Contract Litigation Lawyers Minnesota | Understanding Contract Litigation

Contract litigation permeates the very fabric of advanced economic societies. The primary reason for this widespread presence of this type of litigation is because contracts provide the most common and basic means of conducting transactions between individuals and especially businesses. Contracts, whether written or oral, govern the everyday economic relations. Every time you buy something for a certain price at a store, you agree to a contract. Every time your business hires a worker, it enters a contract.

Since contracts can be found almost everywhere in our economic lives, it is little wonder that disputes often arise between the parties about the exact terms of what they have agreed to or what their contractual obligations are.

Contract litigation is a civilized way to settling these contract disputes. It is a process where the parties to a contract, usually represented by contract litigation attorneys, present their respective arguments to an impartial judge of the relevant jurisdiction the laws of which govern the interpretation of the contracts and even which laws apply. Usually, the parties’ arguments revolve around three common themes. First, interpretation of the contract and the parties’ rights and obligations. Second, enforcement of a party’s contractual rights or obligations. Third, obtaining remedy for whatever damage produced as a result of the other party’s breach of contract. Usually, the remedy is limited to recovering damages, but there are situations where a party will seek an order from the court to compel the other party to perform as promised (this is known as “specific performance”). In some situations, an injunction prohibiting a party from doing something may be appropriate.

A lot of people unfamiliar with contract litigation commit a common mistake of thinking that contract interpretation is limited solely to the language that can be found in the contract itself. While ambiguous, competing or contradictory clauses may form the core of a party’s argument, contract litigation lawyers usually have to also analyze the particular facts of a case which may be relevant to the interpretation of the disputed language of the contract.

Beyond these basic litigation themes, contract litigation involves a myriad of other procedural and substantive decisions: assessment by contract litigation lawyers of whether a case should be litigated, where to file the case, the laws of which jurisdiction of should apply, what evidence should be presented, who should testify, how would a judge interpret the contract given the trends in the laws of a relevant jurisdiction, and so on. Therefore, it is very important to involve a contract litigation lawyer as early as possible in the contract litigation process.

Sherayzen Law Office can guide you through this labyrinth of procedural and substantive issues and litigate the case for you. When you retain Sherayzen Law Office to represent you in a contract dispute litigation, you get a vigorous advocate of your legal position who is thorough, detail-orientated and possesses strong litigation skills, with the analytical ability to identify and achieve effective resolutions. We recognize that litigation is a means to an end and structure our litigation strategies in such a way as to protect and enforce your business interests.

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Federal Income Tax Litigation: the Basics

When taxpayers file their income tax returns, a determination of tax is made. The IRS must then “assess” a tax liability in order to collect the amount owed. Generally, the period for assessment is three years from the due date, or from the date the return is filed, whichever is later (see this article for more details on the IRS statute of limitations).

If the IRS questions a tax return, it may then begin the audit process. The IRS may conduct its audit at the taxpayer’s place of business (“field audit”), in IRS offices (“office audit”), or by correspondence. If the IRS agent then determines after the audit that a tax deficiency exists but the taxpayer does not agree, the revenue agent will then send the taxpayer an examination report called, “Revenue Agent’s Report” along with a letter termed a, “30-day letter”. The 30-day letter details various information and informs the taxpayer that he/she has a right to request a hearing with the IRS Appeals Division within 30 days.

At this point, the taxpayer has three options: (1) accept the IRS’ determination of the tax deficiency, (2) appeal to IRS Appeals, or (3) simply disregard the letter and wait for the next IRS notice. If the taxpayer then appeals to IRS Appeals and is unable to settle the case, or if the taxpayer simply disregards the 30-day letter, the IRS will then send a notice of deficiency letter called the, “90-day letter”.

The 90-day letter gives a taxpayer several options. He may pay the amount owed based upon the IRS determination of deficiency and pursue refund tax procedures in U.S. District Court or the Court of Federal Claims. A taxpayer may also petition to the Tax Court within 90 days (unlike pursuing refund procedures, payment of a deficiency is not required in order to litigate in Tax Court). If the taxpayer’s case involves less than $50,000 in dispute for each tax year, a taxpayer may file the case as a “small tax case” (also called, “S-case”). S-cases are advantageous for taxpayers who are arguing without legal counsel, as informal court procedures are used; however, right to appeal the case is waived. Finally, if a taxpayer does not respond to the 90-day letter at all, the tax deficiency is then assessed, and the amount owed may then be collected by the IRS if not paid within ten days. The IRS is required to give a notice and demand for payment within sixty days of assessing the deficiency.

If a taxpayer loses in Tax Court, the case may then be appealed to the Appellate Court in the Circuit the taxpayer resides when the case was filed (provided it is not an S-case). Alternatively, taxpayers who lost pursuing refund procedures in District Court may appeal to the Court of Appeals, and those who lost in the Court of Federal Claims may appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear appeals for any of the Circuit Courts.

This is a very basic overview of Federal Income Tax Procedure and Litigation. It is important to note, that depending upon your case, it may be strategically necessary to litigate in traditional district court, as opposed to Tax Court. This will involve more formal legal procedures.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you analyze your case, choose the appropriate litigation venue for the appeal, and vigorously represent your interests before the IRS and in courts.

Call NOW to discuss this case with an experienced tax attorney!

Minnesota Business Lawyers: Applying for a Business License

In many industries, obtaining a business license is one of the most significant prerequisites for doing business in Minnesota. Paradoxically, despite its importance, too many businesses resist involving Minnesota business lawyers in this process from the very beginning – at the stage of the business license application preparation. Instead, attorneys throughout Minnesota (including Minneapolis business attorneys and St. Paul business attorneys) are involved in the process only after the business license application is rejected by the relevant state agency.

There are two primary reasons for the late involvement of Minnesota business lawyers in the process. First, business owners believe themselves perfectly capable of filling-out a license application. Second, small businesses are always looking for a way to cut costs and think they are saving money by involving business lawyers only by the time of an administrative appeal hearing.

Both motivations are flawed. A business license application often involves much more than simply filling out the basic information and gathering the supporting materials (such as financial statements or criminal records). The key to a successful application is the ability to spot potential issues and fix the problems prior to the submission of the application to the government agency. It is true that Minnesota business owners are smart and energetic individuals perfectly capable of filling out an application. However, they often lack the necessary legal experience and training to identify potential problems and know how to fix them.

Second, it is much cheaper to involve an attorney at an early stage of the business license application process than to deal with the problems at an administrative appeal hearing. Prior to the submission of the application to the agency, the attorney should be able to review the application filled-out by the owner and all of the supporting materials, spot potential problems, and advise on how to fix these problems immediately. Even after the application is submitted and the relevant Minnesota government agency raises an objection, involving an attorney who may be able to negotiate the solution to the problem prior to the final agency determination may prove to be very cost-effective.

By the time the application is rejected, however, Minnesota business license appeal lawyers will have to deal with a prolonged process defending the business owner’s interests. Even worse, in many cases, the burden of proof may be on the initial applicant, which means, for example, that a business lawyer would have to prove that the government more likely than not committed an error of judgment (or some other legal theory).

In sum, litigation is almost always more expensive than the prophylactic measure of involving a Minnesota business license lawyer at an early stage of the business license application process. At the very latest (i.e. the last opportunity to save the application while lowering legal expenses), the business owners should involve Minnesota business lawyers at the time when they receive the first request for additional information from a relevant Minnesota government agency.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you at every stage of the business license application process, starting from the initial review of the application to dealing with the government agencies , handling the administrative appeal hearing, and litigating further appeals to the district court and higher appellate courts if necessary.

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Innocent Spouse Relief

In general, a husband and wife are jointly and separately liable for any tax, penalty and interest owed for a year in which they have filed a joint tax return. This means that the IRS can collect the entire amount of tax owed from either spouse alone, regardless of who reported income, or who may have been responsible for errors, omissions, or fraud on a tax return. Joint and several liability thus can potentially result in a situation where substantial amounts of taxes, penalty and interest are owed by one spouse due to the errors, omissions, or fraud committed by the other spouse.

Difficulties involving joint and several liability tend to arise especially when spouses have divorced or separated, and are no longer living together after they have filed a joint tax return. A spouse who is responsible for the errors, omissions, or fraud in a tax return may have an incentive to not cooperate with the former spouse, and may be difficult to even locate. However, due to the fact that a joint return was filed, the IRS could collect the entire amount of tax, penalties, and interest owed from the spouse who was not at fault for the problematic tax return.

In order to provide a remedy for this unjust outcome, in certain circumstances, the IRS allows a spouse, who lacked knowledge of a tax understatement and did not engage in activity giving rise to the understatement, to claim “Innocent Spouse Relief” resulting in full or partial relief from the payments and penalties associated with an understatement of tax made by another spouse.

Legal Test for Innocent Spouse Relief

In order to qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief, all five of the following conditions must be met:

1. A taxpayer must have filed a joint return for a taxable year.

2. On the tax return, there was an understatement of tax attributable to “erroneous items” (see definition below) of a spouse (or former spouse).

3. A taxpayer must establish that when he/she signed the joint return he/she did not know (“actual knowledge”) and “had no reason to know”, that there was an understatement of tax.

4. Taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it would be unfair to hold the taxpayer liable for the deficiency in tax for such taxable year attributable to the tax understatement; and

5. A request for innocent spouse relief will not be granted if the IRS can prove that the taxpayer requesting Innocent Spouse Relief and the taxpayer’s spouse (or former spouse) transferred property to one another as part of a fraudulent scheme. (A fraudulent scheme includes a scheme to defraud the IRS or another third party, such as a creditor, ex-spouse, or business partner.)

Definitions

a) Erroneous Items: an “item” for the Innocent Spouse Relief purposes generally means anything that is required to be reported separately on a tax return or its attachments. There are two types of erroneous items. The first is unreported income, which is any gross income item received by a spouse (or former spouse) that is not reported. The second is an any improper deduction, credit, or property basis claimed by a spouse (or former spouse).

b) Actual Knowledge: if taxpayer requesting Innocent Spouse Relief actually knew about an
erroneous item that belongs to his/her spouse (or former spouse), then the taxpayer will not qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief, and will remain jointly liable for that part of the understatement.

c) Reason To Know: If a reasonable person in similar circumstances would have known of the
understatement, then the taxpayer will not qualify for Innocent Spouse Relief, and will remain jointly liable for that part of the understatement. The IRS will consider a number of facts and circumstances in determining whether a taxpayer had reason to know of an understatement of tax due to an erroneous item, including the taxpayer’s educational background and business experience, the financial situation of both spouses, the nature of the erroneous item and the amount of the erroneous item in relation to other items, the extent of the taxpayer’s participation in the activity that resulted in the erroneous item, whether a reasonable person would have inquired at the time the tax return was signed about the erroneous items, omitted items on the return, and whether the erroneous item represented a departure from a recurring pattern reflected in prior years’ returns.

d) Indications of Unfairness: The IRS will examine a number of factors including, whether the taxpayer’s spouse (or former spouse) deserted him/her, whether the taxpayer and his/her spouse have divorced or separated, whether the taxpayer benefitted from the understatement on the return, and whether the taxpayer received a “significant benefit” (any benefit in excess of normal support), including transfers of property or rights to property, and transfers that are received several years after the year of the understatement.

Types of Innocent Spouse Relief

There are three types of Innocent Spouse Relief available:

1. Full Relief from tax liability (including penalties and interest) for a taxable year to the extent that the liability is attributable to the tax understatement on the joint return. There are certain requirements which must be met in order to qualify.

2. Apportionment of Relief from tax liability (including penalties and interest) for a taxable year. Under this type of innocent spouse relief, the understatement of tax is apportioned between the taxpayer and his/her (or former spouse). In order to meet this type of relief, a taxpayer must show that he or she did not know, and had no reason to know, the extent of understatement on a tax return. If granted, the taxpayer will be relieved of a tax liability to the extent that such liability is attributable to the portion of the understatement that the taxpayer did not know, or did not have reason to know that was in error or omitted.

3. Equitable Relief may be granted if an individual does not meet the requirements for the first two types of relief, but, after taking all the facts and circumstances into consideration, the IRS determines it would be inequitable to hold the taxpayer liable for the unpaid tax.

How Sherayzen Law Office can Assist You

Requesting Innocent Spouse Relief may require legal expertise because of the specificity of the requirements involved, and the necessity of persuading the IRS that you qualify for this relief. Moreover, in some cases, the Tax Code regulations governing the Innocent Spouse Relief process may themselves be challenged in courts. Sherayzen Law Office can help you understand and comply with the required regulations, draft the necessary documents and represent you in your negotiations with the IRS in order to help you limit your tax liability.

Call NOW to discuss your case with an experienced tax attorney!

Internet Sales and Use Taxes: A Growing Concern for Small Businesses and Consumers

Are you a small business owner who frequently sells goods or services over the Internet, or a consumer who purchases expensive products online? Then you may be responsible for charging sales taxes as a seller, or reporting unpaid use taxes as a consumer under new laws that have been passed by various states. As states look for ways to reduce budget deficits, merchants and consumers should expect to see collection of sales and use taxes become a top priority, and this may require sound tax advice.

Sales and Use Tax Defined

Sales taxes

Sales taxes are state or local taxes based upon a set percentage of the sales price of a product or service. Almost all states have sales taxes, except Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon. Likewise, most states charge sales tax for Internet purchases made in the state. Certain types of products may be exempt from sales taxes, such as clothing, prescription drugs and some foods and beverages in Minnesota.

Where sales taxes are applicable, merchants who sell via the Internet charge the appropriate sales tax rate for the location of the buyer. For example, a California merchants selling a product to a Minnesota consumer online, would charge the appropriate Minnesota sales tax rate, and then remit the collected tax amount to the state of Minnesota. (Certain exemptions may be applicable in some states depending upon whether the buyer is a consumer or a reseller.)

Use taxes

Use taxes for Internet or mail order purchases, apply when consumers located in a state with a sales tax, purchase goods or services for use in their home state, but are not charged a sales tax (or are taxed at a lower rate than in their home state) by the merchant. In such transactions, the consumer still owes a tax to their home state. Use taxes, unlike sales taxes however, are paid by the consumer. Use taxes that were not paid at the time of sale may be reported on a taxpayer’s state income tax form. Nearly half the states, including California and New York, include a line on individual state income tax forms for taxpayers to voluntarily calculate their use tax liability amount.

Difficulties with Collection of Internet Sales and Use Taxes

A 1992 Supreme Court decision, Quill vs. North Dakota, held that mail order retailers do not need to collect sales taxes unless they have a physical presence in the state of the customer purchasing its product or service. Physical presence may include a store, office, warehouse, or similar facility.

This decision was subsequently applied to exempt Internet retailers that met the requirements. Even though sales taxes are still legally due in circumstances in which an online merchant does not have a physical presence in a customer’s state, such taxes however are rarely reported by customers. Because of the difficulties in tracking online purchases, states often resorted to attempting to collect online sales taxes for expensive items (often requiring licenses to use the good), such as an automobile. In Minnesota, for example, residents are required to pay sales taxes on any online purchases that total $770 over the course of a year.

As many individuals increasingly began using the Internet to purchase goods and services however, states looked for new ways to collect sales taxes. In 2002, 40 states and the District of Columbia joined together to create an initiative called the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement (SSUTA) to simplify sales tax collection efforts. Although compliance with SSUTA is non-binding, according to recent numbers, nearly 1,200 online retailers now voluntarily collect sales taxes.

Future of Sales and Use Taxes: Collections Likely to Increase

Sales taxes make up the second largest source of state revenue, following individual income taxes. Thus, with many states facing widening budget deficits, the trend is for states to increasingly pursue collection efforts for unpaid sales and use taxes. Recently, state legislatures in New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island have enacted laws requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes if the retailer operates an ‘affiliate program’ with payments to individuals in return for customer referrals. Similar legislation has been proposed in at least fifteen other states. In Colorado, a new law requires online retailers that run affiliate programs to notify customers of applicable use taxes that must be paid.

The fate of state efforts to increase collection of online sales and use taxes may hinge in part on lawsuits brought by online retailer Amazon.com challenging some of these laws. In challenging the constitutionality of New York’s law, Amazon argued that sending referral payments to its customers through an affiliate program does not constitute a physical presence in a state. Amazon however lost a case in trial court, and has since appealed. Additionally, the company recently filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging North Carolina’s law. States have also filed lawsuits against certain online retailers in an effort to collect unpaid sales taxes and enforce existing state laws.

In addition to the various state laws and pending proposals, federal legislation has been proposed to require most online retailers to collect sales taxes in any states that have joined the Streamlined Sales Tax Project and have passed legislation complying with SSUTA. If the proposed federal legislation eventually becomes law, it would thus override the physical presence requirement. Twenty-three states are members or associate members of this project: Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The proposed law may also allow retailers to retain as an allowance, a small percentage of the sales tax collected, in order to cover reasonable expense for their sales tax collection efforts and tax return filings, as well as other associated costs.

Conclusion

All of the various state and federal legislative initiatives indicate that the states are stepping up their efforts to collect sales and use taxes. This will likely produce an increased complexity of the Internet tax laws with which both, Internet retailers and consumers, will have to comply. Remember, a tax-collection mistake may become very expensive for the involved partes since the unpaid taxes may be subject to penalties and interest.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you navigate this ever-changing tax landscape. Call NOW to discuss your case with an experienced tax attorney!