Mc Neill v. United States, No. 15-8095 (10th Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Prior to petitioner-appellant Corbin McNeill retiring as an executive to a utility company, "he came across a complicated little scheme suggested by some well-heeled tax advisors." At its core, the scheme was to transfer to McNeill losses that foreign debt holders had already suffered: McNeill would claim the losses as deductions against his income; the foreign debt holders would transfer their assets for a slight premium over their current (and much reduced) market value because McNeill could use them to secure a tax advantage they didn’t need. To accomplish this, McNeill's tax advisors established a series of partnerships to which the foreign debt holders contributed their underwater debt instruments and their basis in them. McNeill contributed a relatively small sum of money, but owned over 90% of the partnership. When the partnership sold the debt to third parties, it could claim to realize the whole of the losses, and McNeill could claim his income was offset by the losses. In aid of the scheme, various accounting and law firms supplied opinion letters affirming that the scheme would withstand IRS scrutiny. The IRS indeed questioned McNeill's partnerships, and determined McNeill owed back taxes. McNeill paid the tax then filed suit seeking a partial refund. McNeill didn’t suggest that the partnership scheme was lawful or that he should have been excused the taxes the IRS assessed. Instead, he argued only that he should have been excused from the penalties and associated interest the IRS had imposed. The district court declined to decide the merits of McNeill’s partner level defense, holding it was precluded from doing so by Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 (TEFRA). The Tenth Circuit concluded this judgment was made in error, reversed and remanded for further proceedings.