Can a person deduct lost income as a loss?

Credit for the article goes to lawyer Bill Innes

Martin v. R. – TCC: The taxpayer’s appeal dismissed – the Income Tax Act does not insure against financial disaster.

Martin v. The Queen (June 19, 2014 – 2014 TCC 200) was a decision based on the merits of the appeal which was blogged earlier in the context of some preliminary motions which, in effect, resulted in a finding that the appellant was a vexatious litigant:

This decision provides a factual context for the appellant’s plight and in no small measure serves to explain why he was so upset about his predicament:

The Appellant, Louis-Fred Martin, had a lengthy and successful career as a financial advisor during the period 1986 through June 2010. Given the consolidations in the financial institutions sector, he worked with a number of brokerage firms during this period. Throughout this time, he built up a significant and loyal clientele. Whenever he changed firms, invariably his clients followed him. M. Martin regarded his clientele as a valuable asset, capable of generating revenues for him throughout the remainder of his career and potentially upon his retirement.

M. Martin’s appeal involves his 2010 tax year. In June 2010, he stopped working for his then employer brokerage firm, Peak, which had recently acquired the financial advisory line of business of Promutuel where M. Martin had worked for a number of years. After June 2010, during the continued fallout of the 2008 economic crisis which hit the financial institutions sector hard, M. Martin was unable to find employment with another brokerage firm. He was also unable to obtain the requisite approval from the provincial regulator to be an independent financial advisor or to establish his own firm. The result of his inability to work as a financial advisor was that his clients were not able to follow him and, according to M. Martin, they continued to do business with Peak. M. Martin describes this as a theft by Peak of his clientele.

It is M. Martin’s position that the resulting loss of his anticipated revenues from these clients for the period from June to December 2010, as well as for the following years, was an income loss which should be deductible as such for tax purposes.

It is his further position that his loss of his clientele by virtue of his clients continuing with Peak and his continuing inability to work as a financial advisor was a loss of valuable property which gave rise to a capital loss for tax purposes, reflecting the difference between the value of his clientele, calculated as a function of the revenues it was capable of generating, and the fact that he received nothing from Peak for it after he no longer worked for Peak. It is M. Martin’s position that his capital loss is increased by his disposition costs which should reflect the value of all of his personal property, including his home and other property, later seized or lost as a consequence of his resulting insolvency.

The losses claimed and which were in dispute in this appeal were somewhat novel:

The amount M. Martin claimed as an income loss in 2010 was $14,000. He arrived at this number by estimating the amount of net income his clientele would have generated for him $2,000 per month. He multiplied this monthly number by seven to reflect the lost revenues from June to December 2010. This is his estimate of revenue that he reasonably could have expected to earn from these clients, but did not earn, had he continued to work as a financial advisor after he was no longer working for Peak. Consistent with this, M. Martin believes he should also be entitled to a $24,000 annual income loss for the years after 2010, although such years are not under appeal to this Court.

In computing his capital loss, to reflect his loss of his valuable clientele, M. Martin estimated his adjusted cost base to be $800,000. Using a 3% assumed annual return on investment, an $800,000 pool would have been needed to generate his $24,000 anticipated but lost revenues. Since he had received nothing from Peak or anyone else for his clientele, M. Martin claimed an $800,000 capital loss in his 2010 tax return. It is his position that his capital loss should be repaid to him and not simply available to reduce future capital gains.

After filing his 2010 tax return, M. Martin sought to claim $14,000,000 of disposition costs for his former clientele and increase his capital loss by a like amount – from $800,000 to $14,800,000. M. Martin arrived at his $14,000,000 disposition costs number as follows. He estimated that $2,000,000 was the value of his property seized or lost as a result of the loss of his clientele and the revenue generated thereby. This included the value of his home, his country property, his collection of vehicles, his library, and all of his other collections and belongings. As mentioned, these properties were seized as a consequence of his resulting financial difficulties. M. Martin then multiplied the $2,000,000 value of his lost property by seven, relying upon the proverbial exhortation to thieves to pay back sevenfold what they stole.

The court denied the income loss claimed for 2010 since it related to anticipated income, not actual earned income. Similarly the court rejected the capital losses claimed since there was no adjusted cost base against which to measure the alleged loss.

The adjusted cost base of a capital property disposed of generally reflects the costs or after-tax amounts actually paid by a taxpayer for the property and to improve it. That is clear from the language of sections 53 and 54 of the Act. There is no basis to use the fair market value of a capital property as its cost – indeed such an approach would remove the possibility of capital gains being realized for tax purposes. It appears from the evidence that M. Martin built up his clientele over the years. He did not ever buy a list of clients. It appears that all of his expenses of building up his clientele were claimed and allowed as business expenses in the years in which they were incurred. Even if M. Martin’s clientele did constitute property of his which he disposed for no proceeds as a result of what he claims was a theft, there is no evidence that such property had an adjusted cost base greater than nil.

It is similarly clear from the wording of subsection 40(1) dealing with disposition costs that, in order to qualify and be recognized, expenses must actually have been made or incurred for the purpose of making the disposition. For this reason, CRA was correct to not recognize any of the requested $14,000,000 of disposition costs as an increase to M. Martin’s claimed capital loss in 2010. This amount was not an outlay or expense actually made or incurred for the purpose of making the disposition. It was M. Martin’s estimate of his other losses resulting from the loss of his clientele and the revenue it could generate.

The concepts of income loss and capital loss in the Act do not exist to reimburse or « dédommager » a person for their loss or « dommages-intérêts » from a breach of contract or a theft. However, that appears to be the substance of M. Martin’s appeal. The tax system does not serve as an insurer of property, nor does the Tax Court of Canada have jurisdiction over claims for damages or restitution.

In the result the appeal was dismissed with costs.

Comment: While the factual background of this case is theatrical on one level, and the legal result beyond reproach, one can well see how the appellant lost all sense of proportion in light of his personal financial destruction.

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