BNSF Railway Co. v. United States, No. 13-10014 (5th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
BNSF filed suit seeking refunds of certain taxes that it, and its predecessor companies, paid under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act (RRTA), 26 U.S.C. 3201 et seq. The court concluded that, at least as applied to Non-Qualified Stock Options (NQSOs), the term "compensation", as used and defined by the RRTA, was inherently ambiguous; the IRS's definition was reasonable as applied to the NQSOs; although RRTA "compensation" may exclude certain in-kind benefits such as free rail passes that would otherwise be compensation under section 3121, the court concluded that NQSOs were properly included as "compensation" under the RRTA as interpreted by Treasury Regulation 31.3231(e)-1; the court's conclusion found firm support in the purpose, structure, and legislative history of the RRTA; and therefore, NQSOs were properly taxed as compensation under the RRTA. The court also concluded that, although the informal claims that BNSF filed for the employee tax paid on moving-expense benefits in 1996 and 1997 may satisfy the informal clams doctrine, it was undisputed that BNSF failed to perfect those claims prior to filing the present suit. Accordingly, BNSF's refund claims for those years must be dismissed. The court further concluded that a more reasonable interpretation of section 3231(e)(1)(iii) permitted exclusion of payments to employees for traveling expenses and bona fide and reasonable expenses related to travel, an interpretation harmonizing section 3231(e)(1)(iii) and section 3231(e)(5) as required by the specific-general canon and the rule against superfluities. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on January 15, 2015.