Saturday, July 13, 2013

Can A Land Fill Make A Charitable Donation?

I have a client on extension for their individual tax return. They donated real estate last year. I am waiting on an appraisal and a signed Form 8283 before sending in the return.  

Charitable contributions have become a “gotcha” area for the IRS. The rules border on the insane. Does it make sense to you that I need a letter from the charity for donations over $250 even if I have a cancelled check? The IRS will accept a cancelled check as proof of a travel expense or of a child-care payment, but not for proof of a donation. Fail to follow their rules and you may lose the deduction altogether.

Sure enough, someone thought they followed the rules. Let’s go through the story of Boone Operations.

Boone Operations owned a landfill (Speedway). Right next to them, the city of Tucson (Arizona) also owned a landfill (Tucson). Both were surrounded by commercial and residential development. 

Tucson must have been a mess. The flare in its collection system kept going out and water kept collecting because of poor drainage. Tucson stopped accepted waste materials, but there were issues closing the place down. The neighbors howled; hearings were held. Douglas Kennedy (Kennedy), Boone’s owner, was concerned that Tucson was going to drag him down. He offered to help. In 1996 the two parties were happy and holding hands. Boone agreed to:

·        Share the cost of an interim gas system
·        Negotiate a permanent gas system
·        Cooperate to extend Boone’s aquifer permit to Tucson

You also had the following text in an agreement the attorneys drew up:

6.  Acceptable Waste Fill and Soil Fill
[Boone] agrees to provide [Tucson] with, and [Tucson] agrees to accept, acceptable waste fill and soil.
6.1 Placement of Acceptable Waste Fill
Boone shall, at no cost to [Tucson], fill the *** with acceptable waste to the approved final grades.

Seems clear: Boone will provide waste fill.

The promising relationship between Boone and Tucson soon soured:

·        6/99 - Boone places waste on Tucson to comply with agreement
·        10/99 – the Department of Solid Waste Management wants to know why Boone placed waste on Tucson
·        11/99 – Tucson wants Boone to remove the waste  
·         03/00 – Boone sues Tucson for $20 million
·        04/01 – Tucson provides Boone a settlement offer
·        09/01  -  Tucson files civil and criminal charges
·        04/02 – Boone files with the Superior Court

Shame. They seemed like such a nice couple.

Anyway, in December 2002, they settle. Tucson agreed to a number of things, including (a) paying $450,000 for Boone to construct drainage, (b) helping with easements and (c) releasing Boone and Mr. Kennedy from lawsuits.

And then the magic words:

8.1 Prior Contribution.  [Tucson] acknowledges that as of the date of the Settlement Memorandum, it had accepted Boone’s charitable contribution of 95,000 cubic yards of Acceptable Fill.

8.2 Future Contribution.  Boone agrees to make another charitable contribution of an additional 105,000 cubic yards of Acceptable Fill.

To the uninitiated, it appears that Boone has made a contribution of 200,000 cubic yards of Acceptable Fill to Tucson, don’t you think?

Boone files tax returns showing a donation of $449,000 for one year and $706,000 for another.

The IRS disallows the deductions. It has two arguments:
(1)  Boone failed to obtain contemporaneous written acknowledgement.
(2)  Boone received significant cash and noncash consideration and failed to prove that the value of the fill provided exceeded the consideration received.

The IRS argued that a written acknowledgement must include the following magic words:

·        The amount of cash and a description (but not value) of any property other than cash contributed.
·        Whether the donee organization provided any goods or services in consideration, in whole or part, for any property described.
·        A description and good faith estimate of the value of any goods and services received, or, if such goods and services consist solely of intangible religious benefits, a statement to that effect.

What does Boone have? The Settlement Agreement from December 2002. Without the magic words, however, Boone does not have “written acknowledgement.”  Since the donation was over $250, no deduction is allowed without written acknowledgement.

The Court then went on the argument (2). It went through the appraisal process in painstaking detail. There appear to have been significant errors in the appraiser’s calculations, for example, leading to an overvaluation of the donated fill. The Court also pointed out that Boone and Mr. Kennedy were released from a potential lawsuit. That release could have a value. If so, should that value be taken into account?

I question why the Court did this. The Court had already disallowed the deduction for lack of written acknowledgement. Why keep going?

My thinking? The Court expects a challenge on issue [1], and it thinks it could be reversed by a superior court. The Court therefore kept going, reasoning that if was reversed on issue [1] it would be sustained on [2].

You know how this turned out: the Tax Court disallowed the charitable deductions under both arguments.

COMMENT: Please do not mess with IRS in this area. If you are thinking about a significant donation of anything other than cash, please call your tax advisor first.  Get your papers lined up and do not play “gotcha” with the IRS.

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