In Exelon, the Seventh Circuit held that exchanges by Exelon Corporation (“Taxpayer”) of nuclear power plants for long-term leasehold interests in power plants located in other states were not exchanges qualifying for like-kind exchange treatment under Code Section 1031. According to the court, the Taxpayer did not acquire the benefits and burdens of ownership but rather received an interest more in the nature of a loan, which was not like-kind with the relinquished real property.
The IRS issued notices of deficiency for tax years 1999 and 2001. The tax deficiency for 1999 was in excess of $431 million. On top of that, the Service imposed a 20% accuracy related penalty under Code Section 6662(a) that exceeded $86 million. For 2001, the deficiency was a bit over $5.5 million. Again, for good measure, the Service tacked on a 20% accuracy related penalty of about $1.1 million.
The U.S. Tax Court affirmed both the deficiency assessment and the imposition of accuracy related penalties. Exelon Corp. v. Comm’r, 147 TC 230 (2016). On October 3, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court. Exelon Corp. v. Comm’r, 122 AFTR 2d ¶2018-5299 (2018).
The saga of Exelon Corporation is a long and complex read, but the morals to the story definitely warrant tax advisors dedicating the time to understand the case.
On February 21, 2014, then House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Michigan) issued a discussion draft of the “Tax Reform Act of 2014.” The proposed legislation spanned almost 1,000 pages and contained some interesting provisions, including repealing IRC § 1031, thereby prohibiting tax deferral from like-kind exchanges. Not only would taxpayers have been impacted by this proposal, but it would have turned the real estate industry upside down. Qualified intermediaries would have been put out of business. Likewise, title and escrow companies, as well as real estate advisors specializing in exchanges, would have been adversely affected by the proposal.
As reported on March 8, 2017, the U.S. Tax Court issued a taxpayer-friendly decision in Estate of George H. Bartell, et. al. v. Commissioner, 147 TC 5 (June 10, 2016). The ruling seemed too good to be true. I advised readers to proceed with caution!
Many taxpayers, exchange accommodators, and real estate professionals have been touting the ruling as a clear green light for reverse parking exchanges exceeding the 180-day period pronounced in Revenue Procedure 2000-37 despite the facts that:
- Judge Gale of the U.S. Tax Court clearly said in the opinion that the court was not giving any opinion with respect to reverse exchanges that exceed the 180-day safe harbor; and
- The Bartell case involved transactions that pre-dated the effective date of Revenue Procedure 2000-37 and Treasury’s issuance of the deferred exchange regulations.
In most areas of law, substance prevails over form. Code Section 1031 is possibly one of the few exceptions to this time-honored rule of jurisprudence. Under Code Section 1031, form may prevail over substance. The U.S. Tax Court’s decision in Estate of George H. Bartell, et. al. v. Commissioner, 147 TC 5 (June 10, 2016), supports this thesis.
Estate of George H. Bartell et. al. v. Commissioner
The facts of the case are fairly straightforward. Bartell Drug, an old family-owned chain of retail drugstores located in the state of Washington, was owned by the petitioner and his two children. In 1999, the company entered into an agreement to purchase a parcel of land upon which it intended to build a new drugstore (“Replacement Property”). Bartell Drug had a store located on a property it owned in White Center, Washington, and it anticipated selling this property (“Relinquished Property”) to fund, in part, the cost of the Replacement Property. In order to lawfully avoid paying taxes on the gain from the sale of the Relinquished Property, the stage was set for an exchange of real property that would qualify for tax deferral under Code Section 1031. A few obstacles, however, stood in the taxpayer’s way, namely: (i) the Replacement Property was found by the taxpayer before a buyer for the Relinquished Property could be found; (ii) the Replacement Property was land without the improvements needed to operate a drugstore (i.e., a building); and (iii) in order to defer all of the gain from the sale of the Relinquished Property, the taxpayer would need to buy the Replacement Property once it was improved.
Larry J. Brant
Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder and the Chair of the Tax & Benefits practice group at Foster Garvey, a law firm based out of the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Washington, D.C.; New York, New York, Spokane, Washington; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Beijing, China. Mr. Brant practices in the Portland office. His practice focuses on tax, tax controversy and transactions. Mr. Brant is a past Chair of the Oregon State Bar Taxation Section. He was the long-term Chair of the Oregon Tax Institute, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Portland Tax Forum. Mr. Brant has served as an adjunct professor, teaching corporate taxation, at Northwestern School of Law, Lewis and Clark College. He is an Expert Contributor to Thomson Reuters Checkpoint Catalyst. Mr. Brant is a Fellow in the American College of Tax Counsel. He publishes articles on numerous income tax issues, including Taxation of S Corporations, Reasonable Compensation, Circular 230, Worker Classification, IRC § 1031 Exchanges, Choice of Entity, Entity Tax Classification, and State and Local Taxation. Mr. Brant is a frequent lecturer at local, regional and national tax and business conferences for CPAs and attorneys. He was the 2015 Recipient of the Oregon State Bar Tax Section Award of Merit.