Tax Court Reiterates That It Lacks Refund Jurisdiction in Collection Due Process Cases

In McLane v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2018-149, the Tax Court followed its prior precedent in Greene-Thapedi v. Commissioner, 126 T.C. 1 (2006) holding that it lacked jurisdiction in a Collection Due Process (CDP) case to grant petitioner a refund. Carl Smith blogged about the issue here when the McLane case was pending and he earlier blogged about the issue here when the DC Circuit affirmed the outcome in Greene-Thapedi in its holding in Willson v. Commissioner, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 19389 (Nov. 6, 2015). We have discussed other cases with this issue such as VK&S Industries v. Commissioner; ASG Services, LLC v. Commissioner; and Allied Adjustment Services v Commissioner (see post here) in which the court issued a designated order rather than an opinion. These cases serve as another reminder of the importance of orders, and particularly designated orders as a source of substantive rulings from the Tax Court even if these orders do not have precedential value.

Carl assisted the University of the District of Columbia Tax Clinic in filing an amicus brief in the McLane case. A link to the amicus brief, substantially written by Jacqueline Lainez’s student at UDC Roxy Araghi is here. A copy of the taxpayer’s brief and the IRS brief are here and here, respectively. The outcome is disappointing but not surprising given the prior precedent. In the opinion Judge Halpern provides a detailed explanation regarding why the Tax Court should not exercise jurisdiction to grant refunds in CDP cases but does not change the reasoning or outcome of Greene-Thapedi which is no doubt why the Tax Court marked this as a memorandum opinion.

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On October 19, 2009, Mr. McLane timely filed his 2008 income tax return pursuant to a 6-month extension to file and the mailing rules of section 7502. The return showed a balance due, and so he paid $957 toward that balance between December 2009 and October 2010 and another $800 between October 2010 and October 2012.   In August 2012, the IRS mailed a notice of deficiency to Mr. McLane disallowing various Schedule C deductions and seeking a deficiency with respect to his 2008 taxes. But, he never got the notice of deficiency. Some of the $800 had been paid after the IRS mailed the notice of deficiency. The IRS later filed a notice of federal tax lien (NFTL) against him, and he sought a CDP hearing in which he contended that the assessment was invalid because no notice of deficiency had been mailed. He also argued in the hearing that he could prove sufficient deductions, but he did not ask for a refund of any amount that he had paid.

Mr. McLane did not get satisfaction at Appeals, so he petitioned the Tax Court. The Tax Court concluded that a notice of deficiency had been properly mailed, but he simply had not received it. After a remand to Appeals, a trial was had in the Tax Court in September 2016, and post-trial briefs were later filed. The failure to receive the notice of deficiency allowed the Tax Court to decide de novo his challenge to the underlying tax liability set out therein. Neither in his pretrial nor post-trial briefs did Mr. McLane seek a refund. Before the Tax Court’s ruling on the merits, the IRS later conceded that, for the 2008 tax year, Mr. McLane had proved enough business expenses at trial to not only fully eliminate any deficiency and abate the NFTL, but to also produce an overpayment. In a conference call among the parties and Judge Halpern in February 2018, Mr. McLane first asked for a refund of the overpayment that the IRS now conceded had occurred.

In an order issued on March 13, 2018 — one that did not mention Greene-Thapedi — Judge Halpern asked for memoranda of law from the parties on whether he had jurisdiction to find an overpayment under these facts. UDC filed an amicus memorandum, as well.

In Greene-Thapedi the Tax Court reviewed a CDP case where the IRS had been trying to collect a deficiency arising from a stipulated decision of the Tax Court in an earlier deficiency case involving 1992 income taxes. The dispute in the CDP hearing was only over the amount of interest charged on the stipulated deficiency. But, the IRS offset an overpayment of taxpayer’s 1999 liability to fully pay the 1992 liability pending before the court in the CDP matter. The taxpayer in that CDP case then sought a refund of interest accrued before the notice of intent to levy. The court found that the dispute over the interest was a challenge to the underlying liability, but once the levy became moot by virtue of the offset of the 1999 liability the opportunity to challenge the liability vanished together with any claim for refund. The court also noted in the case that IRC 6330 does not expressly give the Tax Court jurisdiction to determine overpayments and to order refunds. The case contains no discussion of whether the refund claim was timely filed under section 6512(b)(3), which gives the Tax Court the power to find an overpayment under its deficiency jurisdiction under several scenarios.

In the Greene-Thapedi opinion at footnote 19 the Tax Court mentioned the possibility that although not present in that case the determination of an overpayment might be “necessary for a correct and complete determination of whether the proposed collection action should proceed.” Thus, the court gave Mr. McLane some hope that his case might fit within the exception mentioned by the court as a possibility. Both Mr. McLane and the amicus also argued that the Greene-Thapedi case was legally distinguishable, since it involved a dispute over interest on a deficiency that had already been stipulated, whereas the McLane CDP case was the first time the merits of the deficiency were being litigated. Both memoranda argued that a taxpayer who had not received a notice of deficiency should be put in the same position in a CDP challenge to that liability in Tax Court as he would have been had he received the notice of deficiency. The amicus pointed out that one could still apply the Tax Court’s overpayment jurisdiction rules of section 6512(b)(3) by limiting the amount of the refund to both (1) the amount paid in the 3-year (plus extension) period before the notice of deficiency was mailed (a deemed paid claim) and (2) the amount paid after the notice of deficiency. The $957 and $800 payments would fall within those descriptions. Another factor giving Mr. McLane some hope was the dissenting opinion of Judge Vasquez in Greene-Thapedi which invoked the need to broadly construe the court’s jurisdiction because of the remedial nature of CDP. Judge Vasquez also pointed out that the decision created a trap for the unwary:

Taxpayers who choose to litigate their section 6015 [innocent spouse] and section 6404 claims as part of a section 6330 proceeding cannot obtain decisions of an overpayment or refund in Tax Court. If those same taxpayers had made claims for section 6015 relief or interest abatement in a non-section 6330 proceeding, we could enter a decision for an overpayment and could order a refund.

In McLane the court acknowledges that it must revisit Greene-Thapedi to determine if it has overpayment jurisdiction on the facts presented here; however, it concludes that it has no reason to depart from the earlier precedent.

In response to the narrow argument that Mr. McLane and UDC made that the Tax Court has overpayment jurisdiction in a Tax Court case only where the underlying tax liability is at issue because of “the non-receipt of a mailed notice of deficiency,” the court states that:

We see no reason why the issuance of a notice of deficiency that petitioner never received should allow him to pursue a claim for refund that would otherwise have become time barred long before he manifested any awareness of it.

The court reasons that he had plenty of time to notice that he had more expenses than he originally claimed on his 2008 return and he did not act to raise a refund claim until a conference call with the parties in the CDP litigation in February of 2018. By 2018, the normal statute of limitations to file a claim for refund had long since passed. The court expresses concern that providing refund jurisdiction in this context would allow a taxpayer to make an end run around the refund time frames established in the Code. It is unclear how much this late request for a refund may have impacted the outcome of the case. The court does not directly address the argument made by UDC that section 6512(b)(3)’s overpayment jurisdiction filing deadlines (which cover payments made in periods both before and after the notice of deficiency was mailed) could be treated as obviating the need for any amended return in order to seek a refund in the Tax Court CDP case.

The court provides an extensive discussion regarding the arguments of the amicus brief which follow closely the arguments made by Judge Vasquez in his dissent in Greene-Thapedi and the court pushes back on each one of those arguments. I will not repeat them here but I came away with the impression that the length of the opinion may have been influenced by the desire to take this opportunity to refute Judge Vasquez’s dissent in more detail than was done in the majority opinion in Greene-Thapedi and perhaps was done with an eye toward the possible appeal of the McLane case. Of the appellate courts, only the D.C. Circuit (in Willson, a case also with unusual facts not involving a challenge to the underlying liability) has ever discussed or followed Greene-Thapedi. McLane could appeal his case to the Fourth Circuit. In any event several pages of the opinion explain in detail why none of the issues raised by Judge Vasquez provide a basis for Tax Court jurisdiction.

For anyone interested in fighting this issue, the opinion provides a detailed roadmap of what the court thinks of the arguments made to this point. While it appeared that Greene-Thapedi may have left a crack in the door for a taxpayer to come in with different facts and succeed in obtaining a refund in a CDP case, the McLane decision signals that the crack is closed. Any success on this issue must come from persuading a circuit court to interpret the statute differently or for Congress to make clear that its jurisdictional grant goes further than it currently appears to do.

 

 

How Do Section 6511(b)’s Payment Limitations Apply When a Late-Filed Original Return Perfects a Prior Informal Refund Claim?

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who writes today about a potential issue not reached by the court.  Whether the taxpayer will seek to raise the issue in a request for reconsideration or attempt to raise it on appeal remains to be seen.  Keith

I don’t usually do posts on opinions where an interesting issue is presented, but the court didn’t reach the issue, and I don’t know how the issue should come out.  But, when I mentioned the issue in this post to Les, and asked whether Saltzman & Book answered the issue, and Les told me that the book did not and that he thought the issue was “fascinating,” I decided:  Why not do a post?

The potential issue is presented in Voulgaris v. United States, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150724 (E.D. Mich. Sep. 5, 2018), a refund suit that was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because the administrative claim, although timely made under section 6511(a), was limited by section 6511(b) to zero because the taxpayer had not made any tax payments in the 3-year period looking back from the date the claim was made through the filing of a late original return.

The court does not discuss the informal claim doctrine, which was not raised by the taxpayer’s counsel or mentioned in the government’s motion to dismiss.  However, taken from the government’s summary of the facts, the court includes in its opinion facts demonstrating that the taxpayer had made an informal claim long before that claim was perfected by the filing of a late original return showing the overpayment.  The Supreme Court held in United States v. Kales, 314 U.S. 186 (1941), that where an informal claim is later perfected, the perfected claim is treated as made on the date of the informal claim for purposes of what is today section 6511(a).  But, Kales doesn’t answer the question of what is the limit under section 6511(b) of the amount of the claim when a claim is deemed timely filed under the informal claim doctrine.  Section 6511(b) says that if a claim is filed within three years after the filing of the original return (one of the alternative requirements of subsection (a)), then the claim is limited to the amount of any tax paid in the 3-year period prior to the filing of the claim (plus the period of any extension to file the original return).  Section 6511(b), though, also provides that if a taxpayer is relying on the 2-years-after-payment rule of subsection (a) to make a refund claim timely, then the section 6511(b) amount limit is to the taxes paid in the 2-year period prior to filing the claim.  In Kales, whether the lookback period was two years or three years from the filing of the claim, the amount was not limited because the amount of the tax in dispute had been paid on the very day the informal claim was filed.

If the taxpayer in Voulgaris had raised the informal claim doctrine, should the court have used the 2-year or 3-year lookback rules from the date of the informal claim for purposes of applying the tax payment amount rules of 6511(b)?  Is the late-filed return treated as filed on the date of the informal claim so that the 3-year lookback rule applies from the informal claim date?  If so, the refund amount sought was paid within that lookback period.  However, if the 2-year lookback rule applied, the refund claim would be limited to zero.

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Here are the facts of Voulgaris, which involves a refund claim for overpaid 2003 income taxes. The taxpayer, a foreigner, was a grad student during 2001 at the University of Michigan.  While studying, he set up a bank account in the U.S, in which he kept a fair amount of money.  In 2003, I am not sure if he was in the U.S. (probably not, from the court’s finding that he went back to Europe after 2001), but he bought and sold stocks through a (probably U.S-based) Scottrade account.  He did not file a timely U.S. 2003 income tax return.

The IRS later sent a notice of deficiency for 2003 income taxes to the taxpayer at some address (probably in the U.S.) in which the IRS computed his tax based on gross sales proceeds of $77,000 reported on Forms 1099-Bs.  The computation did not include any basis information.

Voulgaris never received the notice of deficiency, so, of course, he did not go to Tax Court and the deficiency was later assessed.

In 2009, the IRS issued a notice of intention to levy to Voulgaris, which he also did not receive.  So, of course, he did not request a Collection Due Process hearing.

The IRS then levied on Voulgaris’ U.S. bank account, and on Feb. 24, 2010, the IRS received $28,000 from the bank.  That amount apparently fully paid the liability.

On Feb. 10, 2013 (i.e., more than two years, but less than three years after the levy payment), the IRS received a letter from Voulgaris seeking a complete refund and including “Schedule D, Schedule D-1, and a Composite Substitute 1099 showing his Scottrade stock transactions,” but not an original Form 1040 for 2003.  The Schedule D showed that, when basis information was included, Voulgaris’ 2003 stock transactions actually had resulted in a net capital loss of about $5,000.  There is no mention in the opinion of Voulgaris having any other U.S.-source income in 2003.

The IRS responded to this letter by asking Voulgaris to file a complete Form 1040 for 2003.  After much back and forth, on Aug. 19, 2015, the IRS finally received from Voulgaris a Form 1040, which it processed.  The return sought a refund.  But, the IRS denied the refund, and the taxpayer brought a timely suit.

The court correctly observes that the claim is timely under 6511(a) because made on the original return.  Given that timely claim, the lookback period under 6511(b) was three years, not two, from the time the return was filed.  Since the tax was paid on Feb. 24, 2010 – more than three years before the return was filed – the court holds that the amount of the claim must be limited to zero.  But, is this right?

Wasn’t the Feb. 10, 2013 letter an informal claim that just later got perfected?  The court does not discuss the informal claim doctrine, since Voulgaris’ lawyer did not argue that he had made an informal claim prior to the filing of the Form 1040.  If the Feb. 10, 2013 letter in fact constituted an informal claim, that claim would come with a lookback period.  Is the lookback period two years (in which case, the claim would be limited to zero) or three years (in which case the claim could encompass the entire amount paid by levy on Feb. 24, 2010)?

I have never run across this fact pattern and haven’t done research on it.  I suspect that there is no case law on this informal claim issue because only in the last 20 years have all the courts come around to the idea that a late return showing an overpayment gets the 3-year lookback period under (b) because the claim shown on that return is timely under (a) (having been made within three years after the return was filed – indeed, on the same day).  See Baral v. United States, 528 U.S. 431, 433 (2000) (in the case of a return filed more than three years after the due date, the IRS “did not dispute that Baral had timely filed the request under the relevant filing deadline – “within 3 years from the time the return was filed or 2 years from the time the tax was paid, whichever of such periods expires the later.’ § 6511(a)”); Omohundro v. United States, 300 F.3d 1065 (9th Cir. 2002) (overruling Miller v. United States, 38 F.3d 473 (9th Cir. 1994), which had held that the 2-year lookback period applied when a late original return was filed showing an overpayment); Rev. Rul. 76-511, 1976-2 C.B. 428.

Les tells me that Saltzman & Book does not address the issue of how the section 6511(b) amount limits apply when an informal claim is filed before a late original return showing an overpayment is filed.  And he doesn’t know whether there is case law on this question, either.  Both of us are inclined to think that, on these facts, the return is deemed filed on the date of the informal claim, so, logically, the 3-year lookback period from the date of the informal claim should apply.  But, I would not bet my shirt on it.  If any reader of PT has encountered authority on this issue, I would urge you to help us all out by citing pertinent authority in the comments section to this post.

 

 

Who Owns A Refund? Consolidated Returns and Bankruptcy Add Wrinkles to Refund Dispute

In re United Western Bancorp is an opinion out of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals from earlier this year that raises a procedural issue I had not considered: in the consolidated return context who is the true owner of a refund when a refund is wholly attributable to a subsidiary’s net operating losses? Normally, that is not an issue that generates disputes, because affiliated companies have overlapping interests in the refund. In re United Western Bancorp presents facts where this became an issue, because the parent company, UWBI, a bank holding company, filed a petition for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after the Office of Thrift Supervision closed the United Western Bank, the subsidiary/bank of UWBI, and appointed the FDIC as receiver.

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In 2011, after the FDIC came in as receiver, but before the bankruptcy, UWBI filed a refund claim of about $5 million for 2008 due to a carryback of the $35 million that the subsidiary/bank lost in 2010. The IRS had not acted on the refund claim when the parent sought bankruptcy protection.  The FDIC, as receiver for the insolvent subsidiary bank, filed a proof of claim in the UWBI’s bankruptcy case, alleging in main part that the refund stemmed exclusively from the subsidiary bank carrybacks and that it was the true owner of the refund. The IRS granted the refund claim but representatives from UWBI and the bank/subsidiary fought over who should be deemed to own the refund.

The trustee in UWBI’s bankruptcy case initiated an adversary proceeding with the bankruptcy court, which agreed with the trustee and held that the refund was part of UWBI’s bankruptcy estate. The district court reversed and found that the subsidiary bank was the rightful owner of the refund, and the trustee appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

The dispute came down to the issue of whether the refund was part of the parent’s bankruptcy estate under 11 USC § 541(a)(1) which includes “all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the [bankruptcy] case.” 11 USC § 541(d), however carves out from the debtor’s estate property which the debtor only has legal title and not an equitable interest.

The Tenth Circuit in resolving the dispute first looked to the consolidated return rules, an area that I have not had the pleasure of studying since my days in big firm practice in New York. The opinion notes that the consolidated return statute and regs  are silent with respect to legal and equitable ownership of refunds. The opinion notes that federal common law presents a framework for resolving the dispute, looking to the Tenth Circuit in Barnes v Harris, 783 F.3d 1185 (10th Cir. 2015), which itself relied on a 1973 Ninth Circuit opinion In re Bob Richards Plymouth-Chrysler. Barnes v Harris held that “a tax refund due from a joint return generally belongs to the company responsible for the losses that form the basis of the refund.” The Ninth Circuit, in Bob Richards, which also involved a dispute as to the ownership of a refund arising from a bankruptcy within a consolidated group, came up with what the Tenth Circuit refers to as the “Bob Richards Rule”:

Absent any differing agreement we feel that a tax refund resulting solely from offsetting the losses of one member of a consolidated filing group against the income of that same member in a prior or subsequent year should inure to the benefit of that member. Allowing the parent to keep any refunds arising solely from a subsidiary’s losses simply because the parent and subsidiary chose a procedural device to facilitate their income tax reporting unjustly enriches the parent.

Complicating the analysis in In Re United Western Bancorp was that the parent and subsidiary corporation had in fact entered into a tax allocation agreement. The opinion takes a deep dive into the tax allocation agreement that the bank and parent had entered into, and it found that the agreement was ambiguous as to whether it intended to create an agency relationship between the parent holding company and sub/bank, which would in turn vest legal and equitable ownership in refund to the sub/bank, or something akin to a debtor-creditor relationship, which would leave the subsidiary bank only with an unsecured claim against the parent in the amount of the refund that the parent received.

The deep dive that the opinion reveals that the tax allocation agreement is not clear; some parts suggest that it reflects an agency/principal relationship between the parent and sub and other parts point more to a debtor/creditor relationship:

On the one hand, portions of the Agreement quite clearly indicate the intent to create an agency relationship between UWBI [parent] and its regulated, first-tier affiliates. For example, Section A.2 states that “each first-tier subsidiary [is to] be treated as a separate taxpayer with UWBI merely being an intermediary between an Affiliate and the” IRS. Likewise, Section G states that UWBI is being appointed by each affiliate to act as its agent for purposes of filing the consolidated tax return and taking any action in connection therewith. On the other hand, portions of the Agreement arguably suggest the intent for UWBI to retain tax refunds before forwarding them on to regulated, first-tier affiliates. For example, parts of Section A.1 imply that UWBI will retain tax refunds and then later take them into account during the annual settlement process. In addition, the fact that Section A.1 affords UWBI with discretion regarding the amount to refund a regulated, first-tier affiliate (i.e, the exact amount of the refund or a greater amount) seems to suggest something other than an agency relationship. Finally, the ambiguity of the Agreement on this issue is compounded by the fact that it contains no language requiring UWBI to utilize a trust or escrow for tax refunds—which would suggest the existence of an agency or trust relationship—nor does it contain provisions for interest and collateral—which would be indicative of a debtor-creditor relationship.

The agreement does provide however that any ambiguity is to be resolved “with a view to effectuating such intent [i.e., to provide an equitable allocation of the tax liability of the Group among UWBI and the Affiliates], in favor of any insured depository institution.” (emphasis added). In light of that mechanism for resolving the ambiguity  the Tenth Circuit concluded  that it is appropriate to consider the agreement as creating an agency relationship between the parent and sub, with the result that it considered the agreement as not displacing the general rule outlined in Bob Richards and Barnes. By concluding that the tax allocation agreement did not displace the Bob Richards rule the court concluded “that the tax refund at issue belongs to the Bank, and that the FDIC, as receiver for the Bank, was entitled to summary judgment in its favor.”

I note one other interesting part of this opinion. In 2014, the Sixth Circuit, in Fed. Deposit Insurance. Corp. v. AmFin Financial Corp explicitly rejected the Bob Richards Rule because it “is a creature of federal common law” and “federal common law constitutes an unusual exercise of lawmaking which should be indulged only in a few restricted instances.” In note 4 of the United Western Bancorp opinion, the Tenth Circuit declined to step into that issue, noting that the Tenth Circuit’s adoption of the Bob Richards Rule in the earlier Barnes case meant that it was bound to follow the circuit’s precedent.

A Counterclaim as an Informal Claim for Refund or as the Starting Date for Calculating the Refund Amount

Last year I wrote about a case in which the 9th Circuit accepted a request for injured spouse relief as an informal claim for refund in a situation in which the taxpayer should have filed a claim for refund. In Appelbaum v. United States, No. 5:12-cv-00186 (W.D.N.C. August 6, 2018) the court found that a counterclaim filed in a lawsuit operated as the time for starting the refund claim even if the counterclaim did not operate as a refund claim itself. Allowing the counterclaim to start the look-back period for measuring payments allows the taxpayer to obtain a larger refund. Treating a document as a type of informal claim for one purpose when it clearly does not work for another purpose bifurcates the refund claim in a manner that I do not recall seeing previously.

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Mr. Appelbaum held a position with Warde Electric Contracting, Inc. that caused the IRS to assess a trust fund recovery penalty (TFRP) against him in 2003 for over $2 million. Once it made the assessment the IRS began taking collection action against him. From the description in the opinion, it seems that Mr. Appelbaum did not affirmatively send payment to the IRS but it offset his refunds and levied on his social security payments.

Almost 10 years after making the assessment, the IRS brought suit against Mr. Appelbaum seeking a judgment of almost $4 million due to the accrual of interest and penalties since the initial assessment. The IRS usually brings such a suit when the statute of limitations is about to run out but it believes that it can collect more by extending the time for collection. I have written before about the unlimited period of time the IRS can obtain to make collection when it has a judgment. Usually, the decision to bring a suit to reduce the liability to judgment is a low cost and low risk maneuver; however, the decision backfires in Mr. Appelbaum’s case.

Representing himself, Mr. Appelbaum argued that the IRS failed to follow the notice requirements of 6672 which, at the time of the assessment against him, were still relatively new. After a bench trial, the court found that the IRS did indeed fail to give Mr. Appelbaum proper notice of the assessment. This meant that the IRS had to abate the assessment against him and because the statute of limitations on assessment of the TFRP had long since passed, it also meant that the IRS could not “fix” its mistake. So, Mr. Appelbaum was completely relieved of the liability. He was, however, not satisfied with simply being relieved of the liability but wanted his money back.

He counterclaimed in the case seeking the money the IRS had taken from his Social Security payments and “any and all payments received by the IRS that have been applied over the years against the Assessments from April 10, 2003 to the present.” The court said that it construed this counterclaim as a claim for refund under 28 U.S.C. 1346(a)(1). The court dismissed the claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because Mr. Appelbaum did not first file an administrative claim for refund as required by IRC 7422(a).

Mr. Appelbaum filed correct administrative claims in March of 2016. In August of 2016 the IRS granted him a refund of $19,556.00 of the $43,095.00 it had taken from him over the years. It determined this refund amount by looking to the payments it had recovered within two years prior to the filing of the claim. Mr. Appelbaum administratively appealed the determination arguing that the IRS should grant him refunds from a date two years prior to the time he filed the counterclaim for refund on May 1, 2013. In March of 2017 the IRS increased the refund amount it allowed Mr. Appelbaum to $31,162.00. At issue before the court is whether to compel the IRS to refund the remaining amount of levied Social Security and refund payments not yet returned to Mr. Appelbaum. The court states that the IRS can retain the monies received more than two years before the filing of the claim and notes that equitable tolling does not apply to refund claims citing to United States v. Brockamp, 519 U.S. 347, 354 (1997).

Then the court examined the facts to determine the correct date from which to apply the two year rule. It determined that the answer and counterclaim filed in the suit the IRS brought to reduce the liability to judgment “adequately put the IRS on notice that Defendant believed he was subjected to an erroneous tax exaction and that he desired a refund.” So, the court allowed him to obtain a refund from two years prior to the date of his counterclaim.

The decision to treat the counterclaim as an informal claim for refund after dismissing the counterclaim on jurisdictional grounds presents an interesting extension of the informal claim doctrine. The court did not cite any authority that a jurisdictionally flawed pleading could serve as an informal claim. I agree with the court that the pleading did put the IRS on notice that the taxpayer thought he should receive a refund. Certainly, in that respect it fits the norm for an informal claim but since it was a failed pleading, it also stands outside the norm for most informal claims.

For those seeking to assess the informal claim doctrine, the decision provides another example of something that can serve as an informal claim in one context even if it is a failed claim in another. The court seems to allow the use of the claim as the starting date for the refund only as a result of the “regular” claim for refund filed later. Is the filing of the regular claim for refund a predicate to using a pleading as an informal claim? Is this really an informal claim or an addendum to a formal claim allowing it to move the time period for calculating the refund to an earlier date? The case may raise more questions than it answers. Meanwhile, Mr. Appelbaum goes home very happy that the IRS decided to try to reduce his liability to judgment and the IRS realizes that it did not properly make a risk/reward calculation in this case.

 

Paresky– A Mirror Image of Pfizer

Today we welcome back Bob Probasco. Bob directs the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth. In this post Bob discusses the Paresky case in the Court of Federal Claims and follows up on issues he discussed in his post last month on the Pfizer case and the difficult issues arising from suits for overpayment interest. For good measure this terrific post sweeps in Bernie Madoff, equitable tolling and the possibility of some refund suits with no statutes of limitation.  Les

 I wrote a blog post recently on a jurisdictional issue in the Pfizer case, concerning claims for overpayment interest.  The district court for the Southern District of New York denied the government’s first motion to dismiss (based on lack of jurisdiction) but granted its second motion to dismiss (based on expiration of the statute of limitations).  Pfizer appealed and we’re still waiting to hear from the Second Circuit.

In the meantime, the Court of Federal Claims issued its decision on August 15th in the case Paresky v. United States, docket no. 17-1725, another suit for overpayment interest that involved essentially a mirror image of the jurisdiction issue in Pfizer. It also had some other interesting procedural twists and turns.

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Background

Here’s a recap of what the CFC called “[t]wo different, divergent, and conflicting jurisdictional paths . . . proffered by the parties.”  The first jurisdictional path is that set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1)– district courts and the CFC have concurrent jurisdiction over

Any civil action against the United States for the recovery of any internal-revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority or any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected under the internal-revenue laws.

Let’s call this “tax refund jurisdiction,” because that is its primary use – although Pfizer argued about whether that is the only use.

The second jurisdictional path is “Tucker Act jurisdiction” – 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2)for district courts and 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1) for the CFC – which authorizes suits for

any claim against the United States . . . founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress or any regulation of an executive department, or upon any express or implied contract with the United States, or for liquidated or unliquidated damages in cases not sounding in tort.

What about statutes of limitation?  There is a general six-year statute of limitations for actions in federal courts – 28 U.S.C. § 2401 or 2501, for district courts and the CFC respectively. The Code also sets forth a statute of limitations.  Specifically, Section 7422 of the Code requires a refund claim be filed first for any suit

for the recovery of any internal revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or of any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority, or of any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected.

And Section 6532 precludes a suit under Section 7422 begun more than 2 years after the IRS mails a notice of disallowance of the claim.

One might infer a link between the jurisdictional grant itself, for “tax refunds” or under the Tucker Act, and the corresponding statute of limitations.  That is, suits brought under the “tax refund” jurisdictional grant would be subject, based on similar language, to Code sections 7422 and 6532. Suits brought under the Tucker Act, however, would be subject to the general six-year statute of limitations for the district courts and the CFC.  However, the plaintiffs in both of these cases argued for a disconnect – either “tax refund” jurisdiction + the general six-year statute of limitations, or Tucker Act jurisdiction + the Code’s refund suit statute of limitations.  And there is actually a footnote in E.W. Scripps Co. v. United States, 420 F.3d 589 (6th Cir. 2005) stating that the similarity of the language in Section 7422 and 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1) doesn’t necessarily mean they are interpreted the same way.

 (Some cases have applied both statutes of limitations to tax refund suits, so the statute of limitations doesn’t remain open indefinitely when the IRS doesn’t issue a notice of disallowance of the claim.  See, e.g., Wagenet v. United States, 104 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 2009-7804 (C.D. Cal.). The Court of Claims, on the other hand, held that the six-year statute of limitations doesn’t apply to tax refund suits and allowed a refund suit filed 2 years after the notice of disallowance, which wasn’t issued until 28 years after the original refund claim.  Detroit Trust v. United States, 131 Ct. Cl. 223 (1955).  The IRS agrees with the latter position.  Chief Counsel Notice 2012-012.  But we’re wandering far afield from the issues in Pfizer and Paresky.)

Pfizer– recap

Pfizer brought its suit in district court under tax refund jurisdiction.  Its issue revolved around whether a taxpayer is entitled to overpayment interest when: (a) the IRS issued a refund within 45 days of the claim (when overpayment interest is not required under the exception in Section 6611(e)), (b) the check was not received, and (c) a replacement check was issued more than 45 days after the refund claim.  Pfizer wanted to rely on a favorable Second Circuit precedent on this issue, so it wanted to file in the SDNY rather than the CFC, but Tucker Act jurisdiction for district courts is limited to claims for $10,000 or less.  Thus, Pfizer filed its suit asserting tax refund jurisdiction.

Because Pfizer filed its suit late under the Section 6532 statute of limitations, it argued that its “tax refund suit” was subject instead to the general six-year statute of limitations.  The SDNY agreed that suits for overpayment interest qualified for tax refund jurisdiction, following Scripps.  So the taxpayer won on the government’s first motion to dismiss. But the court concluded tax refund jurisdiction carries with it the Section 6532 statute of limitations.  So the taxpayer lost on the government’s second motion to dismiss.  On appeal, Pfizer continues to argue for tax refund jurisdiction + Tucker Act statute of limitations.

Enter the Pareskys

The Pareskys had a different problem.  They filed their suit in the CFC as a Tucker Act claim.  But in their case, the two-year statute of limitations in Section 6532 was still open although the six-year statute of limitations for Tucker Act claims was not.  Two years is less than six years, but the two different limitation periods began running at different times.  So the Pareskys argued that a Tucker Act claim was nevertheless subject to the statute of limitations for tax refund suits.  Again, they argued for one jurisdictional grant coupled with a statute of limitations apparently applicable to a different jurisdictional grant. As with Pfizer, but in reverse.

The Pareskys’ problems traced back to investments with Bernie Madoff.  They reported substantial income for 2005 through 2007 that turned out to be fictitious.  On their tax return for 2008, they claimed a net operating loss from the Ponzi scheme. Revenue Procedure 2009-20 provides an optional safe harbor method of treating losses from investments in fraudulent schemes. That method precludes double-dipping: taxpayers claim the entire loss in the year the fraud was discovered but cannot file amended returns to exclude the fictitious income (never received) that was reported in taxable years before the discovery year.

The Pareskys did not follow the optional Revenue Procedure method.  Instead, in October 2009, they filed amended returns on Forms 1040X for years 2005 – 2007, to exclude the fictitious income reported in those years. The claimed a loss on their 2008 tax return, when they discovered the fraud.  In December 2009, they filed Form 1045s, claiming tentative carryback refunds under Section 6411for years 2003 – 2007, by carrying back the net operating loss from 2008. But the net operating loss was reduced by the amount of the fictitious income for 2005 – 2007, so there was still no double-dipping.  The overpayment interest claim involves solely the tentative carryback refunds, not the refunds associated with the amended returns on Forms 1040X.

The refunds claimed on Forms 1045 for tentative carrybacks, totaling almost $10 million, were issued in April and May of 2010, just a few months after the Pareskys filed the Forms 1045 in December 2009.  The government paid no interest on those refunds, even though it issued the refunds more than 45 days after it received the Forms 1045, because it argued the applications were not in processible form when originally submitted.  The Pareskys, of course, disagreed.

The IRS examination of the Pareskys’ tax liabilities for 2003 through 2008, trigged by the amended returns, also included the refunds sought on the Forms 1045 as well as the Pareskys’ claim for overpayment interest on the Form 1045 refunds.  The examination continued until October 2011, during which time the parties agreed to an extension of the limitations period. In October 2011, the IRS began preparing a report to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), required under Section 6405 for large refunds.  (Section 6405(a) prohibits the IRS from issuing such large refunds until 30 days after the IRS submits the report to JCT, but that restriction does not apply to refunds made under Section 6411.  Section 6411 provides for only a “limited examination” of the tentative carryback applications before issuing the refund.)  The IRS submitted the report to JCT on January 25, 2013, stating that the refunds sought on the Forms 1045 had been approved.

The Pareskys filed a protest with the IRS on June 6, 2014, concerning the resolution of the examination. Appeals determined, on September 4, 2014, that no overpayment interest was due on the Form 1045 refunds because the refunds were issued within 45 days after the applications were submitted in processible form.  That determination letter instructed the Pareskys to file a formal claim on Form 843 by September 12, 2014, which they did.  The claim was denied on September 24, 2015, and the Pareskys filed their complaint in the CFC on September 15, 2017.

Was it timely? 

The government argued that, under the Tucker Act, the claim accrued in May 2010 and the plaintiffs did not file suit within the six-year statute of limitations.  The plaintiffs asserted three alternative arguments.  First, they argued that the tax refund statute of limitations, rather than the six-year period applicable to Tucker Act claims, applied and began running when their claim was denied on September 24, 2015. Second, they argued that if the six-year limitations period applied, their claim didn’t accrue until the report to JCT on January 25, 2013.  Finally, they argued that under the “accrual suspension rule” the claim doesn’t accrue until the plaintiff is aware of the claim.  The court rejected all three arguments.

The Sixth Circuit in Scripps and the SDNY in the Pfizercase agreed that taxpayers could bring a suit for overpayment interest under the “tax refund jurisdiction” provision.  But the CFC didn’t buy that argument.  There were too many precedents in that court, the Federal Circuit, or the Court of Claims to the contrary.  The Federal Circuit might decide to overrule those, but the CFC would not.

The court also rejected the argument that the suit was filed within the six-year limitations period. The claim accrued when the underlying tax refunds were “scheduled.”  There was an evidentiary dispute regarding when the refunds had been scheduled; the Pareskys therefore argued that the date of the report to JCT was the earliest moment when it was certainthat the refunds had been allowed.  But the government pointed out that the report to JCT has nothing to do with the date a tentative carryback refund is allowed, and the court found the government’s evidence sufficient to establish that the refunds were scheduled in early 2010.

The accrual suspension rule didn’t save the Pareskys either.  The IRS may not have explicitly disclosed to the taxpayers the date that the refunds were scheduled, but they received the refunds and knew they did not include overpayment interest.  Those were the relevant facts that established their claim and the IRS did not conceal those.

Equitable tolling or estoppel?

In both Pfizer and Paresky, the IRS sent the taxpayers a letter stating a different statute of limitations than the court determined applied to their respective situations.  Appeals sent Pfizer a letter stating that the six-year statute of limitations applied, presumably because the claim involved overpayment interest, without addressing the impact of which jurisdictional grant Pfizer would rely on.  The Pareskys received the determination by Appeals concerning their protest and also a denial of their subsequent refund claim, both of which stated the Section 6532 statute of limitations, without addressing potential different treatment for claims involving overpayment interest.

That misinformation certainly seems to provide a potential factual predicate for equitable tolling or estoppel of filing deadlines, but many courts have been resistant to that.  Carl Smith and Keith Fogg are continuing their quest to overcome that resistance including by filing an amicus brief in Pfizer, which I am shamelessly paraphrasing for the following summary.

In brief, statutory deadlines that are “jurisdictional” cannot be waived or extended for equitable reasons.  Unfortunately, as the Supreme Court observed in 2004, courts have been careless in applying that label.  “Clarity would be facilitated if courts and litigants used the label ‘jurisdictional’ not for claim-processing rules, but only for prescriptions delineating the classes of cases (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the persons (personal jurisdiction) falling within a court’s adjudicatory authority.”  Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 455 (2004).  The Supreme Court has also held that time periods in which to act are almost never jurisdictional, unless Congress makes a “clear statement” to that effect.  In particular, if the filing deadline and the jurisdictional grant are not part of the same provision, that likely indicates that the time bar is non-jurisdictional. United States v. Wong, 135 S. Ct. 1625 (2015).

Carl and Keith are arguing in Pfizer that Section 6532’s statute of limitations is not jurisdictional and is subject to estoppel under the standard set forth in recent Supreme Court decisions.  The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether the Section 6532(a) deadline is jurisdictional or subject to estoppel or equitable tolling.  However, before the recent Supreme Court decisions, the Second Circuit applied estoppel to prevent the government from arguing that the filing deadline barred the court from hearing the case.  Miller v. United States, 500 F.2d 1007 (2nd Cir. 1974).  Although some other circuits had disagreed, the Second Circuit could rely on that precedent to estop the government in the Pfizer case.

Theoretically, the same result should apply to the six-year filing deadline in 28 U.S.C. § 2501. Alas, this argument would not work for the taxpayers in the Pareskycase.  The Supreme Court has not ruled on Section 6532’s deadline but it has ruled on 28 U.S.C. § 2501, and concluded that it was jurisdictional and therefore not subject to equitable tolling or estoppel. John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 552 U.S. 130 (2008). However, that was more a matter of stare decisisbecause the Court had called the deadline jurisdictional in a number of opinions over decades.  In the Wongcase, the Court held that the FTCA filing deadline in 28 U.S.C. 2401(b) was non-jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling, while observing that the John R. Sand & Gravel Co.did not follow the Court’s current thinking because of those precedents.

So – hopefully Carl and Keith will persuade the Second Circuit in Pfizer, as well as other courts in other cases.  The National Taxpayer Advocate also proposed, in her most recent annual report to Congress, a legislative fix by amending the Code to provide that judicial filing deadlines are non-jurisdictional.  We wish them well!

Where do we go from here?

The Court of Federal Claims agreed to transfer the case, at the plaintiffs’ request and over the government’s objections, so the Pareskys are headed to the Southern District of Florida. They hope to persuade the SDF that a suit for overpayment interest fits within “tax refund jurisdiction” and the suit therefore would be timely under the tax refund statute of limitations in Section 6532.  There is a split between the Federal Circuit and the Sixth Circuit – add the Second Circuit if it affirms the District Court in the Pfizer case.  Neither party cited precedents from the Eleventh Circuit, so it’s at least possible that the SDF will follow Scrippsand find it has jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is still waiting for a ruling by the Second Circuit.  Paresky offers arguments for both sides in PfizerParesky held that the six-year statute of limitations applies (good for Pfizer) but that tax refund jurisdiction is not available (bad for Pfizer).  Pfizer has requested, if the Second Circuit affirms the SDNY, that it also transfer the case to the CFC.  It seems that court would clearly have jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, and Pfizer met the six-year statute of limitations, so the CFC apparently would hear the merits of the case.  The favorable Doolin precedent in the Second Circuit wouldn’t carry as much weight in the CFC but Pfizer might still prevail on the merits.

The government stated in its brief that it may or may not oppose transfer, depending on whythe Second Circuit (hypothetically) rules against Pfizer.  If the Second Circuit rules that “tax refund jurisdiction” does not apply to suits for overpayment interest, the government would not oppose transfer.  But if the Second Circuit agrees that “tax refund jurisdiction” applies to the case and rules against Pfizer only on the basis that Pfizer did not file its suit within two years of the notice of disallowance, the government asked that transfer be denied.

Remember to File a Refund Suit under the Shorter SOL when Congress Lets You Sue after Paying Only 15%

We welcome frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who writes about the time frame for filing a refund suit with respect to a divisible, assessable penalty. Here, the taxpayer’s attorney seems to have relied on the general rule allowing a taxpayer to bring a refund suit within two years after payment. Unfortunately for the taxpayer, that rules does not apply in this context. Keith

In a recent unpublished opinion of the Ninth Circuit in Taylor v. United States, an individual who was assessed multiple section 6694 return preparer penalties tried to take advantage of the statutory rule allowing him to bring a refund suit by paying only 15% of each penalty. However, it appears that he did not pay close attention to the provision of section 6694(c)(2) that requires an expedited suit for refund in that event. He brought a district court refund suit on February 25, 2016, a year and three months after he made the 15% payments and filed a refund claim. That suit would have been timely had the 2-year period after formal notification of claim disallowance applied under section 6532(a). But, section 6532(a) does not apply to such a 15% payment suit, and he missed the shorter statute of limitations applicable to a suit where 15% is paid. As a result, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court for the Eastern District of Washington’s dismissal of his refund suit for lack of jurisdiction as untimely. It seems to me that he can now pay the remaining 85% and file a new refund claim and sue concerning the 85%. But, I doubt that he can ever get back the 15% paid because the IRS disallowed that claim on January 29, 2016, so it is now more than 2 years since the claim for the 15% was disallowed. Any new suit for the 15% or the 85% would, I think, have to be brought under the section 6532(a) filing deadline after full payment.

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In Flora v. Unites States, 362 U.S. 145 (1960), the Supreme Court held that a suit for refund under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1) involving an income tax deficiency could only be brought if the taxpayer first paid 100% of the deficiency. Treating full payment as a jurisdictional prerequisite, said the Court, was not clearly required by the words of the statute or its 1921 legislative history. However, subsequent developments – including the 1924 creation of the Board of Tax Appeals to allow prepayment review of deficiencies – influenced the Supreme Court’s thinking.

It was not clear after Flora whether that full payment requirement would apply to assessable penalties, such as the section 6672 responsible person penalty, since there was no possibility of Tax Court prepayment review of the few assessable penalties then in existence. However, a footnote in Flora indicated that, in the case of divisible taxes, payment of one of one divisible portion would be enough jurisdictionally to found a refund suit. Relying on that footnote in Flora, less than three months after Flora, in Steele v. United States, 280 F.2d 89 (8th Cir. 1960), the Eighth Circuit held that the full payment rule of Flora applied to the divisible penalties under section 6672 such that suit was jurisdictionally proper if the taxpayer had fully paid only one penalty for one employee for each quarter involved in the suit.

Section 6672(c)(1) currently provides that if a taxpayer, within 30 days of notice and demand, makes such a divisible payment, files a refund claim, and puts up a bond for the rest of the assessment, then the IRS is barred from collecting by levy or bringing a suit for payment of the balance assessed so long as a taxpayer’s refund suit under (c)(2) is pending. (The IRS may, however, counterclaim for the balance in the suit brought under (c)(2).) Under (c)(2), a taxpayer who has done what is required under (c)(1) may bring a refund suit, but only within an abbreviated period – i.e., up to 30 days after the refund claim is denied.

There are a few other assessable penalties that have special jurisdictional payment and filing features similar to that of section 6672(c). Those penalties are under section 6694 (return preparer penalty), 6700 (penalty for promoting abusive tax shelters), and 6701 (penalty for aiding and abetting understatements of tax). The assessable section 6702 frivolous submission penalty once had similar features for a part-payment refund suit, but those were removed. In each of the three cases, section 6694(c)(1) or 6703(c)(1) (applicable to the section 6700 and 6701 penalties) provides that paying 15% and filing a refund claim within 30 days of notice and demand can be enough to bar the IRS from collecting by levy or bringing a suit for payment of the balance assessed so long as a refund suit under (c)(2) is pending. (Note the lack of a bond requirement for the balance, unlike under section 6672(c).) Under (c)(2), a litigant who has done what is required under (c)(1) may bring a refund suit, but only within an abbreviated period that is potentially shorter than the period for section 6672 penalties – i.e., under sections 6694(c)(2) and 6703(c)(2), within the earlier of (1) 30 days after the refund claim is denied or (2) six months and 30 days after the refund claim is filed. Note that the six months and 30 day alternative period is a much more limited period than the indefinite period to bring suit in section 6532(a) in the absence of a claim disallowance.

I speculate that what happened in the Taylor case is that, since he was familiar with the rule of section 6532(a) that effectively allows an indefinite period to bring suit in the absence of a notification of claim disallowance, he did not realize that, under section 6694(c)(2), he could not wait beyond six months and 30 days to bring suit after he filed his refund claim – even though his claim had not yet been disallowed. My speculation is because he actually did bring suit within 30 days after the claim was disallowed. But, that was too late. And nothing in either the district court or appellate court opinion gives a reason for his late filing that might suggest an equitable reason for late filing.

So, what did Taylor argue to get out of the box he put himself into?

First, in his district court written response to the DOJ’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction he argued that the filing deadline in section 6694(c)(2) is not jurisdictional, but is simply a statute of limitations that does not go to the power of the court. I am not sure why he made this argument, since he did not show facts for equitable tolling of a nonjurisdictional statute of limitations. Even if the filing deadline is not jurisdictional, it is still a mandatory claims processing rule with which he did not comply. He argued that (c)(2) is not jurisdictional, but only “sets limits on the time frame in which the IRS is prohibited from pursuing collection action of the penalties at issue.” The Ninth Circuit disagreed.

Here is the full text of section 6694(c)(1) and (2):

(c)  Extension of period of collection where preparer pays 15 percent of penalty.

(1) In general. If, within 30 days after the day on which notice and demand of any penalty under subsection (a) or (b) is made against any person who is a tax return preparer, such person pays an amount which is not less than 15 percent of the amount of such penalty and files a claim for refund of the amount so paid, no levy or proceeding in court for the collection of the remainder of such penalty shall be made, begun, or prosecuted until the final resolution of a proceeding begun as provided in paragraph (2). Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7421(a), the beginning of such proceeding or levy during the time such prohibition is in force may be enjoined by a proceeding in the proper court. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to prohibit any counterclaim for the remainder of such penalty in a proceeding begun as provided in paragraph (2).

(2)  Preparer must bring suit in district court to determine his liability for penalty. If, within 30 days after the day on which his claim for refund of any partial payment of any penalty under subsection (a) or (b) is denied (or, if earlier, within 30 days after the expiration of 6 months after the day on which he filed the claim for refund), the tax return preparer fails to begin a proceeding in the appropriate United States district court for the determination of his liability for such penalty, paragraph (1) shall cease to apply with respect to such penalty, effective on the day following the close of the applicable 30-day period referred to in this paragraph.

Apparently, the question whether the filing deadline under section 6694(c)(2) is jurisdictional has not been previously addressed in the Ninth Circuit. However, the Ninth Circuit in Taylor noted the virtually verbatim similarity of the language of section 6694(c) and that of section 6703(c). In Thomas v. United States, 755 F.2d 728 (9th Cir. 1985), the Ninth Circuit had held that the 30-day deadline in section 6703(c)(1) after a notice and demand to pay the 15% is a jurisdictional requirement of a refund suit in a case involving a section 6702 penalty that was at the time (but is no longer) subject to section 6703(c). In Korobkin v. United States, 988 F.2d 975 (9th Cir. 1993), the Ninth Circuit had held that the six months plus 30-day deadline in section 6703(c)(2) to file suit is a jurisdictional requirement of a refund suit involving a section 6700 penalty. Taylor followed these cases by analogy in holding that compliance with the filing deadline under section 6694(c)(2) is jurisdictional. So, the district court properly dismissed this untimely suit for lack of jurisdiction.

The second thing Taylor argued was that instead of having paid 15% of each penalty (as he originally directed the IRS to apply the payments) he should be deemed to have paid 100% of 15% of the penalties, so the district court had jurisdiction under section 1346(a)(1), and suit was timely under section 6532(a) with respect to the penalties that he had fully paid. This was an interesting argument, but it was first raised at oral argument on the DOJ’s motion to dismiss before the district court. The district court held that this argument was raised too late to be considered. The Ninth Circuit agreed that this argument was not timely raised.

Observations

Les and I recently blogged on Larson v. United States, 888 F.3d 578 (2d Cir. 2018), here and here. Larson involved a section 6707 penalty for failing to file a form with the IRS providing information concerning listed transactions as to which the rules of section 6703(c) do not apply. In Larson, the Second Circuit held that Flora requires full payment of such an assessable penalty as a jurisdictional prerequisite of a refund suit, even though there is no alternative Tax Court prepayment contest permitted for such penalty. Part of why Larson ruled the way it did was because the Second Circuit there noted that Congress, in sections 6694(c) and 6703(c), had created 15% exceptions to the full payment rule of Flora, but had not done so for other assessable penalties. Taylor also holds the 15% payment requirement to be jurisdictional, citing Flora.

The Ninth Circuit in Taylor failed to acknowledge that its ruling that the filing deadline in section 6703(c)(2) is jurisdictional is in conflict with that of at least one other Circuit court: In Dalton v. United States, 800 F.2d 1316 (4th Cir. 1986), the Fourth Circuit had held that the 30-day-after-claim-disallowance deadline in section 6703(c)(2) to file suit is a not a jurisdictional requirement of a refund suit involving a section 6702 penalty. Indeed, in Dalton, the court equitably tolled the filing deadline (tolling only being possible if the filing deadline is not jurisdictional). Taylor’s attorney cited Dalton in his opening Ninth Circuit brief.

I have repeatedly noted in PT that, under recent Supreme Court case law since Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443 (2004), filing deadlines are no longer considered jurisdictional, unless Congress has made a rare “clear statement” in the statute that it wants what is usually a nonjurisdictional claim processing rule (a filing deadline) to be treated as jurisdictional. Of course, the Circuit court opinions in Thomas, Korobkin, and Dalton were decided before Kontrick and its progeny, so do not analyze section 6703(c) under the proper current case law. I am disappointed, however, that the Ninth Circuit in Taylor (here in 2018) did not think to reconsider its holdings in Thomas and Korobkin in light of the more recent Supreme Court authority. Appellate judges know that authority quite well and should employ it, even where (as in Taylor’s case) both parties failed to cite it in their briefs. See Volpicelli v. United States, 777 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2015) (not merely relying on prior precedent, but analyzing the wrongful levy suit filing deadline at section 6532(c) under recent Supreme Court case law and holding the deadline not jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling).

As PT readers know, Keith and I have recently argued (with little success so far) that Tax Court filing deadlines for stand-alone innocent spouse actions (at section 6015(e)(1)(A)) and Collection Due Process actions (at section 6330(d)(1)) should no longer be considered jurisdictional under recent Supreme Court case law. We have lost those cases mostly because those provisions use the words “the Tax Court shall have jurisdiction” in the same sentences that provide the filing deadlines. It appears that one could make a stronger case that the filing deadlines in sections 6694(c)(2) and 6703(c)(2) are not jurisdictional: First, the sentences in those provisions do not contain the word “jurisdiction”. Indeed, they do not speak at all to the district court’s jurisdiction or powers. Taylor is right that these provisions really only give deadlines to file and “set[] limits on the time frame in which the IRS is prohibited from pursuing collection action of the penalties.” That does not comport with the Supreme Court’s current view that “Congress must do something special, beyond setting an exception-free deadline, to tag a statute of limitations as jurisdictional . . . .” United States v. Wong, 135 S. Ct. 1625, 1632 (2015). Second, the Supreme Court “has often explained that Congress’s separation of a filing deadline from a jurisdictional grant indicates that the time bar is not jurisdictional.” Id. at 1633 (citations omitted). Here, the real jurisdictional basis for a 15% payment refund suit is still located at 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1), far away from these Internal Revenue Code sections. So, I respectfully disagree with the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Taylor that these filing deadlines are jurisdictional. [Sigh]

Another Jurisdictional Issue in Pfizer

Today we welcome Bob Probasco in his first guest appearance on Procedurally Taxing. Bob directs the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at Texas A&M University School of Law in Fort Worth. He has had a long and varied career in the tax world, having moved from accounting to tax law and most recently to teaching. In this post Bob describes the pending dispute over which forum a taxpayer can use to sue for overpayment interest. Christine

Carl Smith blogged earlier this year about the Pfizer case. The attention on Procedurally Taxing, and the amicus briefs filed by Carl and Keith in several cases, focused on an issue that could affect a large number of tax controversies: whether filing deadlines are “claim-processing” rather than “jurisdictional” rules and therefore can be equitably tolled. It’s an interesting and very important issue.

But there’s also a smaller issue Carl alluded to briefly, in an area with which some readers may not be familiar, that hasn’t received as much attention. The issue arises in lawsuits seeking overpayment interest under section 6611. The procedural differences might be of interest while we’re waiting for Second Circuit’s decision in Pfizer.

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Underpayment interest under section 6601, owed by taxpayers to the government on taxes and penalties that have not yet been paid, is explicitly treated as equivalent to the underlying tax for most purposes by section 6601(e)(1). (The exception is that underpayment interest is not subject to deficiency procedures.) Treating underpayment interest as equivalent to tax makes sense – assessment of additional tax will often result in assessment of underpayment interest and an abatement of tax will often result in abatement of previously assessed underpayment interest. But overpayment interest under section 6611 has no provision equivalent to section 6601(e)(1) and additional overpayment interest is “allowed” and paid rather than assessed.

If a taxpayer does not receive the overpayment interest to which it is entitled, how can the taxpayer challenge the IRS in court? If the tax overpayment was determined as part of a Tax Court case, the taxpayer can seek the court’s review of an erroneous determination of associated interest under Rule 261. But if the underlying tax overpayment was claimed on the original return (as in Pfizer) or a refund claim that is resolved administratively rather than in court, how does the taxpayer seek judicial review of an erroneous determination of overpayment interest?

Pfizer filed its suit under the jurisdiction (concurrent to district courts and the Court of Federal Claims) to hear tax refund suits, 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1). But it’s not at all clear that provision applies to a stand-alone claim for additional overpayment interest. The jurisdictional provision applies to

Any civil action against the United States for the recovery of any internal-revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority or any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected under the internal-revenue laws.

With an action for additional overpayment interest, there was no assessment or collection – simply a failure to “allow” and pay.

The Sixth Circuit, in E.W. Scripps Co. v. United States, 420 F.3d 589 (6th Cir. 2005), concluded that courts do have jurisdiction under § 1346(a)(1) to hear a stand-alone claim for overpayment interest. It looked to the last part of the provision: “any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected under the internal-revenue laws.” You may be wondering how the court concluded that a failure to allow and pay interest equates to overpayment interest that is “excessive” or “wrongfully collected.” The answer: “If the Government does not compensate the taxpayer for the time-value of the tax overpayment, the Government has retained more money than it is due, i.e., an ‘excessive sum.’”

I’ve never found Scripps very convincing, and to the best of my knowledge no other Circuit has reached the same conclusion. The government disagrees with Scripps and continues to challenge efforts to bring stand-alone claims for overpayment interest under § 1346(a)(1). That doesn’t mean taxpayers are without recourse, of course. Suit can be brought under the Tucker Act, which provides jurisdiction to both district courts and the Court of Federal Claims for

any claim against the United States . . . founded either upon the Constitution, or any Act of Congress or any regulation of an executive department, or upon any express or implied contract with the United States, or for liquidated or unliquidated damages in cases not sounding in tort.

Even better, the six-year statute of limitations under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2401 or 2501 applies to Tucker Act suits and there is no requirement to file a refund claim first.

So why didn’t Pfizer just claim jurisdiction under the Tucker Act, to avoid any question about jurisdiction? As you might expect, this was probably a case of forum shopping. The Tucker Act jurisdiction for the Court of Federal Claims, at 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1), is not limited as to the amount of the claim. Pfizer wanted to bring suit in district court instead, where the Tucker Act jurisdiction (sometimes referred to as the “little Tucker Act”), at 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(2), adds a limitation: “not exceeding $10,000 in amount.” (Judges in the Court of Federal Claims have more experience with claims against the federal government than typical district court judges; the jurisdictional provisions funnel most large and complex disputes there instead of to district court.) But Pfizer was seeking more than $8 million. If there is any way to do that in district court, it would have to be § 1346(a)(1).

The district court in Pfizer followed Scripps and ruled for the taxpayer in a preliminary motion to dismiss based on whether jurisdiction was proper under § 1346(a)(1). But Pfizer’s suit was filed beyond the two-year limit of section 6532 and the court granted the government’s second motion to dismiss because the suit was not filed timely. On appeal, the government is challenging the first ruling and the taxpayer is challenging the second ruling.

In addition to the argument based on equitable tolling, the taxpayer is also making a second argument: no refund claim was required at all, and therefore section 6532 doesn’t apply. That seems odd when suit was brought under the jurisdictional provision we think of as governing refund suits, Section 7422, which requires a refund claim be filed first for any suit

for the recovery of any internal revenue tax alleged to have been erroneously or illegally assessed or collected, or of any penalty claimed to have been collected without authority, or of any sum alleged to have been excessive or in any manner wrongfully collected.

The language is almost identical to that in § 1346(a)(1) but the taxpayer argues the two provisions should not be interpreted the same way.

The Sixth Circuit agreed, in Scripps. The taxpayer had filed a refund claim timely but the court addressed section 7422 anyway. The government had cited a case suggesting a link between section 7422 and § 1346(a)(1). If so, since section 7422 and related provisions apply most naturally to refunds of “tax,” arguably § 1346(a)(1) also should be limited to “tax.” Certainly some requirements associated with section 7422, such as the “look-back” provision in section 6511(b)(2) and the Flora rule, would seem nonsensical for a stand-alone claim for overpayment interest. But the Sixth Circuit simply distinguished these two provisions that use virtually identical language:

. . . the two provisions serve different functions and thus have their own independent meanings. . . . Thus, even though a claim for statutory interest on an overpayment of tax might not fall within the scope of § 7422(a), this does not prevent statutory interest from being included with the ‘‘any sum’’ clause of § 1346(a)(1).

Will the Second Circuit rule for the taxpayer by following Scripps and also by concluding that the section 6532 statute of limitations either doesn’t apply or can be equitably tolled? If so, with two Circuits now giving an expansive reading to § 1346(a)(1), will more taxpayers be likely to file these claims – and other, non-tax claims – in district court instead of the Court of Federal Claims?

Or will the Second Circuit rule for the government? Will it conclude that Pfizer was “in the right place but it must have been the wrong time” (agreeing with Scripps that jurisdiction is proper in district court under § 1346(a)(1) but dismissing the suit as not filed timely) and/or “in the wrong place but it must have been the right time” (timely filing for a suit under the Tucker Act, but plaintiff didn’t claim that as jurisdiction and also needed to be in the Court of Federal Claims)? Pfizer might wind up in the Court of Federal Claims after all.

Does the Tax Court Sometimes Have Refund Jurisdiction in CDP Cases?

Frequent contributor Carl Smith discusses a case implicating the Tax Court’s ability to determine and order the credit or refund of an overpayment in a CDP case. Les

In 2006, in a court-reviewed opinion, the Tax Court in Greene-Thapedi v. Commissioner, 126 T.C. 1 (2006), held that the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction to determine an overpayment in a Collection Due Process (“CDP”) case. Although section 6512(b) gives the Tax Court overpayment jurisdiction, the court held that section 6512(b) was limited in application to deficiency cases and interest abatement cases, where it is specifically referenced in section 6404(h)(2)(B). The Tax Court has never reexamined its Greene-Thapedi holding, and the holding was adopted only in a D.C. Circuit opinion, Willson v. Commissioner, 805 F.3d 316 (D.C. Cir. 2015), presenting a highly unusual fact pattern. A case named McLane v. Commissioner, Docket No. 20317-13L, currently pending before Judge Halpern may lead to consideration of Greene-Thapedi’s holding in the Fourth Circuit in a case with a more typical fact pattern than that presented in either Greene-Thapedi or Willson.

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The McLane case is not new to readers of PT. A March designated order in the case was discussed by Samantha Galvin in her post on April 5. But, that post did not discuss Greene-Thapedi, so I think another post expanding on McLane is called for.

In Greene-Thapdei, a taxpayer complained during a CDP hearing of alleged excess interest and late-payment penalty that she had been charged after she settled a Tax Court deficiency case.  The IRS had assessed the agreed tax, as well as interest and late-payment penalty thereon.  During the Tax Court CDP case, the balance charged was fully paid by a credit that the IRS took from a later taxable year, so the Tax Court dismissed the case as moot, concluding that it had no overpayment jurisdiction in CDP.  But, a curious footnote (19) in the majority opinion may have tried to leave open the issue of overpayment jurisdiction in cases where the taxpayer did not receive a notice of deficiency and so could challenge the underlying liability in CDP. However, the footnote is far from clear.  The footnote reads:

We do not mean to suggest that this Court is foreclosed from considering whether the taxpayer has paid more than was owed, where such a determination is necessary for a correct and complete determination of whether the proposed collection action should proceed. Conceivably, there could be a collection action review proceeding where (unlike the instant case) the proposed collection action is not moot and where pursuant to sec. 6330(c)(2)(B), the taxpayer is entitled to challenge “the existence or amount of the underlying tax liability”. In such a case, the validity of the proposed collection action might depend upon whether the taxpayer has any unpaid balance, which might implicate the question of whether the taxpayer has paid more than was owed.

Judge Halpern joined nearly every other judge in the majority opinion.  Judge Vasquez filed a dissent arguing that the Tax Court implicitly had jurisdiction to determine an overpayment in CDP.

In McLane, the IRS says it issued a notice of deficiency to McLane’s last known address, but, when he never filed a Tax Court petition, it assessed the income tax deficiency.  It later sent him a notice of intention to levy.  In the CDP case in Tax Court, the IRS conceded that he did not receive the notice of deficiency so could challenge the underlying liability.  After a trial, the IRS conceded that McLane proved not only the disputed deductions in the notice of deficiency, but also that he had more deductions than were reported on his return and so overpaid his taxes by about $2,500.  After the post-trial briefs were in (but before any opinion was issued), the parties held a conference call with Judge Halpern about what to do.  The IRS took the position that the Tax Court had no jurisdiction to find an overpayment and any claim filed today would be time barred.  After the conference call, the Judge in March issued an order asking for the parties to file memoranda addressing whether the court had overpayment jurisdiction.  The 6-page order did not mention Greene-Thapedi, but stated:

Because the question of our jurisdiction in a collection due process (CDP) case to determine and order the credit or refund of an overpayment appears to be a novel one, we will require the parties to submit supplemental briefs addressing the issue before we resolve it.

Judge Halpern doesn’t usually forget about relevant opinions, so I suspect that he may be thinking that Greene-Thapedi is distinguishable (maybe under footnote 19?).  In the order, the judge also suggested that the pro se taxpayer consult a tax clinic in the Baltimore or D.C. area before submitting his memorandum.

Although the taxpayer spoke to the tax clinic at the University of the District of Columbia, he decided not to retain that clinic and stayed pro se.

In response to the judge’s order, three memoranda were eventually filed with the Tax Court: (1) an IRS’ memorandum, (2) the taxpayer’s memorandum, and (3) an amicus memorandum that the judge allowed the UDC clinic to submit. Full disclosure: Although the amicus memorandum was written primarily by UDC law student Roxy Araghi and her clinic director, Jacqueline Lainez, since I assisted them significantly, I am also listed as of counsel on the memorandum.

Essentially, the IRS simply points to Greene-Thapedi as controlling and argues that the Tax Court lacks overpayment jurisdiction in CDP for the reasons stated by the majority in that opinion.

The IRS also cites and relies on Willson. In Willson, the IRS erroneously sent the taxpayer refund checks for two taxable years, when it should have sent only one refund check. Later realizing its mistake, the IRS assessed in the earlier year the erroneous payment amount. The taxpayer eventually realized that one of the two refunds checks was erroneous, and he voluntarily sent the IRS some money for the year for which the IRS had set up the assessment. When the IRS did not get back the rest of the assessment from the taxpayer, it issued a notice of intention to levy for the balance. During the Tax Court CDP case, the Tax Court held that assessment was not a proper way of collecting back the erroneous refund. And appropriate methods (such as a suit for erroneous refund) were now time-barred. So, the IRS abated the assessment. Then, the IRS argued that the case was moot. But, at that point, the taxpayer contended that he had overpaid his tax (the voluntary payments), and he asked the Tax Court to so hold, citing the Tax Court’s authority under section 6330(c)(2)(B) to consider challenges to the underlying liability. The Tax Court dismissed the CDP case as moot, without finding an overpayment.

The D.C. Circuit in Willson agreed with the Tax Court, but stated: “The IRS retained the $5,100 not to satisfy a tax liability but to recover an erroneous refund sent as a result of a clerical error. The debt created by such an erroneous refund is not a tax liability.” 805 F.3d at 320 (emphasis in original).

Since Willson does not involve a deficiency in tax and may not even involve underlying tax liability at all, it may not be controlling in McLane.

And, no other Court of Appeals has considered Greene-Thapedi’s Tax Court jurisdictional issue.

The McLane taxpayer and UDC amicus memoranda argue that Greene-Thapedi is distinguishable from McLane on the facts or was, simply, wrongly decided. The taxpayer’s memorandum also distinguishes Willson factually in a footnote. Both memoranda make many of the arguments that Judge Vasquez included in his dissents in Greene-Thapedi for why the Tax Court has inherent overpayment jurisdiction in a CDP case – especially one where a taxpayer is litigating a deficiency because he did not receive a notice of deficiency.

As I see it, either way Judge Halpern rules, there is a good chance that the losing party will take this issue up to the Fourth Circuit on appeal, where we might finally get a ruling on whether the Greene-Thapedi opinion is right or not after all.