Tax shelter case, featuring a cameo by Oliver Wendell Holmes

The question in Salty Brine I, Ltd. v. United States was whether a complicated transaction involving an oil and gas project was an inappropriate assignment of income to avoid income tax.  No. 13-10799 (July 31, 2014).  Reviewing the basic principles of the “assignment of income” doctrine, the Fifth Circuit found no clear error in the district court’s findings that the taxpayers “were in control of the entire transaction.”  In summarizing the doctrine, the Court quoted a metaphor from a 1930 opinion by Justice Holmes — that income tax may not be avoided through an “arrangement by which the fruits are attributed to a different tree from that on which they grew.”  The court also found that the transaction lacked economic substance, again noting the taxpayer’s control of the entities and money flow.

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