the claimant. Discrimination in favor of competitors frustrates the Act’s purpose of restoring railways’ financial stability while fostering competition among all carriers. The Eleventh Circuit erred in refusing to consider Alabama’s proposed justification. An alternative, roughly equivalent tax is one possible justification. On remand, the court is to consider whether Alabama’s fuel-excise tax is the rough equivalent of sales tax on diesel fuel and whether any alternative rationales justify the water carrier exemption. View "Ala. Dep't of Revenue v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law

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Colorado requires residents who purchase goods from a retailer that does not collect sales or use taxes to file a return and remit taxes directly to its Department of Revenue. Noncollecting retailers must notify any Colorado customer of the requirement and report tax-related information to those customers and the Department. An association of retailers sued, alleging that Colorado’s law violates the United States and Colorado Constitutions. The district court enjoined enforcement of the notice and reporting requirements. The Tenth Circuit reversed, holding that the Tax Injunction Act (TIA), which provides that federal district courts “shall 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, deprived the court of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court reversed. The requested relief would not “enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection” of taxes. The terms “assessment,” “levy,” and “collection” do not encompass enforcement of notice and reporting requirements. The terms, read in light of the federal Tax Code, refer to discrete phases of the taxation process that do not include informational notices or private reports of information relevant to tax liability. Assessment and collection are triggered after the state receives the returns and makes the deficiency determinations that the notice and reporting facilitate. The context in which the TIA uses the word “restrain” favors a narrow meaning. The Court took no position on whether the suit such as this might be barred under the “comity doctrine.” View "Direct Marketing Ass'n v. Brohl" on Justia Law

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued summonses to four individuals, seeking information and records relevant to the tax obligations of Dynamo, 26 U.S.C.7602. When they failed to comply, the IRS brought an enforcement action. The individuals challenged the IRS’s motives in issuing the summonses and sought to question the responsible agents. The district court denied the request and ordered the summonses enforced. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that refusal to allow questioning of the agents was an abuse of discretion. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A taxpayer has a right to examine IRS officials regarding reasons for issuing a summons when the taxpayer points to specific facts or circumstances plausibly raising an inference of bad faith. The proceedings at issue are “summary in nature,” and the only relevant question is whether the summons was issued in good faith. Prior cases support a requirement that a summons objector offer not just naked allegations, but some credible evidence to support a claim of improper motive. Circumstantial evidence can suffice; a fleshed out case is not required. The objector need only present a plausible basis for the charge. The Eleventh Circuit erroneously applied a categorical rule demanding the examination of IRS agents without assessing the plausibility of the claims. View "United States v. Clarke" on Justia Law

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Quality Stores made severance payments to employees who were involuntarily terminated in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The payments were made pursuant to plans that did not tie payments to the receipt of state unemployment insurance and varied based on job seniority. Quality Stores paid and withheld taxes required under FICA, 26 U.S.C. 3101. Later, believing that the payments should not have been taxed as FICA wages, Quality Stores sought a refund on behalf of itself and about 1,850 former employees. The IRS neither allowed nor denied the refund, Quality Stores initiated proceedings in the Bankruptcy Court, which granted summary judgment in its favor. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the severance payments were taxable FICA wages. FICA defines “wages” broadly as “all remuneration for employment.” Severance payments are a form of remuneration made only to employees in consideration for employment. By varying according to a terminated employee’s function and seniority, the Quality Stores severance payments confirm the principle that “service” “mea[ns] not only work actually done but the entire employer-employee relationship for which compensation is paid.” FICA’s exemption for severance payments made because of "retirement for disability,” would be unnecessary were severance payments generally not considered wages. FICA has contained no general exception for severance payments since 1950. The Internal Revenue Code, section 3401(a), also has a broad definition of “wages” and specifies that “supplemental unemployment compensation benefits,” which include severance payments, be treated “as if” they were wages; simplicity of administration and consistency of statutory interpretation indicate that the meaning of “wages” should generally be the same for income-tax withholding and for FICA calculations. View "United States v. Quality Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Woods and McCombs participated in a tax shelter to generate paper losses to reduce their taxable income. They purchased currency-option spread packages consisting of a long option, for which they paid a premium, and a short option, which they sold and for which they collected a premium. Because the premium paid was largely offset by that received, the net cost of the packages was substantially less than the cost of the long option alone. Woods and McCombs contributed the spreads, plus cash, to partnerships, which used the cash to purchase stock and currency. In calculating their basis in the partnership interests, they considered only the long component of the spreads and disregarded the nearly offsetting short component. When the partnerships’ assets were disposed of for modest gains, they claimed huge losses. Although they had contributed $3.2 million in cash and spreads to the partnerships, they claimed losses of more than $45 million. The IRS sent notices, finding that the partnerships lacked “economic substance,” disallowing related losses, and concluding that the partners could not claim a basis greater than zero for their partnership interests and that tax underpayments would be subject to a 40-percent penalty for gross valuation misstatements. The district court held that the partnerships were properly disregarded as shams but that the penalty did not apply. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, first holding that the district court had jurisdiction to make the determination. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act authorizes courts in partnership-level proceedings to provisionally determine the applicability of any penalty that could result from an adjustment to a partnership item, even though imposing the penalty requires a subsequent, partner-level proceeding. In the later proceeding, a partner may raise reasons why the penalty may not be imposed on him personally. However, the valuation-misstatement penalty applies in this case. Once the partnerships were deemed shams, no partner could legitimately claim a basis greater than zero. Any underpayment resulting from use of a non-zero basis would be attributable to a partner having claimed an adjusted basis that exceeded the correct amount. When an asset’s adjusted basis is zero, a valuation misstatement is automatically deemed gross. The valuation¬misstatement penalty encompasses misstatements that rest on both legal and factual errors, so it is applicable to misstatements that rest on use of a sham partnership. View "United States v. Woods" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law, Tax Law

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The IRS advised Ford Motor that it had underpaid its taxes from 1983 until 1989. Ford remitted $875 million to stop the accrual of interest that Ford would otherwise owe once audits were completed and the amount of its underpayment was finally determined. Eventually it was determined that Ford had overpaid its taxes in the relevant years, entitling Ford to a return of the overpayment and. Ford argued that “the date of overpayment” for purposes of 26 U.S.C. 6611(a) was the date that it first remitted the deposits to the IRS. The IRS countered that the relevant date was the date that Ford requested that the IRS treat the remittances as payments of tax. The difference between the competing interpretations is worth some $445 million. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings in favor of the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, concluding that section 6611 is a waiver of sovereign immunity that must be strictly construed in favor of the government. The Supreme Court vacated and remanded, noting that the government was arguing, for the first time, that the only general waiver of sovereign immunity that encompasses Ford’s claim is the Tucker Act, 28 U. S. C. 1491(a). Although the government acquiesced in jurisdiction in the district court, the Tucker Act applies, jurisdiction over this case was proper only in the Court of Federal Claims. The Sixth Circuit should have the first opportunity to consider the argument. View "Ford Motor Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Windsor and Spyer, two women, married in Canada in 2007. Their home state, New York, recognized the marriage. Spyer died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor, who sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. Her claim was barred by section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 28 U.S.C. 1738C, which defined “marriage” and “spouse” to exclude same-sex partners for purposes of federal law. Windsor paid $363,053 in taxes and sought a refund, which the IRS denied. Windsor sued, challenging DOMA. The Department of Justice declined to defend section 3’s constitutionality. The district court ordered a refund, finding section 3 unconstitutional. The Second Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, 5-4, first holding that the government retained a stake, sufficient to support Article III jurisdiction, because the unpaid refund is “a real and immediate economic injury.” There was sufficient argument for section 3’s constitutionality to satisfy prudential concerns. DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons under the Fifth Amendment. Regulation of marriage has traditionally been within the authority of the states. DOMA, applicable to more than 1,000 federal statues and all federal regulations, was directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York and 11 other states have sought to protect. DOMA is inconsistent with the principle that marriage laws may vary from state to state, but are consistent within each state. A state’s decision to give a class of persons the right to marry confers a dignity and status of immense import. New York’s decision was a proper exercise of its sovereign authority. By seeking to injure the class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violated basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government. Constitutional guarantees of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of the group. DOMA’s history and text indicate a purpose and practical effect to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and a stigma upon those entering into same-sex marriages made lawful by the states. The law deprived some couples married under the laws of their states, but not others, of rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state; it diminished the stability and predictability of basic personal relations. View "United States v. Windsor" on Justia Law

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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued summonses to four individuals, seeking information and records relevant to the tax obligations of Dynamo, 26 U.S.C.7602. When they failed to comply, the IRS brought an enforcement action. The individuals challenged the IRS’s motives in issuing the summonses and sought to question the responsible agents. The district court denied the request and ordered the summonses enforced. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that refusal to allow questioning of the agents was an abuse of discretion. A unanimous Supreme Court vacated and remanded. A taxpayer has a right to examine IRS officials regarding reasons for issuing a summons when the taxpayer points to specific facts or circumstances plausibly raising an inference of bad faith. The proceedings at issue are “summary in nature,” and the only relevant question is whether the summons was issued in good faith. Prior cases support a requirement that a summons objector offer not just naked allegations, but some credible evidence to support a claim of improper motive. Circumstantial evidence can suffice; a fleshed out case is not required. The objector need only present a plausible basis for the charge. The Eleventh Circuit erroneously applied a categorical rule demanding the examination of IRS agents without assessing the plausibility of the claims. View "United States v. Clarke" on Justia Law