Category: Law

Taxpayer Attempts To Claim A Unilateral Settlement With IRS

In his letter enclosing his $1,396 check, taxpayer asserted unilaterally that “we are now concluded on this tax return issue” and that he would not “have any more issues with IRS” regarding 2006. But there can be no settlement unless there is mutual assent to its terms, which taxpayer has not shown. To demonstrate assent by the IRS, taxpayer must do more than show that the IRS cashed his check. No compromise was implied by “the government’s acceptance and cashing” of taxpayer’s check.

Once assessed, a disputed tax liability may be compromised by the IRS under Code section 7122. Taxpayer was free to propose an offer-in-compromise during the proceeding by submitting Form 656, Offer in Compromise, together with supporting financial information. But he declined to request a collection alternative of any sort, insisting instead that he had no liability for 2006 whatsoever.

Taxpayer’s argument is meritless. A disputed tax liability may be settled by agreement between taxpayer and the IRS. A settlement of a case pending in Court is a contract that “may be reached through offer and acceptance made by letter, or even in the absence of” a written instrument. Taxpayer did not settle his 2006 tax liability with IRS counsel. Rather, his case was tried in Court and he lost.

Even if the IRS employee were thought to have made a settlement offer, no settlement of any kind is binding on the IRS unless it is duly authorized and properly memorialized, as “This Court has repeatedly declined to enforce a settlement agreement when the person entering into the agreement on behalf of the Commissioner lacked the authority to bind the” IRS. Taxpayer has supplied no reason to believe that his IRS correspondent had the requisite settlement authority.

Taxpayer relied solely on its unilateral statement that the issues were all resolved. It did not follow any of the procedures available to it. In short, taxpayer had proffered no plausible evidence of a settlement. Thus, the court held for the IRS.

Morris R. Saunders, msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

Legal Tech Corner: Developing Laws to Fit the Internet of Things

In typical California fashion, the state is leading the charge toward developing law that would regulate the Internet of Things (“IoT”). IoT devices typically include any device that connects to the internet, such as phones, tablets, home security systems, Amazon “Alexa” and other similar convenience items, thermostats, baby monitors, and even connected home security systems.California SB-327 has passed the California House and Senate and looks like it may soon be signed into law by the Governor. Although not effective until January 1, 2020, the law requires that manufacturers of IoT devices implement certain reasonable security measures into the devices themselves. It also requires manufacturers to force users to customize the password for their device, among other things.

While the law has been recently criticized for being too broad (i.e. not defining “reasonable” security measures), lawyers and tech specialists recognize that a law that is too specific in dictating tech measures may not be a “fit” for all devices. Not to mention that such measures may be outdated solutions by the time the device enters the market. Thus, it seems a balance between vagueness and specificity in the law must be struck. We expect to see some tweaks to this law prior to the final version going into effect in 2020.

Though no other state has yet passed any similar laws to the California bill, Congress has proposed an IoT bill called the SMART IoT Act (H.R. 6032) which would force the Department of Commerce to conduct a study of the IoT industry, providing the precursor to perhaps a federal IoT law.

If you have additional questions about navigating the laws relating to IoT devices, or any other cyber security legal issue, please do not hesitate to contact us at 312-368-0100 or nremien@lgattorneys.com

Predictive Scheduling Legislation: What You Need to Know to Avoid Costly Surprises

In approximately a dozen states and a number of smaller municipalities across the U.S., initiatives have been introduced that would allow state and local governments to dictate how restaurants (and retailers) schedule their employees. Some view this approach as interfering with employers’ rights to control the workplace, while others view it as a necessary tool to protect the rights of food industry and other retail workers.  The impetus for the new rules – often referred to as predictive scheduling laws – emanates from the fact that workers often have very little ability to make adjustments to their work schedules in order to meet their responsibilities outside of work.  Unpredictable and unstable work schedules have been fairly well documented in the food service and preparation industries, as well as in retail and custodial occupations.

Predictive scheduling laws and proposals generally include certain common provisions: (i) advance posting of schedules, (ii) employer penalties for unexpected schedule changes, (iii) record-keeping requirements, and (iv) prohibitions on requiring employees to find replacements for scheduled shifts if they are unable to work. In Congress, the pending Schedules That Work Act would require that schedules be provided in writing two weeks in advance with penalties for changes made with less than 24 hours’ notice.  As those changes are implemented, restaurant owners are finding that they must make significant adjustments to how they run their businesses in order to stay in business.

“On-call” or “predictive scheduling” activists argue that retail employers too often use scheduling practices that directly interfere with employees’ personal lives and ability to plan around their work hours, while others believe government intervention in the scheduling of employees through a one-size-fits-all approach intrudes on the employer-employee relationship and creates unnecessary mandates on how a business should operate.  Many in the food service industry are concerned that predictive scheduling legislation will impede employers’ need to adapt to changing conditions in a store, particularly small, independently owned businesses that have limited staff and resources and may not be able to afford the penalties related to violations.  Some employees have also voiced concern that they could lose some of the flexibility that attracted them to the food service industry in the first place.

There are a variety of common components of predictive scheduling legislation.

  • Employee Scheduling Requests.  Giving employees the right to make scheduling requests without employer retaliation.  Employers would be required to consider scheduling requests from all employees and provide a response. In some instances (for healthcare issues for example), the employer would be required to grant the request unless there is a bona fide business reason not to do so—e.g., an inability to reorganize work among existing staff or the insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work. The right to request provision can be found in laws recently enacted in Vermont, New Hampshire, Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco and Emeryville, California.  (Similar laws have been in place for more than a decade in the United Kingdom.)
  • Shift Scheduling Changes.  Requiring employers to be pay employees for a minimum of four hours of work or the minimum number of hours in the scheduled shifts, whichever is fewer, when an employee is sent home from work early without being permitted to work his or her scheduled shift.  In addition, if an employee is required to call in less than 24 hours before the start of a potential shift to learn whether he or she is scheduled to work, an employer could be required to pay the employee a premium, equivalent to one hour of pay. This provision is found in eight states and the District of Columbia.
  • Split shift pay. If an employee is required to work a shift with nonconsecutive hours with a break of more than one hour between work periods, an employer could be required to pay the employee a premium for that shift, equivalent to one hour of pay. Provisions like this exist in District of Columbia and California.
  • Advance notice of schedules. When an employee is hired, an employer could be required to disclose the minimum number of hours an employee will be scheduled to work. If that minimum number changes, the employer could be required to give the employee two weeks’ notice of the new minimum hours before the change goes into effect. In addition, employers can be required to give employees their work schedules two weeks in advance and, if an employer makes changes to this work schedule with notice of only 24 hours or less, the employer could be required to pay the employee a premium, equivalent to one hour of pay. San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Emeryville, California have enacted laws to require employers to provide two weeks’ advance notice of schedules to employees in certain large retail and/or food service establishments.

In order to handle predictive scheduling mandates, business owners should explore software options and even retaining outside vendors that provide scheduling and labor management solutions.  A lack of training or understanding of predictive scheduling can be detrimental to a business’ bottom line, and scheduling practices can have a dramatic impact on labor costs.  As with most new legal developments in the food service industry (or any industry for that matter), training and education is key.

 For more information on this and other issues, contact our office at 312-368-0100 or Jon Weis at jweis@lgattorneys.com

 

Will 2 Years of Continued Employment Be Enough in Illinois to Enforce a Non-Compete?

The Answer: It’s Complicated.

In 2013, an Illinois Appellate Court in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., decided that absent additional consideration, continued employment for less than 2 years after the restrictive covenant was signed, would not be sufficient to enforce a restrictive covenant. The Fifield decision was unusual because courts often do not consider the adequacy of the consideration ̶ only that there was consideration to support a contract. Often, the promise of continued employment was acceptable. This decision sent shock waves throughout Illinois and required employers to reevaluate the value they were giving employees when entering into restrictive covenants.

Since that decision, Illinois state courts have routinely followed Fifield and applied its bright line test in cases where there is no additional consideration given to the employee except continued employment.

For example:

• October 31, 2017 – Employee signed a restrictive covenant after working for his employer for nearly 12 years and also served on the company’s board of directors. He announced his resignation and left 6 months later. He was finally removed from the Board a year after signing the restrictive covenant. Upon leaving he started a new business that directly competed with his employer. The Court found that the restrictive covenant was not enforceable because he did not work for at least two years after signing the restrictive covenant.
• June 25, 2015 – Employee worked for employer for more than three years and left. After working for the new employer for one day, the employee asked to come back. As a condition of his return, the employer requested he sign a restrictive covenant. The employee quit 18-months later. The Court held that because he did not work at least two years after executing the restrictive there was not sufficient consideration to support the restrictive covenants.

Complicating matters, however, Federal Courts in Illinois have consistently rejected Fifield’s bright line test and adhered to a more comprehensive fact specific analysis. The Federal Court’s decisions believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would not adopt Fifield’s rigid and bright line test and continue to a support a “totality of the circumstances” review. As a result, it has led to decisions that are at odds with the State courts:

For example:

• October 20, 2017 – Employees left after 13-months of employment, took confidential information, and started working for a competitor. Employees argued that Fifield governed and therefore the restrictive covenants were not enforceable. The Court disagreed and rejected Fifield’s bright line test.

• July 24, 2017 – Employee left after working for employer for nearly ten years. He signed a restrictive covenant 16 months prior to leaving. The Court rejected Fifield’s bright line rule. The Court noted that “[f]ive federal courts in the Northern District of Illinois and one federal court in the Central District of Illinois have predicted that the Illinois Supreme Court will reject the Illinois appellate court’s bright-line rule in favor of a more fact-specific approach.”

What does this mean for employers?

Because all Illinois employers should expect that they will have to enforce these agreements in a state court, the Fifield holding must continue to be respected. Employers should review their restrictive covenants to ensure the agreements are carefully drafted to improve enforceability.

Levin Ginsburg has been working with employers for approximately 40 years to help them protect their businesses. If you have any employment or other business related issues, please contact us at 312-368-0100 or email Walker Lawrence at wlawrence@lgattorneys.com

Have You Looked At Your Buy-Sell Agreement Lately? Business Succession Planning

John, Alexandria, Mary, Martin, and Yvette, formed the Jammy Sleepwear Company over thirty-five (35) years ago.  They were equal partners and formed a corporation.  On the advice of their attorneys, the entered into a shareholders’ agreement that contained buy-sell provisions.  This type of agreement is sometimes referred to as a “buy-sell agreement”.

Their buy-sell agreement contained various provisions, including under what circumstances a departing shareholder’s shares would be purchased, what the purchase price of those shares would be, and the terms of payment.  Since the business was in its infancy, they agreed it would be valued at its “book value”, meaning that the value of the assets on its financial statements, less all obligations, would be the business’s value.  There was no adjustment for good will or other intangible assets.  Also, the increase in value of any assets would not be taken into consideration.  The purchase price to a departing shareholder was to be paid in twelve (12) months, in equal monthly payments.  The business was required to purchase a departing shareholders shares.

Since they formed the business in 1980, they acquired other businesses and purchased real estate through a separate LLC.  They did not think to have a buy-sell for the LLC.

John has announced he would like to retire, but he has objected to the purchase price as being “unfairly” low.  He has advised the other owners that he will keep his interest in the real estate, since it will provide him with a “good stipend” during his retirement.  Shortly thereafter, Mary announced her retirement.

The remaining owners are concerned that the business will not be able to support payments to John and to Mary.  Also, the remaining owners would prefer that John and Mary also sell their interests in the LLC.

Unfortunately, the shareholders (and LLC members) did not regularly review their buy-sell agreement.  As the value of the business grew, the amount of the payments increased and would put a strain on the cash flow of the business.  If more than one owner were to retire, it would cause a bigger strain.  Either the business would have to borrow money, the owners would have to make capital infusions, new investors would be needed, or the business would need to be sold.

Some buy-sell agreements address these types of situations, by limiting the amounts that must be paid out to departing owners on an annual basis.  For example, the payments cannot exceed a specific dollar amount or a percentage of gross profits.  Also, when the owners buy real estate to be used by the business, they might consider including the real estate as a part of the buy-sell process.

Buy-sell agreements should be reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the business and its owners.  Levin Ginsburg has been advising business owners regarding legal aspects of their businesses, including buy-sell agreements for almost forty  years.

Please contact us with any questions you have regarding your business (including any buy-sell issues) at 312-368-0100 or Morris Saunders at msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

The Plaintiff’s End Game – Collecting the Judgment

It was a hard fought battle. You successfully sued a party in a commercial dispute who wronged you and a judge or jury awarded you seven-figure sum. Because the Defendant didn’t immediately take out its checkbook, however, you now face the task of collecting the judgment. Oftentimes, litigation doesn’t end when the judge bangs the gavel and you walk out of the courtroom with a judgment – a piece of paper saying that you’re entitled to money. You can’t bring the judgment to a car dealership and buy a car with it and the judgment itself won’t pay your mortgage. So what do you do to turn the judgment into actual dollars?

The Illinois Legislature and Illinois Supreme Court have carefully crafted laws and rules that allow you, as the successful plaintiff, to discover the judgment debtor’s assets in an attempt to collect your judgment. The process usually begins by serving the defendant with Citation to Discover Assets. The Citation to Discover Assets is first served on the defendant, usually either a person or a business, and, much like a summons or a subpoena, commands the defendant to appear at a specified time and place, usually a courtroom, to answer, under oath, questions about its assets. Typically, a Document Rider is attached to the Citation to Discover Assets requiring the judgment debtor to produce documents, such as bank records, titles to property, and the like, that will enable your attorney to locate assets. Importantly, service of the Citation to Discover Assets also acts as a form of lien or injunction on the defendant’s assets, generally preventing the defendant from disposing of assets while the post-judgment proceedings are pending.

As the victor, you are not only permitted to serve a Citation to Discover Assets on the defendant, you are also entitled to serve one on anyone who holds the defendants assets or who owes the defendant money, such as a customer, employer, bank, relative, investment company or anyone holding assets belonging to the defendant. These Third Party Citations require the third-party to provide sworn written answers to your questions within a certain period of time and, if it fails to do so, the judgment can also be entered against that third-party.

After you’ve been able to discover the existence of assets, you then ask the court to enter an order requiring the party holding the assets to turn them over to you. It takes a court order to get a bank to turnover a defendant’s cash. If you’re asking the court to order the turnover of tangible things, as opposed to cash, typically the order will require the assets to be turned over to the sheriff so the sheriff can sell them and turn them into cash.

There are many effective ways to satisfy a judgment, many are complex and require the assistance of an attorney familiar with the procedures. While most litigators know how to obtain a judgment, far fewer know how to effectively collect the judgment, leaving you holding little more than a very expensive piece of paper.

 

For more information on post-judgment proceedings, please contact:

Howard Teplinsky at hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100

The Illinois Independent Tax Tribunal: A New Forum for Certain Tax Protests

For years, Illinois taxpayers have been complaining about the Illinois Department of Revenue’s (the “Department”) handling of tax disputes. Complaints ranged from long delays in the Department’s administrative process to taxpayers not feeling like they were properly heard or their disputes fairly considered. Well, the Illinois General Assembly answered taxpayer’s calls in its creation of a new administrative forum, separate and apart from the Department, to handle certain types of tax disputes called the Illinois Independent Tax Tribunal (the “Tribunal”). The Tribunal’s self-proclaimed purpose is, among other things, “to increase public confidence in the fairness of the State tax system.” See 35 ILCS 1010/1-5(a).

In most cases, the Tribunal only has jurisdiction over protests filed after January 1, 2014. Any protests filed prior to January 1, 2014 continue with the Department. Typically, the Tribunal only has jurisdiction over protests if the amount of the tax liability exceeds $15,000, exclusive of penalty and interest. In situations where there is no additional tax liability assessed, but the total penalties or interest or both exceed $15,000, the Tribunal has jurisdiction.

Only certain types of tax protests may be heard by the Tribunal. These include tax liability under the:
• Illinois Income Tax Act
• Tobacco Products Tax Act of 1995
• Motor Fuel Tax Law
• Cigarette Tax Act
• Hotel Operators’ Occupation Tax Act

Other types of tax protests do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal. These include tax liability under the:
• Charitable Games Tax
• Cigarette Machine Operators’ Occupation Tax
• County Motor Fuel Tax
• Private Party Vehicle Use Tax
• Real Estate Transfer Tax

The Tribunal maintains its principal offices in both Sangamon County and Cook County, Illinois. A protest must be filed within the time permitted by statute and in the form prescribed by the Tribunal (which is similar to a complaint filed in state court). The Department is required to answer, in writing, within 30 days after a protest is filed. The Tribunal charges a $500 fee for the filing of a petition and the discovery process is governed by the Illinois Supreme Court Rules and the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure. Following the completion of discovery, a hearing will be held before an administrative law judge, independent of the Department, and the Tribunal will issue its decision in writing no later than 90 days after the completion of the hearing.

To discuss a tax dispute you have with the Illinois Department of Revenue, please contact:

Jonathan M. Weis at:

jweis@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100

or

Dean J. Tatooles at:

dtatooles@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100

New Illinois Law Provides Greater Protections for Pregnant Employees

In August 2014, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law Public Act 98-1050, which is commonly referred to as the “Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act” (the “Act”). The Act, which becomes effective January 1, 2015, provides greater protections for pregnant workers, requiring all Illinois employers to provide reasonable accommodations to any employee or job applicant for pregnancy and child-birth related conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The Act amends the Illinois Human Rights Act to include pregnancy as a protected class. “Pregnancy” is defined as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical or common conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Employers are now required to provide pregnant employees with “reasonable accommodations”—the same type of accommodations employers are already required to provide to workers with temporary disabilities. Reasonable accommodations may include light duty, assistance with manual labor, and additional or extended bathroom breaks.  An employer may only refuse a requested accommodation if the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation presents an undue hardship on its ordinary business operations. The Act also prohibits discrimination in the hiring and employment of pregnant workers and those affected by a medical or common condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Employers must also post a notice regarding employees’ rights under the Act in a conspicuous location or include this information in the employer’s employee handbook.

To discuss any questions you may have about the effect of this new law on your business, please contact:

Kristen E. O’Neill at:

(312) 368-0100 / koneill@lgattorneys.com

The Importance of Website “Terms and Conditions”

You may have noticed that many of the websites you visit have what are often called “Terms and Conditions” or “Terms of Use Agreements” (“Agreement”).  Links to such Agreements are often found at the bottom of the home page and/or the website, and the user must accept the terms and conditions in the Agreement in order to use the website. Prudent business owners include such Agreements on their business’s websites to make it clear on what basis information, products or services are being provided through the website and, to the extent possible, limit any liability that may arise out of use of the website.  If your business operates a website it is to your advantage to include an Agreement.  Such Agreements are especially important to companies that sell products, distribute content, and permit users to post messages or other content that raises the potential for third-party liability on their websites. The specific terms contained in the Agreement will vary depending on the nature of the website and the underlying commercial relationship between the user and the website owner.

Most Agreements should address some or all of the following: (1) a clear statement that use of the website constitutes acceptance of the terms set forth in the Agreement; (2) a detailed description of the services, products and/or  information provided through the website; (3) any payment terms and return policies for e-commerce websites; (4) the method for creating and canceling accounts, if applicable; (5) general disclaimers and website-specific disclaimers depending on the nature of the website; (6) ownership of the intellectual property rights in and to the website  content; (7) intellectual property rights in and to any submissions by the user;  (8) limitations of liability; (9) any age restrictions; (10) Digital Millennium Copyright Act safe harbor language; (11) restrictions on the user conduct; and (12) a dispute resolution section, including choice of law and arbitration provisions.

To discuss your website’s “Terms and Conditions” or “Terms of Use Agreements”, or other important disclaimers which may be appropriate for your business, please contact:

Cynthia B. Stevens at:

(312) 368-0100 / cstevens@lgattorneys.com

New Business Ventures: Register as a “New Business Venture” and Attract Investors Seeking to Take Advantage of the Illinois Tax Credit for Angel Investments

New business ventures can register with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (the “DCEO”) to qualify as “eligible” to participate in the Illinois Angel Investment Credit Program (the “Program”). If a new business venture is qualified by the DCEO to participate in the Program, then an angel investor who invests in the new business venture may claim an “Angel Investment Credit” against its Illinois income taxes in an amount equal to 25% of an “angel investment” made by the individual angel investor, as reflected on the Tax Credit Certificate issued by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (86 Ill. Adm. Code 100, eff. July 9, 2014), and subject to certain rules and restrictions. Therefore, the Angel Investment Credit is an incentive for investors to invest in your business.

Any business desiring to qualify as a new business venture must meet certain requirements, including but not limited to, being headquartered in Illinois, having at least 51% of the employees employed by the business employed in Illinois, having fewer than 100 employees at the initial time of registration, and the business has received not more than $10,000,000 in aggregate private equity investment in cash or $4,000,000 in investments that qualified for tax credits.

The Illinois Angel Investment Credit Program has allocated $10 million in tax credits annually, from 2011-2016, and the Angel Investment Credit is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. New business ventures and “angel investors” should act fast to either submit a registration application (for new business ventures) or claimant application (for investors). An investment is considered to be an “angel investment” if the investor invests in a “qualified new business venture” in exchange for an ownership interest, with such investment being at a risk of loss.

To discuss the “Angel Investment Program” generally, the benefits and procedures of registering your business as a new business venture, or how it can help reduce an investor’s Illinois income tax liability, please contact:

Morris R. Saunders at:

(312) 368-0100 / msaunders@lgattorneys.com

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