July 27, 2010
The Appellees filed their response brief yesterday in Virginia Historic Tax Credit Fund 2001 LP v. Comm’r, No. 10-1333 (4th Cir.) (linked below). Our previous discussion of the case is here.
The government has advanced two basic arguments. First, it argues that the partners of the state tax credit partnerships were not bona fide partners that made capital contributions; rather, the government contends, the alleged partners were, in substance, purchasers of state tax credits. As such, the proceeds of these sales transactions are gross income to the partnerships, not non-taxable contributions to capital. In making this argument, the government focuses on the fact that the alleged partners had no possibility of realizing any economic benefit from their purported investments other than the acquisition of state tax credits at a discount from their face value. Second, the government argues that even if the partners were bona fide partners, the disguised sale rules under I.R.C. § 707 apply to recharacterize the transactions as taxable sales of property by the partnership to the partners acting in non-partner capacities.
The Appellees (comprised of two of the tax credit funds at issue and their tax matters partner) contend that the investors in the tax credit funds were bona fide partners for federal income tax purposes because they pooled their capital with the intent of sharing in a pool of non-federal-tax economic benefits pursuant to partnership allocation provisions under state law. Relying on Frank Lyon Co. v. United States, 435 U.S. 561 (1978), Appellees further contend that the partnership form of the transactions at issue was compelled by state-law regulatory realities (Virginia law prohibits the direct transfer of historic preservation tax credits), and thus the form should be respected. With respect to the government’s I.R.C. § 707 argument, Appellees argue that the disguised sale rules do not apply where, as here, the partners were acting in their capacities as partners, the alleged consideration constitutes a contribution to capital, the partnership allocates tax attributes as opposed to transferring property (i.e., the state tax credits are not property), and there is a meaningful sharing of risk among partners.
Stay tuned—the Fourth Circuit’s decision could have a substantial impact on the question of the nature of a partner for federal income tax purposes and the scope of the disguised sale rules, as well as substance-over-form principles generally.