August 17, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Where Property Held By Trust Was For Benefit of Taxpayer, Foreclosure Of Tax Lien Proper

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Tingey on Wednesday, May 29, 2013.

The district court permitted the government to foreclose on federal tax liens on a ski cabin (the Ski Cabin) titled in the name of the D.E. Brown Family Trust (Family Trust), whose beneficiaries were Douglas Brown’s wife and children. The taxes were owed by Douglas Brown (Brown) and his wife (together, the Browns), not the trust, but the court found that the Browns were the beneficial owners of the cabin because Brown had a purchase-money resulting trust (PMRT) arising from his having purchased the cabin and then conveyed it to the Family Trust. The district court also held that under federal law, the Family Trust held legal title to the cabin as nominee for the Browns. The trustee of the Family Trust, Robert Tingey, appealed.

Tingey first argued that that the government waived the right to assert that the Browns held the beneficial interest in the cabin. Tingey based his waiver argument on a stipulated order in Brown’s criminal securities-fraud case, which required that the proceeds of certain stock held by the Family Trust be forfeited to the United States as restitution, but lifted any further restraint on remaining trust property. Tingey argued that the government knew of the Family Trust’s claim to the cabin at the time of the stipulation. The Tenth Circuit held that even if “the government was fully aware of the Family Trust’s claims to the cabin, its agreement to the stipulated order did not waive its rights to pursue a tax claim. The order said nothing about tax liability or who had beneficial interests in the Ski Cabin.”

Tingey next argued that the district court erred in concluding that the Family Trust held the cabin in a PMRT for Brown’s benefit. The Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court that clearly Brown paid the purchase price for the cabin before legal title transferred to the Family Trust, thus meeting a threshold requirement for a PMRT.

The court also rejected Tingey’s argument that when an express trust holds legal title, a resulting trust is not possible.

Tingey challenged the district court’s ruling that the government demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence the final requirement for finding a PMRT, that Brown intended to retain the beneficial interest in the Ski Cabin. Brown made note payments out of personal funds, used the property without the trustee’s knowledge, rented the cabin out without the trustee’s involvement, and performed maintenance on the cabin. Additionally, the testimony of Tingey established that Brown set up the trust to shield the cabin from his creditors. The court affirmed the district court’s holding that the Ski Cabin was held by the Family Trust in a PMRT for the benefit of Brown.

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