1. Skip to navigation
  2. Skip to content
  3. Skip to sidebar

There’s A Litigation App For That?

We were intrigued to learn that KosInteractive LLC has created the U.S. “Fed Courts” app for Android and Apple devices which contains helpful information about U.S. federal courts rules of procedure and court information. The app provides access to the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database, and the procedural rules for appellate, bankruptcy, civil, and criminal proceedings. The federal rules of evidence and the U.S. Supreme Court procedural rules are also available. One drawback – the information isn’t searchable or indexed with hyperlinks.

In any event, there seems to be no Canadian equivalent for litigation or procedural apps.

A quick search in the Apple iTunes stores for “Canada tax” returns 54 results, including an array of federal and provincial tax calculators. ”Canada courts” returns five items, including apps related to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, mortgage foreclosures, U.S. Miranda warnings, and a car dealership. A search for “Ontario civil procedure” returns one item, and “Canada tax court” returns zero items.

We are reminded of the very helpful event app developed by the Canadian Tax Foundation that has become a regular feature of the Foundation’s national and regional conferences.

We are confident that Canadian tax professionals would welcome a broader array of court and litigation procedure apps that would provide mobile access to most or all of the court and procedural information we’re stuffing into our oversized litigation bags.

, ,

There’s A Litigation App For That?

The Crown Succeeds on a Motion to Strike a Portion of the Taxpayer’s Pleading: Golini v. The Queen

In Paul C. Golini v. The Queen (2013 TCC 293) the Tax Court of Canada agreed to strike out portions of a taxpayer’s pleading suggesting that a protective reassessment issued by the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) was invalid.

In June 2012, the CRA informed the taxpayer that his 2008 income tax return had been selected for an audit. In the following months, both parties continued to correspond and exchange information. In August 2012, the CRA asked the taxpayer to provide a waiver extending the limitation period to reassess the 2008 taxation year. The taxpayer declined to do so.

In September 2012, the Minister reassessed the taxpayer and informed him that the reassessment was a “protective reassessment;” supporting documentation would be provided upon completion of the audit.

The Crown brought a motion to strike out the allegation that the reassessment was invalid. The taxpayer contended that a “protective reassessment” was inconsistent with the assessing provisions of the Income Tax Act as it was issued solely to allow the Minister additional time to complete an audit.

The Tax Court judge looked to Karda v. HMQ (2006 FCA 238) for guidance on the issue. In that case, the Federal Court of Appeal held that the Minister may issue a protective reassessment where a taxpayer declines to provide a waiver so long as the CRA has completed “some review” and has requested further information. The Tax Court judge held that:

There is no law . . . to the effect that a protective assessment is invalid if issued for the sole purpose of leaving the door open to conduct or continue an audit.

He went on to note that:

. . . the law, I find, is clear that some review by the CRA followed by inquiries for more information and a request for a waiver, subsequently refused, is sufficient for a protective assessment to be a valid assessment. And that is exactly what we have here.

Whenever a taxpayer declines to grant the CRA a waiver, the CRA almost invariably reassesses before the “normal reassessment period” expires.  There is nothing surprising about that.  What is noteworthy here, though, is the willingness of the Tax Court to entertain the Crown’s request to strike out, before trial, an argument put forward by a taxpayer. As we noted in our blog post on the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce v. The Queen:

Parties are generally given the opportunity to make whatever arguments they consider necessary to their case with the ultimate determination being made by the trial judge who is in the best position to decide questions of relevance and weight in light of all the evidence.  It is rather unusual for a legal theory, novel though it is, to be taken off the table at such an early stage.  At the same time, courts are increasingly concerned about “proportionality” and are reluctant to allow scarce judicial resources to be spent on matters that are unlikely to have any effect on the outcome of the hearing.

This decision is, therefore, consistent with recent jurisprudence from the Federal Court of Appeal and should reduce the number of issues to be decided at trial.

, ,

The Crown Succeeds on a Motion to Strike a Portion of the Taxpayer’s Pleading: Golini v. The Queen

Will the Tax Court of Canada entertain a determination of a question of law where the focus is on future assessments?

In Sentinel Hill Productions IV Corporation v. The Queen (2013 TCC 267), Justice Judith Woods of the Tax Court of Canada said no. In so doing, she shed light on the requirements for making an application for a determination of a question of law under Rule 58 of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure).

Rule 58(1) states:

58. (1) A party may apply to the Court,

(a) for the determination, before hearing, of a question of law, a question of fact or a question of mixed law and fact raised by a pleading in a proceeding where the determination of the question may dispose of all or part of the proceeding, substantially shorten the hearing or result in a substantial saving of costs, or

(b) to strike out a pleading because it discloses no reasonable grounds for appeal or for opposing the appeal,

 and the Court may grant judgment accordingly.

The question proposed by the appellants involved the issue of whether notices of determination under subsection 152(1.4) of the Income Tax Act issued in respect of certain partnerships for 2000 and 2001 should be vacated and the appeals allowed on the basis that the Minister subsequently concluded that the partnerships did not exist for these years. Importantly, the Court found that “the focus of the Proposed Question is on whether the Minister of National Revenue is now statute barred from issuing reassessments to partners by virtue of subsection 152(1.8) of the Income Tax Act.” (para. 7)

The Court decided not to allow the Rule 58 application to proceed as it did not meet the two conditions in Rule 58(1)(a). First, the statute-barred issue had not been raised as an issue ”by a pleading”. Second, the proposed question would not have disposed of or shortened the proceeding or saved costs.  Although the validity and correctness of an assessment can be determined by the Tax Court of Canada, the proposed question would have challenged the validity of assessments not yet issued and, therefore, the determination of the question of law (whether the Minister is statute-barred from issuing future assessments) would not have disposed of or shortened the proceeding or saved costs.

, ,

Will the Tax Court of Canada entertain a determination of a question of law where the focus is on future assessments?

Get it right the first time: Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. The Queen

In Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. Queen (2013 TCC 259), the Tax Court of Canada dismissed an application by Newfoundland Transshipment (“NTL”) for an order to extend time to serve notices of objection for its 2002 to 2005 taxation years. The application was filed in 2012, several years after the deadline for serving the objections had expired.

NTL had originally filed its returns for 2002 to 2005 on the basis that its pipeline was a Class 1 asset, with a depreciation rate of 4%.  By the time it filed its 2006 return, it came to the conclusion that the pipeline was a Class 6 asset, with a depreciation rate of 10%. Accordingly, in April 2007, NTL filed amended tax returns for its 2002 to 2005 taxation years reclassifying the pipeline from Class 1 to Class 6 and filed its 2006 to 2010 returns on the basis that the pipeline was a Class 6 asset. In February 2012, the CRA wrote to NTL, refusing to accept the amended filings for 2002 to 2005 and proposing to reassess 2006 to 2010.

In August 2012, NTL asked the Minister to issue notices of reassessment to enable it to serve notices of objection for 2002 to 2005. The Minister responded by saying that the time to serve notices of objection and applications for orders extending time had expired. Section 166.1 of the Income Tax Act allows the Minister to grant an extension of time to serve an objection only if an application is filed within one year after the expiration of the normal 90 day period.

In arguing that its application for an extension of time should be granted, NTL argued that a letter from the CRA in February 2012 rejecting the amended returns constituted a “reassessment”. In the alternative, NTL claimed that it had relied on CRA policy that an amended return was a de facto waiver.

The Tax Court disagreed. In Armstrong v. The Queen (2006 FCA 119), the Federal Court of Appeal held that a request by a taxpayer to amend its return is “merely a request” and need not result in an assessment. In addition, the Tax Court held that it was not bound by a CRA policy and had no jurisdiction to grant an extension of time as the relevant taxation years were statute-barred by the time the taxpayer attempted to serve the objections.

This decision is a useful reminder that, depending on when it is filed, there may be no recourse when an amended return is rejected by the Minister – all the more reason to get it right the first time!

, , ,

Get it right the first time: Newfoundland Transshipment Ltd. v. The Queen

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

In the recent decision in Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (2013 FCA 180), the Federal Court of Appeal considered the scope and purpose of Rule 29(1) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) (the “Rules”).  When a trust ceases to exist during the course of a tax appeal, with tax liability shifting to a new person, may the new person continue the appeal?  The Court answered that question in the affirmative and unanimously held that this scenario falls within the language and intended purpose of Rule 29(1).

In 2011, Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust (the “Trust”) appealed an income tax assessment to the Tax Court of Canada.  In 2012, the Trust transferred all of its assets to Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund, which subsequently transferred the assets to Clearwater Seafoods Incorporated (the “Corporation”).  This transfer occurred in the context of the Trust “converting” to avoid application of the SIFT rules under the Income Tax Act.

At the Tax Court (2012 TCC 186), both parties accepted that the Trust had been terminated as a result of the disposition of all its property; however, this did not automatically bring the income tax appeal to an end.  The issue in Clearwater was whether the tax appeal could be continued with the Corporation as appellant in place of the Trust.  To obtain an order permitting the Corporation to assume the position of appellant going forward, a motion was brought by the Trust pursuant to section 29 of the Rules, which states,

29 (1) Where at any stage of a proceeding the interest or liability of a person who is a party to a proceeding in the Court is transferred or transmitted to another person by assignment, bankruptcy, death or other means, no other proceedings shall be instituted until the Registrar is notified of the transfer or transmission and the particulars of it. [emphasis added]

Once notice has been given to the Registrar, Rule 29 provides that the Chief Justice or a judge designated by him may direct the continuation of the proceeding.  At the Tax Court, the taxpayer brought a motion arguing that the Corporation is the appropriate party to continue the tax appeal as it now owned the property and would be liable if the appeal is unsuccessful.  The Crown argued that the tax appeal should be dismissed for want of an appellant.  The Tax Court held that the matter were not within the scope of Rule 29(1) and the motion was dismissed.  The order was appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal held that the lower court had construed Rule 29(1) too narrowly.  In arriving at this conclusion, the Court of Appeal addressed the rule’s underlying rationale.  The Court found that the purpose of Rule 29(1) is to deal with instances in which the circumstances of a litigant have changed and special accommodations are required in order to continue the proceeding.  Such changes may include bankruptcy, incapacity due to illness or injury, death of a litigant or the dissolution of a litigant that is a corporation.  The Court also considered such changes to include circumstances where a litigant that is a trust is terminated as a result of the disposition of all of its property.

The Federal Court of Appeal found that the transfer of the property to the Corporation, in effect, placed tax liability on the Corporation and the trustees in the event of an unsuccessful tax appeal.  The termination of the existence of the Trust was found to be within the meaning of “other means” in Rule 29(1).  Consequently, it was held that there was a transmission of liability from the Trust to “another person” by “other means”. The Court held that this scenario falls within the language and purpose of Rule 29(1).  As a result, the appeal was allowed and the matter was sent back to the Tax Court to be reconsidered with a view to directing the continuation of the proceedings.

The decision in Clearwater highlights the Court’s willingness to interpret Rule 29(1) in a broad manner.  It also raises the question of what constitutes “other means” for the purposes of Rule 29.  As a result, it is important for any taxpayer, or party which may acquire tax liability, to consider the implications of Clearwater prior to an income tax appeal.

Out with the Old, In with the New: Clearwater Seafoods Holdings Trust v. The Queen

The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

In Salisbury House of Canada Ltd. et al. v. The Queen (2013 TCC 236), the Tax Court of Canada reiterated the importance of the statutory preconditions that must be met before a taxpayer may appeal to the Court. These statutory requirements should be kept in mind by taxpayers who wish to ensure their disputes are heard on the substantive merits rather than dismissed for procedural reasons before they have an opportunity to argue their case.

In Salisbury, the corporate taxpayer operated several restaurants in the Winnipeg area. The company was assessed additional GST for the period February to June, 2006 but did not object to those assessments. Around the same time, a new board of directors was elected. Due to financial difficulties, the company made a proposal under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and attempted to negotiate an agreement with the CRA pertaining to the GST arrears. The parties eventually agreed that a portion of the GST liability would be paid. Importantly, at this point, no directors’ liability assessments had been issued under s. 323 of the Excise Tax Act. Payment was remitted, but the directors sought to have their potential liability for tax determined “by a court of competent jurisdiction”.

The company and the individual directors each filed a Notice of Appeal in the Tax Court. In response, the Crown brought a motion to dismiss the appeals pursuant to paragraph 53(b) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) on the grounds that (inter alia) the appeals were scandalous, frivolous or vexatious.

Under section 306 of the Excise Tax Act, a taxpayer must file a notice of objection before a Notice of Appeal may be filed in the Tax Court. In Salisbury, the GST assessments against the corporate taxpayer had not been challenged by way of objection and there had been no assessments issued against the directors.  The Minister argued that the appellants had no statutory right of appeal because the requirements of section 306 had not been met.

The Tax Court granted the Minister’s motion and dismissed the appeals. Since no notices of objection had been filed by the company, this precluded an appeal from the original GST assessments. In respect of the appeals by the individual directors, the Court held that they too could not succeed – no assessments had been issued, and no notices of objection filed.

The Salisbury decision is consistent with a long line of jurisprudence reflecting the requirement that taxpayers must satisfy the statutory preconditions before appealing to the Tax Court. In Roitman v. The Queen (2006 FCA 266), the Federal Court of Appeal stated that a court “does not acquire jurisdiction in matters of income tax assessments simply because a taxpayer has failed in due course to avail himself of the tools given to him by the Income Tax Act.” More recently, in Goguen v. The Queen (2007 DTC 5171), the Tax Court reiterated that, as “a matter of law, the failure of the [taxpayer] to serve a notice of objection on the Minister deprive[s] the Tax Court of Canada of the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal in relation to the assessment” (see also Whitford v. The Queen (2008 TCC 359), Bormann v. The Queen (2006 FCA 83), and Fidelity Global Opportunities Fund v. The Queen (2010 TCC 108)).

Salisbury reminds corporate and individual taxpayers of the need to obtain proper advice from tax professionals with respect to their rights and obligations under the Excise Tax Act and the Income Tax Act. This is all the more important in cases where the corporation is experiencing financial difficulty and/or contemplating protection under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (i.e., as the CRA may be a primary creditor). In Salisbury, the directors may not have been personally liable for corporate taxpayer’s GST liability. However, because of the manner and timing of the payment of GST arrears, their “appeal” to the Tax Court was defeated on procedural rather than substantive grounds and they were, unfortunately, precluded from presenting their case.

, , ,

The importance of a notice of objection: Salisbury v. The Queen

Tax Court of Canada issues a comprehensive ruling on privilege issues and the appropriate exercise of remedies to address deficient lists of documents

In a recent Tax Court of Canada ruling on a motion heard in Imperial Tobacco Canada Limited v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 144 the Court considered a motion for an Order directing the Appellant to attend and be cross-examined on its List of Documents pursuant to subsection 82(6) and paragraph 88(a) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) (the “Rules”). Justice D’Arcy heard and dismissed the motion, choosing instead to exercise other remedies available to the Court under section 88 of the Rules. A portion of the Respondent’s motion dealt with privileged documents. In ruling on these documents, the Court addressed several issues in the area of solicitor-client privilege and made a notable finding that email communications between the taxpayer and its lawyer lost privileged status as a result of the taxpayer’s accountant being included on the communications.

Background

The Appellant in Imperial Tobacco is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco p.l.c. The Appellant acquired preferred shares of affiliated subsidiaries (the “Affiliated Companies”) and the Minister disallowed the Appellant’s deductions of dividends received from those Affiliated Companies which was appealed to the Tax Court of Canada.

The Respondent had concerns with the Appellant’s List of Documents, specifically with respect to identifying necessary metadata (electronic data relating to specific documents referred to in Schedule “A” including author, when the document was created and history of changes to the document), deleted documents referred to in Schedule “C”, and privileged documents listed in Schedule “B”. As a result of these concerns, the Respondent moved for an Order allowing cross-examination on the Appellant’s List of Documents in order to gather further information relevant to its concerns. The Respondent relied upon the following provisions under the Rules:

82(6)   The Court may direct a party to attend and be cross-examined on an affidavit delivered under this section.

*  *  *

88.       Where the Court is satisfied by any evidence that a relevant document in a party’s possession, control or power may have been omitted from the party’s affidavit of documents, or that a claim of privilege may have been improperly made, the Court may,

(a) Order cross-examination on the affidavit of documents,

(b) Order service of a further and better affidavit of documents,

(c) Order the disclosure or production for inspection of the document or a party of the document, if it is not privileged, and

(d) Inspect the document for the purpose of determining its relevance or the validity of a claim of privilege.

Other Remedies under Section 88 should be considered before Cross-examination

Although the Court acknowledged that cross-examination should be considered if it has concerns that a List of Documents does not satisfy the requirements under the Rules, it agreed with the Appellant that subsection 82(6) takes away the automatic right to cross-examine. Instead, the Court found that all of the remedies under section 88 must first be considered before issuing an Order for cross-examination on a List of Documents. In this case, the Court found that perceived deficiencies in the Appellant’s List of Documents could be better addressed by ordering the service of a further and better List of Documents. The Court went on to also make specific orders which required the parties to exchange information to pinpoint what documents the metadata would be required for, and to work towards an agreement on search terms to resolve the deleted documents concern.

The Court’s Analysis and Rulings in respect of Privilege Issues

Since the parties agreed to provide the Court with a book of privileged documents, Justice D’Arcy was able to address the privilege concerns without the need for cross-examination through the remedy available to the Court under paragraph 88(d) which permits the Court to inspect a document for the purpose of determining a claim of privilege.

Several privilege issues were raised by the Respondent which afforded the Court an opportunity to canvass the applicable law in making its ruling. The issues and the Court’s determination of each are listed below:

1. Internal communications between the Appellant’s employees – The Court discussed the circumstances in which internal communications between employees of a company may be privileged, namely, if the communications reflect confidential legal advice provided by the company’s lawyer or if the lawyer marks or makes a note on a disseminated document. The Court then went on to analyze what specific internal communications were privileged.

2. Solicitor-client communications disclosed to employees of the Affiliated Companies – The Court discussed common interest privilege under this issue and explained that privilege may be maintained where one party to a commercial transaction provides privileged documents to another party of the transaction to further their common interest of having the transaction concluded. In this case, the Court concluded that several documents exchanged between the Affiliated Companies were privileged on this basis.

3. Solicitor-client privileged documents disclosed to an accountant – This issue centered on disclosure of legal communications by the Appellant, its counsel and the Affiliated Companies to PriceWaterhouseCoopers Australia (“PWC Australia”). Relying on the principles espoused by the Exchequer Court in Susan Hosiery Limited v. M.N.R., the Appellant argued that solicitor-client privilege extended to the communications with PWC Australia on the basis that PWC Australia’s input was necessary to the provision of legal advice by counsel. The Court accepted this principle of law but found a lack of evidence establishing that PWC Australia’s role extended to any function which could be said to be integral to the solicitor-client relationship. Therefore, the disclosure of the documents to PWC Australia constituted disclosure to a third party which amounted to waiver of privilege. The Court placed some emphasis on the fact that there was no evidence of any accounting information that could only be provided by PWC Australia.

4. Implied waiver – The Respondent argued that there was implied waiver of solicitor-client privilege since the Appellant, in denying that tax avoidance was the principle purpose for its investments, placed its state of mind in issue and any legal advice obtained to help form that state of mind was waived. The Court disagreed, and found that state of mind waiver only applies where a party relies on legal advice as part of its claim or defence which had not been put into issue by the Appellant in this appeal. In that regard, the Court noted that nowhere in the Appellant’s pleadings was there any reference to legal advice previously obtained.

5. Legal advice vs. business advice – Communications between a lawyer and client will only be privileged if it is in the course of providing legal advice, not advice relating to purely business matters. The Court found that the issue does not arise in the appeal.

Concluding Remarks

Justice D’Arcy’s decision reflects what the Court likely regarded as a pragmatic approach to the exercise of remedies available to it. It is open to the Court to order cross-examination, but other less costly steps are available to it, and should be first considered. This aspect of the decision should be considered by counsel before deciding to pursue cross-examination. Counsel should first aim to reach agreement on other steps to address concerns relating to production issues.

The privilege discussion contained in this decision highlights the range of such issues that arise in tax appeals. The decision highlights that internal client communications and external communications with accountants and other experts needs to be carefully managed. Counsel should discuss privilege issues with clients at the front end of litigation so they are alert to the pitfalls of waiver.

, , ,

Tax Court of Canada issues a comprehensive ruling on privilege issues and the appropriate exercise of remedies to address deficient lists of documents

Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection

Since 1995, the Large Corporation Rules found in subsections 165(1.11), 169(2.1) and 152(4.4) of the Income Tax Act (Canada) have applied to discourage large corporations from objecting to tax assessments as a means of keeping tax years “open”. In Bakorp Management Ltd. v. The Queen, 2013 TCC 94, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s tax appeal on the basis that it failed to comply with the Large Corporation Rules. Basically, these rules require that an objection fled by a large corporation must reasonably describe each issue to be decided and, for each issue, must specify the relief sought as the amount of change in a balance. The rules also limit the issues and relief sought in a subsequent appeal to those set out in the objection. The locus classicus on the interpretation of these provisions is the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in The Queen v. Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc., 2003 FCA 471.

In Bakorp, the corporation owned shares of another corporation that were redeemed in 1992 for $338M. As the proceeds from the redemption were received over a number of years, Bakorp reported in 1995 the portion of the deemed dividend related to proceeds received in 1995. The Minister reassessed Bakorp’s 1995 tax year to reduce the deemed dividend from $53M to $25M, a reduction of $28M. The corporation objected to the Minister’s reassessment and the Minister confirmed the reassessment. The corporation then filed a Notice of Appeal taking the position that the $28M deemed dividend remaining in its 1995 income was actually received in 1993 and should be included in the corporation’s 1993 tax year, not the 1995 year.

The Minister was, no doubt, surprised by Bakorp’s position to reduce the 1995 deemed dividend to zero. In response, the Minister brought a motion to dismiss the corporation’s appeal, arguing that the issue and relief set out in the Notice of Appeal were not those set out in the Notice of Objection.

Bakorp argued that it had complied with the Large Corporation Rules because the issue in both its objection and appeal was, fundamentally, the amount of deemed dividend to be included in its 1995 income. The Court disagreed noting that it could not “imagine a fuller reconstruction than making a 180 degree turn in what is to be included in income.” In the Court’s view, applying such a general approach to identifying the issue would render the Large Corporation Rules meaningless. In respect of specifying the relief sought, the Court was not prepared to accept that a complete reversal from wanting $53M included in income to wanting nothing included in income could be seen as complying with the Large Corporation Rules.

As a notice of appeal has been filed with the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court’s reasoning will not be the last word in this particular matter. However, it is safe to say that the Bakorp decision is a timely reminder that large corporations must take particular care in preparing a Notice of Objection. Failure to do so may seriously impact a later appeal to the Tax Court of Canada.

,

Tax Court of Canada Appeal of Large Corporation Thwarted by Wording of Objection

Nuances of a tax appeal make it unlike a typical civil trial

A tax dispute with the Canada Revenue Agency may be an unwelcome and unpleasant experience for a taxpayer. In addition to the potentially complex tax issues, the dispute resolution process itself can be a nuanced and challenging process. However, an appeal to the Tax Court of Canada offers taxpayers a chance to have their disputes considered by “fresh eyes,” which could result in a victory, settlement or other efficient resolution.

In the March 15, 2013 issue of The Lawyers Weekly, I discuss some of the ways a tax appeal differs from a typical civil trial.

, ,

Nuances of a tax appeal make it unlike a typical civil trial

Extensive Amendments to Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) Published in Part I of the Canada Gazette

General Objectives of the Proposed Amendments

The general objectives of the proposed amendments are:

(1) to streamline the process of hearings and to codify the practice relating to litigation process conferences;

(2) to implement new rules and amend existing rules governing expert witnesses and the admissibility of their evidence in the Tax Court of Canada;

(3) to allow the Court to proceed with a hearing of one or more appeals, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead cases heard by the Court;

(4) to encourage parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process; and

(5) to make technical amendments.

Detailed Description of Proposed Amendments

(1) Streamlining the process of hearings and codifying the practice relating to litigation process conferences

A proposed definition of “litigation process conference” is added to section 2. That definition lists the hearings referred to in section 125 and the conferences referred to in subsection 126(2) and sections 126.1 and 126.2.

Amendments are proposed to subsection 123(4) to indicate that the Registrar or a designated person may fix the time and place for the hearing subject to any direction by the Court.

Proposed subsection 123(4.1) indicates that the Court may, on its own initiative, fix the time and place for the hearing.

Proposed subsection 123(6) indicates that, if the time and place for a hearing have been fixed after a joint application of the parties, the hearing should not be adjourned unless special circumstances justify the adjournment and it is in the interest of justice to adjourn it.

Amendments are required to be made to section 125 (Status Hearing) to provide that initial status hearings are ordered to take place approximately two months after the filing of the reply, and further status hearings can take place later in the appeal to ensure the appeal is ready for trial and to fix a trial date. Finally, proposed subsection 125(8) provides that where a party fails to comply with an order or direction made at a status hearing, or if a party fails to appear at a status hearing, the Court may allow or dismiss the appeal or make any other order that is appropriate.

Existing section 126 is replaced by proposed section 126, which is designed to allow the Chief Justice to assign a judge to manage an appeal that is complex, or slow moving, or for some other reason requires ongoing management by a judge. The judge takes responsibility for the progress of the appeal to ensure that the appeal proceeds to trial in a timely way while conserving judicial resources.

Proposed section 126.1 provides that a trial management conference can be held after the appeal hearing date has been set and is presided over by the judge assigned to preside at the hearing. The conference is to ensure that the hearing proceeds in an orderly and organized fashion.

Proposed section 126.2 permits the Court to direct that a conference be held for the purpose of exploring the possibility of settlement of any or all of the issues.

Amendments are required to section 127 to add references to sections 125 and 126, and to proposed section 126.1.

Amendments are required to section 128 to add references to matters related to a settlement or settlement discussions during a litigation process conference.

(2) Implementing new rules and amending existing rules governing expert witnesses and the admissibility of their evidence in the Tax Court of Canada

Subsection 145(1) is amended to replace the reference to “affidavit” by “expert report.”

Proposed subsection 145(2) provides that the expert’s report must set out the proposed evidence of the expert, the expert’s qualifications and be accompanied by a certificate signed by the expert acknowledging that the expert agrees to be bound by the Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses that is added as a schedule to the Rules to ensure that expert witnesses understand their independent advisory role to the Court. Proposed subsection 145(3) indicates that if an expert fails to comply with the Code of Conduct, the Court may exclude some or all of the expert’s report.

Proposed subsection 145(4) requires a party to seek leave to the Court if they intend to call more than five expert witnesses at a hearing and proposed subsection 145(5) indicates what the Court has to consider in deciding to grant leave.

Proposed subsection 145(6) allows parties to name a joint expert witness.

Existing subsection 145(2) is renumbered subsection 145(7) and specifies the conditions that need to be met in order for evidence of an expert witness to be received at the hearing.

Existing subsection 145(4) is renumbered subsection 145(8) and indicates how evidence in chief of an expert witness is to be given at a hearing.

Proposed subsection 145(9) indicates what may be addressed during a litigation process conference, other than a settlement conference, in respect of expert witnesses.

Proposed subsections 145(10), (11), (12), (13) and (14) introduce new rules that deal with expert conferences.

Existing subsection 145(3) is renumbered subsection 145(15) and is amended to change the number of days, from 15 to 60, for a copy of rebuttal evidence to be served on all parties.

Proposed subsection 145(16) indicates when evidence of an expert witness can be led in surrebuttal of any evidence tendered under subsection (15).

Proposed subsections 145(17), (18), (19) and (20) allow the Court to require that some or all of the experts testify as a panel. Experts are only allowed to pose questions to each other with leave of the Court to ensure the orderly presentation of evidence. The rules governing cross-examination and re-examination will continue to apply to experts testifying concurrently.

(3) Allowing the Court to proceed with a hearing of one or more appeals, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead cases heard by the Court

Proposed section 146.1 is intended to apply where there is more than one appeal which has common or related issues of fact or law. It allows the Court to proceed with the hearing of one of the appeals, the lead case, while other related appeals are stayed pending a decision on the lead case. The parties in a related appeal have to agree to be bound, in whole or in part, by the final decision on the lead case.

(4) Encouraging parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process

The provisions of the Rules addressing offers to settle are designed to encourage parties to settle their dispute early in the litigation process. An early settlement has the added advantage of reducing the costs borne by the parties and conserving judicial resources.

Parties are entitled to make and accept offers of settlement at any time before there is a judgment and any written offer to settle will be considered by the Court in assessing costs under section 147. In addition to this general rule, there is a need to encourage parties to reach an early settlement, ideally before the beginning of the trial or hearing. This is the specific objective of adding subsections 147(3.1) to (3.8).

(5) Making technical amendments

To amend section 6 to provide that the Court may direct that any step in a proceeding may be conducted by teleconference, by videoconference or by a combination of teleconference and videoconference.

To amend section 52 by adding a new subsection to provide that a demand for particulars shall be in Form 52 and shall be filed and served in accordance with the Rules, and to add Form 52 to Schedule I.

To amend sections 53 and 58 to regroup all matters where the Court may strike out or expunge all or part of a pleading or other document under section 53, and all matters relating to the determination of questions of law, fact or mixed law and fact under section 58. As a consequence of these changes, sections 59, 60, 61 and 62 are repealed.

To add subsection 67(7) to provide for when proof of service of a motion must be filed.

To repeal subsection 95(3) as a result of the changes made to the expert witness rules.

To amend subsection 119(3) as a result of the changes made to the expert witness rules.

To amend paragraph 146(1)(d) to change the number of days for service from 10 to 5.

To add subsection 153(3) to provide that the taxing officer may direct that the taxation of a bill of costs be conducted by teleconference, videoconference or by combination of both.

To amend the reference to “issuing a judgment” by “rendering a judgment” in subsection 167(1).

To remove the reference to “and it shall be entered and filed there whereupon section 17.4 of the Act shall be complied with” in subsection 167(3).

*  *  *

The full text of the proposed amendments is here. Interested persons may make representations concerning the proposed Rules within 60 days after December 8, 2012. All such representations must cite the Canada Gazette, Part Ⅰ, and the December 8th date of publication of the notice, and be addressed to the Rules Committee, Tax Court of Canada, 200 Kent Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M1.

,

Extensive Amendments to Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) Published in Part I of the Canada Gazette

FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

The decision of the Federal Court of Appeal in Newmont Canada Corporation v. Canada delivered July 27, 2012 was primarily concerned with an unsuccessful attempt by the taxpayer to write off the principal amount of a large loan.  What makes the case quite interesting, however, is a side issue concerning the taxpayer’s claim to write off accrued interest on the loan.  That is where the Federal Court of Appeal parted company with the Tax Court of Canada and provided a useful reminder about the importance of evidence in tax appeals.

The interest in question arose in the 1988, 1989 and 1990 taxation years.  The CRA auditor allowed a portion of the interest expense:

[173]  During the course of the CRA audit, [the taxpayer] provided the CRA auditor, Mr. MacGibbon, with the details of the entries recorded in its general ledger account 2101 between August 1, 1989 and the end of May 1990. [The taxpayer] used this general ledger account to record amounts due from Windarra, including accrued interest on the Windarra Loan.

[174]  Mr. MacGibbon testified that [the taxpayer] did not provide him with any books or records for periods prior to August 1, 1989.

[175]  Based upon his review of the general ledger for account 2101, Mr. MacGibbon was able to identify entries totalling $183,336 that recorded interest income in respect of the interest accrued on the Windarra Loan. As a result, he allowed a deduction under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) in respect of the accrued interest.

While it is not clear why the earlier records were not produced, it is a reasonable inference that they were simply misplaced; they related to periods 20 or more years prior to the trial, which was held in 2009.

The taxpayer’s evidence was simple and direct:

[176]  The Appellant argued that the Minister understated the subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) deduction by $156,888. It arrived at this number by performing the following calculation:

First, it determined the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989 as follows:

a. The amount shown on the balance sheet at December 31, 1989 in respect of the Windarra Loan: $8.513 million

b. Less: the principal amount of the loan at December 31, 1989: $8.25 million

c. Equals the amount of accrued interest as at December 31, 1989: $263,000.

The Appellant then compared the $263,000 with the amount of interest income Mr. MacGibbon had calculated for the periods prior to 1989, namely $106,112.

[177]  It is the Appellant’s position that the difference between $263,000 and $106,112, which is $156,888, represents additional accrued interest income that was included in the income reported in [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 income tax returns.

[178]  During his testimony, Mr. Proctor summarized the Appellant’s argument as follows: “Because we have it on the balance sheet and, since debits must equal credits, it must have been on the Income Statement and we did not adjust it in arriving at net income for income tax purposes. For financial statement purposes it must be in the net income for income tax purposes.”

The Tax Court Judge rejected the taxpayer’s evidence:

[181]  I cannot accept the Appellant’s argument. [The taxpayer] could have recorded the offsetting amount as interest income. Alternatively, it could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account. The only way to determine how the offsetting amounts were recorded in 1988 and the first half of 1989 would be to review the relevant books and records. Unfortunately, the relevant books were not provided to either the Minister or the Court.

[182]  The only evidence before the Court of accrued interest being included in [the taxpayer’s] income was in the working papers of Mr. MacGibbon. I agree with counsel for the Respondent that in order for the Appellant to obtain a deduction in excess of the amount allowed by the Minister “the Court should be presented with something more reliable than a conclusion based on unsubstantiated assumptions.”

Fortunately for the taxpayer, the Federal Court of Appeal held that there was no basis for the Tax Court Judge to reject the taxpayer’s evidence on the point:

[65]  Notwithstanding the auditor’s admission that it was likely that interest accrued in 1988 and the first part of 1989 in the Windarra Loan, the Judge rejected Mr. Proctor’s evidence that additional interest was included in [the taxpayer’s] income on the basis that [the taxpayer] “could have recorded the offsetting amount on a balance sheet account such as a deferred revenue account or a reserve account.” However, for the reasons that follow, there was, in my view, no evidence before the Court to support such a conclusion.

[66]  The Judge found Mr. Proctor to be a credible witness. Mr. Proctor testified that [the taxpayer] would have included the sum of $263,000 in its retained earnings. He reviewed the Reconciliation of Net Income for Tax Purposes form (i.e. the T2S(1) form) provided by [the taxpayer] for each of the 1988 and 1989 taxation years as part of its income tax returns (Appeal Book volume 2, pages 81 and 109) and identified no adjustments “in moving from financial statement income to net income for tax purposes relating to Windarra” (Appeal Book volume 7, page 1699).

[67]  With respect to the Judge’s reference to deferred revenue and reserve accounts, while [the taxpayer’s] 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did show a deferred revenue liability (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1176 and 1181), the notes to its financial statements specified that the deferred revenue liability related solely to [the taxpayer’s] gold loan owed to a consortium of Canadian banks (Appeal Book volume 5, pages 1178 and 1188). The 1988 and 1989 balance sheets did not record any reserve accounts.

[68]  In this circumstance there was, in my respectful view, no evidence on which to impugn Mr. Proctor’s evidence, so that the Judge committed a reviewable error in rejecting the evidence for the reasons that he gave. Mr. Proctor’s evidence, together with the auditor’s concession established that [the taxpayer] had included the additional sum of $156,888 in interest income in its income tax returns.

[69]  It remained for [the taxpayer] to establish that the interest income was or became a bad debt. This required consideration of whether any monies paid to it pursuant to the Settlement Agreement were allocated to monies owing on account of interest. If so, that portion of the interest income would not be a bad debt.

[70]  Article 1(3) of the Settlement Agreement evidenced the parties’ agreement that the settlement proceeds were to be “applied on account of the principal amount of the [Windarra] Loan.” This established on a prima facie basis that all of the interest owing to [the taxpayer] pursuant to the Windarra Loans was a bad debt.

[71]  To conclude on this point, in my view, this Settlement Agreement combined with the evidence of Mr. Proctor and the auditor’s concession was sufficient to demolish the Minister’s assumption. Further, counsel for the Minister did not point to any evidence which rebutted [the taxpayer’s] prima facie case.

[72]  It follows that [the taxpayer] established its entitlement to deduct $156,888 under subparagraph 20(1)(p)(i) of the Act in 1992.

The case serves as a useful reminder about two important points.  First, the rules of onus are alive and well (as also discussed in my recent blog post on McMillan v. Canada).  Once a taxpayer has raised a prima facie case rebutting the Minister’s assumptions, the Minister cannot succeed unless Crown counsel can adduce additional evidence or otherwise undermine that prima facie case.

Second, and perhaps more important, the case demonstrates that solid evidentiary preparation and strong witnesses are critical if a taxpayer hopes succeed in the courts.  As it is exceedingly rare for the Federal Court of Appeal to overturn findings of fact made by a Tax Court Judge, every effort must be made to adduce evidence, both documentary and viva voce, in the Tax Court of Canada in order to maximize the likelihood of success both at trial and on appeal.

, , ,

FCA: Trial court cannot ignore taxpayer’s evidence without good reason

Gross Negligence and Settlement Offers

In Hine v. The Queen (2012 TCC 295), a decision released last week, the Tax Court of Canada considered whether a taxpayer was “grossly negligent” in relying on his accountant (who happened to be his wife) to prepare his tax return, and whether the taxpayer’s written offer to settle (asking the Crown to concede entirely) should be considered when making a cost award.

The decision in Hine is helpful in determining (a) whether the taxpayer was grossly negligent in relying entirely on his tax preparer, and (b) whether a settlement offer may be ignored by the Tax Court in awarding costs.

Gross Negligence – 163(2)

The taxpayer was a general contractor who was in the business of “flipping” homes. In 2006, he sold a renovated house for $319,000. The taxpayer reported a loss of $131,653 for the year. In the course of an audit that commenced in 2008, the CRA discovered that the taxpayer had failed to report $157,965 of business income on the sale of the house. The CRA reassessed to include the additional income and imposed a gross negligence penalty under subsection 163(2) of the Income Tax Act. Only the gross negligence penalty was at issue in the appeal.

Generally, under subsection 163(2), the CRA may impose a penalty equal to the greater of $100 and 50% of the avoided tax where the taxpayer knowingly, or under circumstances amounting to gross negligence, made a false statement or omission in a return.

The courts have been consistent in holding that a high degree of negligence or intentional acting is required in order for the gross negligence penalty to apply (see, for example, Udell v. M.N.R., 70 DTC 6019 (Ex. Ct.)). However, there has been less consistency in the application of the penalty where the taxpayer relied on the work of his/her tax preparer. Generally, in such cases, there must be gross negligence on the part of the tax preparer, and there must be some element of privity or wilful blindness on the part of the taxpayer such that he/she acquiesced in the making of the false statement or should have taken further steps to confirm the accuracy of the return.

In Hine, the taxpayer handed over responsibility for the bookkeeping and tax returns to his wife, who had a background in financial accounting but was not a professional accountant. The taxpayer relied entirely on his wife to keep proper records and prepare his returns. The wife’s error resulted in the underreported income, and neither the taxpayer nor his wife detected the error before filing the return.

In argument, the taxpayer relied on a line of cases establishing that reliance on professional advisors does not necessarily lead to a finding of gross negligence (see, for example, Findlay v. The Queen (2000 DTC 6345 (Fed. C.A.)), Gallery v. The Queen (2008 TCC 583) and Down v. M.N.R. (93 DTC 591) (T.C.C.)). The Crown relied on a line of cases that states that a taxpayer cannnot escape his or her own liability under subsection 163(2) by simply handing over all tax affairs to a professional advisor (see, for example, Panini v. The Queen (2006 FCA 224), Hougassian v. The Queen (2007 TCC 293) and Brygman v. M.N.R. (79 DTC 858) (Tax R.B.)).

The Tax Court found that the taxpayer and his wife intended to be diligent and accurate in reporting the taxpayer’s income, and an honest confusion led to the error.

Finally, the Tax Court held that the determination of the issue of whether the taxpayer and his advisor were grossly negligent was unaffected by the their spousal relationship. On the facts of the case, the taxpayer’s “blind faith in his wife” was not unreasonable. The Tax Court allowed the taxpayer’s appeal.

Costs

After the court’s decision, the taxpayer sought costs above the usual tariff amounts on the basis that a settlement offer had been made before the hearing. The taxpayer argued that the offer should be considered under paragraph 147(3)(d) of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure) and enhanced costs awarded.

In his written offer, the taxpayer had set out certain submissions he intended to make at the hearing and argued that the gross negligence penalty was unsupportable. The taxpayer offered to settle the matter, without costs, if the Crown reassessed accordingly (i.e., conceding the penalty in its entirety). The taxpayer stated that if the Crown did not accept the settlement offer the taxpayer would seek solicitor and client costs if successful at trial. The Crown rejected the offer.

The Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s request for enhanced costs and stated that “… An ‘offer’ that the other party to the litigation withdraw in order to avoid a threat of enhanced costs cannot, in this circumstances, be considered to be an ‘offer of settlement’.” Further, the court stated that, “To have ‘settled’ the case as offered by the Appellant would have been to abdicate the responsibilities imposed on the Department of Justice.” (See also CIBC World Markets Inc. v. The Queen (2012 FCA 3) on the difficulties of making a settlement offer where there is a “yes-no” question at issue in the appeal.)

Accordingly, parties to a tax dispute should ensure that their offers are “settlement” offers and not “withdrawal” offers and that the offer is the type of offer that can indeed be accepted by the other party. Otherwise a court may decline to consider the offer when assessing costs.

, ,

Gross Negligence and Settlement Offers

Velcro Canada – Clarification on Cost Awards

In what circumstances can a party obtain a large lump-sum cost award after a favourable Tax Court decision?

That was the question considered by the Tax Court in Velcro Canada Inc. v. The Queen (2012 TCC 273), in which the Tax Court awarded the successful taxpayer a lump sum cost award of $60,000 plus disbursements. The Court’s reasoning has provided some helpful clarification on the manner in which the Court will determine the nature and amount of a cost award.

In the main appeal (Velcro Canada Inc. v. The Queen, 2012 TCC 57), the Appellant taxpayer was successful in establishing that a Dutch holding company was the “beneficial owner” of royalties paid by a related Canadian company. (See our previous commentary on the decision by FMC’s Matt Peters here.)

At the costs hearing, the Appellant argued that the Tax Court should award enhanced costs because the Appellant had been entirely successful in the appeal, the amount in issue was in excess of $9 million, the issues raised were of national and international importance, and the novelty of the issues required additional time and resources in preparing for and conducting the appeal.

The Respondent’s view was that costs should be assessed in accordance with Tariff B of Schedule II of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure). The Respondent argued that the main issue had previously been considered in the ground-breaking case of Prévost Car Inc. v. The Queen (2008 TCC 231; aff’d 2009 FCA 57), and that the Appellant had not adduced evidence of the work and effort put into the appeal. Further, no exceptional circumstances existed that would justify the Court exercising its discretion to award costs beyond the Tariff.

The Tax Court considered the factors discussed in section 147 of the General Procedure Rules and Tariff B of Schedule II thereto, and concluded that no exceptional circumstances were required to justify a deviation from the Tariff. In fact, the discretion of the Tax Court is quite wide – the Tariff may be relied on, but only if the Court chooses to do so. The Court stated:

[16] Under the Rules, the Tax Court of Canada does not even have to make any reference to Schedule II, Tariff B in awarding costs. The Court may fix all or part of the costs, with or without reference to Schedule II of Tariff B and it can award a lump sum in lieu of or in addition to taxed costs. The Rules do not state or even suggest that the Court follow or make reference to the Tariff. …

[17] It is my view that in every case the Judge should consider costs in light of the factors in Rule 147(3) and only after he or she considers those factors on a principled basis should the Court look to Tariff B of Schedule II if the Court chooses to do so. … [emphasis in original]

The Court went on to consider the result in the proceeding (taxpayer was entirely successful), the amount in issue (more than $9 million), the importance of the issues (very important domestically and internationally), any settlement offer in writing (there wasn’t one), the volume of work (considerable effort required), the complexity of the issues (relatively straight-forward but in a complex factual matrix), and the conduct of the parties (very well pleaded and impressive presentations at the hearing). The Court awarded $60,000 plus disbursements to the Appellant.

The Court’s decision is significant because it signals an evolution in the approach to cost awards from the currently accepted practice.

As most tax litigators know, a general practice developed whereby large lump-sum cost awards were sought only in exceptional circumstances (i.e., where one party had engaged in misconduct or unnecessary procedural wrangling). The decision of Associate Chief Justice Rossiter appears to open the door to the possibility of seeking large lump-sum cost awards in any proceeding because, according to the Court, the Judge should look first to section 147 of the Rules and may, but not necessarily, look to the Tariff.

It seems that this approach accords with the Tax Court’s recent focus, and emphasis, on the importance of settlements. The parties to a tax appeal should not lightly dismiss the Court’s reasoning in Velcro Canada when considering whether to settle a matter before going to trial.

 

, , , ,

Velcro Canada – Clarification on Cost Awards

Federal Court of Appeal Reaffirms the Onus of Proof Rules in Tax Appeals

In the recent case of McMillan v. Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal has reaffirmed the onus of proof rules in tax appeals. While the rules were never particularly unsettled at the federal level, the somewhat anomalous decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Northland Properties v. The Queen in Right of the Province of British Columbia, appeared to cast doubt on prior Federal Court of Appeal pronouncements as well as the decision of Justice L’Heureux-Dubé in Hickman Motors Ltd. v. Canada. In Northland, the B.C. Court of Appeal took issue with the concept, articulated by Justice L’Heureux-Dubé in Hickman, that the onus was on the taxpayer to “demolish” the assumptions pleaded by the Minister by means of raising a prima facie case at which point the burden shifts to the Minister to prove the assumptions on the balance of probabilities:

[29] Before us, counsel for the Crown made persuasive submissions on the issue of the so-called “prima facie” standard: L’Heureux-Dubé J.’s use of “prima facie” was made in the context of a case in which the Crown had not called any evidence whatsoever; it was relying solely on its assumptions. It is certainly possible in such circumstances that a prima facie case, or even one with “gaps”, would be sufficient to displace the Crown’s assumptions, but the prima facie standard described by Justice L’Heureux-Dubé should not be interpreted as having altered the usual standard of proof in tax cases: see the comments in Sekhon v. Canada, [1997] T.C.J. No. 1145 at para. 37; and Hallat v. The Queen (2000), [2001] 1 C.T.C. 2626 (F.C.A.).

The facts in McMillan are uncomplicated and not particularly interesting. The taxpayer had a business in the Dominican Republic and claimed a number of expenses in connection with that business. The Tax Court denied most of the expenses claimed on the basis that they were not proven by the taxpayer. The taxpayer appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and her appeal was dismissed on the basis that she did not demonstrate any material error on the part of the Tax Court judge.

The interesting part of the decision is the Federal Court of Appeal’s articulation of the rules relating to onus of proof in tax appeals:

[7] Before concluding these reasons, we note that the appellant did not raise in her memorandum of fact and law any issue with respect to the Judge’s statement at paragraph 19 of the reasons, and repeated at paragraph 21, that the appellant “has the initial onus of proving on a balance of probabilities (i.e. that it is more likely than not), that any of the assumptions that were made by the Minister in assessing (or reassessing) the Appellant with which the Appellant does not agree, are not correct.” In our respectful view, it is settled law that the initial onus on an appellant taxpayer is to “demolish” the Minister’s assumptions in the assessment. This initial onus of “demolishing” the Minister’s assumptions is met where the taxpayer makes out at least a prima facie case. Once the taxpayer shows a prima facie case, the burden is on the Minister to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the assumptions were correct (Hickman Motors Ltd. v. Canada, [1997] 2 S.C.R. 336 at paragraphs 92 to 94; House v. Canada, 2011 FCA 234, 422 N.R. 144 at paragraph 30).

Thus, the Federal Court of Appeal has once again embraced the prima facie standard as the test that must be met by a taxpayer to displace or demolish assumptions pleaded by the Minister. While there may be a different standard applicable in provincial tax appeals in British Columbia, the reaffirmation of the prima facie standard by the Federal Court of Appeal is welcome news in federal tax appeals.

,

Federal Court of Appeal Reaffirms the Onus of Proof Rules in Tax Appeals

Federal Court of Appeal affirms that Tax Court settlements must be made on a “principled basis”

On January 10, 2012, the Federal Court of Appeal (the “FCA”) released its decision in CIBC World Markets Inc. v. The Queen (2012 FCA 3) on a motion by the taxpayer seeking an order for enhanced costs.  In a unanimous judgment, Justices Sharlow, Layden-Stevenson, and Stratas dismissed the taxpayer’s motion, holding that there was no legal basis upon which the Minister of National Revenue could have accepted the offer of the taxpayer to settle the claim.

The underlying litigation dealt with a claim for input tax credits (“ITC”s) under the Excise Tax Act.  Specifically, the issue was whether the taxpayer was entitled to file a second claim for input tax credits in respect of the same year (further details are available in our earlier posts on the litigation).  Litigation commenced, with the result that the taxpayer was unsuccessful at the Tax Court of Canada (2010 TCC 460) but was successful at the Federal Court of Appeal (2011 FCA 270).

At issue on the motion before the FCA was an offer of settlement made by the taxpayer before the commencement of proceedings at the Tax Court of Canada.  The offer put forward by the taxpayer would have had the Minister issue a reassessment granting 90% of the ITCs at issue.  It had no expiry date and was left open for acceptance throughout the remainder of the action.  In its motion, the taxpayer argued that because it was entirely successful at the FCA, it should be entitled to 80% of solicitor and client costs, beginning from the date of offer and ending on the judgment by the FCA (80% being the “substantial indemnity” set out in Practice Note No. 18 of the Tax Court of Canada).

The FCA first dispensed with the taxpayer’s claim for enhanced costs in respect of the FCA action, noting that an offer of settlement made before trial must be reasserted after the trial decision if the offeror intends it to be effective in respect of the FCA proceeding as well.  As the taxpayer did not do so in this case, the only matter at issue were costs between the time of offer and the judgment of the Tax Court of Canada.

In dealing with that portion of the motion, the FCA noted that the rules governing offers of settlement include an implicit and important pre-condition that the offer made must actually have been capable of acceptance to trigger cost consequences.  In this case, the Minister asserted that the offer to settle (by permitting 90% of the ITCs initially claimed) was an arbitrary compromise on quantum, and was not legally supportable under the legislation – neither the Tax Court of Canada nor the FCA could have ordered such a result.  This kind of issue was described by the Minister as a “yes-no” issue of statutory interpretation where the taxpayer’s position was either entirely correct, or would be wholly rejected.

The FCA agreed with the Minister, relying on Galway v. Minister of National Revenue, [1974] 1 FC 600 and subsequent decisions under the Income Tax Act.  Those decisions reflect the requirement that all settlements must be made on a “principled basis”: the Minister can only accept a settlement that is consistent with the legislation and the result that the legislation would allow.  Compromise decisions and risk mitigation are impermissible if not otherwise supported by the legislation.  The FCA confirmed that this rule applies equally to the Excise Tax Act, and that “there is no legislative provision that repeals Galway”.

The taxpayer argued that compromise settlements would help to relieve the backlog of appeals at the Tax Court of Canada and should therefore be permitted as good policy.  The Court was not persuaded by this argument, suggesting that there are many policy considerations, in favour and against compromise settlements, and that it was a matter for Parliament, not the judiciary, to decide.

This decision affirms that Galway remains the governing law with respect to settlements, and that a “principled basis” remains a requirement for all settlements, unless Parliament takes action to change the present state of the law.  Suggestion have been offered by commentators as to what such legislative reform might look like.  For one analysis, based on a multi-jurisdictional perspective, see Carman R. McNary, Paul Lynch, and Anne-Marie Lévesque, “Tax Dispute Resolution: Is there a Better Way?,” Report of Proceedings of Sixty-Second Tax Conference, 2010 Tax Conference (Toronto:  Canadian Tax Foundation, 2011), 14:1-15.

, , , , , ,

Federal Court of Appeal affirms that Tax Court settlements must be made on a “principled basis”

Successful Challenge to Portions of the Crown’s Reply on the Deductibility of Amounts Paid by CIBC to Settle Enron Litigation

On December 19, 2011, the Tax Court partially granted an application by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (“CIBC”) (2011 TCC 568). The motion concerned whether the Crown’s Reply should be struck out, either wholly or in part (there were actually four separate Replies, but all are substantially similar). Associate Chief Justice Rossiter did not strike out the entire Crown pleading, but ordered 98 paragraphs struck out and 92 paragraphs amended from the main Reply (with the same amendments to be made to the other three Replies). The main Reply was 94 pages long with 70 pages of assumptions.

The Tax Court appeals involve the deductibility of amounts paid by CIBC to settle litigation arising from the failure of Enron in 2001. CIBC was named (along with a number of other parties) as a defendant in a pair of law suits filed after Enron went bankrupt. CIBC settled the claims against it in consideration for a payment of $2.65 billion in 2005 and deducted those amounts, along with related interest and legal expenses in computing income for its 2005 and 2006 taxation years.

The Minister of National Revenue denied the deduction of the settlement amounts. CIBC appealed to the Tax Court of Canada. The Crown filed a Reply, and CIBC filed a motion to have the Reply struck out in its entirety. The contentious point is whether the “egregious or repulsive” principle can be used to determine whether expenses are deductible. The concept was referred to at paragraph 69 of the reasons for judgment in 65302 British Columbia Ltd. v. Canada where a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada (per Iacobucci J.) made the following observation:

It is conceivable that a breach could be so egregious or repulsive that the fine subsequently imposed could not be justified as being incurred for the purpose of producing income. However, such a situation would likely be rare and requires no further consideration in the context of this case, especially given that Parliament itself may choose to delineate such fines and penalties, as it has with fines imposed by the Income Tax Act.

On this motion, the Crown argued that it should be open to it to establish that the “egregious or repulsive” principle could also apply in respect of amounts paid in order to settle litigation. CIBC contended that this concept has never been held to apply to settlement amounts and that, as a result, the Reply was fatally deficient.

Associate Chief Justice Rossiter first concluded that part of a pleading should only be struck where it is “certain to fail because it contains a radical defect.” Here, the Crown was trying to use the “egregious or repulsive” principle to justify denying the deduction of amounts paid to settle a law suit rather than amounts laid out to pay fines. The Court acknowledged that the “egregious or repulsive” principle had been developed by the courts in the context of fines, but noted that it could apply to settlement payments, and so the Respondent’s pleadings did have a chance of success. He refused to strike the Crown’s entire pleading as a result.

However, Associate Chief Justice Rossiter found that in the Reply the Crown pleaded evidence, conclusions of law or mixed fact and law, immaterial facts or advanced prejudicial or scandalous claims or claims that were an abuse of process of the Court. In the result, the Court held that portions of the Reply were improper and had to be removed. The Crown was given 60 days to file a less argumentative Amended Reply with the offending portions deleted.

, , , , , , ,

Successful Challenge to Portions of the Crown’s Reply on the Deductibility of Amounts Paid by CIBC to Settle Enron Litigation

Tax Court of Canada confirms that pleadings will be struck out only in the “clearest of cases”

On December 19, 2011, the Tax Court dismissed a motion by General Electric Canada Company and GE Capital Canada Funding Company (the “Appellants”) in their current appeals (2010-3493(IT)G and 2010-3494(IT)G). The Appellants sought to strike several paragraphs from the Replies filed by the Crown on the basis that the Crown was relitigating a previously-decided matter. Justice Diane Campbell dismissed the motion but gave leave to the Crown to make a small amendment to one of the Replies.

General Electric Canada Company (“GECC”) is the successor by amalgamation to General Electric Capital Canada Inc. (“GECCI”), and GECC had inherited commercial debts owed by GECCI. GECC was reassessed and denied the deduction of fees paid to its parent corporation (“GECUS”) for guaranteeing the inherited debts. However, GECCI had previously litigated the deductibility of those fees and won (see General Electric Capital Canada Inc. v. The Queen, 2009 TCC 563, aff’d 2010 FCA 344). The current appeal involves similar issues, but with different taxpayers (GECC instead of GECCI) and tax years. In their application, the Appellants argued that the Crown was trying to relitigate issues that had been decided in the previous appeal.

The Court first dealt with the Appellant’s contention that res judicata precluded the Crown from having the issues reheard in another trial. Res judicata may take one of two forms: “cause of action” estoppel or “issue” estoppel. For either to apply, the parties in the current matter must have been privy to the previous concluded litigation. The Appellants said GECC had been privy to the decision since both it and GECCI were controlled by a common mind. The Court dismissed that argument since the appeals involve different tax years from those in the previous concluded litigation and, therefore, reflect different causes of action.

The Appellants also argued that it was an abuse of the Court’s process to relitigate the purpose and deductibility of the fees since the debt and the fee agreements were substantially the same as those in the previous concluded litigation. They asked the Court to strike out references to those agreements from the Replies. The Crown’s counter-argument was that the nature of the agreements was a live issue since it was not established that the fee agreements between GECUS and GECC were the same as those with GECCI. The Court agreed and refused to strike the sections of the Replies referring to the agreements.

The Appellants also sought to strike parts of the Replies where the Crown denied facts which the Appellants said had been proven in the previous concluded litigation. Again, the Court noted that the issues in the present appeals were different than those at issue in the previous concluded litigation, and that the Appellants did not show that the facts at issue (which were part of a joint statement of facts in the prior case) had actually been considered by the Court in the prior decision. Since the facts had not been proven they were best left to be determined later at trial.

Further, the Appellants contested two theories reflected in the Replies that they characterized as a fishing expedition. The Appellants stated these theories were not used as a basis for the original reassessment and, therefore, violated the restrictions on alternative arguments under subsection 152(9) of the Act. The Court dismissed this argument, saying that the theories were simply alternative approaches to showing that the guarantee fees paid by GECC were not deductible. The Court held they were alternative pleadings and refused to strike them out. Further, the Appellants also argued that two separate basis for the reassessments (one based on paragraphs 247(2)(a) and (c); the other, on paragraphs 247(2)(b) and (d)) should be pleaded as alternative grounds, since the two parts of that section were inconsistent with one another. This was dismissed on the basis that the two parts were complementary and were drafted in a way so that if both were satisfied, one would take precedence over the other.

Finally, the Appellants argued that they had been deprived of procedural fairness as the CRA had not consulted its own Transfer Pricing and Review Committee with respect to the reassessments, and the Appellants had been unable to make submissions to that committee. The Court held that there was no requirement that the committee consider the matter first and, even if there was, the Tax Court does not rule on administrative matters.

In the end, the Appellants succeeded on one minor point: the Crown will amend one paragraph in one Reply to clarify the distinction between legally binding guarantees and implied guarantees or support. The Crown was awarded costs.

, , ,

Tax Court of Canada confirms that pleadings will be struck out only in the “clearest of cases”

Swim Lessons and Religion: The Federal Court of Appeal Rejects Amendment to Pleadings to Raise Charter Issue in Fluevog v. The Queen

On December 5, 2011, the Federal Court of Appeal released its decision in John Fluevog v. The Queen (2011 FCA 338).  In a unanimous judgment, Justices Nadon, Sharlow, and Mainville allowed the Crown’s appeal, reversing an interlocutory decision of Justice Margeson of the Tax Court of Canada (2010 TCC 617).  In that decision, the Tax Court had permitted the taxpayer, Mr. Fluevog, to amend his Notice of Appeal to add a claim of discrimination under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mr. Fluevog made payments to Swim Canada, an organization that is a “registered Canadian amateur athletic association”, as that term is defined in section 248(1) of the Income Tax Act (the “ITA”).  He claimed a tax credit in respect of these payments under section 118.1 of the ITA as an eligible gift.  The credit was denied by the Minister of National Revenue (the “Minister”), on the basis that Mr. Fluevog had received consideration in the form of swimming lessons for his children.  As such, the payment was not a gift at law.

The proposed Charter claim arose from an administrative position of the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”) that permits a tax credit for payments to religious schools that solely provide religious instruction.  This position is described in Information Circular IC 75-23, which states that “it has been the Agency’s practice not to view religious instruction provided at parochial schools as consideration”.  Mr. Fluevog sought to argue that this administrative position was discriminatory on religious grounds and prohibited under section 15 of the Charter.  He took the position that the administrative policy should therefore be extended to the receipt of non-religious consideration such as swimming lessons.

The arguments at the Tax Court of Canada on the motion to amend the pleadings focused primarily on the question of whether the policy discriminated against Mr. Fluevog, such that the proposed amendments may disclose a cause of action.  As noted above, Justice Margeson ruled in favour of the taxpayer, holding that the amendment presented “at least an arguable case”.

Writing for the panel, Justice Nadon stated that the decision to grant or deny an amendment to pleadings is discretionary and is entitled to deference, barring an error in law or an improper use of discretion.  In this case, however, the decision at the Tax Court of Canada was based on an error of law.  In a brief paragraph, the Federal Court of Appeal concluded:

It is not open to the Minister to determine that a payment that is not a gift as a matter of law will nevertheless be treated as a gift for income tax purposes. If that is what the Minister has done by adopting the impugned assessing policy (and I express no opinion on that point), then the policy is wrong in law and cannot stand. But that is of no assistance to Mr. Fluevog. The remedy for adopting a policy that is wrong in law is to reject the policy, not extend it to everyone who pays for swimming lessons for their children.

As a result, Mr. Fluevog’s motion to amend his pleadings was dismissed.  There has been no word on whether Mr. Fluevog will seek leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

, , , , , , ,

Swim Lessons and Religion: The Federal Court of Appeal Rejects Amendment to Pleadings to Raise Charter Issue in Fluevog v. The Queen