Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law

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After the Polskys attempted to claim the child tax credit for the 2010 and 2011 tax years, the IRS issued a notice disallowing the credit because their daughter was older than 17. They submitted amended returns, specifically requesting that the IRS review whether their permanently disabled daughter qualified for the tax credit. According to the Polskys, the IRS refused to rule on the amended returns because they were substantially the same as the original returns. The Tax Court dismissed their petition because the IRS had not issued a notice of deficiency. In 2014, the Polskys, pro se, filed in the district court, alleging that the IRS erroneously disallowed the credit and violated their due process rights by preventing them from challenging the disallowance in Tax Court. The district court dismissed, holding that the credit is unavailable when the child has attained age 17 and that the Polskys failed to state a due process claim. The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that that the tax credit’s definition of “qualifying child,” 26 U.S.C. 24, which has an age cap, incorporates section 152(c), which has no age cap for a person who is permanently disabled and that the second definition of “qualifying child” overrides the age cap in the tax credit. View "Polsky v. United States" on Justia Law
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To stimulate economic development, Jersey City, New Jersey offers tax exemptions and abatements to private developers of projects in certain designated areas. Those tax benefits are conditioned on the developers’ entry into agreements with labor unions that bind the developers to specified labor practices. Employers and a trade group challenged that law, alleging that it is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and barred by the dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Jersey City acts as a market participant, not a regulator, when it enforces the law, so that NLRA, ERISA, and dormant Commerce Clause claims were not cognizable. The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Jersey City was acting as a regulator in this context. The city lacks a proprietary interest in Tax Abated Projects. The Supreme Court has recognized a government’s proprietary interest in a project when it “owns and manages property” subject to the project or it hires, pays, and directs contractors to complete the project; when it provides funding for the project; or when it purchases or sells goods or services. This case fits none of these categories. View "Assoc. Builders & Contractors, Inc. v. City of Jersey City" on Justia Law

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Nichols is a resident, property owner, and taxpayer in the City of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Rehoboth Beach held a special election, open to residents of more than six months, for approval of a $52.5 million bond issue to finance an ocean outfall project. The resolution passed. Nichols voted in the election. She then filed suit challenging the election and the resultant issuance of bonds. The district court, reasoning that Nichols was not contesting the expenditure of tax funds, but the legality of the Special Election; found that Nichols, having voted, lacked standing; and dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed, stating that because Nichols failed to show an illegal use of municipal taxpayer funds, she cannot establish standing on municipal taxpayer grounds. The court rejected her claims of municipal taxpayer standing on the basis of two expenditures by Rehoboth Beach: the funds required to hold the special election and the funds used to purchase an advertisement in a local newspaper. View "Nichols v. City of Rehoboth Beach" on Justia Law

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Net Pay managed clients’ payrolls and handled their employment taxes pursuant to a “Payroll Services Agreement,” which required clients to provide their employee payroll information and gave clients the option of authorizing Net Pay to transfer funds from their bank accounts into Net Pay’s account and to remit those funds to the clients’ employees, the IRS, and other taxing authorities. The Agreement established an independent contractor relationship between Net Pay and its clients. About three months before it filed its Chapter 7 petition, Net Pay transferred $32,297 on behalf of Altus; $5,338 on behalf of HealthCare Systems; $1,143 on behalf of Project Services; $352.84 for an unknown client; and $281.13 for another unknown client. The next day, Net Pay informed its clients that it was ceasing operations. The trustee for Net Pay sought to recover the five payments, arguing that they were avoidable preferential transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547(b). The district court concluded that four of the transfers were not subject to recovery, being below the minimum amount established by law ($5,850), and that distinct transfers may be aggregated only if “‘transactionally related’ to the same debt.” Because the IRS applied the entire $32,297 toward Altus’s trust fund tax obligations, the court held that the payment was not avoidable. The Third Circuit affirmed. Net Pay lacked an equitable interest in the Altus funds by operation of 26 U.S.C. 7501(a). View "In Re: Net Pay Solutions Inc" on Justia Law
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Giant Eagle, a chain of supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, and convenience stores, uses the accrual method of accounting. Its customer-loyalty “fuelperks!” program links customers’ rewards at the pump to prior grocery purchases; “discounts expire on the last day of the month, 3 months after they are earned.” On its 2006 and 2007 corporate income tax returns, Giant Eagle claimed a deduction for the discounts its customers had accumulated but, at year’s end, had not yet applied to fuel purchases. Giant Eagle computed the deduction by ascertaining the face value of the discounts, multiplying that by the historical redemption rate of discounts in their expiring month, and multiplying that product by the average number of gallons purchased in a discounted fuel sale. The IRS disallowed the deductions, which totaled $3,358,226 and $313,490. The Tax Court upheld the denial. The Third Circuit reversed. Accrual method taxpayers are expressly permitted to deduct expenses before they are paid, if “all events have occurred which determine the fact of liability and the amount of such liability can be determined with reasonable accuracy.” In the realm of recurring expenses, an anticipated liability may be deemed “incurred” even if the predicate costs are not themselves incurred during the year a deduction is claimed. View "Giant Eagle Inc v. Internal Revenue Serv." on Justia Law
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Davis and his wife purchased a Philadelphia rental property in 1997 1997. A longtime member of the U.S. Army Reserve, Davis was called to active duty in 2004. A few months later, the Davises transferred the property to Global LLC, owned and managed by Davis, to “insulate themselves from liability” because “his wife was unable to manage the property.” In 2009, Davis and Global asked the Philadelphia Department of Revenue to reduce Global’s property tax debt, citing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. 3901, which limits interest imposed on a servicemember’s delinquent property taxes during active duty to a rate of six percent and forbids additional penalties. The Department denied this request, stating that the SCRA does not apply to a business owned by a servicemember and that Davis should file an abatement petition with the Philadelphia Tax Review Board. The Review Board denied that petition. Two years later the city initiated foreclosure proceedings; the state court entered judgment in the city’s favor. Davis and Global filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Third Circuit affirmed dismissal. SCRA extends only to servicemembers; a corporation is not a “servicemember” under the statute. View "Davis v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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St. Peter’s, a non-profit healthcare entity, runs a hospital, and employs over 2,800 people. It is not a church, but has ties to a New Jersey Roman Catholic Diocese. The Bishop appoints most members of its Board of Governors and retains veto authority over Board actions. The hospital has daily Mass and Catholic devotional pictures and statues throughout the building. In 1974, St. Peter’s established a non-contributory defined benefit retirement plan; operated the plan subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); and represented that it was complying with ERISA. In 2006 St. Peter’s filed an IRS application, seeking a church plan exemption from ERISA, 26 U.S.C. 414(e); 29 U.S.C. 1002(33), continuing to pay ERISA-mandated insurance premiums while the application was pending. In 2013, Kaplan, who worked for St. Peter’s until 1999, filed a putative class action alleging that St. Peter’s did not provide ERISA-compliant summary plan descriptions or pension benefits statements, and that, as of 2011, the plan was underfunded by more than $70 million. While the lawsuit was pending, St. Peter’s received an IRS private letter ruling. affirming the plan’s status as an exempt church plan for tax purposes. The Third Circuit affirmed denial of a motion to dismiss, concluding that St. Peter’s could not establish an exempt church plan because it is not a church. View "Kaplan v. Saint Peter's Healthcare Sys." on Justia Law
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The IRS received information from French authorities concerning United States persons with undisclosed bank accounts at HSBC and issued summonses to the Chabots requesting that they appear to give testimony and produce documents about their foreign bank accounts for the period from January 1, 2006, to December 31, 2009. The Chabots’ attorney notified the IRS that the Chabots would not appear, were asserting their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and would not produce the requested documents. The IRS amended the two summonses, limiting their scope to only those documents required to be maintained under 31 C.F.R. 1010.420. The Chabots continued to claim the Fifth Amendment privilege, and the IRS filed a petition to enforce the amended summonses.The Chabots appealed the district court's grant of the petition. The Third Circuit affirmed, noting that six other circuits have held that these records fall within the required records exception to the Fifth Amendment privilege. View "United States v. Chabot" on Justia Law

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Between 2007 and 2012, Fountain, an IRS employee, helped orchestrate several schemes that involved filing false tax returns, claiming refunds under the Telephone ExciseTax Refund,the First Time Homebuyer Credit, or the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Fountain employed her knowledge of IRS fraud detection to avoid detection. Fountain and Ishmael enlisted people, including Johnson, to recruit claimants to provide their personal information in exchange for part of a cash refund. A jury convicted Fountain, Ishmael, and Johnson on multiple counts of conspiracy and filing false claims to the IRS, 18 U.S.C. 286, 287. Fountain was also convicted of Hobbs Act extortion and making or presenting false tax returns, 18 U.S.C. 1951(a); 26 U.S.C. 7206. Additionally, Johnson was convicted of filing false claims while on pretrial release. The court sentenced Fountain to 228 months in prison and ordered her to pay $1,740,221 in restitution; sentenced Ishmael to 144 months and $1,750,809 in restitution; and sentenced Johnson to 216 months in prison and to pay $1,248,592 in restitution. Each sentence fell within the Guidelines range after various enhancements were applied. The Third Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Fountain" on Justia Law

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Between 2008 and 2011, Viacom Inc. paid three senior executives more than $100 million in bonus or incentive compensation. Compensation exceeding $1 million paid by a corporation to senior executives is not normally deductible under federal tax law, but a corporate taxpayer may deduct an executive’s otherwise nondeductible compensation over $1 million if an independent committee its board of directors approves the compensation on the basis of objective performance standards and the compensation is “approved by a majority of the vote in a separate shareholder vote” before being paid. In 2007, a majority of Viacom’s voting shareholders approved such a plan. Shareholder Freedman sued, claiming that Viacom’s Board failed to comply with the terms of the Plan and that, instead of using quantitative performance measures, the Board partially based its awards on qualitative, subjective factors, destroying the basis for their tax deductibility. Freedman claimed that this caused the Board to award executives more than $36 million of excess compensation. The plan was reauthorized in 2012. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed. With respect to his derivative claim, Freedman did not make a pre-suit demand to the Board or present sufficient allegations explaining why a demand would have been futile. With respect to his direct claim regarding participation by stockholders without voting rights, federal law does not confer voting rights on shareholders not otherwise authorized to vote or affect Delaware law permit ting corporations to issue shares without voting rights. View "Freedman v. Redstone" on Justia Law