Atuke v. Comm’r: A Clearly Unfair Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction Where the Taxpayer Had No Time to Timely File

22 Flares Filament.io 22 Flares ×

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who writes today about an individual trying to become a Tax Court petitioner from Kenya. Because he sought to petition following a Collection Due Process (CDP) notice, the individual was unable to get the petition to the Court within the 30 day period provided by the statute. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, CDP case in which someone tries to get into the Tax Court and cannot do so because of insufficient time between receipt of the notice and the end of the 30 day period. Carl will talk about the problem in more detail from the perspective of the unfairness of the statute for those who will receive the notice only after significant built in delays. I want to use this case to also point out that to the extent that Congress put such tight time frames on the opportunity to request a CDP hearing and to petition following a determination in an apparent effort to speed up this process, Congress put no time frames on Appeals or the Tax Court. Carl and I did a pair of studies several years ago, linked here and here, showing that CDP cases took longer to work their way through Appeals and through the Tax Court than deficiency cases. Maybe this has changed marginally in the years since our articles, but I suspect the underlying issue remains that taxpayers seeking relief under CDP must act very quickly under the fiction that this process is designed for speed when the only speedy part is the swiftness with which they lose their rights to a CDP hearing and a Tax Court review. Keith

I am sure it gave Chief Judge Thornton no pleasure on April 15, 2016, to issue his unpublished order dismissing for lack of jurisdiction the CDP case brought by Jeremiah Atuke, Tax Court Docket No. 31680-15SL. https://www.ustaxcourt.gov/UstcDockInq/DocumentViewer.aspx?IndexID=6828389. The problem in the case: Section 6330(d)(1) provides that a taxpayer has only 30 days to file a CDP petition. Unlike section 6213(a), which gives an extra 60 days to file (on top of the normal 90 days) where a notice of deficiency is addressed to a taxpayer outside the United States, nothing extends the 30-day filing period for a CDP petition when the CDP notice of determination (NOD) is addressed to a person outside the United States. In Atuke, the CDP NOD was addressed to the taxpayer in Kenya. He apparently did not receive it until after the 30-day period to file had expired. So, the Tax Court dismissed the taxpayer’s belatedly-filed petition for lack of jurisdiction.

A legislative fix is needed – though the IRS could be more helpful, even without a legislative fix.

read more...

In Atuke, the IRS issued a CDP NOD by mailing it by registered U.S. mail on October 14, 2015 to an address in Nairobi, Kenya.  The taxpayer told the Tax Court that on November 23, 2015 he was notified that he had a letter waiting at the post office in Nairobi. That date was already beyond the 30-day period in section 6330(d)(1) in which he could timely file a Tax Court petition in response thereto. The taxpayer says he picked up the letter the next day, and he then mailed a petition to the Tax Court only 9 days later, on December 3, 2015.  The petition arrived at the Tax Court on December 21, 2015 – over 60 days after the date of the CDP NOD – bearing a December 3, 2015 postmark by the Kenyan postal service.

The Tax Court held that the time period in which to file in section 6330(d)(1) is jurisdictional, and since the petition did not arrive until December 21, 2015, it was late and had to be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Observations

The taxpayer rightly complained that the IRS should know that registered mail to Kenya is going to take a long time, and suggested that the IRS should have sent the NOD by “a faster mail option such as DHL, FedEx, etc, which deliver mail/packages within 2 to 3 days.”

While I understand that the IRS feels that, even though the statute doesn’t say so, the IRS must send the NOD by certified or registered U.S. Mail, can’t the IRS also send a courtesy copy by the faster private delivery services (or a faster USPS service) in cases where the IRS knows that certified or registered mail is likely to take more than 10 days?

Interestingly, unlike for NODs, the statute does provide detailed rules for issuing notices of intention to levy (NOILs). Under section 6330(a)(2), an NOIL must be “(A) given in person, (B) left at the dwelling or usual place of business of such person, or (C) sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested, to such person’s last known address”. So, unlike for NOILs, the IRS is probably free to change the regulations about the services for mailing NODs to deal with the situation of taxpayers outside the United States.

And maybe it is time for Congress to amend the Code to add 60 days to any period to file in the Tax Court when the predicate notice is addressed to a taxpayer outside the United States.  (Such amendment should also add 60 days for the time to file for a CDP hearing in similar circumstance in response to an NOIL or notice of filing of a federal tax lien.)

Finally, although I am not going to jump in and volunteer on this case, readers probably know that I don’t think the Tax Court’s precedent is correct that the 30-day period to file a CDP petition is jurisdictional. I think the period is a non-jurisdictional statute of limitations that is subject to equitable tolling in appropriate cases.  See my most recent of many posts on this.  Mr. Atuke’s case may not be the best one for arguing for equitable tolling, since, even if he could be deemed to have received the NOD in time to file a Tax Court petition, arguably, he contributed to the delay in filing the petition by using the Kenyan mail service that took 18 days to get the petition to the Tax Court.  Foreign postmarks do not get the benefit of the timely mailing is timely filing rules of section 7502.  Sarrell v. Commissioner, 117 T.C. 122, 126 (2001) (involving a CDP petition).

Comments

  1. Norman Diamond says:

    My feeling is that the 30 day limit violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process. It is true that Tax Court lacks jurisdiction, but the US should be unable to deprive the victim of property until the US provides due process. Other statutes provide for the US to sue the victim.

    If a person relinquishes due process, for example by receiving a CDP notice and being able to mail a petition but not mailing a petition within 30 days, it might be fair to recognize that relinquishment.

    After what was supposed to be my first CDP hearing, I could not guess when or if the IRS would mail a Notice of Determination, so I petitioned Tax Court and explained the reason. That was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because the petition preceded an applicable IRS notice. Actually now I know there never was an applicable IRS notice, but I didn’t know it at the time when a different IRS notice arrived.

    A person in this situation has to petition Tax Court every 30 days without knowing if the IRS has issued a suitable notice or not.

    As mentioned in another thread, the IRS frequently sends letters by methods that are reasonably calculated, and do, take longer time to deliver than the deadlines stated in the letters for the victim to reply. The IRS frequently sends letters from the UK or Germany or maybe other places, with no dates in the postal meters. The IRS used to use second-class mail from the UK, which the UK’s Royal Mail (i.e. the real post office) does allow to be used for letters. In recent years the IRS has switched to first-class mail from the UK, but delivery dates in Japan are still more than 30 days after the dates printed in the notices, and there are no dates in the postal meters.

    By the way, the victim in this story filed an S petition, but Tax Court had no jurisdiction, so I think there is no loss of jurisdiction by other courts. I think the victim can file a regular petition in Tax Court on this same notice and then appeal the expected ruling. I think appeal would be to the DC Circuit. Does the DC Circuit tend to uphold things like the Fifth Amendment right to due process?

  2. Under the current resource/budgetary constraints voluntarily placed upon IRS by Congress, I can’t imagine IRS could afford to begin sending courtesy copies by a faster mail option even if it wanted to.

  3. Norman Diamond says:

    THE CASE CAN BE RESCUED IF SOMEONE ACTS FAST.

    This is the second of two comments I’ve tried to post here. I’m not sure if the first one was rejected or still pending moderation while no longer showing for me. Even if the first one was rejected, please read this second one and consider posting. (By the way I woke up at 0:45 a.m. in Japan just to post this when I realized this.)

    The victim still has time to do this:
    File a motion to vacate the order.
    File a motion to convert from S case to regular case.
    Wait for the order to be reinstated.
    Appeal, which I expect would be to the DC Circuit.

    The case should be eligible for conversion to regular case because it was never calendared for trial.

    Having seen a sense of social responsibility by the authors of this blog, may I dare to suggest that someone offer to represent the victim.

Comment Policy: While we all have years of experience as practitioners and attorneys, and while Keith and Les have taught for many years, we think our work is better when we generate input from others. That is one of the reasons we solicit guest posts (and also because of the time it takes to write what we think are high quality posts). Involvement from others makes our site better. That is why we have kept our site open to comments.

If you want to make a public comment, you must identify yourself (using your first and last name) and register by including your email. If you do not, we will remove your comment. In a comment, if you disagree with or intend to criticize someone (such as the poster, another commenter, a party or counsel in a case), you must do so in a respectful manner. We reserve the right to delete comments. If your comment is obnoxious, mean-spirited or violates our sense of decency we will remove the comment. While you have the right to say what you want, you do not have the right to say what you want on our blog.

Speak Your Mind

*