Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Honesty Is Usually a Good Policy

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

Ronald Jerome Boyd is the Chief of the Los Angeles Port Police. The Port Police are responsible for policing Los Angeles Harbor (which is one of the busiest in the country). Mr. Boyd has been Chief since November 2004 (and has been head of emergency management at the port since January), but he’s now on paid administrative leave. That’s because he’s been indicted on 16 counts of corruption and tax charges.

Chief Boyd is alleged to have been involved in obtaining a port contract to a software company where he would share in 13.33% of the profits. Chief Boyd is alleged to have lied to FBI agents during the investigation. The contract was for a smartphone app called “Portwatch.” The problem is that Chief Boyd allegedly didn’t reveal that he was going to receive that kickback.

Adding to his woes are tax charges. Chief Boyd is alleged not to have filed tax returns from 2008 to 2011 for his security business and to have substantially underreported income on his personal tax returns from 2007 to 2011.

Chief Boyd will be surrendering to authorities this coming week.

Bozo Tax Tip #5: Ignoring California

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Perhaps I should call this Bozo Tax Tip “Forming a California Trust.” Why? Let me explain.

Let’s assume John and Jane, two California residents, form a trust to benefit their children, Ann and Bob. Ann lives in Florida; Bob resides in California. The trust is an irrevocable trust, so it files its own tax return (a Form 1041). The income to the beneficiaries is reported on Schedule K-1s. Ann is surprised and calls her accountant when she receives both a federal K-1 and a California K-1.

The issue is simple: The trust is a California trust, so the income is California-source. California requires that a Schedule K-1 for Form 541 (California’s trust tax return) be included. Yes, Ann must pay California tax on the income. Ann’s CPA called me and asked me why I included the K-1 from California. My response was succinct: I have to and Ann has to pay the tax.

California’s desire to have anyone and everyone pay California tax has led to many trusts relocating to Nevada (which has no state income tax) and other trust-friendly states. California isn’t one of those states. Ann’s parents, John and Jane, could have formed the trust in Nevada but because they didn’t Ann is stuck in the Hotel California. You can check out any time but you can never leave.

Ignoring the California K-1 is a Bozo idea. Instead of just paying tax, you will get the joy of paying tax, penalties, and interest. If your parents are in California and thinking of forming a trust to benefit you, it may be worth your time to talk about Nevada to them. Otherwise, welcome to the Hotel California.

Bozo Tax Tip #6: Nevada Corporations

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

As we continue with our Bozo Tax Tips–things you absolutely, positively shouldn’t do but somewhere someone will try anyway–it’s time for an old favorite. Given the business and regulatory climate in California, lots of businesses are trying to escape taxes by becoming a Nevada business entity. While I’m focusing on California and Nevada, the principle applies to any pair of states.

Nevada is doing everything it can to draw businesses from California. Frankly, California is doing a lot to draw businesses away from the Bronze Golden State. But just like last year you need to beware if you’re going to incorporate in Nevada.

If the corporation operates in California it will need to file a California tax return. Period. It doesn’t matter if the corporation is a California corporation, a Delaware corporation, or a Nevada corporation.

Now, if you’re planning on moving to Nevada forming a business entity in the Silver State can be a very good idea (as I know). But thinking you’re going to avoid California taxes just because you’re a Nevada entity is, well, bozo.

Gilbert Hyatt Loses in Federal Court

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A federal court in Sacramento ruled against inventor Gilbert Hyatt last week. Mr. Hyatt is involved in a 22-year old battle with California’s Franchise Tax Board (the state’s income tax agency). This all stems over when Mr. Hyatt moved to Las Vegas, and that seven month difference has resulted in a case that has already made it once to the US Supreme Court.

The underlying issue is a residency audit of Mr. Hyatt to discover when he moved to Nevada. Did he move at the end of September 1991 or April 1992? At audit, the FTB ruled it was April (leading to an additional $7.4 million of income tax owed to California). Mr. Hyatt appealed to the California Board of Equalization. That appeal remains unresolved and that got Mr. Hyatt upset.

He filed a federal court case in Sacramento demanding that the appeal be heard. The Court dismissed the case; Mr. Hyatt will appeal. Meanwhile, later this year I expect the retrial of Mr. Hyatt’s intentional infliction of emotional distress damage award against the FTB for committing fraud against him. Last year, the Nevada Supreme Court threw out most of a $500 million verdict for Mr. Hyatt, but did leave $1.4 million of damages (based on the FTB committing fraud) and ordered a retrial on the IIED damages related to the fraud.

Taxes Impacting the Giants

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

The San Francisco Giants have been one of baseball’s more successful teams; they’re the current world champions. But they haven’t been as freewheeling in spending money as other teams. Their General Manager blames California taxes.

The top tax rate for California is 13.3%, and it kicks in at $1 million of income. As you can imagine, most major league baseball players earn far more than that. In an interview with Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, GM Brian Sabean stated:

“To entice a free agent to come to San Francisco, we’re almost in an overpay situation, so why get involved in all those battles where you’re not going to be able to go up the totem pole money-wise?” Sabean said.

When asked to elaborate on why the Giants have to overpay, Sabean said, “You’ve got the state of California taxes.” …Asked if the high California income tax has been a problem for a while, Sabean said, “To a certain extent. Things now are getting more and more about the signing bonus, more and more about your take-home. Exponentially, when you get involved in some of those numbers, it makes a sizable difference to some.”

There’s an obvious implication here: the big spending Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have inflated their salaries to cover high state taxes. Jon Lester, this year’s biggest free agent signee, ended up with the Chicago Cubs. Illinois’ income tax is now down to 3.75%; that’s a lot lower than California. This may be good news for Cubs fans like me.

California at Bottom of Small Business Entrepreneurship Rankings

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

While I was on vacation, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council released its 19th annual “Small Business Policy Index 2014: Ranking the States on Policy Measures and Costs Impacting Small Business and Entrepreneurship.” (Hat Tip: Joe Kristan) The listing measures the costs, both in taxes and regulations, on small businesses. As noted in the report,

Some elected officials, policymakers and special interests believe that taxes, regulations and other governmental costs can be increased with impunity. Economic reality tells a different story. Ever-mounting burdens placed on entrepreneurs and small businesses by government negatively affect economic opportunity. People go where economic opportunity is, in turn, bringing more opportunity with them. The “Small Business Policy Index” tries to make clear the relative governmental burdens placed on entrepreneurship among the states, so that business owners and their employees, elected officials and citizens in general can better grasp the competitive position of their respective states.

Here’s the listing of the best states:

1. South Dakota
2. Nevada
3. Texas
4. Wyoming
5. Florida
6. Washington
7. Alabama
8. Indiana
9. Colorado
10. North Dakota

And here are the bottom ten:

41. Connecticut
42. Maine
43. Iowa
44. Oregon
45. Vermont
46. Minnesota
47. Hawaii
48. New York
49. New Jersey
50. California

In looking at the actual factors, California is near the bottom on most tax and regulation rankings. (interestingly, California had the best score on unemployment tax.) Contrast that with Nevada, which doesn’t have a state personal income tax, doesn’t have a corporate income tax, and doesn’t have the regulatory burden of California. It’s no wonder that Nevada ranks higher than California.

The 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index: Not Much Has Changed

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

I guess I could have called this, “Bring me the usual suspects,” but I’ve been using that phrase over and over. Yet not much has changed, so the usual suspects have good tax climates and the usual suspects have bad tax climates. That’s according to the Tax Foundation and their 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index.

Let’s look at the ten best states for business:

1. Wyoming
2. South Dakota
3. Nevada
4. Alaska
5. Florida
6. Montana
7. New Hampshire
8. Indiana
9. Utah
10. Texas

This list is remarkably similar to last year. The only state dropping out is Washington. The Evergreen state fell from 6th best to 11th; it was hurt by its sales tax ranking (48) and corporate tax ranking (28). While Washington does not have an individual or corporate income tax, it does have a Business & Occupation Tax. That’s a gross receipts tax on business income.

The bottom ten is also mostly unchanged:

41. Iowa
42. Connecticut
43. Wisconsin
44. Ohio
45. Rhode Island
46. Vermont
47. Minnesota
48. California
49. New York
50. New Jersey

Why are states ranked poorly? Here’s what the Tax Foundation says:

The states in the bottom ten suffer from the same afflictions: complex, non-neutral taxes with comparatively high rates. New Jersey, for example, suffers from some of the highest property tax burdens in the country, is one of just two states to levy both an inheritance and an estate tax, and maintains some of the worst structured individual income taxes in the country.

Maryland and North Carolina rose out of the bottom ten, while Iowa and Ohio fell into the bottom ten. North Carolina’s improvement was dramatic: from 44th to 16th. Why?

In this year’s edition, North Carolina has improved dramatically from 44th place last year to 16th place this year, the single largest rank jump in the history of the Index. The state improved its score in the corporate, individual, and sales tax components of the Index, and as the reform package continues to phase in, the state is projected to continue climbing the rankings.

As for why states rank where they do, consider my old home of California. The Bronze Golden State has complex taxes for individuals (it ranks worst in the country), corporations, and also has a complex sales tax system. If the Tax Foundation looked at flow-thru entities, California would rank even worse. In most states a single-member LLC does not have a state tax filing requirement. That’s not the case in California.

Kudos to the Tax Foundation for their annual report. It’s clear that policy makers do read this report. North Carolina saw drastic improvement. There’s improvement forthcoming in New York, with a major corporate tax reform implemented this year which should have a dramatic impact on at least one New York tax in the future.

Copying Steven Martinez’s Idea Is Not a Good Choice

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

I’m on the road this weekend, but a story from the San Francisco Bay Area caught my eye. Charles Waldo was already in jail. He was arrested on a 50-count indictment for insurance fraud, tax evasion, felony vandalism, and a high speed chase through central Costa Contra County. While awaiting trial, Mr. Waldo was in the Martinez, California jail.

When you’re in prison you do have time on your hands to determine your defense. There’s plenty of time to research the law on the charges you’re facing, work on strategy with your defense counsel, and perhaps other means of helping your case. Mr. Waldo allegedly decided to follow the idea of Steven Martinez. Mr. Martinez, for those who don’t remember, won the coveted 2012 Tax Offender of the Year award for hiring a hit man to eliminate the witnesses against him. Yes, Mr. Waldo supposedly did the same thing.

Mr. Waldo was indicted on Friday on nine counts of solicitation to commit murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. According to the press release from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office,

The indictment alleges that while serving time in custody at the Martinez Detention Facility, the defendant solicited and conspired with other inmates to arrange the killing of nine different witnesses that were set to testify against him at an upcoming trial. These ten new charges will be added to the fifty charges the defendant currently faces.

There is one bright spot for Mr. Waldo if he is found guilty and spends a very lengthy term at a California penal institution: He’s a shoe-in to be nominated for Tax Offender of the Year in a future year.

California Mandates E-Filing of Business Returns

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

The California legislature passed a law mandating e-filing of most business returns beginning with 2014 returns filed in 2015. This legislation was signed into law. Exemptions are available but must be requested from the Franchise Tax Board. Although not mentioned in the law, presumably a return that fails in e-filing (is rejected by the FTB) would also be allowed to be paper filed.

The exemptions that are available are for technology issues and other items that constitute “reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” A penalty of $100 for an initial failure is in the law, with repeated violations being charged $500. The requirement applies to C-Corporations, S-Corporations, partnerships, LLCs, and exempt organizations.

There is one major issue with the law that I see: Most tax software today does not allow for electronic filing of a single-member LLC return (a disregarded entity). While there is no federal return for such an entity, California does require the return to be filed (and an $800 annual fee be paid). California also does not have its own online system to e-file business returns. My software currently does not have the ability to e-file a California single-member LLC return. I’ll be asking my software provider about this…but not until after October 15th.

Hyatt Decision a Win for FTB as Far as Damages, but Decision Upheld that FTB Committed Fraud

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Nevada Supreme Court released its decision today in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt. The decision is definitely a win for the FTB as far as damages; however, the Court upheld that the FTB committed fraud against Mr. Hyatt and the damage award for fraud. Overall, some portions of the District Court decision were reversed, other portions were upheld, and still other portions were remanded for more proceedings.

First, for those who want to read more than the summary I’m going to present, I strongly recommend reading the opinion. It’s quite readable though long (it runs 68 pages). That it runs this long for a unanimous decision just goes to show how lengthy this litigation has been.

As for the decision:
1. The Court upheld that the FTB is not immune to lawsuits for intentional torts and bad-faith conduct. Thus, Mr. Hyatt’s lawsuit has basis in law.

2. Most of Mr. Hyatt’s claims fail, though, as a matter of law. There are two exceptions: fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). Those claims are valid as far as law per the Nevada Supreme Court.

3. The Court upheld the jury’s finding that the FTB made false representation to Mr. Hyatt, and upholds the award of $1,085,281.56 of damages.

4. The Court upheld the jury’s finding that the FTB committed IIED. However, the damages were not upheld. This has been remanded back to the District Court for a new trial on the amount of damages committed against Mr. Hyatt.

5. The Court ruled that “Because punitive damages would not be available against a Nevada government entity, we hold, under comity principles, that FTB is immune from punitive damages.” This is a huge win for the FTB, as $250 million of punitive damages were awarded at trial.

6. The FTB should look at this result and realize the egg on their face…but probably won’t.

1. The Court gives an excellent history of the case, and its winding road to the US Supreme Court and back to the District Court for trial. There are still more trials to come besides the remand proceedings. Mr. Hyatt’s appeal of the FTB’s rulings against him has still not been heard in California. Additionally, Mr. Hyatt sued the FTB in federal district court in Sacramento alleging that the FTB has deprived him of his constitutional rights.

The FTB first again challenged whether or not Mr. Hyatt could sue the FTB. There is a legal principle called “comity.” Generally, under comity, “…[A] forum state may give effect to the laws and judicial decisions of another state based in part on deference and respect for the other state, but only so long as the other state’s laws are not contrary to the policies of the forum state.” The FTB loses here:

Because we conclude that discretionary-function immunity under NRS 41.032 does not include intentional torts and bad-faith conduct, a Nevada government agency would not receIve immunity under these circumstances, and thus, we do not extend such immunity to FTB under comity principles, as to do so would be contrary to the policy of this state.

2. The Court then looked at the torts that Mr. Hyatt alleged the FTB committed. “Hyatt brought three invasion of privacy causes of action-intrusion upon seclusion, publicity of private facts, and false light-and additional causes of action for breach of confidential relationship, abuse of process, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Mr. Hyatt loses the intrusion upon seclusion and publicity of private facts because the facts that the FTB released (his personal confidential information including his social security number) were in the public domain previously.

The FTB next challenges whether there is a “false light” tort. The Nevada Supreme Court says that there is such a tort. The FTB also appeals arguing that Mr. Hyatt did not present any evidence that anyone thought he was a ‘tax cheat’ based on the litigation list published by the FTB or the FTB’s third-party contacts.

The record before us reveals that no evidence presented by Hyatt in the underlying suit supported the jury’s conclusion that FTB portrayed Hyatt in a false light. Because Hyatt has failed to establish a false light claim, we reverse the district court’s judgment on this claim. [citation omitted]

The FTB argues that there cannot be a breach of a confidential relationship because there was no such relationship. The Court looked at what causes a confidential relationship as far as a tort.

But in conducting the audits, FTB was not required to act with Hyatt’s interests in mind; rather, it had a duty to proceed on behalf of the state of California’s interest. Moreover, the parties’ relationship was not akin to a family or business relationship. Hyatt argues for a broad range of relationships that can meet the requirement under Perry, but we reject this contention. Perry does not provide for so expansive a relationship as Hyatt asks us to recognize as sufficient to establish a claim for a breach of confidential relationship. Thus, FTB and Hyatt’s relationship cannot form the basis for a breach of a confidential relationship cause of action, and this cause of action fails as a matter of law. The district court judgment in Hyatt’s favor on this claim is reversed. [citations and footnotes omitted]

The FTB then challenges the abuse of process tort. The FTB asserted that there can’t be abuse of process as the FTB did not use the judicial process. The Court agreed:

Because FTB did not use any legal enforcement process, such as filing a court action, in relation to its demands for information or otherwise during the audits, Hyatt cannot meet the requirements for establishing an abuse of process claim.

3. The next tort was fraud. “To prove a fraud claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant made a false representation that the defendant knew or believed was false, that the defendant intended to persuade the plaintiff to act or not act based on the representation, and that the plaintiff had reason to rely on the representation and suffered damages.”

The FTB argued that its statements to Mr. Hyatt that it would provide him with “courteous treatment” and keep his information confidential weren’t sufficient basis for a fraud claim, and even if that was sufficient there wasn’t any evidence that such representations were false when made. On the other hand, Mr. Hyatt claims that the FTB misrepresented their promises.

Here, the Court ruled in favor of Mr. Hyatt.

The record before us shows that a reasonable mind could conclude that FTB made specific representations to Hyatt that it intended for Hyatt to rely on, but which it did not intend to fully meet. FTB represented to Hyatt that it would protect his confidential information and treat him courteously. At trial, Hyatt presented evidence that FTB disclosed his social security number and home address to numerous people and entities and that FTB revealed to third parties that Hyatt was being audited.

There’s more here, and I’ll get to this in my views (below, in #6).

The FTB then argued that there should be a limit on the damages based on fraud (based on the FTB being immune from fraud in California and there being certain limits in Nevada), while Mr. Hyatt argues that the FTB isn’t entitled to any caps on damages. The Court agreed with Mr. Hyatt:

This state’s policy interest in providing adequate redress to Nevada citizens is paramount to providing FTB a statutory cap on damages under comity. Therefore, as we conclude that allowing FTB a statutory cap would violate this state’s public policy in this area, comity does not require this court to grant FTB such relief. As this is the only argument FTB raised in regard to the special damages awarded under the fraud cause of action, we affirm the amount of damages awarded for fraud. [citation omitted]

4. The court then looked at intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). The FTB argued that because Mr. Hyatt didn’t provide any medical evidence, he can’t claim IIED. Mr. Hyatt disagreed, and that given that he was severely harmed that the proof level can be less than medical records. The Court agreed with Mr. Hyatt, and that this case was on the more extreme end of the scale:

As explained above in discussing the fraud claim, FTB disclosed personal information that it promised to keep confidential and delayed resolution of Hyatt’s protests for 11 years, resulting in a daily interest charge of $8,000. Further, Hyatt presented testimony that the auditor who conducted the majority of his two audits made disparaging remarks about Hyatt and his religion, was determined to impose tax assessments against him, and that FTB fostered an environment in which the imposition of tax assessments was the objective whenever an audit was undertaken…

In support of his lIED claim, Hyatt presented testimony from three different people as to the how the treatment from FTB caused Hyatt emotional distress and physically affected him. This included testimony of how Hyatt’s mood changed dramatically, that he became distant and much less involved in various activities, started drinking heavily, suffered severe migraines and had stomach problems, and became obsessed with the legal issues involving FTB. We conclude that this evidence, in connection with the severe treatment experienced by Hyatt, provided sufficient evidence from which a jury could reasonably determine that Hyatt suffered severe emotional distress.

However, the damage award for this claim was not upheld, and the Court remanded the case back to the District Court for a new trial on the damages. The Court concluded that there was evidentiary and jury instruction errors.

5. The FTB appealed whether punitive damages are allowed. “FTB argues that it is entitled to immunity from punitive damages based on comity because, like Nevada, California law has expressly waived such damages against its government entities. California law provides full immunity from punitive damages for its government agencies.” The Court finds that comity warrants that the FTB be immune from punitive damages:

The broad allowance for punitive damages under NRS 42.005 does not authorize punitive damages against a government entity. Further, under comity principles, we afford FTB the protections of California immunity to the same degree as we would provide immunity to a Nevada government entity as outlined in NRS 41.035(1). Thus, Hyatt’s argument that Nevada law provides for the award of punitive damages against FTB is unpersuasive. Because punitive damages would not be available against a Nevada government entity, we hold that under comity principles FTB is immune from punitive damages. We therefore reverse the portion of the district court’s judgment awarding punitive damages against FTB.

6. My thoughts: If I as a tax professional were to conduct myself in the manner that the FTB did, I would almost certainly be liable for truckloads of damages and would lose my license. Consider that the Nevada Supreme Court called the conduct of the FTB “extreme.” Consider also that at trial the FTB called its conduct typical:

Tax agents rummaged through his trash without warrants, visited business partners and doctors, and shared his Social Security Number and other personal information with the media. This is outrageous behavior and I call on the FTB to rein in their agents. What really galled me is the FTB testified in open court that this level of harassment was only a typical audit. If true, then the stormtroopers are alive and well at the FTB.

The author of the above quote, Bill Leonard, knows what he’s talking about. He’s a former member of the California Board of Equalization, the California tax agency which hears appeals from the FTB. There really isn’t much to add to that description. But let me include the entire text of what the Nevada Supreme Court wrote in affirming that the FTB committed fraud:

The record before us shows that a reasonable mind could conclude that FTB made specific representations to Hyatt that it intended for Hyatt to rely on, but which it did not intend to fully meet. FTB represented to Hyatt that it would protect his confidential information and treat him courteously. At trial, Hyatt presented evidence that FTB disclosed his social security number and home address to numerous people and entities and that FTB revealed to third parties that Hyatt was being audited. In addition, FTB sent letters concerning the 1991 audit to several doctors with the same last name, based on its belief that one of those doctors provided Hyatt treatment, but without first determining which doctor actually treated Hyatt before sending the correspondence. Furthermore, Hyatt showed that FTB took 11 years to resolve Hyatt’s protests of the two audits. Hyatt alleged that this delay resulted in $8,000 in interest per day accruing against him for the outstanding taxes owed to California. Also at trial, Hyatt presented evidence through Candace Les, a former FTB auditor and friend of the main auditor on Hyatt’s audit, Sheila Cox, that Cox had made disparaging comments about Hyatt and his religion, that Cox essentially was intent on imposing an assessment against Hyatt, and that FTB promoted a culture in which tax assessments were the end goal whenever an audit was undertaken. Hyatt also testified that he would not have hired legal and accounting professionals to assist in the audits had he known how he would be treated. Moreover, Hyatt stated that he incurred substantial costs that he would not otherwise have incurred by paying for professional representatives to assist him during the audits.

The only solution to such behavior by tax agencies is the “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander rule.” If a tax agency (or its employees) commits fraud against a taxpayer, the tax agency should be held liable. I urge California voters to rescind the blanket liability protection that tax agencies have. The actions of the FTB show it’s not warranted.

For Mr. Hyatt, the case will head back to Las Vegas for another trial (most likely next year) followed by, almost certainly, another appeal.