In a reminder that there are limits on the retroactive application of tax laws, a California Superior Court rejected the Franchise Tax Board’s attempt to impose retroactive penalties on a tax shelter promoter. Quellos Fin. Advisors, LLC v. Franchise Tax Bd., Case No. CGC-09-487540 (San Francisco Super. Ct., Tentative Statement of Decision, Oct. 31, 2011).
Quellos was promoting the allegedly abusive tax shelter in 2001. California law tied the amount of the applicable penalty to that in I.R.C. § 6700, which established a maximum penalty of $1,000. Cal. Rev. & Tax Cd. § 19177. In 2003, California amended section 19177 to substantially increase the promoter penalty from $1,000 to 50% of the income derived by the promoter from the tax shelter promotion activity. The FTB assessed the 50% promoter penalty against Quellos in November 2009 for its promotion activities alleged to have occurred in 2001. Quellos argued that the pre-2003 law imposed a maximum penalty of $1,000 and the 2003 amendment could not be applied retroactively to Quellos’s 2001 activities.