Monday, September 29, 2003

Update on Mental Illness as a Disability

I have previously commented on two Tax Court Summary Opinions, Keeley and Mary L. Coleman-Stephens (my comments are here and here) that discuss when psychological depression constitutes a "disability" for purposes of obtaining relief from the 10% penalty on premature withdrawals from qualified plans. The two cases reach different conclusions on facts that are essentially not distinguishable. I had criticized the Service's position because it was bottomed on regulations that I believe exceed the rule-making authority under the statute.

There is now an excellent article on the topic by Sarah B. Lawsky of Cadwalder, Wickersham & Taft, LLP, entitled Redefining Mental Disability in the Treasury Regulations. Lawsky makes several points that I had missed.

First, she notes that the overly restrictive definition of psychological disability at issue in Keeley and Coleman-Stevens is incorporated by reference in many sections throughout the Internal Revenue Code. Thus, the definition's mischief is more significant than I had thought.

More significantly, however, she traces the definition back to a provision that was enacted in 1958. This provision was identical to a definition of mental disease found in the Social Security regulations at that time. However, the definition found in the Social Security regulations has been modified extensively to keep pace with changing concepts of mental illness and new treatment modalities. The Treasury Regulations, by contrast, have been essentially frozen in amber for over 40 years.

Lawsky makes a compelling case that not only can the Service revised the regulations, but that the regulations should be revised in order to better reflect legislative intent in the area.

Friday, September 26, 2003

We Are The Other People?

In CCM 200338012, the Service addessed the question of whether a single-member LLC was liable for the unpaid withholding taxes of a business under Code Section 3505. That section imposes liability upon an "other person" who pays the wages of the employees of a delinquent taxpayer. The memorandum is, to say the very least, confusing.

I think (but I'm not certain) that the facts are as follows: LLC, which is a disregarded entity, filed employee withholding tax returns in its own name and using its own EIN. The LLC then files for bankruptcy. Under the authority of IRC Sections 6325 and 6331, coupled with the concept articulated in Treas. Reg. Section 301.7701-2(a) that a disregarded entity is disregarded for all income tax purposes, the Service has the ability to assess all unpaid employee withholding taxes against the sole member. However, the memorandum seems to say that the Service can only go directly against the assets of the LLC if either (i) some form of piercing the "corporate" veil or nominee theory applies or (ii) the provisions of Section 3505(a) apply and the LLC is an "other person" within the meaning of that section.

The memorandum does not discuss the veil piercing or nominee questions on the facts before it, but (I think) it rejects the application of Section 3505(a) because it seems to conclude that the LLC was merely the agent of the individual taxpayer. Thus, it appears that the Service feels that it cannot attach the assets of the LLC directly.

Note the weasel words that I use: "seems to conclude," "it appears." The reason is that I cannot figure out what the Service is saying. Indeed, I'm even somewhat unclear as to the facts. The last sentence of the penultimate paragraph is particularly baffling: "Having disregarded the LLC for federal tax purposes and having treated it like the taxpayer/single member owner for purposes of assessment, we doubt the efficacy of now treating the LLC as an 'other person' for purposes of collection." Huh? Does Section 3505 apply or not? Or is the memorandum hedging on the point so that it can later take a litigation position that, on similar facts, Section 3505 applies. (Yes, I know, these CCM do not bind the Service, cannot be cited as authority, etc. But, of course, we do it all the time.)

Is the Service saying that (a) it need not rely upon Section 3505 because the LLC was, effectively, the taxpayer and an assessment may be made directly against the LLC, as well as the individual owner or (b) that it is somehow estopped from enforcing its assessment directly against the LLC's assets, absent a piercing or nominee situation. I had thought that the Service had previously taken the position that if a business used the LLC form (as a diregarded member, of course) and paid employee taxes under a separate EIN, both the LLC and the individual owner could be assessed. Do any readers disagree with this conclusion? Does the Service in CCM 200338012 disagree with this conclusion?

Any comments that could shed light on these questions are welcome.

Technology Hell Week

On or about 12:45 A.M. on Friday, the 19th, the electricity in my house went out due to a lady named Isabel. Showers, dinner, and laundry thereafter were at my aunt's condo. The electricity was not restored until about 8:00 P.M. on Wednesday the 24th.

On Tuesday, the 23rd, the electricity at my office went out early in the morning due to a construction error made by contractors attempting to beautify the sidewalk in front of my office building. It was restored at 5:00 A.M. on the 26th.

On the evening of the 23rd, I discovered that the dial-up modem on my laptop was defective.

On Thursday, the 25th, while preparing to leave for an extended Rosh Hashanna week-end, the telephone service at my house (but, surprisingly, not the DSL), went out.

I think that I survived, but check back in on Monday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Administrative Catch-Up for Subscribers

On Monday, I had a lengthy posting concerning Notice 2003-60 that sets forth the Service's position on how the Craft decision will be applied. Apparently Bloglet, which operates the subscription service, did not pass on the posting. You can find the posting here.

Meeting of the Uncles

The IRS and various state tax administrators, including Steve Cordi of Maryland, announced that they have established a new nationwide partnership to combat abusive tax avoidance. Under agreements with individual states, the IRS will share information on abusive tax avoidance transactions and those taxpayers who participate in them.

Even though I represent taxpayers, I've long believed that state audit efforts have not been sufficient. (Of course, I also believe that federal audit efforts are insufficient to assure tax compliance.) Now, if they can only create a successful offer in compromise program at the state level.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Gone Fishin'

I do not typically post to my weblog during working hours. However, I just came across an opinion that's so newsworthy that it's clearly an exception to the general rule.

In Townsend Industries, Inc. v. U.S., the Eighth Circuit overruled a District Court judgment for the government and held that the amounts paid by an employer for an annual fishing trip for its employees were ordinary and necessary business expenses and not additional compensation for the employees.

The employer was the manufacturer of a product that allows offset printers to produce two-color documents in a single pass through the printing press. For the last forty years, the manufacturer, Townsend Industries, had gathered its personnel for an annual, two-day meeting at its headquarters involving its corporate staff and some factory workers. Following that meeting, the company has sponsored a four day expense-paid fishing trip to a resort in Ontario, Canada.

While there was only one specific organized business function during the four day period, business discussions were conducted on an on-going basis during the trip. While employees were not compelled to attend, nearly all of the company's employees who testified stated that they felt obligated to attend and that they viewed the trip as part of their employment duties for the company. And, there was substantial evidence of specific business discussions that took place over the course of the trip. (Time and space do not allow me, for instance, to detail at length the discussion concerning the importance of the factory workers removing burrs on metal parts or the discussion of the relative merits of molleton and aqua-flowparts. I found the latter particularly fascinating. You'll just have to take my word for it or read the opinion yourself.)

Given the detail provided, the Court concluded "that Townsend had a realistic expectation to gain concrete future benefits from the trip based on its knowledge of its own small company, its knowledge of the utility of interpersonal interactions that probably would not occur but for the trip, and its knowledge of its own past experience. As such, the trips and their expenses qualified as working condition fringe benefits under Section 132 and a bona fide business expense under Sections 162 and 274 of the Internal Revenue Code."

Despite my somewhat humorous treatment of the opinion, I think that it's actually fairly significant. The number of hours that Americans work has been sliding steadily upward over the last 20--25 years. And, with both spouses typically working full time, the centrality of the workplace in peoples' lives has grown apace. Quasi-social events paid for by employers, whether as extensive as those offered by Townsend or only an occasional company barbeque, will become increasingly necessary to build in the business world what is referred to in the military as "unit cohesion." There is no reason that the Internal Revenue Code cannot take cognizance of this changing social reality.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Crafting Advice

Well, it's been over a month. Moving to a new office was far more complicated and difficult than I anticipated, but I'm back. And just in time to comment on a new development with respect to any lien asserted against tenancy by the entirety property when the tax liability is that of only one spouse.

In Notice 2003-60, the IRS has just issued its first post-Craft detailed guidance on collection from property held in tenancy by the entirety where only one spouse is liable for outstanding taxes. The guidance first articulates six general principles and then discusses them in nine questions and answers.

The principles are as follows:

Same As It Ever Was The federal tax lien has always attached to all property held by a taxpayer. This was the case even before Craft and Craft does not represent new law. By way of example, the Service cannot rescind an accepted offer in compromise or terminate an accepted installment agreement, since the Service presumably entered into the arrangements with knowledge of what the law was. But a pre-Craft lien that is in effect post-Craft will be as effective as a lien that went into place after the opinion was handed down.

The Rules Don't Change in the Middle of the Game Notwithstanding the "same as it ever was" principle, the Service will not act to enforce any pre-Craft liens if third parties, prior to Craft, reasonably relied upon the belief that state law precluded the attachment of a lien against only one spouse. This rule would apply only in "full bar" states (such as Maryland) in which creditors of only one spouse have no claim whatsoever against tenancy by the entirety property.

A Repo Man Is Practical The administrative sale of entireties property presents practical problems that limit the usefulness of seizure and sale procedures. Those practical problems are not presented when the entireties property is cash and cash equivalents, thus the fact that cash or cash equivalents are held in a tenancy by the entirety will not deter a levy. And, the entire property can be foreclosed upon with the Service only obtaining the equity of the delinquent spouse.

Share and Share Alike Generally, the value of each party's interest in tenancy by the entirety property will be deemed to be one-half of the total value of the property.

Whither Thou Goest, So I Will Go If tenancy by the entirety property is encumbered by a lien, the lien will be deemed to attach a one-half interest in the property taken by any transferee unless the transaction that effected the transfer extinguished the lien.

Of the nine q & a's, two deal with liens that arose prior to Craft, with the remainder dealing with liens that arise post-Craft.

Initially, the Service states that, as a matter of administrative grace, in so-called "full bar" states (states where property titled as a tenancy by the entirety cannot be attached by any creditor of only one spouse) it will not assert its lien rights against the class of creditors protected under I.R.C. Section 6323(a)--essentially, bona fide transferees for value who took their interest without knowledge of the lien. However, the Notice also makes it clear that in so-called "partial bar" states, transferors will not be so graced.

In cases of divorce, the Service will generally treat a spouse who received full title to formerly tenancy by the entirety property as having obtained the interest of the other spouse as an exchange for value. Of course, this would not extend to a transaction that the Service concludes is fraudulent. And, as is seen below, this rule only applies to pre-Craft transfers.

The Service's position with respect to property received via gift is somewhat unclear. It appears that it will only honor a transfer to a related party when there is some overriding equity on the side of the donee. Generally, no such overriding equity need be present if the donee is an arm's length third party, such as a charity.

The second question deals with deals the Service entered into with taxpayers pre-Craft. Here, the Notice takes the common sense approach that a deal is a deal and what is done is done. However, the Notice states that decisions as to uncollectibility can revisited in light of Craft.

The next four q & a's deal with the continued attachment of the lien in the case of subsequent events. Thus, notwithstanding a subsequent transfer to a third party in an arm's length transaction, the lien will continue to attach to one-half of the property. Similarly, neither a transfer incident to a divorce nor a subsequent mortgage will terminate a lien.

However, in all of these cases, the Notice sets up the possibility of some hard-nosed planning. Specifically, the Notice recognizes that death terminates the deceased spouse's interest in tenancy by the entirety property. The Notice states that if the deceased spouse is the spouse against whom the lien is filed, the property will no longer be encumbered by the lien. Of course, the converse is also true. That is, if the non-delinquent spouse dies, the entire property becomes subject to the lien. This brings new meaning to the phrase "Till death do us part."

A lien will continue to attach to property that is transferred in a transaction that "breaks the unity" of ownership if the deliquent taxpayer dies after the transfer. Thus, a lien will follow property conveyed pursuant to a divorce, because the divorce breaks up the unity of ownership. The lien will continue in effect even if the delinquent spouse dies after the divorce. Similarly, the lien follows property that is foreclosed upon, unless the delinquent spouse dies before the foreclosure. (Thinking about those planning possibilities?).

The final three q & a's deal with the ways in which the Service can turn its lien into cash. Interestingly, the Notice states that an adminstrative sale is "not a preferable method" of dealing with property, such as realty, that is not easily divisible, since it might be difficult to realize anything from the sale of a one-half tenant by the entirety interest. (For instance, how would a prospective purchaser value the likelihood of succeeding to the entire property if the delinquent spouse dies second versus losing the entire property if the delinquent spouse is the first to die.) Cash and cash equivalents, of course, do not pose this problem and the Service will just go in and take its share of these assets.

However, the Service believes that foreclosure, as opposed to an administrative sale, can be used to convert the delinquent spouse's interest into cash. The difference between an administrative sale and a foreclosure is that in the latter proceeding the entire property is sold and the proceeds divided. Thus, the Service does not face the problem of a sale at a depressed price due to the fact that the buyer is purchasing a somewhat speculative commodity.

Finally, the Notice discusses issues pertinent to discharge and subordination. In essence, the Service takes the position that the value of the lien is one-half of the equity to which it attaches. Thus, in the event of an insolvency proceeding, the Service gets one-half of the value of the property after payment of any senior encumbrances.

This post is somewhat longer than most of my postings, but I thought that it would be helpful to set forth the position taken in the Notice in some detail. Over the next week or two, I hope to offer some additional commentary on the Notice.