MECOX PARTNERS LP EX REL. GOLDMAN v. US

U.S. Dist. Court, SD New York, No. 11 Civ. 8157 (ER), February 1, 2016: Preservation easement recording date is contribution date in New York.

Mecox Partners LP (“Mecox”) donated a historic preservation easement and open space easement on property in New York State to a charitable organization. The deed of easement was fully executed in 2004, but [...]

Gemperle v. Commissioner

U.S. Tax Court, T.C. Memo. 2016-1, January 4, 2016: No preservation easement tax deduction unless appraisal filed with tax return.

Gemperle, the taxpayer (petitioner), claimed a federal income tax deduction for 2007 and 2008 for the contribution of a historic preservation easement on the façade of a Chicago home. Contrary to the requirements of the Internal Revenue [...]

Atkinson v Commissioner

U.S. Tax Court, T.C. Memo 2015-236, December 9, 2015: Golf course conservation easement doesn’t qualify for deduction.

The Tax Court held that contribution of certain conservation easements on land at the subject golf course do not qualify for a Federal income tax charitable deduction because they do not meet the conservation purposes requirement of the tax Code, [...]

Legg v. Commissioner

U.S. Tax Court, 145 T.C. No. 13, December 7, 2015: Upholds IRS procedure for imposition of 40% accuracy related penalty on conservation easement overvaluation.

The issue in this case was about the internal procedure of the IRS when imposing an accuracy related penalty under Internal Revenue Code section 6662 for the misstatement of valuation of conservation easement [...]

Scott v. Metcalf Charitable Trust

Supreme Court of Montana, 2015 MT 265, No. DA 14-0798, September 8, 2015: Conservation restrictions created outside Montana conservation easement statute enforceable.

The basic issue in this case was whether in Montana an easement in gross (here, a restriction for the benefit of a person, rather than benefitting a piece of land (a “dominant estate”) that binds [...]

US v. 1.57 Acres of Land

US District Court, S.D. California, No. 12cv3055-LAB (MDD), September 8, 2015: Non-economic value of conservation easement excluded in valuation of taking.

This decision is about excluding evidence in a trial to determine how much the United States must compensate the County of San Diego for taking a small parcel of land subject to a conservation easement. The [...]

Boston Redevelopment Authority v. National Park Service

US District Court, D. Massachusetts, Civil Action No. 14-12990-PBS, August 26, 2015: Long Wharf Pavilion in Land and Water Conservation Fund restricted area can’t become restaurant.

The dispute underlying this case is whether the Plaintiff Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) may convert Long Wharf Pavilion, an open-air structure built in 1988 on Long Wharf in Boston Harbor, into [...]

Minnick v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue (Minnick II)

US Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, No. 13-73234, August 12, 2015: Mortgage subordination at the time of easement gift, not later, required for deduction.

The US Tax Court held in Minnick v. Commissioner (Minnick I), 2012 T.C. Memo 345, December 17, 2012,  that Treasury Regulations §1.170A-14(g)(2) requires that, for a taxpayer to take a deduction for the [...]

Bosque Canyon Ranch LP v. Commissioner (Bosque I)

US Tax Court, T.C. Memo. 2015-130, July 14, 2015: Conservation easement deduction denied; inadequate baseline documentation; Belk violation.

Citing the precedent of the Belk II tax court memo, as affirmed by the Fourth Circuit decision in Belk III, the court denied any tax deduction for twin conservation easements that allowed for the alteration of boundaries between unrestricted [...]

Schaecher v. Bouffault

Supreme Court of Virginia, Record No. 141480,June 4, 2015: Accusation of conservation easement violation is not defamation in Virginia.

At issue was whether public accusations that a party violated a conservation easement is defamation in Virginia. The Plaintiffs, 3 Dog Farm, LC, and Happy Tails sought a special use permit to operate a boarding kennel of more [...]

In re: The Application of Living Word Bible Camp

Court of Appeals of Minnesota, Nos. A14-0464, 14-0481, A14-1224, A14-1225, April 6, 2015: Bible camp’s development not prohibited by conservation easement.

Two groups of realtors oppose Living Word Bible Camp’s (LWBC) plan to build a youth bible camp on a property of 283 acres, of which 84 acres is subject to a conservation easement owned by the [...]

SWF Real Estate LLC v. Commissioner

Tax Court, T.C. Memo. 2015-63, April 2, 2015: Tax due on partnership’s easement tax credit allocation as disguised sale.

The prime issue in this case was how the IRS should treat a limited partnership transaction involving Virginia tax credits for the donation of a conservation easement, and the valuation for federal tax purposes of that donation. Also [...]

Ranch O, LLC v. Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Div. 1, No. 13CA2204, February 26, 2015: Land Trust keeps conservation easement despite error naming grantor.

The Land Trust accepted and recorded a deed of conservation easement (“Conservation Deed”) from one Craig J. Walker, an individual who, as it turned out, had overlooked that he had previously granted and recorded a deed [...]

Minnick v. Ennis

Idaho Supreme Court, No. 41663, 2015 Opinion No. 1, January 9, 2015: Statute of limitations on malpractice claim for lawyer’s failure to seek mortgage subordination before recording conservation easement runs from when IRS raised issue.

The Minnicks engaged the law firm Hawley Troxell as counsel for a real estate project. As part of the project the Minnicks [...]

Mitchell v. Commissioner

US Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, No. 13-9003, January 6, 2015: No deduction for conservation easement without mortgage subordination at time of grant.

This decision affirms the US Tax Court decision in Mitchell v. Commissioner, 138 T.C. 324 (2012) (Mitchell I) (of which the Tax Court rejected reconsideration in Mitchell II, T.C. Memo. 2013-204, August 29, 2013), [...]

Belk v. Commissioner (Belk III)

US Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, No. 13-2161, December 16, 2014: Allowing property swap disqualifies conservation easement deduction.

The court upheld the Tax Court ruling in Belk v. Commissioner, 140 T.C. No. 1 (2013) (Belk I), that a conservation easement that allows the parties to change which property is subject to the easement does not qualify for [...]

Register v. The Nature Conservancy

US Dist. Court, ED Kentucky, Civil Action No. 5:13-77-DCR, December 9, 2014: Charitable gift restricted by oral contract but claimed restriction violation goes to jury

At issue were whether a contribution to a charity was restricted, what the law required if the gift was restricted, and whether the gift was ultimately used contrary to the restriction.

Register, the donor, contributed appreciated stock to The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The trial record produced evidence about what Register and TNC personnel thought the donation was for at the time of donation and leading up to it.  Register alleged the gift of about $1 million to TNC was intended to be permanently restricted for the purchase and management of a parcel of land known as Griffith Woods. Register alleged he made the gift intending to obligate TNC to use the proceeds from a sale of Griffith Woods for management of that property if Griffith Woods were ever sold. Using the gift and other funds, TNC bought Griffith Woods and then sold it. Part of the land was sold to the University of Kentucky (which Register evidently expected) and TNC sold the rest to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (“KDFWR”), without a conservation restriction.

Among the evidence relevant to the court’s decision was that TNC placed Register’s original donation in an account classified by TNC internally as “temporarily restricted” to fund the purchase of Griffith Woods. After Griffith Woods was sold, TNC deposited the funds back into that account and then transferred money out of the account. TNC used some of the proceeds from the sale to pay-off a land debt on another project and the rest were deposited into TNC’s general operating fund. TNC admitted that no portion of Register’s gift is currently being used to benefit Griffith Woods. The court’s opinion recites much additional evidence specific to the knowledge and intent of the parties at various times.

The court first held that as a matter of law Register’s donation was restricted as a “conditional gift” and as such TNC was bound by Register’s intention when it accepted the donation. The court cited an Arizona Supreme Court decision (Dunaway v. First Presbyterian Church of Wickenburg, 442 P.2d 93, 95 (1968)) for the proposition that a charity’s acceptance of a gift creates an implied contract with a promise “agreeing to the purposes for which it is offered.” The court cited a Seventh Circuit decision (Kentucky is in the 6th Circuit) for the proposition that a promise of a gift is a promise subject to contract law.

The court found that although there was no written contract in one integrated document, the evidence supported the conclusion that the parties entered into an oral contract and Register’s donation was “restricted to Griffith Woods” as a matter of law. [Digest readers are urged to read the opinion if they are interested in the specific statements, writings and circumstances that gave rise to the court’s conclusion in this and other aspects of its decision.]

The court then turned to the “parameters and duration” of the conditions, if any, of the contract. One letter from Register to the Director of the Kentucky TNC chapter at the time included, “I’d like to make now a gift …  I would prefer that the … proceeds go toward the establishment and management of a nature preserve in the Bluegrass region, e.g. Griffith Woods. If the Griffith Woods project falls through, I trust that KNC will put to use the funds in a manner that will further help protect areas in Kentucky with unique and diverse plants and animals.” The actual transmittal letters from Register’s investment clearinghouse to TNC memorializing the transfer of stock stated “[t]his represents a gift from [Register] to the Nature Conservancy-Kentucky Chapter, Griffith Woods project” or “[t]his represents a gift from [Register] to the Kentucky Chapter Griffith Woods project.”

TNC’s arguments focused on Register’s letter’s use of “precatory language” (“prefer” and “e.g.”) and the general nature of how he wanted the gift used if the Griffith Woods “project falls through.”   The court, however, concluded that Register’s intent for the funds to be used for Griffith Woods was meant by him as a limiting restriction and created an enforceable obligation because the next sentence points out what is to happen if the Griffith Woods preference is not fulfilled. The court also found the evidence lead to the conclusion that, “At the time the donation was made, no one appeared to believe that the funds were not restricted to Griffith Woods.” Continue reading Register v. The Nature Conservancy

McClure v. Montgomery County

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, No. 1031, September Term, 2013, December 2, 2014: Conservation easement enforceable, civil penalty for violation valid.

The case concerns the validity and enforceability of a forest conservation easement (“FCE”) on a subdivision lot purchased by Appellant McClure and the authority of a County board to issue a corrective order and impose [...]

Markus v. Brohl

Colorado Court of Appeals, 3rd Div., No. 13CA1656, October 23, 2014: Colorado’s 4-year limitation on challenging a claimed conservation easement tax credit runs from when the credit is first claimed.

Colorado taxpayers may claim a state income tax credit, which may be carried forward for up to twenty years, for donating a qualifying conservation easement to a [...]

In Re Dekoning

US Bankruptcy Court, ED California Fresno Div., No. 13-16634-13-13, August 27, 2014: Conservation easement may not diminish market value of debtor’s residence in bankruptcy.

In this bankruptcy matter, the Debtor, Dekoning, sought to have the court accept a fair market value of his residence low enough so a mortgage holder would be deemed an unsecured creditor. The [...]