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Taproot Administrative Services v. Commissioner, 133 TC 202 (2009), 679 F3d 1109 (9th Cir. 2012), is an S corporation shareholder eligibility case.  It was decided by the US Tax Court in 2009 and eventually made its way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a decision was rendered in 2012.

Background

Prior to the enactment of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, only the following were eligible S corporation shareholders:

    • US citizens and resident individuals;
    • Estates;
    • Tax-exempt 501(c) charities and 401(a) retirement plans; and
    • Certain trusts, including QSSTs, ESBTs and grantor trusts

As a result of the lobbying efforts of family-owned rural banks, as of October 22, 2004 (the effective date of the American Jobs Creation Act), a new eligible shareholder was added to the list, IRAs, including Roth IRAs, provided two criteria are met:

    • The S corporation must be a bank, as defined in Section 581 of the Code; and
    • The shares must have been owned by the IRA on October 22, 2004, the enactment date of the American Jobs Creation Act.

As you might imagine, having an eligible IRA shareholder will be rare. The exception to the S corporation eligibility rules provided by the American Jobs Creation Act is quite narrow.

Montgomery v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2013-151 (June 17, 2013) illustrates what appeared to be the obvious – neither a guaranty of the corporation’s debt by a shareholder nor an unpaid judgment against a shareholder for the S corporation’s debt creates basis.

In Montgomery, the taxpayers, Patrick and Patricia Montgomery, claimed a net operating loss on their 2007 joint return, which they carried back to 2005 and 2006.  In the calculation of their net operating loss, they included:  losses UDI Underground, LLC (“UDI”), incurred in 2007 that were passed through to Patricia Montgomery as a 40% member; and losses Utility Design, Inc., an S corporation (“Utility Design”), incurred in 2007 that were passed through to Patrick and Patricia Montgomery as shareholders.

The IRS challenged the amount of the net operating loss for 2007 on two grounds:

    •  First, the IRS asserted Patricia Montgomery did not materially participate in UDI during 2007.
    •  Second, the IRS asserted portions of the losses from Utility Design were disallowed under Section 1366(d)(1).
    •  The IRS asserted Patricia Montgomery’s share of the 2007 losses from UDI were losses from a passive activity.  Specifically, the IRS argued Patricia Montgomery did not materially participate in UDI.

The Tax Court disagreed, holding Patricia Montgomery did materially participate in UDI.  In 2007, Patricia Montgomery handled all of the office functions, managed payroll, prepared documents, met with members of the company and attended business meetings.  Additionally, she continuously worked on company matters and daily discussed the company's business with Patrick Montgomery.  The court ultimately concluded Patricia Montgomery participated in UDI for more than 500 hours during 2007 and her participation was regular, continuous, and substantial.  Thus, Patricia Montgomery’s UDI activity was a non-passive activity.

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Larry J. Brant
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Larry J. Brant is a Shareholder in 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; 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.

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