Court of Appeals Reverses Tax Court Decision in the Historic Boardwalk Case

Dealing a blow to the Historic Tax Credit syndication industry, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on August 27th reversed the Tax Court decision in the Historic Boardwalk Case. In siding with the Internal Revenue Service, the Court of Appeals examined a partnership structure commonly used in the syndication of federal Historic Tax Credits and ruled that the tax credit investor was not partner in the entity generating the Historic Tax Credits. The Court of Appeals concluded that the tax credit investor “did not have any meaningful downside risk or any meaning upside potential in HBH [the entity generating the historic tax credits].” Citing a tax credit recapture guaranty in favor of the tax credit investor to protect its capital contributions and a guaranteed investment contract in favor of the tax credit investor to guaranty its 3% preferred return, the Court of Appeals determined there was no downside risk to the tax credit investor. In a similar vein, the Court of Appeals concluded that the consideration contained in the put and call agreements for the sale of the tax credit investor’s partnership interest had no bearing to the economic reality of the transaction. While the Internal Revenue Service appealed the Tax Court decision on several grounds, the Court of Appeals assumed for purposes of its opinion that the transaction had economic substance and based its decision on one issue – whether the tax credit investor was a partner. Although the Court of Appeals acknowledged sensitivity that “… we may jeopardize the viability of future historic rehabilitation projects,” the Court found that “[w]here we confront taxpayers who have taken a circuitous route to reach an end more easily accessible by a straightforward path we look to substance over form” and the Court concluded that the tax credit investor was not a bona fide partner.

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