Sunday, June 21, 2009

Court declares Son of Boss Illegitimate

In Clearmeadow Investments LLC v. United States, ___ Fed. Cl. ___ (2009), decided 6/19/2007 [I will link to the decision when posted on website], the Court of Federal Claims (Judge Allegra) uses the parent-son metaphor to call a Son-of-Boss transaction the illegitimate child of an illegitimate father, although some might question the timing and use of the metaphor immediately before Father's Day (today). The opinion is long and very good. But, you'll get the key points from the following introduction from the decision (although I question Judge Allegra's inference that Son-of-Boss transactions present a sexy legal issue):

"When pondering sexy legal issues," one commentator recently noted, "it is doubtful that tax law crosses the minds of many." Yet, once in a while (alright, a long while), a tax dispute bursts into the mainstream. Take, for example, the legal controversy swirling around the so-called "Son of BOSS" transactions -- the quoted phrase being short for "sales option bond strategy," the legatee of the "bond and option sales" or "BOSS" strategy. While this case involves a Son of BOSS transaction, perhaps it is best to start by examining the earlier BOSS strategy -- "qualis pater talis filius," as the Romans used to say.
The BOSS strategy employed a series of transactions seemingly to increase the tax basis of an asset that would eventually be sold, supposedly at a loss. In its simplest form, it worked like this:
• Two companies are set up by a promoter -- Company A and Company B.
• Company A buys a bond with a market value of $50.
• Taxpayer X buys the bond from Company A for $1,000,050. However, Taxpayer X pays only $50 in cash, with the remainder of the purchase price taking the form of a promissory note payable by Taxpayer X to Company A for $1 million due in twenty years. Taxpayer X claims that his adjusted tax basis in the bond is $1,000,050.
• Taxpayer X then sells the bond to Company B for $50. Because Taxpayer X claims a basis in the bond of $1,000,050 and sells it for only $50, he argues that he has incurred a $1 million loss, which he promptly deducts to offset income that would otherwise be subject to tax.

In the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000 (the 2000 Renewal Act), Pub. L. No. 106554, § 309, 114 Stat. 2763A-587 to 638, Congress devitalized this strategy by modifying key provisions in the Internal Revenue Code (the Code) to prevent, in absolute terms, the increase in basis essential to generating the large loss deductions. n2 Even before the passage of the Act, however, tax planners had begun to direct their creative energies elsewhere, focusing, in particular, on the partnership provisions of the Code as a potential new engine for producing large tax losses.

Their efforts eventually led to the christening of the "Son of BOSS" strategy. Under this brainchild, the taxpayer typically would form a partnership and contribute to it an option he had purchased. The partnership would contemporaneously assume a second option that represented a liability of the taxpayer. The taxpayer would then claim that his basis in the partnership was increased by the cost of the purchased option, but not reduced by the partnership's assumption of the obligation. As in the BOSS transactions, this ultimately led the taxpayer to claim a sizable loss deduction when he sold either the partnership interest itself, or some asset whose tax basis was derivable therefrom. Though clothed in the partnership provisions of the Code, the Son of BOSS strategy shared a common aspiration with its forebear -- to generate large tax loss deductions with little in the way of capital outlays. And the Internal Revenue Service (the Service) reacted to the "son" much as it had to the "father" -- disallowing the claimed loss deductions and assessing a range of penalties.

That, in a nutshell, is what happened in the case sub judice, which is a partnership proceeding involving a Son of BOSS transaction, pending before the court on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. After carefully considering the parties' briefs and oral argument, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment and denies plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. As will be described below, the court finds, as a matter of law, that the Son of BOSS transactions that led to the tax losses at issue did not, under the Code, generate the losses claimed and, at all events, lacked economic substance. It also holds that, aside from any defenses the individual partners may raise in later proceedings, the Service properly asserted the gross valuation overstatement penalty of section 6662 of the Code.
My only comment relates to Judge Allegra's "simplest form" illustration of the concept. I ask the readers to re-read the simplest form illustration. Judge Allegra describes nothing more or less than the exceedingly hokey -- and perhaps even fraudulent -- tax shelters of the late 1970s and early 1980s where all sorts of properties -- from paintings to plastic recylcing shelters -- were overvalued, purchased for the hyper-inflated values (usually with nonrecourse financing or some economic equivalent), and then purchaser-taxpayer or a flow-through entity claimed purchase price basis supported improper tax deductions. For an example of this type of earlier shelter, see Addington v. Commissioner, 205 F.3d 54 (2d. Cir. 2000).