A Passive Activity Case Goes to the Taxpayers

We’re going to see a lot more IRS activity regarding “passive” activities in the coming years. The Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) added a new Net Investment Tax that impacts passive activities. Many taxpayers will be attempting to state activities are active (that the taxpayer materially participates) rather than passive to avoid this tax. Today, the Tax Court looked at a taxpayer who claimed large losses from his business (it will be a few years before we see Net Investment Tax cases at the Tax Court). He said he was actively involved in the businesses; the IRS said he wasn’t.

The Tax Court noted that a passive activity is one where a taxpayer is not materially participating in.

A taxpayer materially participates in an activity for a given year if, “[b]ased on all of the facts and circumstances * * * the individual participates in the activity on a regular, continuous, and substantial basis during such year.” Id. A taxpayer who participates in the activity for 100 hours or less during the year cannot satisfy this test, and more stringent requirements apply to those who participate in a management or investment capacity. See sec. 1.469-5T(b)(2)(ii) and (iii), (f)(2)(ii), Temporary Income Tax Regs., 53 Fed. Reg. 5726, 5727 (Feb. 25, 1988).

Yes, this relates to temporary regulations issued over 16 years ago. Perhaps we’ll see final regulations given the Net Investment Tax. But I digress….

In the decision, the Court noted that while the petitioner’s son managed the day-to-day business, the petitioner himself was anything but an absentee owner.

Although Mr. Wade took a step back when Ashley became involved in the companies’ management, he still played a major role in their 2008 activities. He researched and developed new technology that allowed TSI and Paragon to improve their products. He also secured financing for the companies that allowed them to continue operations, and he visited the industrial facilities throughout the year to meet with employees about their futures. These efforts were continuous, regular, and substantial during 2008, and we accordingly hold that Mr. Wade materially participated in TSI and Paragon.

But what about the petitioner’s wife? The IRS argued that she wasn’t involved in the business (and she wasn’t), so her share of the loss is passive. The Court found that didn’t matter:

This argument is irrelevant because for purposes of the passive loss limitation, we treat married taxpayers who file a joint return as a single taxpayer, sec. 1.469-5T(f)(3), Temporary Income Tax Regs., supra, and because we treat participation by a married taxpayer as participation of his or her spouse, sec. 1.469-1T(j)(4), Temporary Income Tax Regs., 53 Fed. Reg. 5711 (Feb. 25, 1988). Mr. Wade’s material participation in the companies is sufficient to establish material participation for both petitioners.

In a footnote, the Court noted why the passive activity loss rules were enacted:

Congress enacted sec. 469 to reduce the opportunity “for taxpayers to offset income from one source with tax shelter deductions and credits from another.” S. Rept. No. 99-313, at 713 (1986), 1986-3 C.B. (Vol. 3) 1, 713. Congress’ concern was over taxpayers who invested in businesses simply to benefit from losses. The tests and standards in sec. 469 were not meant to apply to taxpayers in petitioners’ situation.

So here the petitioner was able to show he was active on a continuous basis in his businesses, and that made the losses active rather than passive. Hopefully the IRS can get more of these cases right at audit and appeals–they’ll be dealing with many more of these over the coming years.

Case: Wade v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-169


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