In Palmolive Building Investors, LLC v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. No. 18, the Tax Court denied a charitable contribution deduction of a donated façade easement because the easement deed failed to satisfy the perpetuity requirement of section 170.

Background – Perpetuity Requirement

A contribution of a qualified real property interest is deductible as a qualified conservation contribution if, among other requirements, the contribution is exclusively for conservation purposes. The “exclusivity” requirement is only satisfied if the conservation purposes are protected in perpetuity. To be protected in perpetuity, the interest in the property retained by the donor must be subject to legally enforceable restrictions that will prevent uses of the retained interest inconsistent with the conservation purposes of the donation. The Regulations provide rules for many of these legally enforceable restrictions.

When donated property is subject to a mortgage, the mortgagee must subordinate its rights in the property to the right of the easement holder to enforce the conservation purposes of the gift in perpetuity. If the mortgagee fails to actually subordinate its rights in the property, the perpetuity requirement is not satisfied. Further, if an unexpected change in conditions makes the property’s continued use for conservation purposes impossible or impractical, then the restrictions required to protect the conservation purpose may be extinguished by judicial proceedings. In the event an easement is extinguished and the donor subsequently conveys the property and receives proceeds for it, the donee organization must be guaranteed to receive a certain portion of the proceeds.

Why Deed Failed to Satisfy Perpetuity Requirement in Palmolive Building Investors

In Palmolive Building Investors, Partnership PB (“Partnership”) transferred a façade easement by executing an easement deed (“Deed”) in favor of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (“LPCI”), a qualified organization. The purpose of the deed was to preserve the exterior perimeter walls of a building’s façade. At the time of the execution of the Deed, two mortgages encumbered the building. Before executing the Deed, Partnership secured an ostensible agreement from both mortgagees to subordinate their mortgages in the property to LCPI’s rights to enforce the purposes of the easement. However, the mortgagees’ subordination was limited by a provision in the Deed that gave the mortgagees a prior claim to any insurance and condemnation proceeds until the mortgage was paid off. This limitation proved to be fatal, as certain interests of the mortgagees were not actually subordinated to the interests of LPCI.

The IRS filed a motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that the easement deed did not satisfy the perpetuity requirement because it gave the mortgagees prior claims to extinguishment proceeds in preference to LPCI. The Tax Court agreed, holding that the easement deed failed to satisfy the perpetuity requirement for two reasons: (1) the mortgages on the building were not fully subordinated to the easement, and (2) LPCI was not guaranteed to receive its requisite share of proceeds in the event that the easement was extinguished and the donor subsequently conveyed the property and received proceeds for it.

It is worth noting that the Tax Court continued to strictly construe the requirement that the donee must be guaranteed to receive a certain portion of proceeds upon extinguishment, as it did in Kaufman v. Commissioner, 134 T.C. 182 (2010) – if a donee is not absolutely entitled to its requisite share of extinguishment proceeds, then the contribution’s conservation purpose is not protected in perpetuity. The First Circuit Court of Appeals has previously expressed its disagreement with this restrictive interpretation. In Kaufman v. Shulman, 687 F.3d 21 (1st Cir. 2012), the First Circuit explained that if any owner donates a facade easement and thereafter fails to pay taxes, a lien on the property arises in favor of the Government, and such lien would not be subordinated to the easement donee’s interest. Because this is always a possibility, a donee will never have an absolute entitlement to proceeds, so the perpetuity requirement will never be satisfied. The Tax Court refused to follow the First Circuit’s interpretation, explaining that it analyzes “conservation restrictions on the basis of property rights and interests that exist when the easement is granted, rather than conducting an analysis based on speculations of property interests that might arise in the future…”

This case illustrates the importance of ensuring that all requirements of section 170 are satisfied when a conservation easement is granted, as the Tax Court also held that the defects in the easement deed were not cured by a provision that sought to retroactively amend the deed to comply with section 170, because the requirements set forth in section 170 must be satisfied at the time of the gift.

You can read the full opinion here, and you can find more discussion on charitable contribution deductions for conservation easements here and here.

Two members of Congress have introduced a bill that would exempt from income tax transactions under $600 conducted using Bitcoin or other digital currencies. Currently, the Internal Revenue Service treats digital currencies like Bitcoin as property, meaning that on every transaction using Bitcoin, the taxpayer must recognize either a gain or loss for tax purposes depending on his or her basis in the digital currency and report such gain or loss on an income tax return. The IRS does not recognize any de minimus transaction amount, meaning that a taxpayer using Bitcoin to purchase a cup of coffee must recognize gain or loss on the transaction. Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), co-chairs of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, have introduced the Crytocurrency Tax Fairness Act of 2017 to exempt small purchases with digital currency up to $600 from tax reporting and burdensome recordkeeping requirements.

In a press release announcing the bill, Rep. Polis said that “[c]ryptocurrencies can be used for anything from buying a cup of coffee to paying for a car, to crowdfunding a new startup and more and more consumers are choosing to use this type of payment. To keep up with modern technology, we need to remove outdated restrictions on cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, and other methods of digital payment. By cutting red tape and eliminating onerous reporting requirements, it will allow cryptocurrencies to further benefit consumers and help create good jobs.”

Rep. Schweikert added that “[i]ndividuals all over the world are starting to use cryptocurrencies for small every day transactions, yet here in the States we have fallen behind and make cryptocurrency use more of a challenge than it needs to be. “With this simple legislative change, anyone can make digital payments to buy a newspaper or a bike without worrying about tax code challenges.”

According to their press release, Polis and Schweikert relaunched the Congressional Blockchain Caucus in February. The caucus educates, engages, and provides research to help policymakers implement smart regulatory approaches to the issues raised by blockchain-based technologies and networks. Blockchain is a decentralized distributed ledger that is the main technology powering cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum. By using math and cryptography, blockchain supplies a decentralized database of every transaction involving value. This creates a record of authenticity that is verifiable by a user community, increasing transparency and reducing fraud. Crytocurrencies, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, are used for purchases, trade, and payment across the globe. The estimated value of the cryptocurrecy economy is $162 billion.

Meanwhile, the IRS is continuing its aggressive efforts to identify the users of digital currency through litigation involving a “John Doe summons” on Coinbase Inc., a leading virtual currency exchanger. The IRS believes that because virtual currency transactions are difficult to trace, offer relative anonymity, and lack third-party information reporting, taxpayers may be using them to hide taxable income.  In a press release announcing the John Doe summons, then-Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo, head of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, said that “[a]s the use of virtual currencies has grown exponentially, some have raised questions about tax compliance.  Tools like the John Doe summons authorized today send the clear message to U.S. taxpayers that whatever form of currency they use – bitcoin or traditional dollars and cents – we will work to ensure that they are fully reporting their income and paying their fair share of taxes.”  According to the IRS, there is a significant reporting gap between the number of virtual currency users reported by Coinbase during the period 2013 through 2015 and the total number of taxpayers reporting gains or losses to the IRS during that same period (807, 893, and 802, respectively). In addition, it has been reported that the IRS is utilizing Chainanalysis software to identify owners of virtual currencies.

Recently, a Colorado business protested the IRS’ disallowance of their business expenses.  The IRS alleges that the taxpayer was a Colorado medical marijuana dispensary to which Section 280E applies, as a result the IRS asserted that the taxpayers owed additional tax.  The taxpayers paid the tax and sued for a refund in Federal Court.  In a motion for summary judgment, the taxpayer asserted that the IRS did not have the authority to investigate whether the taxpayer violated the Controlled Substances Act (“CSA”), that Section 280E violates the Sixteenth Amendment, that the taxpayer properly deducted its expenses, and that the IRS did not produce evidence that Section 280E applies to the taxpayer.  The taxpayer also asserted that the application of Section 280E violated their Fifth Amendment rights and that Section 280E violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against excessive fines and penalties.

The District Court ruled that:

  • the IRS application of Section 280E to a business it determined was selling marijuana was within its authority to apply the Internal Revenue Code;
  • the IRS’ application of Section 280E was a “purely tax-based determination” that did not violate the taxpayer’s Fifth Amendment rights;
  • the taxpayer did not allege that the IRS disallowed costs other than cost of goods sold and therefore the court could not determine that the Sixteenth Amendment was not violated;
  • the taxpayer did not allege enough facts for the court to determine whether Section 280E is an excessive fine and penalty in violation of the Eighth Amendment; and
  • the taxpayer did not allege any facts to show that the IRS lacked evidence to show that the taxpayer was violating the CSA.

The taxpayer has filed a motion for reconsideration and an amended complaint to add allegations necessary to support its claims, so the case may move forward based on those new allegations.   However, the taxpayer’s attempt to stop the IRS from enforcing Section 280E was not successful under the facts of this case.

The case is Alpenglow Botanicals, LLC v. U.S., Colorado Dist. Ct. Case No. 16-cv-00258-RM-CBS.  Opinion and Order Continue Reading Colorado District Court: IRS Enforcement of Section 280E Is Not A Criminal Investigation

In a strongly worded opinion that is very favorable for taxpayers who engage in sophisticated tax planning, the Sixth Circuit overturned a Tax Court opinion denying the benefits of a domestic international sales corporation (“DISC”) under the theory that the transaction violated the substance over form doctrine.  In short, a DISC was used to channel large amounts to a Roth IRA, permitting accumulation of substantial funds which will be available tax free to the owners of the Roth IRA after they reach a certain age.  The details are not as fun as the opinion, which, assuming it stands, will surely be cited many times over.  The Court’s words are strong:

  • “If the government can undo transactions that the terms of the Code expressly authorize, it’s fair to ask what the point of making these terms accessible to the taxpayer and binding on the tax collector is.”
  • Because the taxpayer “used the DISC and Roth IRAs for their congressionally sanctioned purpose – tax avoidance – the Commissioner has no basis for recharacterizing the transaction and no basis for recharacterizing the law’s application to them.”
  • “It’s one thing to permit the Commissioner to recharacterize the economic substance of a transaction-to honor the fiscal realities of what taxpayers have done over the form in which they have done it.  But it’s quite another to permit the Commissioner to recharacterize the meaning of statutes-to ignore their form, their words, in favor of his perception of their substance.”
  • “The line between disregarding a too-clever-by-half accounting trick and nullifying a Code-supported tax-minimizing transaction can be elusive.”
  • “Decisions from our sister courts also straddle the line between holding that the transactions were a sham and suggesting that the Commissioner has a broad power to recharacterize transactions that minimize taxes, though none of them holds that a tax-avoidance motive alone may nullify an otherwise Code-compliant and substantive set of transactions.”
  • “The substance-over-form doctrine does not authorize the Commissioner to undo a transaction just because taxpayers undertook it to reduce their tax bills.”

The case is Summa Holdings, Inc. v. Comm’r.

passportThe Internal Revenue Service is moving forward with implementation of new rules requiring the State Department to deny, or revoke, the U.S. passports of individuals with seriously delinquent federal tax debt.  According to Mary Beth Murphy, commissioner of the IRS Small Business/Self-Employed Division, the new rules will be rolled out in phases.  The first phase will focus on denying passport renewal applications for delinquent taxpayers.  In the second phase, the IRS and State Department will focus on revocation of passports held by delinquent taxpayers.  According to an article published by Bloomberg BNA, Murphy said “[w]e don’t want to have people stuck in foreign countries.”  See Bloomberg BNA, “IRS Hashing Out Debt Collection, Passport Revocation Plans” (Nov. 18, 2016).

The passport revocation measure became law approximately one year ago, when President Obama signed a five-year, $305 billion highway funding bill that included several controversial tax measures designed to help fund the legislation. One provision in the legislation authorizes the State Department to revoke U.S. passports of taxpayers who owe the U.S. Treasury more than $50,000 in tax liabilities. Another provision authorizes the Internal Revenue Service to use private debt collectors.

The new passport revocation provision provides the IRS with a powerful tool to force tax compliance, particularly for non-residents or dual citizens who regularly travel to the United States.  Newly-enacted Internal Revenue Code section 7345 authorizes the Treasury Secretary to certify, to the Secretary of State, that a taxpayer has a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” A “seriously delinquent tax debt” is defined as a federal tax liability which been assessed and is greater than $50,000, and for which the IRS has either filed a lien or levy. (The dollar threshold will be adjusted for inflation after 2016.)

Upon receipt of such certification, the Secretary of State is authorized to take action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of such taxpayer’s U.S. passport. The law prohibits the Secretary of State from issuing a passport to any individual who has a “seriously delinquent tax debt,” with exceptions provided for emergency circumstances or humanitarian reasons. The law authorizes the Secretary of State to revoke a passport previously issued to an individual with a “seriously delinquent tax debt.” If the Secretary of State decides to revoke a passport under these circumstances, he or she is authorized to limit such passport to return travel to the United States only.

Taxpayers who have entered into installment agreements or offers-in-compromise, or have requested collection due process hearings or innocent spouse relief, are exempt from the new law. If the Treasury Secretary has already certified a taxpayer to the Secretary of State, such certification must be revoked within 30 days of the taxpayer making full payment and obtaining a release of lien; requesting innocent spouse relief; entering into an installment agreement; or making an offer-in-compromise which is accepted. In the event that the Treasury Secretary issues an erroneous certification, such certification must be revoked as soon as practicable.

The law does include certain safeguards to protect taxpayer rights. Taxpayers who are certified to the Secretary of State as having a “seriously delinquent tax debt,” or whose certifications are subsequently revoked, are entitled to prompt written notice. Such notice must specify that the taxpayer is entitled to file a lawsuit in the U.S. Tax Court or a federal district court to challenge the certification. The court may determine that the certification was erroneous and, if so, order the Treasury Secretary to so notify the Secretary of State. Taxpayers who are serving in a combat zone are granted relief from the law’s provisions.

In addition, the new law amends existing Internal Revenue Code provisions to ensure that taxpayers are warned in advance that they could be subject to U.S. passport denial, revocation, or limitation. For example, notices of federal tax lien and notices of intent to levy must now include language advising the taxpayer that they may be certified to the Secretary of State as having a “seriously delinquent tax debt” with attendant passport consequences.

Finally, the law amends the Internal Revenue Code provision addressing confidentiality of tax returns and return information in order to permit the sharing of such information with the Secretary of State. In particular, for each taxpayer certified as having a “seriously delinquent tax debt,” the law authorizes the Treasury Secretary to share information regarding the taxpayer’s identity and the amount of the tax debt.

In 2015, the IRS first included micro-captives, or small insurance companies which have elected under section 831(b) to exclude premiums from their income, on its annual dirty dozen list. At the end of 2015, Congress eliminated the use of micro-captives in estate planning but also expanded use of micro-captives by raising the threshold for tax exempt premiums for micro-captives from $1.2 million to $2.2 million, effective January 1, 2017.

For several years, the IRS has been examining hundreds of micro-captives as well as conducting promotor examinations of several captive managers. On November 2, 2016, the IRS took one more step in focusing on these transactions when it issued Notice 2016-66 which identified certain micro-captive transactions as transactions of interest. As a result, the IRS has added additional reporting and disclosure requirements for micro-captives which do not incur significant claims or which make loans to related entities, such as the insured. It appears the IRS is focused on finding taxpayers it has not already identified who have set up micro-captive structures.

Who Should Care?

  • Micro-captives with insured losses and expenses which, over a five-year period, are less than 70% of the premiums earned (reduced by policyholder dividends)
  • Micro-captives who loaned or transferred funds through some other means to the insured or any related parties
  • Promoters who market micro-captive transactions

What Must I Do?

  • Consult a tax advisor to determine whether you are required to file Form 8886, Reportable Transaction Disclosure Statement
  • For promoters, determine whether you are in compliance with material advisor rules under section 6111 and 6112

When Must I Act?

  • The deadline for filing Form 8886 if required for prior years is January 30, 2017
  • Deadlines for filing Form 8886 for 2016 tax years will depend on annual income tax return deadlines

Why Should I Care?

  • The minimum penalties for failure to file Form 8886 are $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for entities per year
  • Promoter penalties for failing to comply with the material advisor rules start at $50,000

The notice is available here:  https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/n-16-66.pdf

 

Tax and accounting issues you should not ignore when setting up your cannabis business:

The Trouble With Cash-Based Businesses

  • Internal Controls – any cash-based business is closely scrutinized by the IRS and other taxing authorities. Having robust internal control procedures, in writing, which are strictly enforced, will go a long way in establishing credibility with taxing authorities.
  • Form 8300 requirements – educate yourself or hire an accountant who can work with you to comply with this filing requirement.
  • Bank Secrecy Act – take precautions to avoid violations

Find Good Help

  • Hiring reputable Certified Public Accountants (CPA) and legal counsel to assist you in operating your business is very important.
  • CPAs often do not have guidance from their licensing boards regarding representation of marijuana businesses and many are therefore reluctant to offer advice.
  • Many large law firms are still reluctant to assist marijuana businesses despite actions by numerous state bar associations to assure attorneys they will not be violating state ethics rules when representing businesses in the legalized marijuana industry.
  • However, sophisticated advisers are starting to work with the industry, both in-house and as external advisers.

Comply, Comply, Comply

  • Abide by Internal Revenue Code section 280E – this requires knowledgeable and diligent accounting advice.
  • Be ready for an audit and for dealing with very aggressive revenue agents. Even though federal law enforcement in many cases is easing up on enforcement under CSA, the IRS has not adopted that view – marijuana businesses have a huge target on their back and the IRS is holding marijuana businesses to a very high standard.
  • Be timely and fully pay your taxes – tax liens can create issues with licensing authorities.