Audio Technica U.S., Inc. v. United States, No. 19-3469 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Technica makes high-end audio equipment and claimed tax credits for increasing research activities under 26 U.S.C. 41 for several tax years. The R&D tax credit is available when taxpayers increase certain research expenses over time, with the increase measured in part against research costs from the five-year period from 1984-1988, taken as a percentage of the company’s gross receipts during those years (the fixed-base percentage). For the 2002–2005 and 2011 tax years, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency. Rather than litigate, Technica and the government reached settlement agreements, which were approved by the Tax Court. The settlements did not address the details but simply listed the dollar amounts of the agreed-upon deficiencies. According to Technica, these amounts were determined by a “specific agreement” as to the fixed-base percentage.
With respect to the 2006–2010 tax years, Technica paid the amount requested by the IRS then sued for a refund, arguing that the government was judicially estopped from claiming that the .92% fixed-base percentage did not apply. The district court agreed, finding that because the government had entered into settlements for the other tax years using that same fixed-base percentage, it was judicially estopped from now arguing that the percentage was incorrect.
The Sixth Circuit reversed. A court order memorializing a settlement agreement generally does not constitute judicial acceptance of the facts underpinning that agreement, and the orders approved by the Tax Court did not actually include the .92% rate.