Supreme Court Grants Cert. to Decide Whether SEC ALJs Need to Be Appointed Under the Appointments Clause; SG Changes Position and Now Supports Required Appointment

We welcome frequent guest blogger, Carl Smith, who blogs today on a frequently discussed topic – the Appointments Clause and its application to employees of the IRS office of Appeals. Keith

In six prior posts since September 2015 (here, here, here, here, here, and here), I have blogged about the storm at the SEC over whether its ALJs need to be appointed under the Appointments Clause or are mere “employees”, who do not need to be appointed. This issue could spill over into whether the ALJs that the Treasury uses to try Circular 230 sanctions matters need to be, and are properly, appointed. I suspect that they may not be.

I noted that in the courts of appeals, the government took the position that the SEC ALJs were mere employees, so there was no problem in the fact that SEC ALJs had been issuing recommended rulings on administrative sanctions matters without having first been appointed. Two Circuits had split on this question: The Tenth Circuit held that SEC ALJs need to be appointed; Bandimere v. SEC, 844 F.3d 1168 (10th Cir. 2016); while the D.C. Circuit held that they did not. Raymond J. Lucia Cos., Inc. v. SEC, 832 F.3d 277 (D.C. Cir. 2016). I correctly predicted that the Supreme Court would grant cert. to resolve this issue. In fact, the Court did so in Lucia on January 12, 2018. But, I never predicted that in the Solicitor General’s response to the cert. petition in Lucia he would change position 180 degrees and now argue that SEC ALJs have to be appointed. Presumably since the government was no longer seeking to reverse the ruling in Bandimere, the Court did not grant the government’s cert. petition in Bandimere.

This means that both of the parties to the Lucia case currently argue for its reversal. Although it has not done so yet, I suspect the Court will appoint an amicus to argue in favor of the ruling below, since the parties won’t. It is expected that Lucia will be heard and decided by the Court before its current Term ends on June 30.

Central to the Lucia case will be what the Court meant in Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868 (1991), when it held that Tax Court Special Trial Judges (STJs) were inferior officers of the United States who need to be appointed.

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In Freytag, the Supreme Court held that the Appointments Clause did not prohibit the Tax Court’s Chief Judge from appointing STJs because the Tax Court was one of the “Courts of Law” mentioned in the Clause and because the Chief Judge could act for the Tax Court.  In reaching these rulings, the Supreme Court made a subsidiary holding that STJs are not employees of the government, but inferior officers who need to be appointed. To support its holding that STJs are officers, the Supreme Court cited the many judicial duties that STJs perform.  At the end of this section of the opinion, the Supreme Court also observed that STJs can enter final decisions in some cases under  § 7443A(c). It is this finality observation that has puzzled and split the lower courts.

In Landry v. FDIC, 204 F.3d 1125 (D.C. Cir. 2000), a majority of a 3-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit held that the Supreme Court’s observation in Freytag that STJs can rule with finality in some cases meant that being able to make a final ruling was a but for requirement of officer status. Since FDIC ALJs could not enter final rulings, but simply made recommended rulings to the whole FDIC, the majority held that the ALJs were mere employees who did not need to be appointed. The third judge on the panel argued instead that, in Freytag, the Supreme Court had already decided that STJs were officers before it made the observation about STJs being in some cases allowed to enter final orders, so finality was not a but for requirement of an officer.

Like FDIC ALJs, SEC ALJs cannot make final rulings – at least where defendants appeal their proposed ruling to the whole SEC. In Bandimere, the Tenth Circuit disagreed with the Landry majority that being able to issue final rulings was a but for requirement of officer status. The Tenth Circuit held that the SEC ALJs performed nearly all the duties that STJs did, so were also officers who needed to be appointed.

In Lucia, citing Landry, the D.C. Circuit held that SEC ALJs need not be appointed because they did not have final ruling authority. After Bandimere was issued, Lucia moved for reconsideration of the ruling in his case by the full D.C. Circuit. He asked the D.C. Circuit to consider whether it should overrule Landry and agree with the Tenth Circuit in Bandimere. An en banc rehearing was granted. However, the en banc D.C. Circuit split evenly on the question, which left the original holding in Lucia intact. Lucia then sought cert.

In response to Lucia’s cert. petition, the new SG under President Trump surprisingly changed the government’s position – agreeing with the Tenth Circuit that the ability to issue final rulings was not a but for requirement of officer status. The SG felt that the SEC ALJs were sufficiently like Tax Court STJs to have to be appointed. Thus, the SG also sought reversal of the D.C. Circuit. The SG asked the Court to grant cert. in Lucia, even though the parties were no longer in disagreement. (Appointments Clause issues are not jurisdictional, so the courts can accept the parties’ waiver of Appointments Clause arguments.) The SG thinks there is a need for Supreme Court guidance in this area – including issues not discussed below as to removal powers for ALJs, which may now be problematic. A number of Court watchers thought that the issue of appointment of SEC ALJs was now moot and that cert. might not now be granted. However, they were wrong.

But, in granting cert. in Lucia, the Supreme Court did not ask the parties to brief any additional questions – e.g., involving removal powers.

Possible Effect on Appeals Office Personnel Issuing CDP Rulings 

In addition to Lucia’s possible impact on ALJs used by Treasury to hold Circular 230 sanctions hearings, the opinion may have an impact, as well, on an issue that I raised over a decade ago. In a CDP case that I had in the Tax Court, I moved to remand the case to have the CDP hearing redone by a Settlement Officer and Appeals Team Manager who were both appointed consistently with the Appointments Clause. I noted that no Appeals personnel were then appointed. But, citing Freytag, I argued that the duties of Appeals personnel in conducting statutorily-mandated CDP hearings were so similar to the duties of an STJ that such Appeals personnel were also officers for purposes of the Appointments Clause.

In Tucker v. Commissioner, 135 T.C. 114 (2010), the Tax Court rejected my argument for several reasons. For one thing, the court felt that the positions in Appeals were not “established by law” for purposes of the Clause. But, also, the Tax Court held that Appeals personnel in CDP did not make final rulings, and, citing Landry, the Tax Court held that the ability to make a final ruling was a but for requirement of officer status per Freytag.

I appealed Tucker to the D.C. Circuit. That court, at 676 F.3d 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2012), affirmed the Tax Court, but on different reasoning. The D.C. Circuit was troubled by the idea that Congress might be able to get around the Appointment Clause by assigning duties that had to be performed by a constitutional officer to preexisting employees in the bureaucracy. Therefore, the D.C. Circuit bypassed issuing any ruling on whether or not the position of CDP hearing person was “established by law”. The D.C. Circuit next held that collection issues were of too minor importance to require an officer. As to underlying tax liability rulings that could be made in CDP under section 6330(c)(2)(B), Freytag clearly would treat those rulings as ones for which an officer was required. Disagreeing with the Tax Court, the D.C. Circuit held that Appeals Office personnel issuing underlying liability rulings issued rulings with “effective finality”. However, the D.C. Circuit held that the ability to exercise discretion in a tax liability ruling was a but for requirement of officer status – one that was not met by Appeals personnel who ruled under the thumb of IRS Counsel attorneys. It was this lack of discretion that undermined the idea that Appeals personnel in CDP were officers needing to be appointed.

I thought that the D.C. Circuit’s ruling that Appeals exercised little discretion in making CDP underlying liability rulings was not factually supported, and I sought cert. But, cert. was denied.

I had not expected to again litigate the Tucker issue, but Florida attorney Joe DiRuzzo has decided that he wants to relitigate the issue in the Tax Court and in courts of appeals – hoping to create a Circuit split. Before the Supreme Court granted cert. in Lucia, Joe had made motions to remand in (at the moment) four different pending Tax Court CDP cases, arguing that the hearings should be redone by appointed Appeals personnel. The cases are: Thompson, Docket No. 7038-15L (appealable to the Ninth Circuit); Elmes, Docket No. 24872-14L (appealable to the Eleventh Circuitt); Fonticiella, Docket No. 23776-15L (appealable to the Eighth Circuit); and Crim, Docket No. 16574-17L (appealable to the D.C. Circuit). If the Supreme Court agrees with Lucia and the SG that issuing final rulings is not a but for requirement for officer status, then the Tax Court will have to at least revise its rationale for its holding that CDP hearing personnel need not be appointed. Perhaps, after reading the Supreme Court’s Lucia opinion, the Tax Court may also have to rule that CDP hearing personnel need to be appointed. In its lengthy response to the motion to remand (filed on January 5, 2018 in the Thompson case – i.e., a week before the Supreme Court granted cert. in Lucia), the IRS discusses the possible relevance of Lucia and the SG’s change in position, but argues that Landry, Lucia, and both Tucker opinions are, at least at the moment, still good law.

 

Review of “Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act”

We welcome back guest blogger Sonya Watson who has changed her last name since the last time she posted. Sonya, a former student at Villanova who studied under both Les and me while obtaining her LLM, is back in her home town and her “home” law school of UNLV where she is an assistant professor in residence and the director of the Rosenblum Family Foundation Tax Clinic. Today she launches a new feature on PT – a review of law review articles addressing issues of tax procedure. Last year we launched a new feature on designated orders which allows us to examine the critical orders issued by the Tax Court that tend to go unnoticed. Sonya and others to be introduced soon will provide a similar regular guest feature providing insight on the latest thinking from those writing longer articles on tax procedures issues we cannot easily address in our blog posts. The first article being reviewed is co-authored by Kristin Hickman and Gerald Kerska. Kristin is a professor at University of Minnesota Law School and a prolific writer who deserves great credit for her pioneering work to push for recognition of the Administrative Procedure Act’s applicability to tax law. Gerald is a 2017 graduate of University of Minnesota Law School. We hope you enjoy their excellent article examining the history and logic of the anti-injucntion act. Keith

In “Restoring the Lost Anti-Injunction Act,” Kristin Hickman & Gerald Kerska, 103 Virginia Law Review 1683 (2017) the authors ask whether Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents, such as IRS Revenue Rulings, should be eligible for pre-enforcement judicial review. The answer depends on how courts interpret the Anti-Injunction Act (“AIA”). The AIA prohibits tax lawsuits that would “restrain the assessment or collection of [a] tax.” A broad interpretation of the AIA, such that the AIA applies whenever the issues in a tax case even remotely relate to the assessment or collection of taxes, would tend to preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. A narrower interpretation would allow application of the AIA only when the issues in a tax case involve the imminent assessment or collection of taxes. Hickman and Kerska argue that the AIA should be construed narrowly.

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The AIA prohibition of lawsuits that restrain the assessment or collection of taxes is not without exceptions. One familiar statutory exception is that which provides the right to file suit in the U.S. Tax Court when the IRS proposes a tax deficiency. Case law creates further exceptions to the AIA.

Some courts have interpreted the AIA so broadly that the government may invoke the AIA to preclude judicial review of just about any case that may relate to the assessment or collection of taxes, no matter how tangential the relation. For example, in the case of California v. Regan, 641 F.2d 721 (9th Cir. 1981) the Court found that the AIA precluded a lawsuit challenging an ERISA regulation that required the State of California to file annual information returns concerning its employees’ pension plan. The Court reasoned that the AIA applied because the IRS could use the information in the returns to determine whether employees qualified for favorable tax treatment, which in turn would “have an impact on the assessment of federal taxes.” Such broad interpretations contributed to the court’s finding in Florida Bankers Ass’n v. U.S. Department of the Treasury, 799 F.3d 1065 (D.C. Cir. 2015) that pre-enforcement judicial review of a set of Treasury Regulations was precluded under the AIA. However, the court in Chamber of Commerce v. IRS, No. 1:16-CV-944-LY, 2017 WL 4682049 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 29, 2017) came to the opposite conclusion, holding that the AIA does not preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations. The conflicting opinions in Florida Bankers and Chamber of Commerce could lead to a split in the circuits, adding to the long history of jurisprudential inconsistency regarding the application of the AIA.

As outlined in detail in Hickman and Kerska’s article, courts have had to rely on a hodgepodge of case law to determine when the AIA applies to preclude a tax case, sometimes coming to conclusions that do not mesh well with prior precedent. In their article, Hickman and Kerska propose what appears to be workable, if not perfect, as acknowledged by Hickman and Kerska, solutions to what has thus far been an incoherent framework regarding the scope and meaning of the AIA.

Hickman and Kerska believe that a narrower interpretation of the AIA is warranted to protect taxpayers’ presumptive right to pre-enforcement judicial review of agency rules and regulations under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). They argue that this is especially true in light of the IRS’ less than stellar history of complying with the APA; the historical context of the AIA itself; the jurisprudence surrounding the Tax Injunction Act (“TIA”), which Congress modeled after the AIA; and the many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents that relate to the IRS’ function as the middleman for social policy efforts rather than its function as tax assessor and collector.

Hickman and Kerska note that the IRS has viewed itself as the exception to the rule when it comes to the APA, emphasizing that for decades the IRS has claimed that many of its rules and regulations are outside the purview of the APA. The APA applies to regulations that carry the force of law. In the past, Treasury regulations have been labeled as either legislative or interpretative based on whether the regulations were the result of specific legislative authority (legislative) or general authority provided by I.R.C. Section 7805(a) (interpretive). Although courts have held that both legislative and interpretative regulations carry the weight of law, and are therefore subject to the APA, Hickman and Kerska assert that the IRS has continued to attempt to distinguish between legislative and interpretive regulations in attempts to sidestep the APA. Hickman and Kerska further note that even when the Treasury purports to comply with the APA, its compliance is dubious, choosing to follow some provisions of the APA and ignore others. Further, regarding IRS guidance documents such as revenue rulings, revenue procedures, and notices, the Treasury does not even purport to comply with the APA. The foregoing highlights why it is important to determine whether the AIA applies to pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. Allowing the government to invoke the AIA regarding Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents may encourage the government to feel further empowered to ignore the APA.

The AIA is the result of Civil War-era tax legislation, which used significantly different procedures for the assessment and collection of tax than are used today. Hickman and Kerska examine the history of the mechanisms of assessment and collection during the Civil War to show that it was not Congress’ intent to use the AIA to prevent lawsuits that are only tangentially related to the assessment or collection of taxes.

Congress created the income tax in 1861 to help finance the Civil War. At that time, and again in 1862, it created administrative procedures for the assessment and collection of tax. The process by which taxes were assessed and collected was lengthy:

Congress tasked assistant assessors with receiving tax returns, with visiting taxpayers in their districts individually to investigate their potential liability for taxes, and, if a taxpayer either failed to file or submitted a fraudulent return, with preparing a return on the taxpayer’s behalf “according to the best information” available. Based on the returns filed and investigations performed, assistant assessors had thirty days after the statutory filing deadline to provide the assessors with alphabetized lists of taxpayers and the taxes they allegedly owed. The assessors then made the lists publicly available, advertising in county newspapers and posting in public places the time and location where taxpayers might examine the lists. These lists served as tentative assessments, informing taxpayers of their proposed tax liabilities. Taxpayers could appeal from those proposed assessments, and assessors were responsible for considering such appeals before submitting final lists of “sums payable” to their respective collection districts. Upon receiving said final lists from the assessors, collectors were charged with publishing the lists again, this time designating the listed taxes as due. People who failed to pay the taxes owed within a specified period after such publication—ten days generally, but thirty days for income taxes, for example—were assessed an additional ten percent penalty and given another ten days to comply. After that, a delinquent taxpayer’s personal or real property could be levied, “distrained” (i.e., seized), and sold.

Over time, procedures for collection and assessment of tax evolved but what remained the same, until fairly recently, was that people paid their taxes yearly and there was a period of time between when taxes were assessed and when they were collected. In contrast, today we overwhelmingly pay our taxes all throughout the year by way of withholding and estimated payments. During the Civil War-era up until World War II, there sometimes wasn’t a large and steady enough stream of revenue for the government to operate, making it vital that there be some way to prevent hinderances to the assessment or collection of taxes. This is why Congress created the AIA in 1867; to make sure the government had the funds it needed to operate. Today, for the most part, such hindrances are more the exception than the rule.

During Civil War-era tax administration when the AIA was created, because of the mechanisms of assessment and collection then in place, as described above and diagramed below, taxpayers had multiple opportunities to halt assessment or collection of taxes.

 

 

 

 

 

Taxpayers of the time frequently took advantage of these opportunities. Seeing that multiple opportunities to file a lawsuit to halt the assessment or collection of taxes were a barrier to the government’s goal of raising revenue to pay for the Civil War, Congress enacted the AIA. Given this historical context, Hickman and Kerska argue that the AIA was and is meant to prevent only a lawsuit that will imminently prevent the assessment or collection of taxes such that the government’s stream of revenue may be stopped. Therefore, they argue, the government should not be allowed to invoke the AIA in the face of just any lawsuit that is conceivably related to the assessment or collection of taxes. Further, the government certainly should not be allowed to invoke the AIA for lawsuits pertaining to pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents given that at the time of the AIA’s enactment, taxing authorities would have been required to strictly adhere to the letter of the AIA and not allowed to adopt broad, legally substantive pronouncements that would legally bind taxpayers, as compared to taxing authorities’ power today to make rules and regulations that have the effect of law.

Recent TIA jurisprudence provides evidence for Hickman and Kerska’s assertion that the AIA should not preclude pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents. The TIA, Tax Injunction Act, provides that federal district courts may not retain jurisdiction of tax cases regarding the assessment or collection of state taxes where the taxpayer may readily seek a remedy in a state court. Congress created the TIA, modeled after the AIA, for the purpose of protecting state revenue collection. In Direct Marketing Ass’n v. Brohl, 135 S. Ct. 1124 (2015) interpreting the TIA, the Court found that the assessment or collection of taxes were “discrete phases of the taxation process that do not include informational notices or private reports of information relevant to tax liability.” In other words, pre-enforcement judicial review of agency promulgated rules and regulations is distinct from judicial review of the assessment or collection of taxes. Hickman and Kerska argue that, given the connection between the TIA and AIA, the Court’s finding in Direct Marketing should apply when the government attempts to invoke the AIA to prevent pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents.

The fact that many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents pertain to social policy considerations more so than to the assessment and collection of taxes provides another reason why Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents should not be precluded from pre-enforcement judicial review under the AIA. Modern tax laws, Treasury regulations, and IRS guidance documents provide not only for taxation of income but also for the transfer of benefits meant to improve society as a whole and policy considerations also intended to benefit society. As Hickman and Kerska note, many Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents concern “the environment, conservation, green energy, manufacturing, innovation, education, saving, retirement, health care, childcare, welfare, corporate governance, export promotion, charitable giving, governance of tax exempt organizations, and economic development,” which may not directly relate to the mechanisms for the assessment and collection of taxes. Such being the case, Hickman and Kerska note that

[p]arties subject to these regulations are not in the traditional position of paying more taxes with their tax return and then suing for a refund or filing a return documenting their noncompliance and opting to generate a deficiency notice. Absent pre-enforcement review, such regulations may be permanently shielded from judicial oversight, no matter how egregiously the IRS disregards APA requirements.

Hickman and Kerska propose two solutions to prevent the misuse of the AIA in the context of pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS guidance documents.

First, to ensure that the AIA is not applied to cut off lawsuits that are only tangentially related to the assessment or collection of taxes, they propose an engagement test. The engagement test would allow the AIA to apply only in cases where the IRS has initiated enforcement procedures against a particular taxpayer. Under such a test, the government could invoke the AIA only by demonstrating that it is engaged with a taxpayer regarding a potential issue or liability, which would be an easy burden for the government to meet given the paper trail it creates when pursuing an issue or liability regarding a particular taxpayer. Moreover, such a test would require taxpayers to exhaust administrative procedures prior to seeking a judicial remedy. Recognizing that courts may feel constrained in favor of prior precedents, however, Hickman and Kerska also offer a legislative fix as an alternative to the engagement test.

Hickman and Kerska provide proposed legislative language that would prevent the government from invoking the AIA in cases involving pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations and IRS documents:

Notwithstanding section 7421(a), not later than 60 days after the promulgation of a rule or regulation under authority granted by this title, any person adversely affected or aggrieved by such rule or regulation may file a petition for judicial review of such regulation with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia or for the circuit in which such person resides or has their principal place of business.

Jurisprudence providing exceptions to the AIA may leave taxpayers, practitioners, and judges alike befuddled when it comes to deciding when the AIA applies to prevent any tax case from going forward. Adding the question of when the AIA should apply to prevent a tax case from going forward for the purpose of determining whether pre-enforcement judicial review of Treasury regulations or IRS guidance documents further confuses the issue. Hickman and Kerska’s article provides considerable food for thought on how to determine the proper application of the AIA.

 

 

Designated Orders: Week of 1/1/2018 – 1/5/2018 aka New Year, New Graev III(?)

This week’s designated orders come courtesy of Caleb Smith at University of Minnesota. It is not surprising that Graev III and other issues related to penalties continue to dominate the order pages at the Tax Court. As one might expect in reading Graev III and previous designated orders, Judge Holmes has problems with the way things are working. In two cases Caleb discusses, we find out about the problems and how to attack them. Keith

Estate of Michael Jackson v. C.I.R., dkt. # 17152-13 [here];

Oakbrook Land Holdings, LLC v. C.I.R., dkt. # 5444-13 [here]

2018 begins with Judge Holmes continuing the inquiry into the aftermath of Graev III, and raising some new issues. As Carl posted earlier [here], even if we now know that the IRC 6751(b)(1) argument can be raised in a deficiency case, there certainly remain questions to be answered about the contours of its applicability and interplay with IRC 7491(c) (the IRS burden of production on penalties).

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The main issue in Judge Holmes’s two orders is the interplay of these statutes with taxpayers that are not “individuals” as defined in the code. That is, how does the burden of production issue in 7491(c), which by its language applies to penalties against individuals come to effect partnerships and estates?

Consider the varying breadth of the primary statutes at play:

  • IRC 6751(b)(1): “No penalty under this title shall be assessed […]”

Thus, subject to the exceptions listed in IRC 6751(b)(2), the supervisory approval requirement appears quite broad. By its language, it appears to apply to all penalties found in the Internal Revenue Code.

OK, so we know that supervisory approval is broad. But when exactly does the IRS have the burden of production to show that it has complied? That seems a slightly narrower… As relevant here:

  • IRC 7491(c): the IRS “shall have the burden of production in any court proceeding with respect to any individual for any penalty […]”

So if the penalty is against an individual, the IRS bears the burden of production. That, of course, prompts the question: what is an “individual” for tax purposes? For guidance there, we look to the definitions section of the code. As relevant here:

  • IRC 7701(a)(1): “The term “person” shall be construed to mean and include an individual, a trust, estate, partnership, association, company or corporation.”

This definition clearly contemplates that not every entity is an “individual.” In fact, an individual is basically limited to a natural human. Putting these three statutes together, you seem to get (1) supervisory approval required for all penalties, but (2) burden of production for the IRS to show approval only when the penalty is against a natural human.

The question seems more complicated in the case of partnerships than estates (go figure). For one, in TEFRA cases the petitioner is the partner that files the petition: which may be an individual, but it may also be another partnership, association, etc. Another wrinkle: in the TEFRA/partnership context, the court is looking at the applicability of the penalty, not the liability. Does that change the analysis? 7491(c) explicitly deals with a court proceeding “with respect to the liability […] for any penalty[.]” Is determining applicability the same (or close enough) to being “with respect to” the liability of the penalty for IRC 7491(c) to apply in TEFRA? I would think yes, but I (blessedly) do not frequently work with partnership issues.

As far as I can tell the question of whether the IRS should have the burden of production on penalties (generally) against estates, partnerships, etc. is not much changed under Graev III. The only real difference now is that the IRS (may) have to wrap in supervisory approval as part of their burden of production. In reading Judge Holmes’s orders, I couldn’t help but get the sense that his questions have less to do with the outcome of Graev III and more to do with general problems in the law concerning penalties. In fact, it seemed to me that Graev III simply provided the Court an opportunity to review some issues that may have been lurking for some time.

In both orders, Judge Holmes lists multiple memorandum decisions that apply the burden of production against the IRS for penalties against estates and in the partnership context, respectively. However, Judge Holmes also notes that the cases either don’t really address the question (for applicability against estates), or are fairly unclear in their rationale (for applicability in the partnership context… again, go figure).

The court decision that explicitly does apply the burden of proof on the IRS in a partnership context appears particularly weak. That case is Seismic Support Services, LLC v. C.I.R., T.C. Memo. 2014-78. The issue is addressed in a footnote (11), where the Court actually notes that the language of IRC 7491(c) applies “on its face” to individuals and that numerous Tax Court decisions have refused to apply IRC 7491(c) against the IRS when the taxpayer isn’t an individual. In fact, a precedential decision explicitly says that 7491(c) doesn’t apply when the taxpayer is not an individual: see NT, Inc. v. C.I.R., 126 T.C. 191.

Case closed… right?

Well, no, because other memorandum decisions have applied IRC 7491(c) against the IRS when the taxpayer was a corporation. Why it is that Judge Kroupa in Seismic Support Services, LLC decides that she should follow the lead of the memorandum decisions is beyond me. Those decisions provide essentially no analysis as to whether IRC 7491(c) should apply against non-individuals, whereas NT, Inc. specifically states why it shouldn’t. I would not be surprised if the Court began a trend towards consistency in this matter, abandoning Judge Kroupa’s approach and opting for what appears to be the correct statutory reading: if it isn’t an “individual,” the burden of production for penalties does not apply to the IRS. Partnership issues may complicate that matter, but generally speaking (and especially for estates), it does not appear that IRC 7491(c) should apply.

Throughout all of this, one thing that surprised me was that the IRS has not raised the issue before. In fact, the case that explicitly holds that IRC 7491(c) does not apply in the case of corporate taxpayers (NT, Inc. v. C.I.R.), the IRS (by motion) stated that it did apply… and the Court had to say of its own volition “no, in fact it does not.” Little issue, I suppose, because the IRS won either way.

And that may be the ultimate lesson: if and when the burden of production will actually change the outcome. In essentially all of the cases cited by Judge Holmes (i.e. the cases I reviewed) it is likely the IRS didn’t much care about the burden of proof. They were arguing a “mechanical” applicability of a penalty (like substantial undervaluation) such that it really didn’t matter who had the burden of production, since the burden would be met (or not met) depending on how the Court valued the underlying property (in the estate cases).

But where the penalty requires something more (say, negligence) the IRC 7491(c) issue would definitely be important. Alternatively, if it becomes a requirement that the IRS affirmatively show compliance with IRC 6751 without the taxpayer raising that issue, it may also change the calculous. Like so many other penalty issues, we don’t yet have clarity on how that will turn out.

Remaining Orders:

There were three other designated orders that were issued last week. An order from Special Trial Judge Carluzzo granting summary judgment against an unresponsive pro se taxpayer can be found here, but will not be discussed. The two remaining orders don’t break new ground or merit nearly as much discussion, but provide some interesting tidbits:

A Judge Buch order in Collins v. C.I.R., (found here) may be of some use to attorneys that have some familiarity with federal court, but no familiarity with Tax Court. In Collins, the pro se taxpayer (apparently an attorney, but without admission to the Tax Court) attempts to compel discovery, and cites to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) Rule 37 to do so. Among many other errors (ranging from spelling, to failing to redact private information), this maneuver fails. For one, it fails because Mr. Collins appears to seek information “looking behind” the Notice of Deficiency (i.e. to how or why the IRS conducted the examination) which older Tax Court decisions frown upon. (I would say that the outcome of Qinetiq (discussed here) generally reaffirms this approach.)

But the more imminent reason why Mr. Collins approach fails is that he doesn’t comply with the Tax Court Rules before looking to the FRCP as a stand-in. And those rules (at R. 70) plainly require attempting informal discovery before using more formal discovery procedures. All of which is to say, attorneys that are accustomed to litigating in other fora should understand that Tax Court is a different animal than they may be expecting.

Finally, An order from Judge Gustafson (found here) shows still more potential problems for the IRS on penalty issues, this time IRC 6707A concerning failure to disclose reportable transactions. The Court surmises (and orders clarification through a phone call) that the IRS may have lumped multiple years of penalties (some for time-barred periods) into one aggregate penalty for a non-time barred year. This is almost certainly a no-no, and if it turns out the IRS calculated the later (open) penalty in that way one would expect the phone call to involve some large dollar concessions from the IRS.

 

 

 

 

 

Ninth Circuit Holds Period to File Tax Court Collection Due Process Petition Jurisdictional Under Current Supreme Court Case Law Usually Treating Filing Deadlines as Nonjurisdictional

This will be a very brief post. Today, subsequent to my post on the NTA Report calling for certain legislative fixes, the Ninth Circuit held, in a published opinion in Duggan v. Commissioner, that the 30-day period in section 6330(d) to file a Tax Court Collection Due Process petition is jurisdictional and not subject to equitable tolling under the Supreme Court’s post-2004 case law that generally excludes filing deadlines from jurisdictional status. The Ninth Circuit relied on an exception to the current Supreme Court rule that applies where Congress clearly states that the time period is jurisdictional, although the court admits that language Keith and I suggested in our amicus brief in the case might be clearer. The Ninth Circuit noted that the jurisdictional grant for the Tax Court suit was in the same sentence that set out the filing deadline. We have blogged before on Duggan here. In essence, the Ninth Circuit in Duggan adopts the position that the Tax Court adopted in Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. 230 (2016) (where Keith and I filed an amicus brief making the same arguments that were rejected in Duggan).

Mr. Duggan was one of at least eight taxpayers over the last two years who have been misled into filing his or her Tax Court Collection Due Process petition one day late because of confusing language in the current notice of determination – a notice that does not show the last date to file.

The Duggan opinion is not the first court of appeals opinion to hold that Collection Due Process petition filing period jurisdictional. However, it is the first such court of appeals opinion that has considered the interaction of the Supreme Court’s current rules on the usual nonjurisdictional nature of most filing periods with the statutory language in section 6330(d)(1).

As I noted in my post on the NTA report from earlier today, Keith and I are imminently awaiting an opinion from the Fourth Circuit in Cunningham v. Commissioner, 4th Cir. Docket No. 17-1433 (oral argument held on Dec. 5, 2017; the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic is counsel for the taxpayer). Cunningham is on all fours with the facts and legal arguments presented in Duggan. She also argues that she was misled by the IRS through confusing language in the Collection Due Process notice of determination into mailing her Tax Court petitions to the court a day late. Like Duggan, she seeks equitable tolling to make her filing timely.

NTA Calls for Making Judicial Tax Case Filing Deadlines Subject to Forfeiture, Waiver, Estoppel, and Equitable Tolling

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who comments on a portion of the NTA’s recently released annual report relating to the issue of equitable tolling and adequate provision of information to taxpayers facing court filing deadlines.  The Ninth Circuit ruled this morning on this issue in the Duggan case linked below and found IRC 6330 jurisdictional.  More later. Keith

In her annual report to Congress dated December 31, 2017, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson has made two legislative proposals that will, if enacted, address problems that Keith and I have faced in some cases that were are litigating or have recently litigated in the courts of appeals. These cases have been the subject of a number of posts on PT. Thus, even if we never win any of these cases (and we make no promises on that score), at least we may have provoked discussion of legislative fixes.

Among problems that have come up in these cases are ones that flow from the courts’ view that all filing deadlines in the Tax Court are jurisdictional and therefore not subject to the judicial doctrines of forfeiture, waiver, estoppel, and equitable tolling – doctrines that are often applicable to nonjurisdictional statutes of limitations in suits (1) between private parties and (2) outside the tax area, brought against the federal government in such areas of law as Social Security disability benefits, employment discrimination, tort claims, and veterans benefits. The NTA notes that, unlike with the Tax Court, the appellate courts have been divided over whether those doctrines apply to tax case filings in the district courts and the Court of Federal Claims. The NTA has recommended that the Code be amended to provide that all of these tax case judicial filing deadlines be made nonjurisdictional and subject to those doctrines. The portion of her report on this proposal can be found here.

Also, along similar lines, the NTA is recommending a legislative change to require the IRS to show the last date to file any Tax Court petition on all Collection Due Process and innocent spouse notices of determination – just as the IRS has been required (since 1998) to show the last date to file on all notices of deficiency. She would have Congress also amend the Code to state that taxpayers may rely on the last date to file shown in the notice, even if the IRS has given the wrong last date – the same rule (added in 1998) under section 6213(a) applicable to notices of deficiency that show the wrong last date. As part of this proposal, she would also ask Congress to allow persons out of the country an additional 60 days to file Tax Court Collection Due process and innocent spouse petitions. The portion of her report on this proposal can be found here.

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I had thought about extending this post to list all the various cases that Keith and I have litigated or are litigating in this area, but have decided that it makes more sense simply to report on the court rulings when they come down. I will, however, note that we are imminently awaiting rulings in the following three cases:

Duggan v. Commissioner, 9th Cir. Docket No. 15-73819   (submitted without oral argument on Dec. 7, 2017; the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic is amicus), and Cunningham v. Commissioner, 4th Cir. Docket No. 17-1433 (oral argument held on Dec. 5, 2017; the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic is counsel for the taxpayer). In both of these cases, the taxpayers argue that they were misled by the IRS through confusing language in the Collection Due Process notice of determination into mailing their Tax Court petitions to the court a day late. They seek equitable tolling to make their filings timely.

Pfizer v. United States, 2d Cir. Docket No. 17-2307 (oral argument to be held on Feb. 13, 2018; the Harvard Federal Tax Clinic is amicus). There, the IRS issued a notice of disallowance of a claim for overpayment interest under section 6611and told the taxpayer it had 6 years to bring suit on the claim in the district court (under 28 U.S.C. section 2401(a)) or the Court of Federal Claims (under 28 U.S.C. section 2501). That is the position that the IRS has long taken as to the statutes of limitations applicable to overpayment interest suits. See Rev. Rul. 56-506, 1956-2 C.B. 959. When the taxpayer brought suit in the SDNY about 3 years later, the DOJ moved to dismiss the suit for lack of jurisdiction as untimely, arguing that the applicable statute of limitations is the 2-year one of I.R.C. section 6532(a). The taxpayer argues that the applicable statute of limitations is the 6-year one, but if the 2-year statute applies, then that 2-year period is nonjurisdictional and subject to estoppel. The taxpayer points to Miller v. United States, 500 F.2d 1007 (2d Cir. 1974), which held that the 2-year period of section 6532(a) is subject to estoppel. Miller is in conflict with Federal Circuit case law holding that the 2-year period is jurisdictional and not subject to estoppel. See, e.g., RHI Holdings, Inc. v. United States, 142 F.3d 1459 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

 

Designated Orders: 12/25/17 to 12/29/2017

The Court was busy during the holiday issuing more designated orders than might be expected and perhaps bringing back to work some Chief Counsel employees who thought they were off until the new government leave year. This week’s designated orders post was prepared by William Schmidt. He focuses on an order regarding Railroad Retirement Income. This type of income gets special play in the tax code but does not create many cases. Keith

On this holiday week, the designated orders could be divided into the Graev III camp and the non-Graev III camp. Two orders not discussed include an order denying a husband’s motion to be recognized as his wife’s “next friend” (Order Here) and the granting of an IRS motion for summary judgment when petitioner did not provide documents for collection alternatives (but submitted an offer in compromise two weeks after filing the petition) (Order and Decision Here).

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Judge Ashford’s Graev III Orders

One example: Docket # 10691-14S, Christopher John Totten v. C.I.R. (Order Here).

Keith Fogg previously discussed fallout for Graev III in this post and Bob Kamman made note of Judge Ashford’s December 26 orders specifically in the comments for that post so this is a bit of a repeat, though it receives some focus in the context of this week’s designated orders.

On December 26, Judge Ashford issued 18 designated orders (14 solitary and 2 each of 2 consolidated dockets) that followed Judge Buch’s template of providing history and a timeline regarding Graev III and other connected cases dealing with Internal Revenue Code section 6751(b).

In Judge Ashford’s orders, the IRS is to respond to the orders on or before January 9 and the petitioners are to respond on or before January 16. Any motions addressing the application of section 6751(b) are to be filed on or before January 23.

This series of orders added to the already interesting history of section 6751(b), Chai, and Graev III.

Taxation of Railroad Retirement Income

Docket # 14521-16, Mell Woods & Gloria Woods v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here).

Petitioner Mell Woods received $8,769 of railroad retirement income (“RRI”) in 2013. On their joint tax return for 2013, the petitioners reported $59,047 of adjusted gross income, which did not include the railroad retirement income. The petitioners elected to have the IRS compute their tax liability, which the IRS computed and assessed based on the income reported (which still did not factor in the RRI). The liability is the amount petitioners paid the IRS.

The IRS received the Form SSA-1099 from the Railroad Retirement Board that reported the RRI. Based on that reported income, the IRS underreporting department issued a notice of deficiency from an increased taxable income that includes 85% of the RRI ($7,454) with a resulting deficiency in income tax of $1,125.

After the petitioners filed a timely petition to the Tax Court, the IRS proposed stipulations of fact. On July 27, 2017, the Tax Court issued an order that the petitioners show cause why the proposed stipulations should not be deemed stipulated. After receiving a deficient response from the petitioners, the Court made absolute that order to show cause by its order on August 17, 2017, and deemed stipulated the proposed facts with one exception (the phrase “of which $7,454.00 (85%) was taxable income” – at issue in the Tax Court case).

The IRS next filed a motion for summary judgment with 8 numbered paragraphs supported by 4 documents. Two of the documents are authenticated by IRS counsel Olivia Rembach and the other two are self-authenticating.

Petitioners filed a response denying 5 of the 8 factual paragraphs in the IRS motion. Their denials follow the lines of “Paragraph 3 is denied; paragraph 5 is denied; paragraph 6 is denied”, et cetera. Mr. Woods also included a declaration with statements that the information supplied to the Court is not totally correct: “some of the information does not match the records of the petitioners; other information has been redacted, or covered up, and is not the same as the information supplied to the IRS by the petitioners”. With regard to the RRI, he stated that the information supplied by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board is incorrect. On the IRS computation of the income tax, “[they] are now complaining about their own figures” because the petitioners “paid the exact amounts as computed by the IRS” and “do not owe additional taxes for the year in question.” He also states that Ms. Rembach does not have personal knowledge of the information and concludes she is not a competent witness.

The Court reviewed the response and determined that the petitioners made blanket denials and did not set forth specific facts showing a genuine dispute for trial, especially regarding the issue of whether the railroad retirement income Mr. Woods received is taxable income. The Court granted the IRS motion for summary judgment and decided the petitioners owed the income tax deficiency of $1,125.

Takeaways:

  • Responses to motions or orders should ideally explain why the parties disagree by stating specific facts and providing supporting documentation. Here, the petitioners gave blanket denials regarding IRS statements that might have gained traction if they said something beyond “paragraph 3 is denied.”
  • When the IRS underreporting department is contacting about income reported to them, it is worthwhile to review the entire notice to see if you agree with their calculations. The IRS might deny credits that should be allowed so it may be necessary to respond to the notice. Overall, you will need to have solid reasons to dispute why the income should not be included with that year’s taxable income (identity theft is a good example).
  • In this case, the main issue was the taxability of railroad retirement income. Since the petitioners submitted their tax return to the IRS for computation of the income tax owed, it may be that they did not understand how to determine the taxable portion of RRI. The order illustrates that Tier 1 railroad retirement benefits are included in income as “social security benefits” under IRC section 86. Tier 1 RRI benefits are taxable under a formula that includes 85% of the RRI in income if the taxpayers’ modified AGI (excluding the RRI) exceeds $44,000. Since the petitioners had modified AGI of $59,047, that was well over the threshold and 85% of the RRI was taxable (85% of the $8,769 was includible income so $7,454 was added to the taxable income). The increase in their income added to their tax $1,125, resulting in a deficiency. Because the petitioners did not argue there was a computational error, the Court ruled for the IRS.

 

 

Some Tax History: Whatever Happened to the W-1?

We welcome back guest blogger Bob Kamman who, as usual, causes us to think about something that we would easily pass by without further thought.  While it is wonderful that Bob is writing guest blogs, he continues to write comments that deserve careful reading as well.  If you have not already looked at his comment on my post regarding the link between social security benefits and filing tax returns, you should do so.  Similarly, if you were at all interested in my post last week on worker classification, you need to read his comment there.  I wrote the post before the Court entered the order in the case.  Bob picks up the link to the order that came out last week.  It is a fascinating order and those with worker classification issues might want to see the orders entered in those types of cases. Keith

Here is a word-association question. What is your first thought when you hear “January 31”?

I polled some family members and most remembered it’s my birthday. But for millions of Americans, and especially tax practitioners, the likely answer is “W-2 Form.” January 31 is the deadline for employers to distribute these “Wage and Tax Statements” to employees.

Like most taxpayers, you know about Form W-2, but did you ever wonder what happened to Form W-1? I did, and I researched it so now you won’t have to. Along the way, I came across a novel tax administration idea: What if taxpayers whose only income is shown on W-2 forms could just fill out the back of the form with the names of their dependents; add a small amount of other income, if any; sign it; and send it to IRS?

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My search for Form W-1 led me to the Code of Federal Regulations edition of 1949 (another significant date in my life) and specifically to Section 405.601, “Return and payment of income tax withheld on wages.” It provided:

“(a) Every person required, under the provisions of section 1622, I.R.C., to deduct and withhold the tax on wages shall make a return and pay such tax on or before the last day of the month following the close of each of the quarters ending March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31. Such return is to be made on Form W-1, Return of Income Tax Withheld on Wages, and must be filed with the collector of internal revenue for the district in which is located the principal place of business or office of the employer . . .There shall be included with the return filed for the fourth quarter of the calendar year or with the employer’s final return, if filed at an earlier date, the triplicate of each withholding tax receipt (Form W-2a) furnished employees.”

So there you have it. Before there was a Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, there was a Form W-1 filed quarterly with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The Form W-2 dates back to those early days, as does Form W-3. Here is employment tax procedure from the same Regulations:

“(b) The triplicate Forms W-2a, when filed with the collector, must be accompanied by Form W-3 and a list (preferably in the form of an adding machine tape) of the amount shown on Form W-2. If an employer’s total payroll consists of a number of separate units or establishments, the triplicate Forms W-2a may be assembled accordingly and a separate list of tape submitted for each unit. In such case, a summary list or tape should be submitted, the total of which will agree with the corresponding entry to be made on Form W-3. Where the number of triplicate receipts is large, they may be forwarded in packages of convenient size. When this is done, the packages should be identified with the name of the employer and consecutively numbered and Form W-3 should be place in package No. 1. The number of packages should be indicated immediately after the employer’s name on Form W-3. The tax return, Form W-1, and remittance in cases of this kind should be filed in the usual manner, accompanied by a brief statement that Forms W-2a and W-3 are in separate packages.”

The word “triplicate” might bring memories of carbon paper. Anyone under 30, though, might ask “what is carbon paper?”

But these regulations for Form W-1 mention nothing about Social Security tax withholding, which nowadays is also reported on the quarterly Form 941. How did employers deal with that, in times past?

The answer is in Regulations Section 601.43, “Forms.”

“(a) Description. The forms specially applicable in connection with the employment taxes, copies of which may be secured from collectors of internal revenue, are as follows:

There was also a Form SS-9 available to employees who had paid more than the maximum FICA tax because they earned more than $3,000 combined from more than one employer. They had to claim this refund with a Form 843, filed no more than two years after the year the excess FICA was paid.

It was not until 1950 that the separate Forms W-1 and SS-1a were combined into the single Form 941. At the same time, employers with a combined payroll tax liability of more than $100 each month were required to pay taxes at a member bank of the Federal Reserve system with a “Federal Depositary Receipt.”

And it was not until 1978 that quarterly lists of employees and their wages were not required by Social Security. Today, benefits are still based on “quarters” of coverage, but a quarter is determined by income received at any time during the year. For 2018, every $1,320 of earnings results in a quarter of coverage, up to four a year.

I mentioned above the innovative proposal of using the reverse side of Form W-2 as a tax return — perhaps, the next best thing to a postcard. Suppose your only income is from wages, a situation in which millions of Americans find themselves. Why not just sign the form, mail it to IRS, and let them figure the tax?

Well, actually, that’s the way it could be done until 1948. The back of the W-2 had lines to list exemptions. If more than one W-2 was received, there was a box to show how many others were attached. If the spouse had more than $500 income, that W-2 could be attached also. Another line allowed reporting of interest, dividends, and other income if those sources added up to less than $100. The taxpayer signed the back — there was also a signature line for a spouse with income — and the return was mailed to Internal Revenue, which would compute and assess the tax, with refund or balance due. A Tax Table was published for those curious to know what those amounts would be, or to check the collector’s math.

A page of history is worth a volume of logic, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted in New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345, 349 (1921). Those seeking a logical reason for the current lack of a Form W-1 may find this page of history helpful.

 

Must the Taxpayer Mention Section 6751(b)(1) in a Deficiency Case for the Tax Court to Have to Consider Compliance With That Section?

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who raises another Graev III question. The issues raised by that case will continue to present themselves for some time as the Tax Court continues to sort through different scenarios. Keith

There are a lot of questions now about how the Tax Court will administer its recent holding in Graev III (i.e., Graev v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. No. 23 (Dec. 20, 2017)). Graev is a deficiency case in which penalties were sought under section 6662 and where the taxpayer specifically raised the issue before trial that the IRS had not shown compliance with the written penalty supervisor approval requirement set forth in section 6751(b). In Graev III, the Tax Court overruled its immediately-prior opinion in the case and held that the IRS burden of production under section 7491(c) for certain penalties in a deficiency case included showing compliance with section 6751(b)’s approval rules.

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In the days since Graev III, around 30 orders have been issued by various Tax Court judges in deficiency cases that have already been tried, but where the court has not yet ruled. In those orders, a number of judges have solicited the views of the parties as to how, if at all, Graev III applies to the case. The orders generally direct that any motions (presumably by the IRS to supplement the record to show section 6751(b) compliance) be filed very quickly. It is unclear whether such motions will be granted. And, it is unclear whether the taxpayers in some of those cases had raised section 6751(b) noncompliance as an issue earlier in the case. (In other cases, section 6751(b) noncompliance was definitely raised earlier.)

In Collection Due Process cases, Tax Court judges have recently differed as to whether the IRS must come forward to show section 6751(b) compliance where a taxpayer does not mention the section in his or her pleadings or filings. The same question will now be presented in deficiency cases: Will the Tax Court now insist that the IRS show compliance with the section 6751(b) approval requirement in deficiency cases where a taxpayer (unlike in Graev III) never mentions section 6751(b) in any pleadings or filings? This is of great importance to pro se taxpayers, who no doubt will be ignorant of section 6751(b)’s existence.

As of January 8, 2018, there have been two opinions issued by the Tax Court in deficiency cases involving penalties covered by section 6751(b):

In Roth v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2017-248 (Dec. 28, 2017), the Tax Court made specific rulings on whether the IRS had complied with section 6751(b) in a case involving section 6662 penalties. This result was not surprising, however, since the taxpayers had raised possible noncompliance with section 6751(b)’s rules earlier in the case.

But, in Ankerberg v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2018-1 (Jan. 8, 2018), the Tax Court did not discuss compliance with section 6751(b) before imposing a fraud penalty under section 6663. The taxpayer was pro se in this deficiency case and presumably did not mention section 6751(b) in his pleadings or other filings.

Ankerberg is a bad sign for pro se taxpayers. It is also, I would argue, inconsistent with what the Tax Court has understood to be the burden of production under section 7491(c) on other penalty sub-issues when a taxpayer has pleaded merely that he or she contests the penalties (but gives no more details).

Without any prompting, the Tax Court began enforcing 7491(c), starting with Higbee v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. 438 (2001), any time a taxpayer contested the penalties. But, in Swain v. Commissioner, 118 T.C. 358, 364-365 (2002), the court put in a caveat — that if the taxpayer never mentioned contesting penalties, the IRS had no burden of production under 7491(c). In Wheeler v. Commissioner, 127 T.C. 200 (2006), affd. 521 F.3d 1289 (10th Cir. 2008), when a taxpayer merely wrote in the petition: that “[t]he petitioner is not liable for a penalty”, the Tax Court held that this was sufficient to put the IRS to its burden of production on all penalty sub-issues other than reasonable cause. In Wheeler, the Tax Court refused to impose (1) a late-payment penalty because the IRS had failed to show that it had filed a substitute for return, and (2) an estimated tax penalty because the IRS had failed to show that the taxpayer had filed a return for the prior year (necessary to determine the required quarterly estimated tax payment for the current year).

To me, it seems clear that, under Wheeler, proof of compliance with the section 6751(b) approval requirement should be just another penalty sub-issue on which the IRS should have the burden of production, even in cases where a taxpayer does no more than state that he or she thinks the penalty doesn’t apply. I would hope any Tax Court judges reading this post would on their own seriously consider the import of Wheeler when they next face the issue of a penalty under section 6662 or 6663 in a case where the taxpayer is ignorant of section 6751(b), but has manifested an interest to contest the penalty.

UPDATE:  After this post went up, Carl learned that, although the Ankerberg opinion does not discuss section 6751(b) compliance, the parties had stipulated to the signed penalty approval form.  Knowledge of the form’s existence may have led the court into not discussing the section 6751(b) compliance issue.