Eaton Corporation vs. IRS: Transfer Pricing Dispute



  • Court: United States Tax Court and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Case No: 5576-12 (Tax Court), 21-1569 (Sixth Circuit)
  • Applicant: Eaton Corporation & Subsidiaries
  • Defendant: Commissioner of Internal Revenue
  • Judgment Date: August 25, 2022 (Sixth Circuit); July 26, 2017 (Tax Court)


Eaton Corporation, a global manufacturer of electrical and industrial products, faced significant tax disputes with the IRS regarding its transfer pricing practices. The disputes centred around the company’s Advance Pricing Agreements (APAs) with the IRS, which were intended to establish transfer pricing methodologies for transactions between Eaton and its subsidiaries. The APAs were cancelled by the IRS, leading to a tax court case in 2017 and an appeal in 2022.

Tax Court Case of 2017


In 2017, the United States Tax Court addressed the IRS’s cancellation of Eaton’s APAs for the tax years 2005 and 2006. The IRS determined deficiencies in Eaton’s federal income tax totaling $19,714,770 and $55,323,229 for 2005 and 2006, respectively, along with accuracy-related penalties.

Key Issues

  1. Cancellation of APAs: The IRS cancelled APA I (2001-2005) and APA II (2006-2010), alleging that Eaton failed to comply with the terms and conditions, including misrepresentations and errors in data and computations.
  2. Section 482 Adjustments: The IRS made adjustments under Section 482 to reflect an arm’s-length result for intercompany transactions, significantly increasing Eaton’s taxable income for the years in question.
  3. Transfer of Intangibles: The IRS also considered whether Eaton transferred intangible property compensable under Section 367(d) to its controlled foreign affiliates.
  4. Deductibility of Tractech Bonuses: The court also examined whether bonus payments to Tractech executives were deductible under Section 162(a) or should have been capitalized under Section 263.

Court’s Findings

  1. Abuse of Discretion: The court held that the IRS’s cancellation of the APAs was an abuse of discretion. The court found that Eaton had complied in good faith with the terms and conditions of the APAs and that the IRS did not have a sound basis for the cancellations.
  2. Section 482 Adjustments: The court ruled that the IRS’s Section 482 adjustments were arbitrary and capricious, as they did not properly reflect an arm’s-length result.
  3. Transfer of Intangibles: The court concluded that Eaton did not transfer intangibles subject to Section 367(d).
  4. Tractech Bonuses: The court held that the bonus payments represented employee compensation, entitling Eaton to a deduction under Section 162(a).

Appeal of 2022


The IRS appealed the 2017 Tax Court decision, challenging the court’s findings on cancelling the APAs and the Section 482 adjustments.

Key Issues on Appeal

  1. Validity of APA Cancellations: The IRS argued that the Tax Court erred in finding that the cancellations were an abuse of discretion.
  2. Section 482 Adjustments: The IRS contended that the Tax Court improperly rejected Section 482 adjustments.

Appellate Court’s Findings

  1. Affirmation of Tax Court’s Decision: The appellate court upheld the Tax Court’s decision, agreeing that the IRS’s cancellation of the APAs was an abuse of discretion and that the Section 482 adjustments were arbitrary and capricious.
  2. Support for Eaton’s Compliance: The appellate court found that Eaton had acted in good faith and complied with the terms of the APAs, and that the IRS did not provide sufficient evidence to justify the cancellations.

Importance of the Resale Price Method (RPM)


The Resale Price Method (RPM) is a transfer pricing method used to determine the arm’s-length price for goods sold between related parties. It is particularly useful when the reseller does not add significant value to the goods.

Application in Eaton’s Case

  1. Transfer Pricing Methodology: The RPM was part of the transfer pricing methodology in the APAs between Eaton and the IRS. It was used to calculate hypothetical profits for Eaton’s U.S. distribution operations and test them against comparable profits earned by independent distributors.
  2. Constructed Income Statements: Eaton used constructed income statements to apply the RPM, which included revenue from sales to third parties and intercompany sales. These statements were compared to the arm’s-length range of Berry ratios (gross profit as a percentage of operating expenses) established by reference to comparable independent distributors.
  3. Compliance with Section 482: The RPM was critical in demonstrating compliance with Section 482, which requires that intercompany transactions be conducted at arm’s-length prices. The method helped establish that Eaton’s transfer prices were consistent with those of comparable uncontrolled transactions.

Challenges and Adjustments

  1. Errors in Data and Computations: The IRS identified several errors in Eaton’s data and computations related to the RPM, including misclassifications of sales and incorrect cost allocations. These errors were cited as reasons for the APA cancellations.
  2. Corrections and Amendments: Eaton corrected these errors in its amended APA annual reports, which included adjustments to the constructed income statements and recalculations of the RPM. These corrections were essential in defending against the IRS’s claims and demonstrating that the transfer prices were arm’s-length.


The Eaton Corporation case highlights the complexities of transfer pricing and the critical role of the Resale Price Method in establishing arm’s-length prices for intercompany transactions. The Tax Court and appellate court decisions underscored the importance of good faith compliance with APAs and the need for accurate data and computations in applying transfer pricing methodologies. The case serves as a significant precedent in interpreting and enforcing APAs and Section 482 adjustments.

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