Monday, June 22, 2020

The Supreme Court denies cert in Altera

Yay, the Altera case is finally over, as the Supreme Court denied the taxpayer's petition for a writ of certiorari.

Given how the 2017 tax act changed the relevant law going forward, this case really was not cert-worthy. Plus, in my view and that of many of my colleagues in the international tax policy community, the taxpayer's case was extremely weak, even though it somehow won (unanimously!) at the Tax Court level. The view taken in Treasury regulations, to the effect that taxpayers could not (still further) game the cost-sharing regulations between themselves and tax haven subsidiaries by disregarding incentive compensation, was clearly correct on the merits, and had ample support within relevant existing law.

Plus, the taxpayer's challenge to the adequacy of the Treasury / IRS response to their (in my view) feeble arguments at the Notice & Comment stage not only was itself feeble, but threatened to undermine Treasury preambles as a useful document for taxpayers, by converting them from an explanation that tries to be helpful into a pre-litigation document.

Had the Supreme Court granted cert here, it would probably have betokened either confusion on their part, or a breathless eagerness to find cudgels to throw at the IRS and Treasury (or perhaps regulatory discretion more generally).

Insofar as there are still open disputes on the Altera issue winding their way either through the audit process or the courts, one hopes that all parties will have the good sense simply to settle them without much further ado - perhaps on IRS-friendly terms given the case's 9th Circuit outcome.

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