Germany vs A Corp. (S-Corporation), November 2022, Finanzgericht Cologne, Case No 2 K 750/19

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It is disputed between the parties whether the A Corp. resident in the USA – a so-called S corporation – or its shareholders are entitled to full exemption and reimbursement of the capital gains tax with regard to a profit distribution by a domestic subsidiary of A Corp. (S-Corporation).

A Corp. (S-Corporation) is a corporation under US law with its registered office in the United States of America (USA). It has opted for taxation as an “S corporation” under US tax law and is therefore not subject to corporate income tax in the USA; instead, its income is taxed directly to the shareholders resident in the USA (Subchapter S, §§ 1361 to 1378 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC)). The shareholders of A Corp. (S-Corporation) are exclusively natural persons resident in the USA as well as trusts established under US law and resident in the USA, the beneficiaries of which are in turn exclusively natural persons resident in the USA.

For several years, the A Corp. (S-Corporation) has held a 100% share in A Deutschland Holding GmbH. On the basis of a resolution on the appropriation of profits dated November 2013, A Deutschland Holding GmbH distributed a dividend in the amount of € (gross) to A Corp. (S-Corporation) on … December 2013. Of this, after deduction of the share for which amounts from the tax contribution account are deemed to have been used within the meaning of section 27 KStG (section 20 (1) no. 1 sentence 3 EStG), an amount of € …. € to the income from capital assets. A Deutschland Holding GmbH retained capital gains tax on this amount in the amount of 25% plus solidarity surcharge and thus a total of € … (capital gains tax in the amount of € … plus solidarity surcharge in the amount of €) and paid this to the tax office B.

In a letter dated 14 March 2014, A Corp. (S-Corporation) informally applied for a full refund of the withheld capital gains tax plus solidarity surcharge. By letter of 21 May 2014, referring to this application, the company submitted, among other things, a completed application form “Application for refund of German withholding tax on investment income”, in which it had entered “A Corp. (S-Corporation) for its shareholders” as the person entitled to a refund . The shareholders were identified from an attached document.

By decision of 4 September 2014, the tax authorites set the amount to be refunded to A Corp. (S-Corporation) as the person entitled to a refund at … (capital gains tax in the amount of … € as well as solidarity surcharge in the amount of €). This corresponds to a withholding tax reduction to 15 %. The tax authorities refused a further refund on the grounds that, due to the introduction of § 50d, para. 1, sentence 11 EStG in the version applicable at the time (EStG old version), the concession under Article 10, para. 2, letter a) DTT-USA could not be claimed. The residual tax was 15%, since the eligibility of the partners of A Corp. (S-Corporation) for the agreement had to be taken into account.

This decision also took into account a further profit distribution by the A Deutschland Holding GmbH to the A Corp. (S-Corporation) from … December 2012 in the amount of …. €, for which a refund of capital gains tax in the amount of …. € and solidarity surcharge in the amount of …. € was granted. In this respect, the tax authorities already granted the request during the complaint proceedings by means of a (partial) remedy notice of 8 May 2015 and increased the capital gains tax to be refunded from € … to € … as requested. (cf. p. 70 ff. VA). The tax treatment of the 2012 profit distribution is therefore not a matter of dispute.

Judgement of the Tax Court

The Court decided in favour of A Corp. (S-Corporation) and its shareholders.


125 An application to this effect has been made in favour of plaintiffs 2) to 17). The defendant correctly interpreted the application received by it on 22 May 2014, which expressly identifies the first plaintiff on behalf of its partners as being entitled to reimbursement, as such. Similar to a litigation status in the proceedings before the fiscal court, the discerning senate considers the filing of an application by a company “on behalf of its shareholders” to be effective, especially since the second to seventeenth plaintiffs promptly confirmed that the claim (of the first plaintiff) for a reduction of the withholding taxes to zero had been asserted by them or in their interest via the first plaintiff (cf. letter of 15 June 2015 as well as the attached confirmations of all shareholders, pp. 85 et seq. VA). The fact that the first plaintiff did not explicitly refer to this in the first informal application letter of 14 March 2014 (see file, pp. 1 f. VA) as well as in the letter of 21 May 2014 (see file, pp. 6 f. VA) is irrelevant. This is because the addition of the application “for its shareholders” can be found on the formal application both under point I “person entitled to reimbursement” and in the heading of the second page of the application, which is the relevant point. The fact that item IV of the application for the granting of the nesting privilege provides for an American corporation as the person entitled to a refund is harmless in this context. As a result of the provision of § 50d, para. 1, sentence 11 EStG, old version, which had only been introduced shortly before, there was not yet a different application form. In addition, the application of this provision was associated with considerable uncertainties, as its effect was disputed from the beginning. Finally, point IV of the application also states that the intercompany privilege under treaty law (in this case Article 10, para. 3 DTT-USA) is to be claimed on the merits. Moreover, the letter of 14 March 2014 also refers to a refund procedure already pending for previous years under the registration number US …, for which a corresponding application was not appropriate due to the lack of application of § 50d, para. 1, sentence 11 EStG old.
126 As a result of the (only) procedural effect of § 50d, para. 1, sentence 11 EStG old, the plaintiffs 2) to 17), who are all shareholders of the plaintiff 1), are entitled to a refund in the full amount, i.e. up to a reduction of the withholding tax to 0%. Due to the lack of substantive effect, the plaintiffs 2) to 17) are not “beneficial owners” within the meaning of Article 10 DTT-USA instead of the plaintiff 1), so that although the plaintiffs 2) to 17) are natural persons (or, in the case of the trusts, the beneficiaries), Article 10, para. 2, letter b) DTT-USA does not apply (withholding tax reduction to 15%), but Article 10, para. 3 DTT-USA.
127 In addition to the refund already determined in the decision of 21 April 2020, a further amount of € must therefore be determined and refunded.

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Case No 2 K 750-19

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