An Amicus Brief on Behalf of the Commissioner in Altera

Susie Morse (Texas) and Steve Shay (Harvard) recently blogged on Procedurally Taxing about the amicus brief they spearheaded and in which I joined, along with Dick Harvey, Ruth Mason, and Bret Wells. The brief, which is available on SSRN, is one of two amicus briefs arguing in favor of the Commissioner’s position before the Ninth Circuit in Altera Corp. v. Commissioner.

In Altera, the U.S. Tax Court invalidated under section 706(2)(A) of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) a transfer-pricing regulation–Treas. Reg.  § 1.482-7(d)(2)(2003)–on the ground that the regulation was arbitrary and capricious. The regulation required commonly controlled taxpayers wishing to benefit from a safe harbor applicable to cost-sharing agreements to include stock-based compensation as an expense. The Tax Court found that requirement arbitrary and capricious because of evidence Treasury received in the notice-and-comment process that parties not under common control did not share stock-based compensation costs.

Our brief argues in part that, as Treasury stated in the Preamble to the regulation, cost-sharing agreements between uncontrolled parties are not sufficiently comparable to controlled-party transactions to constitute reliable evidence under the standards of Code section 482. In a nutshell, that is because (1) stock-based compensation is an economic cost, (2) transacting parties can adjust another provision of their agreement to achieve the same result, and (3) unrelated parties might prefer not to take on the risk of a counterparty’s stock–a concern that doesn’t arise in controlled-party transactions. The brief argues that Treasury’s actions, including its explanation in the Preamble, were sufficient as a matter of administrative law. Susie and Steve’s excellent blog post on Procedurally Taxing provides more detail.

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