As previously reported by Ropes & Gray, on July 24, 2018, the Ninth Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s prior decision in the Altera case and upheld the IRS regulation requiring the allocation of stock-based compensation in qualified cost-sharing agreements. The decision was particularly notable since it ended in a 2-1 vote, in which Judge Reinhardt, who passed away in March 2018, cast the deciding vote. Late last week, the Ninth Circuit appointed a new judge, Susan Graber, to replace Judge Reinhardt under a local procedural order mandating that the court clerk randomly draw a replacement judge upon the death of any panel member. However, in lieu of awaiting any motions for rehearing, today the Ninth Circuit withdrew its opinion “to allow time for the reconstituted panel to confer on this appeal.” Since a withdrawn decision has no legal effect and the decision of the court could change, affected taxpayers who have not already taken action in response to the decision should consider watching and waiting for a new opinion to be issued before taking any further action. To read today’s order, click here.
In an unexpected 2-1 decision, Judge Reinhardt, who passed away in March of this past year, cast the Ninth Circuit’s deciding vote to reverse the Tax Court’s prior ruling in Altera. In 2015, the Tax Court invalidated Treasury Regulation 1.482-7A(d)(2)’s requirement that related parties allocate stock-based compensation costs when entering into cost-sharing agreements to develop intangible assets. The Tax Court’s decision in Altera centered on the IRS’s failure to support the regulation with examples of unrelated parties sharing stock-based compensation costs (comparable uncontrolled transactions). This failure was fatal, according to Judge Marvel of the Tax Court, because to require related taxpayers to share stock-based compensation absent any evidence of similar behavior by unrelated parties would mean the regulation did not seek parity between these groups of taxpayers, contrary to the long-standing arm’s-length principle for transfer pricing. As a result, the Tax Court held that the regulation did not meet the reasoned decision-making standard in the State Farm Supreme Court case.
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