The Corporate Transparency Act: A Detailed Look at Its Unconstitutional Ruling

Mar 19, 2024

The Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), enacted in 2021 to mandate the disclosure of beneficial ownership information by businesses, has encountered a significant legal roadblock. A federal district court in Alabama ruled the act unconstitutional on March 1, 2024, impacting the compliance framework for approximately 65,000 businesses tied to the National Small Business Administration as of that date. This pivotal decision underscores the contentious nature of regulations aimed at enhancing business transparency and combating financial crimes.

In light of this landmark ruling, the U.S. Justice Department has appealed, illustrating the government's commitment to the principles underpinning the Corporate Transparency Act. The case, marked by its implications for FinCEN's efforts to enforce beneficial ownership reporting, sets a precedent that could affect millions. As the legal battle over the CTA's constitutionality unfolds, businesses and advisory firms must navigate the uncertainties of compliance and enforcement, highlighting the Act's far-reaching impact on the corporate landscape.

The Corporate Transparency Act Overview

The Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), a pivotal piece of legislation, was enacted as part of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, under the umbrella of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021. It came into effect on January 1, 2024, with the primary aim to enhance corporate transparency and combat illicit activities such as money laundering, tax evasion, and financing of terrorism. This was to be achieved by requiring certain U.S. businesses to report Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI) to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a division of the Department of the Treasury.

Key Reporting Requirements:

  • Entities Covered: The CTA targets "reporting companies," broadly defined to include corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs), and similar entities formed in the U.S. or foreign entities registered to do business in the U.S.

  • Exemptions: Certain entities are exempt, including publicly traded companies, banks, credit unions, and entities already regulated under specific financial oversight mechanisms.

  • Information Required: Reporting companies must disclose information about their beneficial owners (individuals with at least 25% ownership or substantial control over the company), including legal name, date of birth, address, and ID number from a state-issued document.

Penalties for Non-Compliance:

  • Civil and Criminal Penalties: Companies failing to comply with the CTA's reporting requirements may face civil penalties of up to $500 per day and criminal penalties including fines up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to two years.

The CTA's implementation is a significant step towards mitigating financial crimes by ensuring transparency in the ownership structures of companies operating within the U.S. However, the recent ruling by a Federal District Court in Alabama, declaring the CTA unconstitutional for members of the National Small Business Association (NSBA), has introduced uncertainties around its enforcement and compliance obligations for affected businesses.

Key Aspects of the Court's Ruling

In the landmark case of National Small Business United v. Yellen, the court meticulously dissected the boundaries of congressional authority, leading to a pivotal ruling on the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). The court's analysis centered on three critical dimensions of Congress's power:

  • Foreign Affairs Powers: The court concluded that the CTA could not be justified under Congress's foreign affairs powers, asserting that the act of incorporation is predominantly an internal affair, traditionally managed by states, thus falling outside the scope of federal foreign affairs jurisdiction.

  • Commerce Clause: The ruling further clarified that the CTA does not regulate the channels or instrumentalities of commerce, which are typically within Congress's purview under the Commerce Clause. Incorporation, as argued by the court, constitutes a non-commercial activity, rendering the Act's foundation on the Commerce Clause invalid.

  • Taxing Powers: Lastly, the court addressed the argument related to Congress's taxing powers, determining that the mere utility of the CTA in facilitating tax collection does not suffice to invoke these powers. The Act's relevance to tax collection was deemed insufficient to categorize it as an exercise of Congress's enumerated taxing authority.

These findings culminated in a declaratory judgment that effectively enjoins the Department of the Treasury and FinCEN from enforcing the CTA's provisions against the plaintiffs, marking a significant victory for small business interests while casting doubt on the future enforcement of similar transparency measures.

Implications for Small Businesses

Small businesses, often operating with limited resources, face significant challenges under the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA). Notably, the majority of small enterprises are not exempt from the CTA's reporting requirements, placing a considerable administrative and financial burden on them. The implications of non-compliance are severe, with penalties including civil fines of up to $500 per day, criminal fines of up to $10,000, and the possibility of up to two years in prison.

Compliance Deadlines:

  • Existing companies as of January 1, 2024, have until January 1, 2025, to submit their Beneficial Ownership Information (BOI).

  • Companies established between these dates have a 90-day filing window.

  • From next year, new companies must file within 30 days of formation.

Given these stipulations, small businesses are advised to:

  • Consult the guide to Beneficial Ownership Information Reporting.

  • Seek legal counsel to navigate the complexities of the CTA.

  • Consider utilizing services like Block Advisors for comprehensive understanding and compliance assistance.

Despite the recent court ruling affecting a small fraction of businesses, the broader implications for small businesses remain significant. The National Small Business Association (NSBA) has highlighted the disproportionate impact on small businesses, necessitating the disclosure of personal information. This decision, while currently limited to NSBA members, underscores the ongoing debate around the balance between regulatory compliance and the operational burden on small businesses.

The Government's Response and Next Steps

In response to the court's ruling on the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), the U.S. Department of the Treasury, alongside FinCEN, has outlined a multifaceted approach aimed at ensuring compliance while navigating the legal challenges. These steps reflect the government's commitment to the Act's objectives, emphasizing the importance of beneficial ownership transparency in combating financial crimes.

Appeal Strategy:

  • The Treasury Department is poised to appeal the court's decision, seeking a reversal of the ruling.

  • A request for a stay pending appeal is anticipated, aiming to halt the ruling's immediate effects and maintain the status quo of the CTA's enforcement.

Compliance Guidance:

  • FinCEN asserts its authority to enforce the CTA against entities not involved in the litigation, urging continued compliance.

  • An official statement from FinCEN confirms respect for the court's decision, temporarily halting enforcement against the plaintiffs but signaling that other reporting companies remain subject to the Act's requirements.

  • A deadline for filing beneficial ownership reports by January 1, 2025, has been reiterated, underscoring the ongoing expectation for compliance.

Future Legal Landscape:

  • The possibility of similar litigation in other jurisdictions suggests a dynamic legal environment surrounding the CTA.

  • Parties not directly involved in the current case are advised to monitor developments closely, as future court decisions and FinCEN announcements could impact reporting obligations.

This strategic response by the Treasury Department and FinCEN highlights the government's determination to uphold the CTA's principles while navigating the complexities of the legal system.

Potential Outcomes of Appeals

In the wake of the Federal District Court's ruling deeming the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) unconstitutional, a complex legal landscape has emerged, particularly concerning appeals and the Act's enforceability. The ruling, specific to the National Small Business Association (NSBA) and its member Isaac Winkles, leaves the CTA's broader applicability in a state of flux. Here are the key considerations moving forward:

Appeal Process and Compliance:

  • Government's Appeal: The U.S. Department of the Treasury and FinCEN are poised to appeal the decision, seeking a reversal. During this appeal process, a request for a stay pending appeal is anticipated, which could maintain the CTA's current enforcement status quo.

  • Ongoing Compliance: Parties not involved in the litigation are advised to continue adhering to the CTA's reporting requirements. This is particularly crucial for entities formed or registered in 2024, as the compliance timeline (90 days) is expected to be significantly shorter than the judicial review process.

Future Legal Uncertainties:

  • Potential for Varied Litigation: The specificity of the ruling to NSBA plaintiffs means similar lawsuits could emerge in other jurisdictions. This could eventually draw the U.S. Supreme Court into the matter, introducing further legal complexities and uncertainties regarding the CTA's nationwide enforceability.

  • Advisory for Non-Parties: Entities not directly impacted by the current case are encouraged to comply with the CTA. This proactive approach is deemed prudent, especially given the uncertain timeline and outcome of the appeals process and the potential for additional litigation.

This evolving situation underscores the need for businesses to stay informed and prepared to adapt to changes in the legal landscape surrounding the Corporate Transparency Act.


The ruling against the Corporate Transparency Act marks a crucial juncture in the ongoing effort to balance regulatory compliance with the operational realities of small businesses. By affirming the principle that such regulatory frameworks must align with constitutional boundaries, the court’s decision underscores the complexities inherent in legislating transparency and countering financial crimes. This judgment not only reflects the immediate challenges faced by 65,000 businesses but also serves as a significant precedent that may shape future regulations and their implementation across the corporate sector in the United States.

As the legal battle over the Corporate Transparency Act continues, with the U.S. Justice Department's appeal and the broader implications for regulatory compliance and enforcement, businesses and advisory firms are positioned at the frontline of navigating these uncertainties. The ongoing dialogue between regulatory objectives and constitutional rights, highlighted by this case, exemplifies the dynamic interplay between government initiatives to combat financial crimes and the need to safeguard the interests and operational capacities of small businesses. Moving forward, this case will likely catalyze further discussions and potentially spur legislative or judicial adjustments to ensure that efforts to enhance corporate transparency do not unduly burden the very enterprises that form the backbone of the American economy.

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