Tax Return Preparer Penalties

A recent District Court decision was reported dealing with Tax Return Preparer Penalties.  J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator with locations in North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC & Raleigh and Wilmington, NC works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for clients. J. Frank Best is rated in the Top 5 Tax Controversy CPA Profiles/Linkedin.

Tax Return Preparer Penalties

In Taylor v. Comm’r, 2018 PTC 236 (9th Cir. 2018), the Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction of an action by a tax return preparer seeking an abatement of Tax Return Preparer Penalties after rejecting the taxpayer’s argument that an exception in Code Sec. 6694(c) relieved him of his obligation to pay the penalties in full before bringing a refund suit in the district court. The court noted that, while Code Sec. 6694(c) confers district court jurisdiction when a tax return preparer has paid at least 15 percent of a penalty if the refund action is begun within 30 days after the earlier of the IRS’s denial of the refund claim or the expiration of six months after the day on which the refund claim is filed, the taxpayer did not file within those time limits and thus was not eligible to bring suit in the district court for Tax Return Preparer Penalties.

No Tax Court Jurisdiction Over Employment Tax Liability

A recent Tax Court decision was reported dealing with Tax Court Jurisdiction. J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator with locations in Raleigh and Wilmington, NC  & North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for clients

No jurisdiction was determined by the Eighth Circuit and the Eight Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an S corporation’s Tax Court petition challenging an IRS determination that the compensation paid to the sole owner and officer of the S corporation was unreasonable. The Eighth Circuit found that there was no actual controversy under Code Sec. 7436 as to the determination of the S corporation shareholder’s employment status for Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA) tax purposes and thus Code Sec. 7436 did not come into play. Azarian v. Comm’r, 2018 PTC 229 (8th Cir. 2018).

Under Code Sec. 7436(a)(1), the Tax Court has jurisdiction over a petition if there is an actual controversy involving a determination that an individual performing services is an employee for FICA tax purposes. Thus, the issue was whether there was an actual controversy involving a determination that Azarian was an employee for FICA tax purposes.

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. The Eighth Circuit found that even if there was an actual controversy, it did not involve a determination that Azarian was an employee for FICA tax purposes as required under Code Sec. 7436(a)(1). The court determined that by reporting wages to Azarian each year, the S corporation claimed Azarian was an employee, so the IRS did not make a determination on that issue. Instead, the IRS relied on the S corporation’s classification.

Improvements to Rental Home/Contact Best Tax Controversy CPA/U.S. Tax Court Litigator

A recent Tax Court decision was reported dealing with Improvement to Rental Home.   J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator with locations in Raleigh and Wilmington, NC  & North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for clients

Couple Can’t Deduct Cost of Improvements to Home Allegedly Rented to Relatives: In Perry v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2018-90, the Tax Court held that a couple did not establish that they rented their second home to relatives and that, even if the court were to find that the couple did in fact rent the house to their relatives, the couple failed to carry their burden of establishing improvements to rental that they rented such home at fair rental value. Thus, the court denied the couple’s deduction for improvements made to that home.

Settlement Proceeds Taxable: Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator

A recent Tax Court decision was reported dealing with Settlement Proceeds.  J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator with locations in Raleigh and Wilmington, NC  & North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for clients.

Discrimination and Hostile Work Environment Settlement Is Taxable: In Zinger v. Comm’r, T.C. Summary 2018-33, the Tax Court held that the $20,000 from Settlement Proceeds received by the taxpayer was not excludable from income under Code Sec. 104(a)(2). The court concluded that the settlement payment was for the resolution and withdrawal of the taxpayer’s discrimination and hostile work environment claims and not on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness.

“Serious IRS Problem Resolution”/J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator

Serious IRS Problem Resolutions

J. Frank Best is rated in the Top 5 Tax Controversy CPA Profiles/Linkedin and is a United States Tax Court Litigator licensed in all States and works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.

Telephone 800.230.7090   Email: bestcpa@bestirscpa.com  Web: bestirscpa.com

Divorce Legal Fees/J. Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator

A recent Tax Court decision was reported dealing with IRS Divorce Legal Fees.  J.  Frank Best, Tax Controversy CPA/U. S. Tax Court Litigator in Raleigh and Wilmington, NC  & North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.  

Legal Fees Relating to Status of Investment Fund Distributions in Divorce Were Not Deductible Business Expenses

The Tax Court held legal fees that a taxpayer incurred in a divorce proceeding to defend his ownership of investment fund distributions, which he received after his former wife had filed for divorce but before the date the divorce was granted, were not deductible as expenses related to a business or income producing activity. The Tax Court applied the “origin of the claim” test under U.S. v. Gilmore, 372 U.S. 39 (1963) and found that the fees were personal and nondeductible because the former wife’s claim to the distributions originated entirely from the marriage. Lucas v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2018-80.

Tax Court’s Decision

The Tax Court held that Mr. Lucas’s legal and professional fees were nondeductible personal expenses. The court reasoned that but for the marriage, Ms. Lucas would have had no claim to Mr. Lucas’s interest in Vicis. The court further found that Hahn did not apply because, while the fees in that case were business connected, Mr. Lucas’s legal fees had no connection to Vicis’s investment advisory business. Rather, they were incurred defending his ownership and distributions from equitable distribution in the divorce.

Mr. Lucas failed to demonstrate that the expenses were otherwise deductible, in the Tax Court’s view. The court concluded that Mr. Lucas was neither pursuing alimony nor resisting an attempt to interfere with his ongoing business activities as in Liberty Vending. The court found that Mr. Lucas engaged in little trade or business activity in 2010 or 2011, as Vicis began liquidating in 2009 and thereafter he engaged in no business activity other than a limited management role with Vicis. Mr. Lucas did not, in the view of the Tax Court, establish that Ms. Lucas’s claim related to the winding down of Vicis, or that the fees incurred to defeat her claim were ordinary and necessary to his trade or business.

Tax Controversy CPA/U.S. Tax Court Litigator

IRS Collection and Tax Litigation-Tax Controversy CPA/U.S. Tax Court Litigator: Raleigh and Wilmington, NC/North Myrtle Beach and Myrtle Beach, SC

TRADE OR BUSINESS, BUT FAILED TO SUBSTANTIATE EXPENSES-J. FRANK BEST, TAX CONTROVERSY CPA/U.S. TAX COURT LITIGATOR

Entertainment Company Was a Trade or Business, but Failed to Substantiate Expenses

The Tax Court held that an entertainment company that signed artists and produced, promoted and distributed their work was engaged in a trade or business for profit because, although the company never earned a profit during the years at issue, the owner had prior business successes in the music industry, ran the company in a businesslike manner, and devoted significant capital to make it a profitable business. However, the owner’s losses from the business were denied because the court found that the company’s bank statements, which were the only evidence of the expenses produced by the owner, were insufficient to establish the amounts and business purpose of the expenses. Barker v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo 2018-67.

Cecile Barker is an experienced aerospace engineer with a background in music. In the mid-1960s he formed the group Peaches & Herb, which achieved considerable commercial success, and in 1973 he co-produced a song by Gladys Knight & the Pips. Barker left the music business and formed an aerospace engineering company in the 1970s. In 2001, he sold that company and decided to reenter the music business.

Barker formed SoBe Entertainment International LLC in 2002. He contributed all of SoBe’s capital and owned 95 percent of its profits and losses. His son, Yannique, and daughter, Angelique, split the other five percent. SoBe is an independent entertainment company that signs artists and celebrities, produces music and videos, and promotes its artists and distributes their work. As SoBe’s chief executive officer (CEO) and managing member, Barker devoted 40 to 60 hours per week to the business. He consulted music industry professionals before forming SoBe, and hired several high profile producers to bolster SoBe’s chances of success. SoBe employed a marketing professional and, at one time, chief financial officer (CFO). In total, SoBe had eight employees and regularly hired independent contractors.

Yannique Barker was one of SoBe’s signed artists. SoBe had several artist contracts and renewed at least one. SoBe also contracted with producers and writers to work with its artists. SoBe also entered into a distribution agreement with Universal Music to distribute music digitally. SoBe advertised online and through its websites in addition to placing ads in print magazines. SoBe was also a member of the trade organization Record Industry Association of America.

Barker saw stars like Adele and Taylor Swift as examples of how one artist could make his company profitable. Although none of his artists had achieved such a level of success, they had each contributed to the catalog of songs that SoBe owned. SoBe’s catalog had value in March 2016 and it placed a song in a TV show on ABC.

SoBe was founded at a time of major change to the music industry, as online platforms made it possible to buy or sell music at low cost or share it for free. SoBe cut costs as a result of the effects of these platforms, reducing its employees from 17 to 8, and moving its recording studio to a less expensive location. SoBe had never earned a profit and its cumulative losses increased from year to year.

SoBe employed John McQuagge as its CFO and controller from 2006 through 2010. McQuagge used Quickbooks software to produce SoBe’s general ledger and journals. SoBe had two separate bank accounts, one used as a primary operating account and the other used for payroll. McQuagge balanced the accounts against monthly bank statements. While SoBe kept records of the checks it used to pay its expenses from 2006-2010, other expenses recorded in SoBe’s general ledger were paid by credit card or cash, for which no documentation existed other than bank statements.

SoBe had two outside accounting firms prepare its tax returns for 2003-2011. SoBe provided its accountants with all of its Quickbooks records. Accountant Stanley Foodman prepared SoBe’s returns for 2006-2009. Foodman also prepared Barker’s personal income tax returns for 2005-2011. Foodman calculated Barker’s net operating losses (NOLs) and total capital contributions to SoBe for 2002-2011 and listed each of his individual capital contributions to SoBe in 2006-2009. Foodman determined that Barker made over $45 million in capital contributions to SoBe from 2002-2011. This calculation was based on the Schedules K-1, Partner’s Share of Income, Deductions, Credits, etc. from SoBe, supplemented by SoBe’s general ledger and bank statements.

Barker reported income from sources other than SoBe, mostly capital gains, interest and dividends. His 2011 income came mostly from Mistral, a defense contractor Barker helped found. Foodman calculated Barker’s income or loss after taking into account Barker’s interest and dividend income, net capital gains and losses, and share of gain or loss reported on the Schedules K-1 from SoBe and other businesses in which he held an interest.

Barker was the victim of identity theft when someone filed a tax return for 2011 using his social security number. Barker eventually filed his 2011 Form 1040 in August 2016. His return showed a loss from SoBe of over $800,000 and an NOL carryover of $19.6 million for 2011. The IRS issued a notice of deficiency in June 2014, determining various adjustments to Barker’s income and deductions. The notice showed that Barker owed approximately $1.2 million in tax for 2011 and that a 25 percent addition to tax applied for Barker’s failure to file his return on time. Barker challenged the notice in the Tax Court.

The IRS asserted that SoBe did not incur any operating losses (and thus, no losses flowed through to Barker) because SoBe was a hobby rather than a trade or business. In the IRS’s view, Barker lacked the actual and honest objective of making a profit. The IRS also argued that Barker could not substantiate the expenses giving rise to SoBe’s operating losses. Barkley contended that SoBe was run as a business from its formation and that making a profit was always its primary objective. He also challenged the addition to tax by arguing that his late filing was due to the identity theft.

The Tax Court held that, under the facts and circumstances, Barker operated SoBe as a trade or business with the actual and honest objective of making a profit. The Tax Court found that Barker had prior business successes in the music industry and had run successful defense contracting businesses, having helped to turn one of them around after several years without a profit. In the court’s view, Barker leveraged his experience and contacts in the music industry as he prepared for SoBe’s formation. He also ran SoBe in a businesslike manner, working there full time and devoting significant capital to it.

Although SoBe had never been profitable, the court found that it had positioned itself to make a profit by amassing a catalog of songs that it had been able to monetize. The court also took into account the turmoil in the music industry and the difficulties faced by artists and producers during the years at issue. The fact that Barker’s son, Yannique, was a SoBe artist did not mean that SoBe was merely a vehicle to fund Yannique’s musical aspirations, according to the Tax Court, because SoBe had other artists and did not devote most of its resources to Yannique. Nor did the fact that Barker enjoyed the creative aspects of the music industry, and had income from other sources. prevent SoBe from being engaged in a trade or business, given the other factors indicating a profit motive.

Although SoBe was engaged in a trade or business for profit, the Tax Court found that Barker failed to provide evidence on which the Tax Court could determine or even estimate the amount of SoBe’s business expenses for all prior years of its operation. The court found that the only documentation to support SoBe’s business expense deductions for previous years were SoBe’s bank statements. Those statements, in the court’s view, did not document the amounts of SoBe’s expenses paid by cash or credit card, nor did they describe the business purpose of the expenditures. The court found that Barker had produced SoBe’s general ledger only for 2005-2009 and that his testimony was insufficient to fill in the gaps. The Tax Court reasoned that Barker had access to additional documentation, including SoBe’s general ledger for all years of its existence, but failed to produce it; therefore the court presumed that such documentation would be unfavorable to Barker.

The Tax Court also held that Barker failed to provide enough evidence for it to determine his NOL deduction for 2011. Barker failed to substantiate SoBe’s income and business expenses for all prior years and, in turn, the amount of losses for which he claimed a deduction for 2011. If the court could not estimate the amount of SoBe’s operating losses, it could not know how much flowed through to Barker. Moreover, even if Barker had substantiated SoBe’s expenses, the court could not determine how much of those losses were absorbed by Barker’s other income in the years before 2011, because Barker did not produce his returns for 2002-2004 and those that he produced for later years were missing crucial information.

The Tax Court also upheld the penalty assessment after rejecting Barker’s argument that his identity theft issue excused his failure to file his 2011 return on time. The court reasoned that Barker was a sophisticated businessman who should have known that he was required to file his return, and that his accountants and return preparers could have made inquiries.

United States Tax Court Decision for the Week-Legal Fees for Alimony Payments

A recent Tax Court decision was reported dealing with tax litigation and legal fees for alimony payments. J. Frank Best, Certified Public Accountant and United States Tax Court Litigator works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.

Legal Fees to Recoup Alimony Payments Were Nondeductible Personal Expenses

The Tax Court held that a taxpayer could not deduct legal fees incurred in an action to recover alimony payments that he alleged were made in excess of the amount provided for under a separation agreement with his ex-wife. The Tax Court found that the legal fees were nondeductible personal expenses because the underlying claim did not originate from any profit seeking activity. Barry v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2017-237.

William and Beth Barry were divorced in 2002. The judgment of dissolution ordered Mr. Barry to pay alimony of $2,400 per month. In 2011, Mr. Barry sued Ms. Barry for breach of contract. He alleged that under a separation agreement they had previously signed, Ms. Barry was entitled to total alimony of approximately $45,000 and that he had paid that amount in full. He said that Ms. Barry was in default of the separation agreement when she filed for divorce in 2000 and demanded alimony. Mr. Barry sought a judgment of approximately $201,000 – an amount equal to the excess of the total alimony he paid over the amount he claimed Ms. Barry was entitled to under the separation agreement. Mr. Barry’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2011 as time barred.

On his 2013 tax return, Mr. Barry claimed a deduction of over $34,000 for the legal fees he paid with respect to the action against Ms. Barry. The IRS determined a deficiency of approximately $5,000 and an accuracy-related penalty of $1,000. Mr. Barry petitioned the Tax Court for redetermination of the deficiency.

Personal and family expenses are generally not deductible. However, a deduction is allowed under Code Sec. 212 for ordinary and necessary expenses for (1) the production or collection of income, or (2) the maintenance or conservation of property held for the production of income. In U.S. v. Gilmore, 372 U. S 39 (1963), the Supreme Court held that legal fees incurred by a taxpayer in resisting his wife’s property claims in a divorce were not deductible because the claims that gave rise to the fees stemmed from the marital relationship rather than from any profit seeking activity. The Supreme Court stated that the origin of the claim with respect to which an expense was incurred, rather than its potential consequences, is the controlling test of whether an expense is deductible.

Barry argued that Gilmore was decided based on the language of Code Sec. 212(2), which applies to expenses incurred in the conservation of property held for the production of income, but that his his claim was based on Code Sec. 212(1), which allows a deduction for expenses paid for the production of income. Barry said that the origin of the claim test therefore did not apply. Barry also cited Wild v. Comm’r, 42  T.C. 706 (1964), where the Tax Court held that legal fees paid by a wife in obtaining alimony includible in gross income were deductible under Code Sec. 212(1). Barry argued that his legal expenses should also be deductible because they were incurred for the purpose of collecting money that would be included in his income under the tax benefit rule.

The Tax Court held that Barry’s legal fees were not deductible under Code Sec 212(1). First, it found that, contrary to Barry’s argument, the Gilmore origin of the claim test applied to both paragraphs (1) and (2) of Code Sec.212. According to the Tax Court, Gilmore interpreted the predecessor statute to Code Sec.212, which contained in one paragraph the provisions now codified in Code Sec. 212(1) and Code Sec.212(2). The Tax Court also cited language from the Gilmore opinion stating that the only kind of expenses deductible under the predecessor to Code Sec. 212 were those that related to a profit seeking purpose and did not include personal, living, or family expenses.

Next, the Tax Court cited several of its previous decisions applying the origin of the claim test to deductions for legal fees under Code Sec. 212(1). The Tax Court noted that in Sunderland v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 1977-116, it applied the Gilmore test to disallow a deduction claimed under Code Sec.212(1) for legal expenses the taxpayer incurred in a legal action which resulted in a reduction of the alimony paid to his former wife. The Tax Court also cited Favrot v. U.S., 550 F.Supp. 809 (E.D. La. 1982), where a district court applied Gilmore in disallowing a claimed deduction for legal expenses incurred in an attempt to recoup alimony payments. The Tax Court rejected Barry’s assertion that his legal fees should be deductible because any recovered alimony payments would have been includible in his income. In the Tax Court’s view, Barry improperly focused on the potential consequences of his lawsuit rather than on the origin and character of his claim.

The Tax Court also disagreed with Barry’s reading of its decision in Wild, finding that it turned on an exception to the Gilmore rule in the regulations under Code Sec. 262 specifically providing for the deductibility of legal fees of a wife incurred for the collection of alimony and similar amounts received by a wife in connection with a marital relationship. The Tax Court concluded by citing the general rule as stated in the regulations under Code Sec. 262, which is that attorney’s fees and other costs paid in connection with a divorce, separation, or decree for support are not deductible by either the husband or the wife.

Finally, the Tax Court reasoned that if Barry had filed suit in the same year as his divorce to challenge the alimony obligations, his legal expenses would have been nondeductible personal expenses. In seeking to deduct legal expenses incurred in an action to recoup the alimony payments, Barry was seeking to do indirectly what could not have been done directly, according to the Tax Court.

United States Tax Court Decision for the Week and Filing Status

A recent Tax Court decision was reported potentially dealing with tax litigation and filing status of Joint v. Separate returns. J. Frank Best, Certified Public Accountant and United States Tax Court Litigator works to stay current on all IRS decisions concerning tax litigation to ensure we are fully informed and prepared for our clients.

Taxpayer Can File Joint Return After Original Return Erroneously Reported Single Status

The Tax Court held that a return that a taxpayer originally filed, erroneously claiming single status, did not constitute a “separate return” within the meaning of Code Sec. 6013(b) and, thus, the taxpayer and his wife were entitled to file a joint return and pay joint return tax rates for the year at issue. The Tax Court concluded that the term “separate return” means a return on which a married taxpayer has claimed the permissible status of married filing separately, rather than a return on which a married taxpayer has claimed a filing status not properly available to him or her. Camara v. Comm’r, 149 T.C. No. 13 (2017).

Facts

Fansu Camara was married to Aminata Jatta. Nevertheless, on his 2012 Form 1040, which he filed on April 15, 2013, Mr. Camara erroneously checked the box for single filing status. In a notice of deficiency issued to Mr. Camara for his 2012 tax year, the IRS changed his filing status from single to married filing separately. On May 8, 2015, Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta timely petitioned the Tax Court with respect to that notice of deficiency as well as a notice of deficiency that the IRS issued to them for their 2013 tax year. On May 27, 2016, Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta filed with the IRS a joint 2012 return, which they had both signed. Ms. Jatta had not previously filed a 2012 return.

The couple and the IRS agreed that if Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta were entitled to elect joint filing status for 2012, the joint return that they filed on May 27, 2016 – after receiving the notice of deficiency and petitioning the Tax Court – correctly reflected their 2012 tax liability with certain agreed-upon changes. And the IRS conceded that Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta met the substantive requirements for joint filing status and rates for 2012. However, the IRS contended that Code Sec. 6013(b)(2) barred Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta from filing a joint return, and consequently, they were procedurally barred from claiming the benefits generally available to married taxpayers who file a joint return.

Code Sec. 6013 governs whether a married couple may file a joint return. Under Code Sec. 6013(a), a married couple can “make a single return jointly of income taxes” subject to three restrictions, which are not applicable in this case. Code Sec. 6013(b) permits married taxpayers to elect in certain circumstances to switch from a separate return to a joint return. Code Sec. 6013(b)(1) provides that if an individual has filed a “separate return” for a tax year for which that individual and his or her spouse could have filed a joint return, that individual and his or her spouse may nevertheless “make a joint return” for that year. Because the Code Sec. 6013(b) election applies only where an individual has filed a separate return, limitation under Code Sec. 6013(b)(2) likewise apply only if the individual has filed a separate return. The term “separate return” in Code Sec. 6013(b)(1) is not defined in the Code or the regulations.

IRS Arguments

The IRS argued that Mr. Camara’s original 2012 return, on which he erroneously claimed single filing status, constituted a “separate return” within the meaning of Code Sec. 6013(b)(1) and, consequently, two limitations under Code Sec. 6013(b)(2) applied to prevent Mr. Camara from making the Code Sec. 6013(b) election to switch to a joint return. The two limitations that the IRS invoked were in Code Sec. 6013(b)(2)(A) and Code Sec. 6013(b)(2)(B). The first limitation bars the Code Sec. 6013(b) election after three years from the filing deadline (without extensions) for filing the return for that year. The second limitation bars the Code Sec. 6013(b) election after there has been mailed to either spouse, with respect to such tax year, a notice of deficiency, if the spouse, as to such notice, files a petition with the Tax Court within 90 days.

According to the IRS, the two limitations were satisfied because: (1) the date on which Mr. Camara and Ms. Jatta filed a joint return – May 27, 2016 – was more than three years after Mr. Camara filed a separate return; and (2) Mr. Camara received a notice of deficiency, and filed a petition with the Tax Court before filing a joint return.

The IRS also cited the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Morgan v. Comm’r, 807 F.2d 81 (6th Cir. 1986), aff’g T.C. Memo. 1984-384, as compelling a decision in its favor. Morgan involved married taxpayers who filed “protest returns” claiming married filing jointly status for some years and married filing separately status for other years. Affirming the Tax Court, the Sixth Circuit in Morgan held that Code Sec. 6013(b)(2) precluded the husband from claiming the benefits of joint return filing status after the IRS issued a notice of deficiency calculating his tax on the basis of married filing separately.

Tax Court Holding

The Tax Court held that the 2012 return that Mr. Camera originally filed, erroneously claiming single status, did not constitute a “separate return” within the meaning of Code Sec. 6013(b). Thus, Mr. Camera and his wife were entitled to file a joint return and pay joint return tax rates for that year.

The Tax Court began its analysis by noting that the issue raised by the IRS has not been formally addressed by the Tax Court in a reported or reviewed opinion. The court also noted that no Court of Appeals has held that a single return or a head of household return is a separate return for the purposes of Code Sec. 6013(b) and the two Appeals Court cases that have considered this issue, Ibrahim v. Comm’r, 788 F.3d 834 (8th Cir. 2015) and Glaze v. Comm’r, 641 F.2d 339 (5th Cir. 1981), have held the opposite. The court also observed that some Memorandum Opinions had interpreted “separate return” to include a single return or a head of household return for this purpose. For the most part, however, those Memorandum Opinions merely accepted the rationale of earlier cases, and the ultimate authority for those Memorandum Opinions appeared to be traceable to earlier cases where the effect of an erroneous claim of filing status was neither addressed nor even presented as an issue.

The Tax Court noted that its decision in the instant case would be appealable to the Sixth Circuit. However, the court rejected the IRS’s argument that the Sixth Circuit’s holding in Morgan compelled it to rule in the IRS’s favor. Morgan, the court said, did not squarely address the issue presented in the instant case because Morgan did not explain the effect under Code Sec. 6013(b) of a married taxpayer’s initial filings of a return erroneously claiming single status.

The court did find, however, that the Fifth Circuit, in Glaze, squarely addressed the issue. In Glaze, the Fifth Circuit held that filing a return with an erroneous claim to an impermissible filing status (i.e., a filing status of single when the taxpayer was married) did not constitute an “election” to file a separate return. The Fifth Circuit in Morgan, the court observed, distinguished Glaze on the grounds that Glaze involved no protest return and the taxpayer had not attempted to file a return as a married taxpayer originally. The Tax Court found that Mr. Camara’s case was distinguishable from Morgan on the same grounds on which Glaze was distinguished in Morgan. Mr. Camara neither filed a protest return nor attempted to file a return as a married taxpayer originally.

Considering the context of Code Sec. 6013(b) as a whole and giving due regard to the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Glaze, as well as an Eight Circuit’s opinion in Ibrahim, the Tax Court concluded that the term “separate return” means a return on which a married taxpayer has claimed the permissible status of married filing separately, rather than a return on which a married taxpayer has claimed a filing status not properly available to him or her.

Finally, the court also noted that the legislative history showed that Code Sec. 6013(b)(1) was intended only to provide taxpayers flexibility in switching from a proper initial election to file a separate return to an election to file a joint return; it was not intended to foreclose correction of an erroneous initial retur