The U.S. Tax Court ruled that the IRS’ interpretation of when sales of partnership interests by non-U.S. persons (in this case, it was a foreign corporate partner with an interest in a U.S. limited liability company) is subject to U.S. income taxation is wrong. See, Grecian Magnesite Mining vs. Comm’r (149 T.C. No. 3 – 2017).
The Court ruled that the gain from the partnership (which was not attributed to real estate – which itself was taxable under FIRPTA/Section 897) was capital gain and not U.S. source income. The Court said it would not follow the IRS’ interpretation in Rev. Ruling 91-32.
The significance for tax expatriation considerations is that IRS Revenue Rulings and other “administrative guidance” or IRS opinions of the law (such as private letter rulings, notices, technical advice memorandum, etc.) do not carry the weight of law. Let alone IRS instructions to forms. There are a number of IRS opinions of the law regarding “expatriation tax” matters – e.g., IRS Notice 97–34 for those former citizens or LPRs who may be “covered expatriates.”
This conclusion of the Tax Court was (until Congress changed the law overriding the case law) particularly important for non-resident aliens (who were previously U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents); as the IRS in the past has relied upon Rev. Rul. 91-32 to impose taxation on non-residents who sell their U.S. partnership interests. See, for instance, the IRS Technical Memorandum where it states the law that ” . . . capital gains are not taxable under § 871(a)(2), unless an alien is present in the United States 183 days or more. . . ” yet still concluded the gain was “effectively connected income” (“ECI”) subject to U.S. taxation. Memorandum – Internal Revenue Service
A second blow for the government came when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit confirmed the U.S. Tax Court and ruled in favor of the taxpayer.
The government appealed the U.S. Tax Court opinion to the D.C. Circuit, which also ruled in favor of the taxpayer. See full 2019 opinion – here – The DOJ, tax division attorneys of course argued for the government and Michael J. Miller based in Manhattan, an exceptional international tax lawyer, litigated the case in the U.S. Tax Court also argued on appeal for the non-U.S. taxpayer.
While a win for the taxpayer, Congress repealed the result by amending IRC Section 864(c) as part of the major tax reform of 2017 (so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017). Now, such gain from the sale of a partnership interest is treated as “effectively connected” with a US trade or business (“ECI”) to the extent the seller of the partnership interest would have had ECI gain had the partnership itself sold all of its assets. The gain is measured by the fair market value as of the date of sale. Also a new 10% withholding tax was imposed with the same legislation under IRC Section 1446(f). It requires the buyer of a partnership interest to withhold a 10% tax on the “amount realized.”