Saturday, January 21, 2023
Beckett Cantley (Northeastern University) and Geoffrey Dietrich (Cantley Dietrich) recently published an article, Pop & Perjury: The IRS Valuation War with the Estate of Michael Jackson, University of New Hampshire Law Review, 2022. Provided below is an abstract to the article:
When Michael Jackson died unexpectedly in Los Angeles, California, on June 25, 2009, his career and earnings were nearing an all-time low. Plagued by past sexual abuse allegations, scandals, and questionable health, Michael Jackson’s personal finances were purported to be in complete disarray. However, following his unexpected death, the value of his estate, which was reported to be near to nothing, swelled as the world remembered his beloved contributions to the world and began to purchase accordingly. Sales of Michael Jackson’s music began to soar high. The estate’s value soared even higher as it signed licensing agreements and released new feature films and theatrical material of Michael Jackson.
Not surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) and the estate disagreed over the amount of estate tax owed. The IRS also remembered how beloved Michael Jackson had been and decided to take issue with the valuation used on the estate’s tax return. There were three primary points of valuation disagreement, all of which involve intellectual property rights: (1) the estate’s image and likeness rights; (2) the estate’s share of the Sony/ATV music catalog; and (3) the estate’s interest in Mijac Music, a music publishing catalog owning copyrights to many compositions written by Michael Jackson and other artists. With neither side willing to budge on its valuations, the dispute was to be settled in the U.S. Tax Court of Judge Mark Holmes.
One would think that with the outcome of such a high-profile case resting almost exclusively on the testimony of valuation experts, the IRS would take great care with any experts selected to testify since any error on the part of an expert would have a damning effect on the entire case. However, one would be disappointed. The IRS’s sole expert witness perjured himself in court testimony. In its opinion, the court reasoned that the expert’s creditability “suffered greatly at trial” and his lack of creditability “affected our factfinding throughout [the case].”
The article discusses: (1) the rise and fall of Michael Jackson during his life; (2) the details of the valuation battle with the IRS that took place after his death over various intellectual property; and (3) Judge Holmes’ reasoning for his conclusion, including the perjury committed by the IRS’ expert.