Step-Transaction Doctrine Law and Legal Definition

Step-transaction doctrine is a principle applicable to Taxation laws. According to this principle effect should be given to the substance, rather than the form, of a transaction, by ignoring for tax purposes steps of an integrated transaction that when taken separately are without substance. In short, the tax liability should be determined by viewing the transaction as a whole, disregarding one or more non substantive, intervening transactions taken to achieve the final result. This doctrine expresses the familiar principle that in applying the income tax laws, the substance rather than the form of the transaction is controlling. The U.S. Supreme Court has expressly sanctioned the step transaction doctrine in many cases, noting that interrelated yet formally distinct steps in an integrated transaction may not be considered independently of the overall transaction.

Courts generally enunciate three basic tests that define the criteria upon which application of the step transaction doctrine applies--the interdependence test, the end result test, and the binding commitment test. The interdependence test requires an inquiry as to whether the steps were so interdependent that the legal relations created by one transaction would have been fruitless without a completion of the series. The end result test examines whether it appears that separate transactions were really component parts of a single transaction intended from the outset to be taken for the purpose of reaching the ultimate result. The binding commitment test examines whether there was a binding commitment to undertake the later step in a series of transactions.[Falconwood Corp. v. United States, 422 F.3d 1339 (Fed. Cir. 2005)]