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Tax Roundup, 12/10/15: No basis for you! 9th Circuit rules against taxpayer in demutualization case.

Thursday, December 10th, 2015 by Joe Kristan

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Demutualization debacle. A favorable decision for taxpayers who have received insurance company shares in demutualizations was overturned yesterday. A divided three-judge panel in the Ninth Circuit ruled that a taxpayer had no basis to shares of five mutual insurance companies that converted to stock companies. That means all proceeds from a sale of the shares is treated as capital gain.

Principal Mutual in Des Moines demutualized in 2001.

The court held that the taxpayers, a Mr. and Mrs. Dorrance, paid nothing for their shares:

Treating the premiums as payment for membership rights would be inconsistent with the Code’s provisions related to insurance premiums. For example, gross premiums paid to purchase a policy are allocated as income to the insurance company; no portion is carved out as a capital contribution. See I.R.C. §§ 803(a)(1), 118. On the flip side, the policyholder is allowed to deduct the “aggregate amount of premiums” paid upon receipt of a dividend or cash-surrender value. I.R.C. § 72(e). No amount is carved out as an investment in membership rights. The taxpayer can’t have it both ways — a tax-free exchange with zero basis and then an increased basis upon sale of the stock.

The district court skipped a critical step by examining the value of the mutual rights without evidence of whether the Dorrances paid anything to first acquire them. The basis inquiry is concerned with the latter question. The district court also erred when it estimated basis by using the stock price at the time of demutualization rather than calculating basis at the time the policies were acquired. The stock value post-demutualization is not the same as the cost at purchase…

This analysis brings us back to the Dorrances’ burden and the economic realities of this case. Because the Dorrances offer nothing to show payment for their stake in the membership rights, as opposed to premium payments for the underlying insurance coverage, the IRS properly rejected their refund claim.

The Ninth Circuit ruling creates a conflict among different appellate courts on the proper treatment of shares of demutualized insurers.   A 2008 Federal Circuit decision upheld a Claims Court ruling that basis should be assigned to demutualized shares under an “open transaction” approach. That sets up a possible Supreme Court decision to resolve the split.

For now, expect the many pending refund claims for gains arising from demutualization transactions to remain unpaid indefinitely.

Cite: Dorrance, CA-9, No. 13-16548.

Background: Roger McEowen, Tax Impact of Demutualization – The Saga Continues

 

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Programming note: The site was down as a result of technical difficulties this morning, accounting for the brevity of today’s update. Order has been restored; apologies for the inconvenience.

 

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