Grab Bag: FBAR and Offshore Cases Worth Highlighting

While Stephen, Keith and I are traveling, important and interesting tax procedure developments keep coming. For those who are missing their tax procedure fix, I point to two cases and other nice write ups that will give some good context.

The first is the Hom case; Mr. Hom has filled a few PT posts with varied and important tax procedure issues. In the development this week, in a nonprecedential and unpublished (but freely available) opinion the Ninth Circuit reversed in part the district court in a case involving whether online gambling sites were accounts that were required to be reported under the FBAR rules.

Jack Townsend at Federal Tax Crimes and Ed Zollars at Current Federal Tax Developments both discuss the case.

The other case that caught my eye and is one that I will be returning too is the Maze v IRS case out of the federal district court in DC. It contains an important discussion of the Anti-Injunction Act. In particular, the opinion considers whether the AIA is a bar to preventing the court from considering the taxpayer’s argument that the IRS should have used streamlined procedures rather than transition streamlined procedures.

Not surprisingly, Jack’s blog, which is the place to turn for developments generally relating to criminal tax but in particular on all offshore issues, hits the opinion hard here.

What caught my eye in the opinion is the extensive discussion of Florida Bankers and other important AIA cases, including Cohen v US, Foodservice and Lodging Inst. v Regan, and Seven-Sky v Holder. We have discussed some of those issues in PT previously. The opinion is careful to limit the openings in the AIA that some cases have revealed.

Bankruptcy and the Anti-Injunction Act

The recent case of Horstemeyer v. United States decided by the Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina addresses the tension between the anti-injunction act (AIA) of the Internal Revenue Code and the injunctive remedies available to bankruptcy judges administering a case. The bankruptcy court determined that its powers did not override the AIA and it declined to enjoin the IRS from levying on the debtor’s retirement account.  Although the court does not specifically discuss monetary remedies available to the debtor, the IRS must use it levy powers with care where a bankruptcy exists because financial remedies for violating the automatic stay or the discharge injunction could be awarded in the right circumstances.

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The case involves a debt the IRS pins on Mr. Horstemeyer as the alter ego of a business. He filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in August of 2014 and disputed the $3.3 million debt the IRS claimed that he owed.  He received a discharge four months later, the usual amount of time for obtaining a discharge in a chapter 7 case, and that is when this case really began.  In January 2015 he filed an adversary proceeding against the IRS seeking a determination that any liability he owed as an alter ego was discharged in the bankruptcy case.  The IRS responded that the liability was excepted from discharge for various reasons.  This proceeding remains unresolved.

While the discharge proceeding was pending, the IRS levied on Mr. Horstemeyer’s retirement account in an effort to collect the taxes. Levying on the retirement account while the discharge complaint was pending signals a strong belief by the IRS that it will prevail in the discharge proceeding since it exposes itself to monetary damages by collecting on a potentially dischargeable liability.  Due to the levy on the retirement account, debtor filed an adversary proceeding in October 2015 seeking a preliminary injunction until resolution of the discharge proceeding.  The bankruptcy court granted a temporary restraining order preventing payment to the IRS of the funds in the retirement account.  The IRS responded that the bankruptcy court lacked authority to bar it from collecting based on the AIA.

Section 7421(a) provides that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.”   The Supreme Court in Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., stated “the manifest purpose of 7421 is to permit the United States to assess and collect taxes alleged to be due without judicial intervention, and to require that the legal right to the disputed sums be determined in a suit for refund.”  The debtor argued that the discharge injunction of section 524 of the Bankruptcy Code permits bankruptcy courts to enjoin collection despite the broad language of the AIA.

Bankruptcy courts, however, are split on the issue of their power versus the power of the AIA. The minority of bankruptcy courts concluded that the narrower language of the discharge injunction in the bankruptcy code supersedes the more general prohibition of injunctions against the IRS set out in the AIA.  The handful of courts that have ruled this way cite back to the case of Bostwick v. United States decided under the Bankruptcy Act.

The majority of bankruptcy courts addressing the issue acknowledge the power of bankruptcy courts to issue injunctions but find that this authority is insufficient to override the AIA in light of: “(1) its unequivocal language; (2) its oft-amended statutory exceptions that do not include an exception for bankruptcy courts; and (3) the failure of any bankruptcy code provisions explicitly providing for bankruptcy courts to enjoin IRS collection efforts.” Because the bankruptcy court in this case determined that the AIA applied, it must apply the judicially created exceptions to the AIA or irreparable injury and certainty of success on the merits.  Applying those tests to the facts here the bankruptcy court found that the injuries here were monetary and not irreparable.  It also found that the debtor had not come close to showing that the IRS could not prevail on the merits.

The outcome in this case is not remarkable but it shows that in most jurisdictions a debtor will not stop post-discharge collection efforts by the IRS by seeking to use the power of the bankruptcy court. Pre-discharge the automatic stay will stop the IRS from issuing or pursuing collection on a levy.  Post-discharge when the automatic stay has lifted the IRS is free to take collection action without interference from the bankruptcy court; however, if the underlying taxes were discharged in the bankruptcy case, the IRS does so at its financial peril because of the right of the debtor to seek damages.  For this reason, the IRS will only take collection action like a levy where it has a high level of confidence in the discharge case.

Two wrinkles existed here on which the court did not spend much time because of its focus on the AIA issue. One issue is alter ego.  The debtor may not be contesting his liability under the alter ego theory.  That surprises me a little but the court did not lay out the facts supporting that theory.  The second wrinkle involves the pursuit of funds in the retirement plan.  This has two aspects.  First, the IRS does not pursue funds in retirement plans without higher level approval.  Given the amount of uncollected tax and the pursuit of funds in a retirement plan, this account must have received a fair amount of scrutiny at the IRS before it issued the levy.  Second, the retirement account probably did not become an asset of the estate.  I say probably because I do not know enough about the retirement account.  Footnote 4 of opinion states that the IRS argues that it can enforce its lien against the retirement account because it never became property of the estate.  The federal tax lien continues to attach to property exempted, abandoned or excluded from the bankruptcy estate.  The retirement account would almost certainly have been excluded from the bankruptcy estate under section 541(c)(2).  Because of this argument, the IRS may have been more willing to pursue this asset while the dischargeability proceeding was pending since its ability to collect based on its lien does not depend on whether the underlying liability was discharged.

The Management Fee Waiver Regulations May Be Doomed

Today we welcome back a prior contributor to PT, Professor Andy Grewal, Associate Professor at University of Iowa College of Law.  Andy often provides strong commentary on complicated and technical areas of the Code.  Today’s post is no different, and is a combination of prior posts Professor Grewal wrote for Yale’s great regulatory blog Notice and Comment.  In the post, Andy discusses the recent proposed regulations on management fee waiver transactions in private equity funds, and, specifically, provisions he argues are invalid because the timing under the regulations contradicts the clear statutory language.  This is an incredibly hot topic among tax practitioners and the finance industry, and Andy raises interesting concerns that could impact the regulations generally.  Steve.

In response to considerable public outcry, the Treasury and IRS recently issued proposed regulations on management fee waiver transactions (PT comment: for more information on management fee waiver transactions, see Prof. Grewal’s article, Mixing Management Fee Waivers with Mayo).  Practitioner comments have focused heavily on whether the regulation’s various factors properly follow those described in the legislative history of Section 707(a)(2)(A).

This post examines a largely overlooked provision of the regulations that, if finalized, would plainly contradict the governing statute.  It then considers how any challenge to that provision might arise and how any such challenge might lead to a broad invalidation of the Section 707(a)(2)(A) regulations.

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I. The Invalid Fee Waiver Regulation

Under the proposed fee waiver regulations, an allocation to a private equity firm regarding its waiver interest (the additional profits interest received in exchange for waiving a fee) may be treated as a payment to an outsider, generating ordinary income, rather than as an allocation of partnership long-term capital gain.  The IRS’s approach here is generally sound, but a provision in the regulations, Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i), departs from the statute on an important timing issue.

The relevant statute, Section 707(a)(2)(A), grants the Treasury the authority to issue regulations that subject partner-partnership transactions to outsider treatment under Section 707(a)(1).  That is,

If:

(i) a partner performs services for a partnership or transfers property to a partnership,

(ii) there is a related direct or indirect allocation and distribution to such partner, and

(iii) the performance of such services (or such transfer) and the allocation and distributionwhen viewed together, are properly characterized as a transaction occurring between the partnership and a partner acting other than in his capacity as a member of the partnership,

such allocation and distribution shall be treated as a transaction described in [Section 707(a)(1)].

As the bolded language shows, the statute contemplates regulations that apply outsider treatment when there has been both an “allocation and distribution.”  The statute uses that phrase 3 times, and Section 707(a)(2)(A)(iii) hammers that point home — the allocation and distribution must be “viewed together” to determine if it’s appropriate to take the transaction outside of the partner-partnership framework.

For the IRS, this apparently creates administrative problems, because a partnership might allocate income to a partner in one year, but any related distribution may take place in a later taxable year.  Citing these administrative problems, the proposed regulations nix the statute’s distribution requirement. Under Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i), the transaction is tested “at the time the arrangement is entered into.”  So, under the regulation, an income allocation may be recharacterized without regard to any related distribution.

As a pure textual matter, the regulation does not comply with the statute.  The statutory language requires an “allocation and distribution” that are “viewed together.”  If the IRS focuses on only the allocation and attempts to alter its tax consequences, without considering the related distribution, it has exceeded the regulatory authority granted by Section 707(a)(2)(A).  The IRS cannot “view[] together” two parts of a transaction, as required by the statute, if it looks at only one part.  Under Step One of the familiar Chevron framework, Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i), if finalized, will fail.

The IRS might offer rejoinders to this conclusion.  For example, it might make a policy-based argument and say it’s unfair to delay the determination of tax consequences until a distribution is made, especially in light of the apparent administrative problems associated with a wait-and-see approach.

However, it’s just as easy to imagine that Congress wanted to limit the IRS’s authority to circumstances where a distribution occurs soon after any partnership allocation is made.  After all, if a partner and partnership are using the distributive share regime as a mere funnel for payments, with the intention of avoiding capitalization requirements or of converting the character of a payment, one would expect that a distribution will occur soon after the related allocation.  If instead a distribution occurs, say, 10 years after an allocation, that would be a fairly strong sign that the allocation/distribution were not used as a device to funnel payments.  In other words, it’s quite easy to see why the temporal relationship between the allocation and distribution are relevant to whether a transaction should be moved to the Section 707(a)(1) framework.  Congress, in fact, was principally concerned with relatively simple transactions when it enacted Section 707(a)(2)(A), not complex fee waiver transactions.

This is not to say that Congress’s policy in enacting Section 707(a)(2)(A) was the best one.  Maybe the statute should be amended such that it extends regulatory authority when “an allocation and a reasonably anticipated distribution, viewed together” show that the parties acted as strangers.  However, those are not the words that Congress has chosen.  And any pure policy arguments supporting the negation of the distribution requirement can just as easily be matched with a policy argument emphasizing the insights yielded by viewing an allocation and distribution together.

To find some statutory support for its approach, the IRS refers to the underlying policies of Section 704(b).  Under that statute, an allocation generally must have “substantial economic effect” to be respected.  The relevant regulations contemplate that an allocation to a partner will enjoy “economic effect” when the partner essentially enjoys the benefit or bears the burden associated with an allocation of income or loss.  See Treas. Reg. 1.704-1(b)(2)(ii)(a).  Thus, it’s not enough to nominally allocate income to the partner — the partnership must increase his capital account as a result of the allocation and must make distributions consistent with the balance in that account.  See Treas. Reg. 1.704-1(b)(2)(ii)(b)(2).  In other words, an income allocation comes with some “distribution rights,” via the capital account maintenance rules.

The proposed regulations seize on these distribution rights to negate the statute’s distribution requirement.  That is, “the Treasury Department and the IRS believe that a premise of section 704(b) is that an income allocation correlates with an increased distribution right, justifying the assumption that an arrangement that provides for an income allocation should be treated as also providing for an associated distribution for purposes of applying section 707(a)(2)(A).”   80 Fed. Reg. 43652, 43654 (July 23, 2015).

The IRS’s assumption that a distribution will usually follow an allocation may very well be justified, but it does not square with the statute.  Again, Congress plainly required an “allocation and a distribution” that are “viewed together.”  The statute does not refer to distributions that are “anticipated” or “reasonably assumed.”

Nor does the statutory text allow for any equation between a “distribution right” and a “distribution.”  When Congress passed Section 707(a)(2)(A), Section 704(b) and its substantial economic effect requirements were already in place.  That is, Congress already knew that an “allocation” contemplated distribution rights, because Congress itself had passed the law under which the capital account maintenance regulations had been issued.  So, by including in Section 707(a)(2)(A) the words “allocation and distribution” and “view[ing] together,” Congress must have meant something beyond an allocation that enjoys substantial economic effect.  Otherwise it would have referred only to an “allocation.”

The IRS might nonetheless argue that when Congress referred to an “allocation” in Section 707(a)(2)(A), it was speaking of sham allocations, and not those that enjoy substantial economic effect.  But that wouldn’t make much sense.  If an allocation lacks substantial economic effect, it will not be respected under Section 704(b) in the first instance, and the parties’ attempt to manipulate the allocation rules would already be defeated, without regard to Section 707(a)(2)(A).  Thus, the statute’s references to a “distribution” and to viewing the transactions “together” add further elements to the statute which the IRS must honor.

Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i) may reflect a good policy (a debatable point), but it does not square with the law.  In recharacterizing any income allocated to a private equity firm’s waiver interest, the regulation should be re-drafted such that it follows the statutory requirements and views together the allocation and the related distribution.  The IRS will continue to enjoy the authority to recharacterize allocations and distributions on waiver interests — the issue here relates to when to make the relevant determinations, not whether to do so.  And if, as expected, private equity firms quickly receive distributions on their waiver interests, then the administrative problems might be negligible.  If distributions are severely delayed and the IRS still wishes to act under Section 707(a)(2)(A), it should request authority from Congress.  Its current regulation, if made final, reflects an invalid interpretation of the existing statute.

II.  Challenging the Regulation

Any allegation of a regulation’s invalidity usually comes with some uncertainty, given the generally deferential framework employed by courts in examining agency rulemaking.  But here, the IRS has taken an eraser to statutory language.  Perhaps some on the Tax Court would uphold the regulation under a strong purposive approach, but that tribunal has gone through somewhat of a renaissance in the administrative law area, as evidenced by the Altera decision.  Thus, the Tax Court may very well view Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i) through the same lens that the Supreme Court and the circuit courts would view it.  Under their approach to statutory interpretation, they do not bless an agency’s rewrite of a statute especially where, as here, following the plain language is consistent with the statutory structure and is supported by plausible policy concerns.

The regulations thus seem poised for a challenge.  The Preamble to the proposed regulations acknowledges that some “distributions may be subject to independent risk,” and taxpayers who face risky distributions may scoff at the premature re-characterization of their income allocations.  Additionally, two comment letters raise concerns with Prop. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i), so presumably some taxpayers will be adversely affected.  See Comments of the Tax Section of the Connecticut Bar Association (Oct. 8, 2015)Comments of the Tax Section of the New York State Bar Association (Nov. 13, 2015).

Although the invalidation of a regulation always raises a significant issue, the stakes could be far higher if the private equity industry mounts a pre-enforcement challenge to the regulations.  The IRS apparently believes it must eliminate the statute’s “distribution” and “view[ing] together” requirements to make the regulations administratively workable.  Consequently, Prop. Treas. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i) might not be severable from the remainder of the regulations.  If that is so, a successful challenge to the final version of Prop. Treas. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i) could lead to the invalidation of all the Section 707(a)(2)(A) regulations.

To address this issue, the IRS might include a severability provision in its fee waiver regulations, stating that if a court invalidates Prop. Treas. Reg. 1.707-2(b)(i), it should not bring down the rest of the regulations.  But the effect of such provisions remains uncertain, as detailed in a new article by recent Yale Law School graduate Charles Tyler and by former Yale Law School Professor Donald Elliott found here.

Of course, taxpayers usually very wisely avoid pre-enforcement challenges to Treasury regulations, especially given the difficulties associated with standing.  Thus, a deficiency or refund action reflects the most natural and likely forum through which to invalidate Prop. Treas. 1.707-2(b)(i).

Nonetheless, the private equity industry seems unusually well-coordinated, even aggressive, when it comes to preserving their tax benefits.  Additionally, the legal fees associated with a pre-enforcement challenge reflect an exceptionally tiny fraction of the industry’s income, and the benefits of a victory would be considerable.   Consequently, the possibility of a pre-enforcement challenge might be explored.  See generally, Patrick J. Smith, Challenges to Tax Regulations: The APA and the Anti-Injunction Act, 147 Tax Notes 915 (2015).  Any related litigation would involve procedural and severability issues that are as uncertain as they are fascinating.

D.C. Circuit Majority Opinion in Florida Bankers Not Consistent with Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision (Part 2)

Pat Smith continues his discussion of the DC Circuit’s Florida Bankers decision. Les

In yesterday’s post I discussed the state of the law in Anti-Injunction Act cases as well as the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing opinion. I described how the majority opinion is out of step with the law and is inconsistent with the narrow reading of the AIA as expressed in recent important developments. In today’s post, I will discuss Judge Henderson’s dissenting opinion in Florida Bankers, and describe why I think the dissent is the better reasoned opinion. Judge Henderson began by noting that while the bankers associations’ “challenge raises several difficult questions, the Anti-Injunction Act (AIA) is not one of them.” She correctly relied on the Direct Marketing decision as providing the applicable Supreme Court guidance for resolving the Anti-Injunction Act issue in Florida Bankers. As was the case in Direct Marketing, a challenge to an information reporting requirement does not relate to the assessment or collection of taxes under the Direct Marketing analysis because information reporting is a step in the overall revenue raising process that precedes the narrowly defined assessment and collection steps. Moreover, as she correctly notes, the information reporting requirement at issue in Florida Bankers is even farther removed from any assessment or collection of taxes than the reporting requirement in Direct Marketing because the interest income that is the subject of the Florida Bankers reporting requirement is not even subject to taxation by the U.S.

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She then addressed the issue of whether the fact that the penalty for violation of the reporting requirement is treated as a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act has the consequence that the Florida Bankers challenge is barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. She concluded that this issue had already been decided by the D.C. Circuit in Seven-Sky. That case held that when a plaintiff challenges a regulatory requirement that is enforced by a penalty that is treated as a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act, such a challenge is not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, because the challenge relates to the regulatory requirement rather than the penalty. Putting this in the terms of the Direct Marketing analysis, the challenge could not possibly relate to the assessment or collection of a tax because the act that would give rise to liability to pay the penalty, namely a violation of the reporting requirement, has not occurred.

Judge Henderson also concluded that Bob Jones and Americans United were factually distinguishable from Florida Bankers because there was a much closer connection in those cases between the challenge to the revocation of tax-exempt status and the effect a successful challenge would have on the tax liability of the contributors to the organizations than any connection between the challenge in Florida Bankers and actual tax liability. Thus, contrary to the argument made by the government in its footnote in its reply brief in Z Street, it is not necessary to conclude that Direct Marketing has implicitly overruled those cases in order to apply the reasoning in Direct Marketing in interpreting the Anti-Injunction Act.

Judge Henderson also concluded that the 1987 D.C. Circuit decision in Foodservice, which was cited in the district court opinion, is directly on point and supports the conclusion that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply to the Florida Bankers challenge. Finally, she noted that it would be particularly inappropriate to hold that the only way to challenge the information reporting requirement at issue in Florida Bankers is for a bank to violate the requirement, pay the resulting penalty, and sue for a refund of the penalty, in light of the fact that section 7203 of the Code makes willful violation of reporting requirements such as this one a misdemeanor.

With respect to Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion in Florida Bankers holding that the Anti-Injunction Act does apply to bar the Florida Bankers challenge, I could have understood how a judge might have agreed with the position taken by the government in the footnote in it Z Street reply brief, namely, that since the Direct Marketing decision did not say anything explicit about what effect the decision might have on the Bob Jones and Americans United holdings, as a consequence, the more prudent course of action for a lower court judge would be to wait until the Supreme Court has explicitly addressed the issue. While I do not agree with that position, since the reasoning in Direct Marketing is so clear and so obviously applicable under the Anti-Injunction Act as well as under the Tax Injunction Act, nevertheless, I can at least understand how a reasonable judge might hold that position.

However, that is not the approach Judge Kavanaugh took in his majority opinion. He did not attempt to engage with the reasoning in Direct Marketing at all. Instead, he distinguished Direct Marketing based on a point that had played no role at all in either the briefing of the case or in the Supreme Court’s opinion, namely, the contention that the penalty for violation of the reporting requirement in Direct Marketing was not a tax for purposes of the Tax Injunction Act, whereas the penalty for violation of the reporting requirement in Florida Bankers clearly is a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act.

While it might at first seem very surprising that the same judge who wrote such a strong opinion invalidating a regulation issued by the IRS and Treasury in Loving v. IRS 742 F.3d 1013 (D.C. Cir. 2014).could write as weak and misguided an opinion as the majority opinion in Florida Bankers. This result seems somewhat less surprising, however, when viewed in the context provided by Judge Kavanaugh’s opinions in other cases involving the Anti-Injunction Act. He wrote dissenting opinions addressing the Anti-Injunction Act issues in both the panel and en banc decisions in Cohen as well as in Seven-Sky.

One final collateral issue that was addressed briefly by both Judge Kavanaugh and Judge Henderson is the issue of whether the restriction imposed by the Anti-Injunction Act is jurisdictional. As both judges note, prior D.C. Circuit opinions characterize the restriction as jurisdictional, but as Judge Henderson points out, a line of Supreme Court decisions in recent years has called into question the loose analysis that has traditionally been applied in deciding whether particular statutory requirements for bringing suit are or are not jurisdictional, and this line of authority would often result in characterizing as non-jurisdictional certain requirements that may traditionally have been viewed as jurisdictional.

While the Tax Injunction Act is clearly jurisdictional, the reason for that conclusion rests on one point on which the Tax Injunction Act and the Anti-Injunction Act differ, namely, the fact that the Tax Injunction Act explicitly restricts the ability of district courts to hear the type of cases the Act covers, whereas the Anti-Injunction restricts only the ability of parties to maintain such suits. This difference should lead to the conclusion that the Anti-Injunction Act is not jurisdictional. I developed this position at length in a Tax Notes article written in the context of the issue that was subsequently resolved by the Supreme Court in NFIB v. Sebelius.

As noted at the outset, in light of the weakness of Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion, the strength of Judge Henderson’s dissenting opinion, the clear conflict between the analysis and conclusion in the majority opinion and the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing decision, and the conflict between the majority opinion and numerous prior D.C. Circuit decisions, such as Z Street, Cohen, Foodservice, and Seven-Sky, the Florida Bankers decision is a very strong candidate for en banc review.

 

D.C. Circuit Majority Opinion in Florida Bankers Not Consistent with Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision (Part 1)

Frequent guest contributor Patrick J. Smith of Ivins, Phillips & Barker discusses the Florida Bankers decision that the DC Circuit handed down on Friday. The state of the law when it comes to the Anti-Injunction Act and its relationship to the IRS is far from clear, and courts seem to be taking views that are hard to reconcile. In this post, Pat, who has written more on these issues than just about anyone, provides the deep context for his dissatisfaction with the opinion. Tomorrow Pat will tell us why the Florida Bankers dissent got this one right. Les

On Friday of last week, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Florida Bankers Association v. Department of the Treasury, six months after the oral argument in the case was held. The majority held the suit was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act in the Internal Revenue Code, based on reasoning that is clearly inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl in March of this year. The weakness of the majority opinion in Florida Bankers, together with the strength of a dissenting opinion filed in the case, as well as the inconsistency of the majority opinion not only with the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing decision but also with other D.C. Circuit opinions, all make the Florida Bankers case a strong candidate for en banc review. In this two-part post, I will first describe the issue in the case and provide the context for why I think the dissenting opinion is correct and the majority is wrong. Tomorrow, I will discuss in detail the dissenting opinion, and describe why I believe the dissent’s approach is consistent with the narrow reading of the Anti-Injunction Act that the Supreme Court and prior DC Circuit precedent requires.

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Florida Bankers is a challenge by two bankers associations to the validity of regulations issued by the IRS and Treasury requiring U.S. banks to report to the IRS information concerning interest earned by non-resident aliens on accounts they hold in the banks. Although this interest is not subject to income taxation in the U.S., the IRS and Treasury claim the reporting requirement is necessary in order to make it possible for the U.S. to comply with information sharing agreements it has entered into with other countries that benefit the U.S. by providing information on bank accounts held by U.S. citizens in banks in those countries.

The bankers associations argue that in issuing the regulations, the IRS and Treasury violated the Administrative Procedure Act’s arbitrary and capricious standard under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A) by failing to give sufficient weight to the likelihood that some non-resident aliens would respond to the information reporting requirement by withdrawing funds from U.S. banks, not because they wish to avoid paying tax to their home countries on the interest earned on the accounts, but instead because they fear the information either will be misused by their home country governments or will not be protected by those governments against misuse by others. In the district court, the government argued that the suit was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, section 7421(a) of the Internal Revenue Code, which provides that, with certain exceptions, such as Tax Court deficiency actions, “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.”

The government argued that even though the information that the banks were required to report related to interest that is not subject to income taxation in the U.S., nevertheless, the Anti-Injunction Act applied to bar the suit because of the penalty that banks would be subject to if they failed to comply with the reporting requirement that is imposed by the regulations, and because this penalty is treated as a tax for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act, under section 6671(a) and the Supreme Court’s decision in NFIB v. Sebelius. The district court held that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply for several reasons ( Les’ January 2014 post discussing the district court opinion, with links to that decision, can be found at APA and Challenges to Agency Guidance: Florida Bankers v US and More on Halbig v Sebelius).    First, the penalty would be imposed only if one of the banks that are members of the associations that brought the challenge violated the reporting requirement, but none of these banks has either violated the requirement or threatened to do so. The challenge is not to the penalty but rather to the reporting requirement itself. Second, the D.C. Circuit, in a 1987 decision, Foodservice and Lodging Institute, Inc. v. Regan, had held that a challenge to the validity of another information reporting requirement that did not relate directly to the assessment or collection of taxes but, that was subject to the same penalty that applied to the information reporting requirement at issue in Florida Bankers, was not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. Finally, in Seven-Sky v. Holder, the D.C. Circuit decision addressing the same issue subsequently decided by the Supreme Court in NFIB v. Sebelius, the D.C. Circuit had noted that the Anti-Injunction Act “has never been applied to bar suits brought to enjoin regulatory requirements that bear no relation to tax revenues or enforcement.” 661 F.3d 1, at 9 (D.C. Cir. 2011).

However, the district court rejected the challenge on the merits. I have explained in two Tax Notes articles here and here why I believe the district court’s decision on the merits was incorrect. However, the D.C. Circuit did not reach the merits. Instead, the majority opinion, written by Judge Kavanaugh, held the suit was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act, and while the dissenting judge, Judge Henderson, disagreed with that conclusion, nevertheless, she did not express a view on the merits.

As noted earlier, the majority opinion in Florida Bankers is incorrect because it is clearly at variance with a Supreme Court decision that was issued in March of this year. Less than a month after the February oral argument in Florida Bankers, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. As I noted in a post here soon after that decision was issued and at greater length in a subsequent Tax Notes article, while the Direct Marketing decision did not deal directly with the Anti-Injunction Act, but instead with a different provision, the Tax Injunction Act, in a different title of the United States Code, a provision that imposes restrictions similar to those in the Anti-Injunction Act on the jurisdiction of federal district courts to hear cases involving taxes imposed by the states, nevertheless, the strong similarities between the two provisions, and the nature of the Court’s reasoning in the Direct Marketing decision, support the conclusion that the Court’s analysis in Direct Marketing would be equally applicable with respect to the Anti-Injunction Act.

Like the Anti-Injunction Act, the Tax Injunction Act prohibits suits that would “restrain” the “assessment” or “collection” of taxes. In Direct Marketing, the Court held that because the two provisions are so similar, and because the Tax Injunction Act was modeled on the Anti-Injunction Act, the words in the Tax Injunction Act should be given the narrow, technical meaning those words have in the Internal Revenue Code. According to the Court, in the Internal Revenue Code, the words “assessment” and “collection” refer to well defined and specific phases of the overall process of obtaining tax revenue, and information reporting is not part of either of those phases, even where the information being reported bears directly on someone’s tax liability. In addition, according to the Court, the word “restrain” does not mean that any suit that might have the effect of “inhibiting” the collection of state tax revenue is barred by the Tax Injunction Act.

As a result of the foregoing reasoning, the Colorado statute that was being challenged in Direct Marketing, which required out-of-state retailers to provide the state with information reports on their sales to residents of the state, was not sufficiently closely connected with the collection or assessment of tax for the challenge to be barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. Although the Court had ruled in two cases in 1974, Bob Jones University 416 U.S. 725 (1974). and Americans United 416 U.S. 752 (1974), that suits challenging the IRS’s revocation of the tax-exempt status of an organization was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act because of the effect that the challenge would have, if it were successful, on the deductibility by contributors to the organization of their contributions, and although those decisions have been interpreted by the Courts of Appeals to mean that the Anti-Injunction Act bars any suit that, if successful, could have any sort of negative effect on the collection of tax revenue, nevertheless, the reasoning and the conclusion in Direct Marketing are clearly inconsistent with that type of broad reading of the Anti-Injunction Act.

Another recent D.C. Circuit decision involving the application of the Anti-Injunction Act is Z Street v. Koskinen 791 F.3d 24 (D.C. Cir. 2015). In this case, in contrast to Florida Bankers, both the oral argument and much of the briefing came after the Direct Marketing decision. I discussed the opinion in this case in an op-ed at TaxProf Blog, and I discussed the oral argument in this case in my Tax Notes article that discussed the Direct Marketing decision. (Les also wrote on the Z Street DC Circuit opinion here).

This case involved a challenge by an organization that had applied to the IRS for tax-exempt status to a delay in processing the application that the organization alleged was caused by an “Israel special policy” that the IRS allegedly applies in processing tax exemption applications by organizations with an interest in Israel. Under this alleged policy, organizations with views on Israel that do not coincide with those of the administration are treated less favorably, at least in terms of the speed with which the applications are processed, than organizations whose views on Israel coincide with those of the administration.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the case in the district court on the grounds that the suit was barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. The applicability of the Anti-Injunction Act was the only issue before the D.C. Circuit. Because of the procedural posture of the case, the court was required to assume the correctness of the organization’s allegations regarding the existence of an “Israel special policy.”

At the oral argument, the panel was clearly very hostile to the position taken by the government. The panel expressed unhappiness with the fact that the government’s reply brief, which was filed after the Direct Marketing decision, had referred to that decision only in a footnote. That footnote argued that since the Direct Marketing decision had not cited the Bob Jones or Americans United decisions, the Direct Marketing decision should not be read as overruling those decisions by implication. The questions and comments by the panel at oral argument suggested that they viewed the Direct Marketing decision as being centrally relevant to the issue in Z Street.

Based on the oral argument, it was no surprise that the D.C. Circuit opinion in Z Street held the Anti-Injunction Act inapplicable to the case. However, the tone of the opinion was considerably milder than might have been expected based on the oral argument. In addition, the decision that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply was not based on the Direct Marketing decision, but rather on the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in South Carolina v. Regan, 465 U.S. 367 (1984) which held that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply in cases where the party challenging IRS action has no other mechanism for bringing its challenge than a suit in district court. The D.C. Circuit panel held that the suit Z Street had brought in district court was the only way the organization could challenge the alleged IRS delay in processing the application.

While the Z Street opinion did not rely on Direct Marketing for its conclusion that the Anti-Injunction Act did not apply, nevertheless, there is important dictum in the Z Street opinion bearing on the relevance of Direct Marketing for the interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act. In response to the government’s argument that Bob Jones and Americans United require a broad application of the Anti-Injunction Act under which the only way tax issues can ever be litigated is through tax refund suits and Tax Court proceedings specifically authorized by provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, the Z Street opinion noted that the D.C. Circuit had previously rejected this position in 2011 in its en banc opinion in Cohen v. United States 650 F.3d 717 (D.C. Cir. 2011). In that case, the en banc D.C. Circuit held that a suit challenging the validity of a procedure adopted by the IRS for refunding taxes that had been improperly collected was not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act. I discussed the Cohen decision in a Tax Notes article in 2011. In Z Street, the court noted that “[I]n Cohen we rejected this view of ‘a world in which no challenge to [the IRS’s] actions is ever outside the closed loop of its taxing authority.’”

Z Street then had the following observations on Direct Marketing:

Our rejection of the Commissioner’s broad reading of the [Anti-Injunction] Act finds support in the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl. There, interpreting the Anti-Injunction Act’s cousin, the Tax Injunction Act, which serves a similar function for federal court challenges to state taxes, the Court read “restrain” in that statute as having a “narrow[] meaning…captur[ing] only those orders that stop…assessment, levy and collection” rather than “merely inhibit” those activities….Brohl’s holding is significant here because the Court “assume[s] that words used in both Acts are generally used in the same way.”

Against this background, it would have been expected that Direct Marketing would play a central role in the D.C. Circuit opinion in Florida Bankers. And, in fact, Direct Marketing plays a central role in Judge Henderson’s dissenting opinion. Much of this dissenting opinion is what I would have expected to read in a unanimous opinion for the panel. Judge Henderson’s dissenting opinion is nearly twice as long as Judge Kavanaugh’s majority opinion. In tomorrow’s second part to the post, I will discuss the dissenting opinion, and how in my view the dissent’s view is correct in light of the developments I have discussed today.

DC Circuit Allows Suit Alleging IRS Discriminated Against Organizations Seeking Exemption to Proceed

Wishing our readers a belated Happy Father’s Day. Midway through drafting this, I enjoyed Father’s Day breakfast in bed from my 13-year old daughter Hannah and my three step-daughters. Hannah filled a mason jar with coupons reflecting things she would like to do this year with me or things she is looking forward to that we have already planned (e.g., Broadway play, trip to Maine to drop off at camp).

On to a tax procedure update….

Earlier this month on PT I discussed the oral argument at the DC Circuit in the Z Street v Koskinen case in a post DC Circuit Criticizes Government in Case Alleging an Israel Special Policy for Tax Exemptions. The case involves allegations that the IRS subjected an organization seeking 501(c)(3) status to special scrutiny. Z Street argued that the IRS scrutiny violated the First Amendment because IRS had an internal review policy that subjected Israel-related organizations “to more rigorous review procedures than other organizations applying for that same status.” The District Court had earlier ruled that in favor of Z Street on the government’s motion to dismiss, and the government appealed the denial.   The oral argument in May reflected the panel’s deep displeasure with the government’s attempt to use the Anti-Injunction Act to avoid (or delay more precisely) judicial review of serious allegations. After listening to the argument, I was certain that the panel would find a way to allow the case to proceed to the merits.

On Friday, the DC Circuit decided the case in favor of Z Street (opinion here).

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Our frequent guest poster Pat Smith has a succinct write up on the opinion over at Tax Prof. I offer some brief observations on the opinion.

The opinion does a nice job summarizing the main AIA cases (such as Bob Jones, Cohen and Americans United) and what they signify:

These cases, then, stand for the following basic propositions. First, outside of certain statutorily authorized actions, like those brought pursuant to section 7428, the Anti- Injunction Act bars suits to litigate an organization’s tax status (Bob Jones and “Americans United”). Second, the Act does not apply in situations where the plaintiff has no alternative means to challenge the IRS’s action (South Carolina) or where the claim has no “implication[s]” for tax assessment or collection (Cohen). Finally, in administering the tax code, the IRS may not discriminate on the basis of viewpoint (Regan).

Some had thought that the DC Circuit in Z Street would decide the case in favor of Z Street on the basis of the suit not having an impact on assessment or collection, especially in light of recent cases which have suggested a narrow reading of those terms (like Cohen and Direct Marketing). Pat Smith’s post on Procedurally Taxing and his recent Tax Notes article discuss the recent cases and in particular the likely impact Direct Marketing will have on AIA cases.

In his Tax Prof Op-Ed, Pat offers an observation that the Florida Bankers challenge to expanded information reporting regs (which I have discussed previously here) may give the DC Circuit an occasion to discuss where to draw lines around what is an impermissible connection to assessment or collection.

On the issue as to when a suit is impermissibly connected to assessment or collection, I point readers to the main language in the Z Street case where the panel decided that the case was not controlled by Cohen, but rather fit within the “no other remedy” South Carolina exception:

Recall that Cohen requires that we examine Z Street’s complaint to determine, among other things, “any implication the remedy [it seeks] may have on assessment and collection.” In Cohen, the remedy sought could have no possible “implication” for assessment and collection because the IRS had already assessed and collected the tax—it was in the Treasury.By contrast, Z Street’s suit arguably could have “implication[s]” for assessment and collection. If, for example, Z Street prevails in this case and obtains a tax exemption earlier than it otherwise would have, contributions to it will be tax deductible earlier, thus reducing the overall assessment and collection of taxes. In the end, however, we have no need to decide whether such an implication is sufficient to trigger the Anti-Injunction Act. As the Court explained in South Carolina, the Act does not apply at all where the plaintiff has no other remedy for its alleged injury—precisely the situation in which Z Street finds itself. (emphasis added; citations omitted).

To illustrate its point that Section 7428 was inadequate, the panel continued:

Consider section 7428. According to the Commissioner, if Z Street had just waited an additional 32 days it could have filed suit under this provision and obtained an “adequate remedy.” Appellant’s Br. 48. But as the Commissioner concedes, section 7428 authorizes a court to issue only “a declaration with respect to [an organization’s] qualification” for a section 501(c)(3) exemption, 26 U.S.C. § 7428, and Z Street is not seeking to establish its eligibility for a tax exemption, supra at 10. Instead, it seeks an order prohibiting the IRS from delaying consideration of Z Street’s section 501(c)(3) application because of the organization’s views on Israel. The “only thing we’re suing about,” Z Street’s counsel told us at oral argument, “is delay.” Oral Arg. Rec. 51:14–38; see also id. at 41:57–42:57 (statement of Z Street’s counsel agreeing that all Z Street seeks is an order barring application of the “Israel Special Policy” insofar as it causes delay). In other words, although section 7428 provides a remedy, that remedy cannot address Z Street’s alleged injury.

Parting Thoughts

Just this past Thursday I submitted a revised Chapter 1 of Saltzman and Book IRS Practice & Procedure, which includes an expanded discussion of the AIA (and APA). What was current as of Thursday became in need of a refresh on Friday (Thomson Reuters: hold the presses). Such is the state of law under the AIA. Stay tuned as the DC Circuit in Florida Bankers will likely have more to say on the topic, and in particular when implications on assessment or collection are sufficient to trigger AIA preclusion.

The Implications of the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing Decision for the Interpretation of the Tax Exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act

Today’s  guest post is from Patrick J. Smith of Ivins, Phillips & Barker. Pat builds on his earlier posts in PT and his other articles discussing the courts’ evolving approach to the Anti-Injunction Act. Here, Pat explores the developments’ possible implications to the tax exception in the Federal Tort Claims Act. Les

In a post here in March, I discussed the implications of the Supreme Court’s Direct Marketing decision for the interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act. Although Direct Marketing dealt with the Tax Injunction Act rather than the Anti-Injunction Act, nevertheless, because of the strong similarities between the two provisions and the fact that the Court’s reasoning in Direct Marketing was based almost entirely on these similarities and on giving the terms “assessment” and “collection,” which appear in both provisions, the narrow technical meaning these terms have in the Internal Revenue Code, I argued that the narrow reading the Court gave to the Tax Injunction Act in Direct Marketing should mean that a similarly narrow reading will now be given to the Anti-Injunction Act, rather than the very broad reading this provision has been given since two 1974 Supreme Court decisions, Bob Jones University and “Americans United.” Recently I published an article in Tax Notes elaborating on that argument. On Friday of last week, Les had a post here about the recent D.C. Circuit oral argument in Z Street, Inc., where the application of the Anti-Injunction Act is the main issue, and during which the judges on the panel made clear that they believed that the Direct Marketing decision was centrally relevant to the resolution of that issue.

Earlier last week, in Snyder & Associates v US a district court in California issued an opinion in a case involving the “tax exception” to the Federal Tort Claims Act “FTCA.” This tax exception provides that the provisions of the FTCA do not apply to “[a]ny claim arising in respect of the assessment or collection of any tax.”

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The district court decision is in a suit brought under the FTCA by Snyder & Associates Acquisitions LLC (“Snyder”), a financial lender that provides refund anticipation loans (“RALs”) to taxpayers, whereby Snyder lends money to taxpayers based on their expectation of receiving tax refunds. Snyder obtains prospective borrowers through referrals from tax return preparers.

Snyder determined that one of the referrals was using a fraudulent identity and issued stop payment orders on all the loan checks issued to customers referred by the same tax return preparer. When Snyder contacted that tax return preparer, she told Snyder that she was working with the IRS in an undercover sting operation to identify instances of fraudulent tax returns. The IRS agent with whom she was working asked Snyder to cancel the stop payment orders in order to assist the investigation and assured Snyder that it would not suffer any losses as a result of their cooperation with the investigation. However, the IRS did not make good on the $2.6 million in losses Snyder claimed to have suffered as a result of its cooperation with the investigation.

The district court agreed with the government that Snyder’s FTCA suit was barred by the tax exception to the FTCA (See Ama Sarfo, IRS Cooperator Left To Eat $2.6 Cost In Fraud Investigation, Law360, June 3, 2015). The district court agreed with the government that the interpretation of the tax exception was governed by cases such as Capozzoli v. Tracey 663 F.2d 654, 658 (5th Cir. 1981), which have held that the tax exception is applied broadly to “encompass any activities of an IRS agent even remotely related to his or her official duties.”

However, the connection to Direct Marketing is that cases such as Capozzoli v. Tracey clearly rely on the interpretation given to the Anti-Injunction Act by Bob Jones University as the basis for their interpretation of the tax exception to the FTCA:

The language of 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c) is identical to that of another U.S.Code provision, 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a), which prohibits any “suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax” (emphasis added). In construing Section 7421(a), the Supreme Court in Bob Jones University v. Simon, 416 U.S. 740 (1974) interpreted the phrase “assessment and collection of taxes” broadly to preclude judicial interference with any phase of IRS activities. We believe that both 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 2680(c) reflect the government’s strong interest in protecting the administration of its tax system from the burden of constant litigation. This interest would be completely frustrated if we were to read Section 2680(c) as providing an immunity for only certain narrowly defined activities of the IRS.

Capozzoli v. Tracey 663 F.2d 654, 657 (5th Cir. 1981).

If, as I believe, the Direct Marketing decision means that the Anti-Injunction Act will no longer be given the broad reading suggested by Bob Jones University, the same conclusion holds for the tax exception to the FTCA. Under the narrow interpretation of the tax exception to the FTCA that Direct Marketing would suggest, it seems very clear that the facts in the Snyder case would not come within the tax exception, since fraudulent tax returns do not involve the “assessment” or “collection” of any actual tax. However, neither the government nor the plaintiff in Snyder cited Direct Marketing in their briefs in the district court, and the district court opinion likewise did not cite Direct Marketing.

It is notable, however, that the plaintiffs’ brief did include a reference to the Wall Street Journal article reporting on the D.C. Circuit oral argument in the Z Street case, and their brief in fact included a copy of that article as an appendix. It is unfortunate that the plaintiffs apparently did not understand the full implications for their case of what was being discussed in that oral argument.

DC Circuit Criticizes Government in Case Alleging an Israel Special Policy for Tax Exemptions

On my list of tax procedure things to do was to listen to last month’s oral argument in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals case of Z Street v Koskinen. Longtime readers of the blog with a good memory may recall Stephen discussing the case last year in a Sum Op. The case involves the government’s appeal of a district court decision involving allegations that the IRS subjected an organization seeking 501(c)(3) status to special scrutiny. In particular, Z Street argued that the IRS scrutiny violated the First Amendment because IRS had an internal review policy that subjected Israel-related organizations “to more rigorous review procedures than other organizations applying for that same status.” According to the complaint, an IRS agent told Z Street counsel that organizations whose policies differed from the Obama administration on Israel were “being sent to a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the Administration’s public policies.”

Viewpoint discrimination like that alleged raises serious constitutional issues. DOJ argued below that the court should not hear the case because the Anti-Injunction Act denied the district court jurisdiction to hear the case. Organizations with a beef about the exemption process, according to the government, should make their arguments in refund or deficiency cases, or in cases authorized under Section 7428 allowing for declaratory judgments relating to an organization’s qualifications for tax exempt status.

The District Court denied the government’s motion to dismiss; the government appealed. The case revolves around the reach of the Anti-Injunction Act, which holds that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person, whether or not such person is the person against whom such tax was assessed.”

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In Z Street the government essentially argued that the lawsuit related to the assessment or collection of tax, thus squarely precluded by the AIA. Taking a broad view of the AIA, the government suggested both below and in last month’s argument that lawsuits that may have an impact on assessment or collection should be barred, especially if the suit arises prior to the time that there has been an assessment. The district court rejected that approach in a well-reasoned opinion, emphasizing that Z Street was not seeking a determination on its tax-exempt status, but was seeking relief from allegedly constitutionally infirm practices:

In other words, Z Street’s ultimate tax liability will be a function of whether it qualifies for tax-favored treatment under the criteria laid out in Section 501(c)(3), not whether it prevails in this lawsuit, and the IRS’s analysis of its qualifications will be based on Z Street’s activities as an organization. The only matter at issue in the instant lawsuit is whether, in addition to evaluating Z Street’s activities as it would any other organization’s, the IRS may constitutionally apply a more stringent standard of review that is allegedly reserved for organizations whose activities relate to the promotion of Israel.

What about the government’s chances on appeal? Using the AIA as a bar to review of allegedly constitutionally suspect practices did not sit well with the panel last month. The Wall Street Journal hit the nail on the head in its brief write up of the Z Street oral argument where it noted how Judge Sentelle criticized the government for essentially mischaracterizing the relief Z Street sought:

They are not in court seeking to restrain the assessment or collection of a tax, they are in court seeking a constitutionally fair process.

The argument itself is at some levels entertaining for the reason that the judges each come up with differing ways of expressing their incredulity and displeasure with the government’s position in the case. Most of the criticism centered around that Z Street was not seeking a remedy that went to its tax status but instead looked to expose and prohibit conduct that if true undoubtedly raised serious issues. If the case did not involve such serious allegations I might have found the argument, and the government attorney’s on the ropes responses, more entertaining. Yet the charges are serious, and allegations of that sort of agency and executive branch misconduct go to the very heart of the tax system’s integrity. Allowing the case to proceed gives the taxpayer the right to get to the merits. When the allegations are as serious as this I would have thought that the government would not hide behind a weak AIA argument.

As a technical matter, in the last few years have been a few cases where courts have rejected the government’s argument for an expansive read of the AIA, including the DC Circuit’s en banc opinion in Cohen and the Supreme Court last month in Direct Marketing, an analogous case under the Tax Injunction Act (I might add that the DOJ lawyer was admonished during the oral argument for the government’s only citing to Direct Marketing in a footnote in its reply brief). For readers wanting more on the technical AIA issues, I recommend the district court Z Street opinion itself and the excellent guest post by Patrick Smith on the Direct Marketing case. The trend in these cases is for a more restrained reading of the reach of the AIA, and while one can make a straight-faced argument that most every suit involving the IRS connects in some way to assessment or collection, some cases (like Z Street) are too attenuated from tax assessment or collection to warrant a dismissal.

One reason (among many) for IRS’s unpopularity is that for many years a significant amount of its actions escaped judicial review. As IRS has increased responsibility beyond its paramount mission of collecting revenues, the historical reasons for the discretion IRS has exercised have lessened. Yet there are still strong reasons to be wary of an unfettered right to review of all of the agency’s decisions. IRS has long been able to use the broad reach of the Anti-Injunction Act and Declaratory Judgment Act to avoid having many of it its actions brought before a court in the absence of a specific statutory right to such review. Nonetheless, in cases such as Z Street I find it hard to square my support of some exceptional agency protections. While it is sometimes hard to gauge a court’s likely decision on the oral argument alone I would be shocked if the DC Circuit does not find in favor of Z Street on the issue of whether the suit should proceed to the merits. Stay tuned for more cracks in the government’s AIA defense, and in years to come a renewed judicial focus on where the courts will draw the line on suits challenging IRS actions.