Taxpayer Failed to Establish Work Location Outside Metropolitan Area or That He Was Away from Home

Even though it may appear to taxpayers that mileage and meals are clearly related to their job, only in limited circumstances may deductions be claimed for such items.  In the case of Wooten v. Commissioner, TC Summ. Op. 2017-58, the taxpayers discovered that none of the expenses they had claimed met the requirements to be deductible.

In this case the taxpayer was employed as a plumber/pipefitter for a contractor.  In his job he had to work at various locations, some in Gulfport or Biloxi, Mississippi, which were 20-25 miles from his home and two in Hattiesburg, Mississippi which was about 56 miles from his home.  Mr. Wooten kept logs of his travel to/from his home to these locations.  He claimed a deduction for this mileage, along with a deduction for meals he consumed at these locations.

Commuting expenses are not generally deductible, as the place where a taxpayer lives is deemed to be a personal choice—so the fact that a taxpayer lives 30 miles from his workplace is a personal choice and the expense of getting to that workplace is deemed to be a non-deductible personal expense under IRC §262(a).  As Reg. §1.262-1(b)(5) states “The taxpayer's costs of commuting to his place of business or employment are personal expenses and do not qualify as deductible expenses.”

However, the opinion notes one exception to this rule involves travel to a temporary work location.

One exception to this general rule, as petitioners argue, involves commuting to a temporary work location. See Bogue v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-164, 102 T.C.M. (CCH) 41, 46 (2011), aff’d, 522 F. App’x 169 (3d Cir. 2013). This exception permits a taxpayer to deduct transportation expenses incurred in traveling between a taxpayer’s residence and a temporary work location outside the metropolitan area where the taxpayer normally lives and works. See id.; Rev. Rul. 99-7, 1999-1 C.B. 361. The term “metropolitan area” is ill defined, and we therefore consider the facts and circumstances in deciding whether particular commuting expenses were incurred in traveling to a worksite unusually distant from the area where the taxpayer lives and normally works.

Mr. Wooten testified that Gulfport was his normal work area—thus, any commuting to or from locations in Gulfport and Biloxi failed to qualify for deduction under this exception.  The Court also found that due to his recurring employment in Hattiesburg that it was also not outside the metropolitan area where he normally worked—thus, no commuting expenses could be deducted by Mr. Wooten.

Somewhat different rules cover the meals, being treated as traveling expenses that may be deducted by a taxpayer who was away from home due to his/her trade or business pursuant to IRC §162(a)(2).  To be deductible the taxpayer will need to establish all the following:

  • The taxpayer was away from his/her tax home at the time the expense was incurred;
  • The expense was both reasonable and necessary; and
  • The expense was incurred in pursuit of a trade or business.

Mr. Wooten’s expenses met the last two criteria—but was he truly away from home where the expense was incurred?  To be away from home, a taxpayer must show he/she is on a trip that will require the taxpayer to stop and take time to sleep or rest for a substantial period.  In this case, Mr. Wooten did not show that he was “away from home” under this criterion, thus he was not able to claim any deduction for the meals.