ILNews

IBA: The Corporate Veil Wears Thin with the IRS

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
By Adam D. Christensen, Dutton Legal Group LLC
 

christensen-adam-mug.jpg Christensen

The legal metaphor “corporate veil” is doubly a tantalizing legal term of art and an effective marketing tool to illustrate to potential clients the benefits of corporate formation.

But attorneys and their clients should not rely on this emblematic security blanket because the country’s most notorious creditor, the Internal Revenue Service, can slice it to shreds with devastating ease.

Section 6672 of the Internal Revenue Code authorizes the IRS to assess the Trust Fund Recovery Penalty (“TFRP”) against any responsible owner, officer, or other party responsible for collecting, accounting, or paying taxes held in trust by a business. The most common corporate trust fund taxes are employment taxes – withholdings and employee shares of Medicare and FICA – excise taxes, and sales taxes.

The amount of the TFRP is equal to the total trust taxes the business collected but willfully failed to turn over to the IRS. Depending on how far behind the business was on its trust fund taxes, the assessment can easily reach six figures or more.

As is the case with most IRS penalty assessments, “willfulness” is broadly defined to include truly nefarious actions (absconding to Tahiti with the taxes) and comparatively innocuous ones (using the taxes to pay other business liabilities such as wages themselves).

To review, the concept behind the “corporate veil” is that owners and officers of an incorporated entity (Inc., LLC, LLP, etc.) can shield themselves from personal liability for even the business’s willful actions, including contract defaults, most torts, and failure to pay debts, including taxes. When a lawsuit is filed against the business that includes its owners/officers as individual defendants, the daunting burden to “pierce the corporate veil” lies with the plaintiff. This burden is so great that, realistically, only plaintiffs with means or evidence of owner/officer malfeasance will be able to keep the individual defendants from being dismissed.

However, the IRS does not have to overcome this burden to assess the TFRP. This could mean massive personal liability assessments against owners, officers, and even accountants and corporate counsel, who exert control over the taxes held in trust by the business. Here is where the “corporate veil” unravels quickly.

When a business fail to pay its trust fund tax liabilities, an IRS Revenue Officer can be assigned to investigate in as little as 60 days. Once contacted by the Revenue Officer, the business will have a brief opportunity to pay its debts in full, usually 30 days. If it cannot, the Officer will move forward with TFRP assessment.

First, interviews are held between the Revenue Officer and any person involved in the operations of the business. Typically, this includes all business owners and officers. However, the IRS will also seek to assess the TFRP against in-house accountants and attorneys who exhibit “significant control” over the business’s finances. Indeed, in sole proprietorships and closely-held business, the IRS may demand to interview owner/officer spouses, even if the spouse is not affiliated with the business.

Though counsel may represent any individual at the TFRP interview, the IRS will insist on a face-to-face or telephone interview with the alleged responsible party. If the individual fails to agree to this arrangement, the IRS will use its summons authority to compel the individual’s participation.

If the Revenue Officer finds sufficient evidence to assess the TFRP against one or more individuals, the IRS will issue Letter 1153, giving the parties 90 days to petition the United States Tax Court to appeal the assessment. If no appeal is filed, the TFRP is assessed on day 91.

To be clear, no new liability is assessed by the TFRP. Rather, a portion of the business’s liability is shifted to the responsible individuals. However, to the blindsided business owner, this is small comfort given the federal tax liens that may be filed and the potential for IRS levy and garnishment actions. Even if the business closes, the TFRP remains. What’s more, the TFRP, unlike some personal income tax debts, is not dischargeable in a bankruptcy.

Despite the veil’s assumed protections, the only cure for the TFRP is to negotiate a payment plan with the IRS collections department to pay the underlying debt as well as the penalty, a painful process without a catchy metaphor.•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

ADVERTISEMENT