Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tax Law
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The Gaetanos run a cannabis dispensary. After a failed business transaction, a third party sued the Gaetanos and their attorney, Goodman, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Goodman. An ethics inquiry uncovered multiple violations. Goodman lost his license to practice law. The Gaetanos severed their relationship with him. The IRS later audited the Gaetanos’ tax returns and contacted Goodman for assistance. Goodman threatened the Gaetanos that unless they gave him a “significant down-payment” he would see them “take[n] down”. They did not oblige, Goodman sent menacing emails. The Gaetanos contacted the IRS. Goodman assured the IRS that his information was not privileged but was obtained through on-line searches and a private investigator; he discussed several aspects of the Gaetanos’ business. Goodman then taunted the Gaetanos, who again notified the IRS. The Gaetanos filed suit, seeking to stop the government from discussing privileged information with Goodman and requiring it to destroy attorney-client confidences. The IRS asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a). The Sixth Circuit agreed that the Act bars the lawsuit; the “Williams Packing” exception does not apply. The exception requires that the taxpayer show that under no circumstances could the government prevail against their claims and that “equity jurisdiction otherwise exists.” The Gaetanos have not identified any privileged information that Goodman provided to the IRS and have adequate remedies at law. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law

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The IRS searched Ellis’s apartment and found personal identifying information for more than 400 people on printouts from the Alabama Department of Corrections’ database and in a TurboTax database on laptops seized from Ellis’s bedroom. Her computers had been used to file hundreds of electronic tax returns in 2008-2012. Ellis was charged with devising a scheme to submit fraudulent tax returns in “2012,” including eight counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and eight counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1), (c)(5) and 18 U.S.C. 2. After the government admitted that some of Agent Ward’s grand jury statements had been wrong, Ellis unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the indictment. The court found that the “inaccurate statements did not have a substantial influence" given "overwhelming other evidence he presented.” Agent Ward testified that the intended loss from Ellis’s scheme was approximately $700,000, based on the total requested refunds, not the actual refunds. The court agreed and applied a 12-step ioffense level increase (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(H)), with a resulting Guidelines range for the wire fraud counts of 51-71 months. The court imposed a 48-month sentence for wire fraud and a consecutive, mandatory, 24-month sentence for aggravated identity theft and ordered forfeiture of $11,670, the total of the eight tax returns for which Ellis was convicted. The court imposed the government’s requested $352,183.20, in restitution to governmental entities. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion to dismiss, the calculation of the forfeiture, and the restitution order, rejecting arguments that the government had not presented evidence that all of the refunds used to calculate restitution were part of the same scheme and that some of that amount was tied to conduct that occurred outside of the limitations period. View "United States v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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In operating his companies, Rankin failed to remit to the IRS employees’ withholding taxes and inaccurately reported his own earnings as royalties (26 U.S.C. 7202, 7206, 7212). Rankin interfered with and delayed IRS investigations, filing amended returns containing false information and falsely claiming that fire had destroyed his records. Rankin bragged about his efforts to beat the IRS at its own game. He was convicted of 17 tax-related counts, sentenced to 60 months in prison, and required to pay restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction and sentence, modifying his judgment to reflect that he need not pay restitution until his term of supervised release commences. The court rejected a challenge to Count 17, which alleged that during the relevant time, Rankin had “willfully misl[ed] agents of the IRS by making false and misleading statements to those agents and by concealing information sought by those agents who he well knew were attempting to ascertain income, expenses and taxes for [Rankin] and his various business entities and interests.” The indictment contains the elements of the charged offense and does more than merely track the language of the statute. It alleges a nexus between Rankin’s misleading conduct and the agents’ attempts “to ascertain [his] income, expenses and taxes,” an investigation that went beyond the “routine, day-to-day work carried out in the ordinary course by the IRS.” The indictment reflects that the investigation was pending and that Rankin was aware of it. View "United States v. Rankin" on Justia Law

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Anthony, his brother Christopher, their sister Sharon, and Sharon’s husband, Durand, sought tax refunds for 21 separate fictitious trusts that they created. They were successful in obtaining refund checks based upon many of these returns, receiving over $360,000. They were convicted of mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, aggravated identity theft, conspiracy to commit identity theft, and illegal monetary transactions. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that insufficient evidence supported Sharon’s convictions; that insufficient evidence supported the finding that Anthony and Sharon knew that they were using the names and personal identifying information of real people; that Anthony and Christopher were deprived of the effective assistance of counsel because their state-bar grievances against their attorneys created conflicts of interest; that the indictment was duplicitous regarding the aggravated-identify-theft charges and the district court failed to cure this defect by issuing a specific unanimity jury instruction; that the court’s aiding-and-abetting jury instruction was legally incorrect, and that insufficient evidence supported the court’s aiding-and-abetting jury instruction. View "United States v. Gandy" on Justia Law

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The American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 authorized the IRS to gather information about tax shelters, 26 U.S.C. 6707A. The IRS requires taxpayers and certain third parties to submit records pertaining to “reportable transaction[s]” as defined by IRS regulations, subject to significant penalties. A “material advisor” who provides material aid to a taxpayer in carrying out reportable transactions and who derives a threshold amount of gross income from that aid, faces similar penalties. A material advisor who fails to maintain a list of taxpayers that he aided in carrying out reportable transactions faces a $10,000 per day penalty. Notice 2016-66 identified “micro-captive transactions” as “transactions of interest,” a subset of reportable transactions that have “a potential for tax avoidance or evasion,” but stated that the IRS “lack[s] sufficient information” to distinguish between those that are lawful and those that are unlawful. Plaintiff, a material advisor to taxpayers engaging in micro-captive transactions, challenged the Notice under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 500, and the Congressional Review Act, 5 U.S.C. 801, arguing that it was a legislative rule that required notice-and-comment rulemaking, was arbitrary, and required submission for congressional review. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint as barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a) and the tax exception to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. 2201, which divest federal district courts of jurisdiction over suits “for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax.” The court noted that the IRS does “not have a great history of complying with APA procedures.” View "CIC Services., LLC v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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Rotondo was the sole owner of Apex, which wholly owned four limited liability companies (Directional Entities). Apex and the Directional Entities provided services, such as human resources, to different clients. Rotondo sold the Directional Entities’ key asset, customer lists, to AES, which agreed to pay Rotondo a share of its gross profits in the form of “Consulting Fees.” Two entities sought to collect Rotondo’s Consulting Fees: Akouri loaned money to one of Rotondo’s other companies and had a security interest in Apex’s assets and a judgment against Rotondo and Apex for $1.4 million. Rotondo also owes the IRS $3.4 million. The IRS filed several notices of tax liens against Rotondo, Apex, and the Directional Entities. AES filed an interpleader action. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the IRS. The timing of a federal tax lien is measured by when the IRS gave notice of its lien, 26 U.S.C. 6323(a), (f); the timing of state security interests, like Akouri’s, is measured by when they become “choate”—i.e., complete or perfected. Akouri’s interest would be choate as of 2019, but the IRS’s tax liens date to before 2019. The court rejected Akouri’s attempt to recategorize the customer list assets as originally belonging to Apex rather than the Directional Entities. View "AES-Apex Employer Services, Inc. v. Rotondo" on Justia Law

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After Hawk died, his wife, Nancy, decided to sell the family business, Holiday Bowl and made a deal with MidCoast, which claimed an interest in acquiring companies with corporate tax liabilities that it could set off against its net-operating losses. Holiday first sold its bowling alleys to Bowl New England, receiving $4.2 million in cash and generating about $1 million in federal taxes. Nancy and Billy’s estate then sold Holiday Bowl to MidCoast for about $3.4 million,"in essence exchanging one pile of cash for another minus the tax debt MidCoast agreed to pay." MidCoast never paid the taxes. The United States filed a transferee-liability action against Nancy and Hawk’s estate. The Tax Court ruled for the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the Hawks were transferees of a delinquent taxpayer under 26 U.S.C. 6901, and that Tennessee has adopted the Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act, which provides remedies to creditors (like the United States) when insolvent debtors fraudulently transfer assets to third parties. Holiday Bowl owed taxes. “Congress, with assistance from the courts, has constructed a formidable defense against taxpayer efforts to traffic in net operating losses and other corporate tax benefits.” View "Billy F. Hawk, Jr., GST Non-Exempt Marital Trust v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Gold Forever, a music publishing company solely owned by Holland, has agreements with various artists entitling it to half of the royalties collected for the sale and performance of those artists’ work. Holland was a Motown artist and co-wrote several famous songs. His music forms some, but not all, of Gold’s catalog. BMI and Universal license others to use Gold’s music; they collect and remit the royalties to Gold. Holland owes millions of dollars to the IRS in taxes, interest, and penalties. In 2012, the IRS served notices of levy to BMI and Universal, identifying Gold as the “alter ego/nominee transferee of" Holland and requiring the companies to remit to the IRS property and rights to property that they were obligated to pay Gold. Beginning on October 6, 2016, the companies remitted $967,140.76 to the IRS. Gold made requests for refunds to the IRS within nine months. On December 6, 2017, Gold filed a wrongful levy action for the funds remitted beginning on October 6, 2016, alleging that most, if not all, of the money belongs either to Gold or to artists other than Holland. The court dismissed the suit as untimely. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The statute of limitations for a wrongful levy action cannot begin until there has been a levy that attaches to the property at issue. Notices of levy in 2012 did not constitute levies on royalties generated after the notices were served, so the statute of limitations did not bar the wrongful levy action. View "Gold Forever Music, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The defendants took part in a decade-long scheme surreptitiously to sell tax-free cigarettes, thereby defrauding federal, state, and local governments of more than $45 million in tax revenue. The federal government eventually uncovered the scheme and charged them with 34 counts, including conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud 18 U.S.C. 1349; conspiracy to launder money, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h); and conspiracy against the United States, 18 U.S.C. 371. Maddux pleaded guilty to 29 counts; Carman, Coscia, and Smith went to trial, where a jury convicted each of them on various counts. The Sixth Circuit affirmed their convictions and sentences--Maddux to 120 months’ imprisonment, Carman to 60 months, Smith to 42 months, and Coscia to 36 months. The scheme involved use of interstate wire communications and the United States mails; it was Congress’s prerogative to punish this combination of conduct more severely than a violation of the Jenkins Act, 15 U.S.C. 376(a), which requires cigarette sellers to file monthly reports. The court rejected an argument that the trial court should have specifically instructed the jury that defendants were not charged with a violation of either the Jenkins Act or the Cigarette Trafficking Act, 15 U.S.C. 377(a). The indictment sufficiently alleged a scheme to defraud. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Murdock, an employee with the Tipton County Board of Education, received an email purporting to be from Dr. Bibb, Director of Tipton County Schools, requesting all 2016 employee W-2s and tax information. Murdock responded with a document containing information from the W-2s of every Board employee, including names, addresses, social security numbers, income information, deductions, exemptions, withholdings, tax payments and taxpayer identifying numbers. Murdock then learned that Bibb had not requested the information. The Tipton County Sheriff notified the U.S. Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service. The Board notified employees of the information release. Smith, a Board employee, filed suit under 26 U.S.C. 6103 and 7431. Section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code prohibits “any local agency administering a program listed in [§ 6103](l)(7)(D)” from disclosing “return information.” Smith argues that, because the Board works with the Tennessee State Board of Education to administer the National School Lunch Program, the Board provided a qualifying SNAP benefit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, finding that the Board does not administer a SNAP benefit in providing lunches to students as part of the National School Lunch Program. View "Smith v. Tipton County Board of Education" on Justia Law