United States v. El Paso Co.

682 F.2d 530 (1982)

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United States v. El Paso Co.

United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
682 F.2d 530 (1982)

Facts

The El Paso Company (defendant) was a large holding company. During its routine audit of El Paso’s tax returns for 1976, 1977, and 1978, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asked El Paso to produce its tax-pool analyses for those years. El Paso’s tax-pool analyses (also sometimes known as noncurrent tax accounts or tax-accrual work papers) documented the areas in which El Paso might be required to pay additional taxes. The analyses were a product of the complexity of the federal tax code and the fact that the preparation of El Paso’s tax returns involved judgment and numerous gray areas. As a publicly traded corporation, El Paso was required to address the risk that the IRS might disagree with its tax decisions by establishing a balance-sheet reserve for contingent future tax liabilities. El Paso’s in-house tax department, which was comprised of 80 accountants and 10 attorneys, created the tax-pool analyses after El Paso filed the corresponding returns. El Paso discussed some of the information and many of the potential tax-liability issues reflected in its tax-pool analyses with its independent auditors, who were required to determine whether El Paso’s balance-sheet reserve was adequate. El Paso declined to produce its tax-pool analyses. When El Paso also refused to comply with an IRS summons seeking production of the tax-pool analyses, the United States sued to enforce the summons. El Paso argued that the tax-pool analyses were protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. However, El Paso asserted privilege on a blanket basis without particularizing its privilege assertion with respect to any specific documents. The district court ordered enforcement of the IRS summons. El Paso appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Williams, J.)

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