Thursday, June 28, 2018

Yogi Berra's Sayings Worked Their Way Into Tax Decisions

This post was originally published on Forbes Sep 23, 2015

Yogi Berra besides being a great baseball player and manager is also known as something of a common man philosopher for his sayings sometimes called Yogi-isms not all of which he actually said.  As is my habit when the prominent pass, I had to check whether he had been involved in tax litigation.  I didn't find anything and my Thomson Reuters Checkpoint is pretty comprehensive and my research skills are pretty good.  After all, tax blogging is 90% good research; the other three-quarters is creativity.  Nonetheless, Yogi Berra has influenced the tax world through his wisdom and is likely the most quoted baseball player in the body of tax material.  Here is what I found.

Keasler v. United States

This was a 1984 decision of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.  It was about whether Lawrence Keasler was entitled to an award of attorney's fees from an excise refund case that he had won.  The Government argued that Mr. Keasler had blown a deadline in asking for attorneys fees.  The court cited Yogi in ruling for the taxpayer:
In short, under the section 2412 limitation period, the immortal words of Yogi Berra seem appropos—"The game isn't over till it's over." See Bartlett's Quotations, at 903 (15th ed. 1980). For purposes of the plaintiffs in this case, the thirty-day deadline for filing their trial-level attorney's fees requests did not start running until the entire litigation was over—i.e., when the district clerk entered the mandate of the Eighth Circuit.
Wenzel Tirheimer

This was a 1992 Tax Court Memorandum decision.  It was a hobby loss case (Section 183) - like many hobby loss cases it is about horses. If you think the Tea Party was persecuted by the IRS, try being a money losing horse breeder. The taxpayer lost for the classic reason of not having much in the way of a business plan.
Upon consideration of all the facts and circumstances, we find that petitioners did not engage in their horse-related activities with an actual and honest objective of making a profit. Petitioners simply did not partake in the necessary planning or analysis which a prudent business person engaging in a venture for profit would have done. "If you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else."
The source of the saying is noted in footnote 4 - "A philosophical adage attributed to Yogi Berra."

From The Commissioner

Working our way into the even more obscure.  We have a speech by then-IRS Commissioner Lawrence Gibbs to the American Payroll Association's Fifth Annual Congress in 1987.
We have something else in common—the challenge of managing constant change. With the dawn of this information technology age, change means much more than rewriting job descriptions and adding new job responsibilities. It often means getting used to entirely new ways of doing business. And the rate of change is accelerating with time, not slowing down.
As only Yogi Berra could put it:

“The future ain't what it used to be.”
Flexibility is key. But with an organization as large as the IRS, flexibility doesn't come naturally. It is not always easy for us to make mid-stream corrections, to rethink long-held positions. But if we're committed to quality performance—and we are—I believe we can and MUST make the necessary adjustments
Arangold Corporation v Raymond Wagner

Don't want to leave my SALT brothers and sisters out.  Arangold was a 1995 decision of the Illinois Circuit Court which found that the way the legislature defined "wholesale price" of tobacco products violated the commerce clause.
After affording full weight to these rules of construction, the court nevertheless must conclude that the Tobacco Act violates the Commerce Clause for the same reason as caused the Tobacco Products Tax Act of 1969 to be stricken down. As Yogi Berra might say, “It's deja vu all over again.” Once again, the legislature has defined the pivotal term “wholesale price” in a manner which gives rise to a patently discriminatory effect.
 Frank Ruano and John Scannell v State of Washington, King County, and Ralph Munro

Amazingly enough this was a Washington Supreme Court decision that concerned baseball - specifically the home of the Seattle Mariners.
Stadium Act which provides means of financing construction of major league baseball stadium in county through, inter alia, sales and use taxes and taxes on admission charges for events held in stadium does not violate state constitutional provision requiring that all taxes be levied and collected for public purpose even though professional sports franchise could reap benefits as principal tenant of stadium; construction of stadium confers benefit of reasonably general character to significant part of public in county as well as persons in region.
Yogi is cited in footnote 12
 Apparently the alleged motivation behind the Stadium Act is the belief by some that the Mariners baseball team will leave Seattle unless it is furnished a new stadium, because, it is asserted, that more fans would attend the new facility than the existing Kingdome facility. However, as Yogi Berra said, “If people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them.”
 By The Book

The wisdom of Yogi Berra has even worked its way into an official manual - specifically the Wisconsin Property Assessment Manual.  In a discussion of how a municipality should select its computer-assisted mass appraisal system, it is noted.
The problem definition and needs analysis is very important. This stage defines the system limits including the goals and ideas that will be used to judge whether any system satisfies the communities' needs. All projected and wished for information needs should be included in the analysis. In addition, provisions must be made for expansion and enhancement. As Yogi Berra is reported to have said, “If you don't know where you're going, you will wind up somewhere else.”
That "don't know where you are going" quote seems to have broad applicability.
By the way Yogi Berra's - When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It! in which he expounds on the deeper meaning of some of his sayings is well worth reading.

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