Designated Orders: Betrayals of Intuition – Omitted Petitioners and Error Correction under Rule 155 – 8/20 – 8/24/2018

We welcome Patrick Thomas who brings us this week’s designated orders.  The last week of orders that fell to Patrick ended up in a three part series plus an extra article written by William Schmidt.  He gets off a bit easier this time.  Keith 

A huge thanks to the judges of the United States Tax Court for issuing few substantive designated orders during the first week of classes. We only have three orders deserving discussion this week. Other designated orders included four orders from Judge Jacobs: a routine scheduling order, an order allowing petitioner’s counsel to withdraw, and two discovery orders in the same case.

Judge Halpern also dismissed the Krug v. Commissioner case on his own motion because the Petitioner failed to prosecute the case. Krug, which we covered previously, raised interesting substantive issues about withholding on prisoner income in the whistleblower context. Sadly, we won’t see a substantive conclusion to this case for the time being.

For the cases that follow, I must admit I rolled my eyes a bit at the results. Both betrayed my own intuition of how the cases ought to be resolved—though ultimately for somewhat good reasons. The first case strikes me as reaching for a technical result without consideration of the practicalities of pro se taxpayers, while I find the second correctly decided, even if clearly erroneous as to the ultimate tax result.

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Docket No. 6155-17, Heath v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Judge Armen’s order in Heath highlights an issue that LITC practitioners see from time to time. Taxpayers file a joint return; the IRS then conducts an audit and issues a Notice of Deficiency to both taxpayers. For whatever reason, only one taxpayer signs and files a Tax Court petition. Trouble ensues.

Taxpayers who owe a debt relating to a jointly filed tax return are, under section 6013(d)(3), jointly and severally liable for that debt. Thus, the Service can levy both taxpayers’ assets to satisfy the liability. This applies not only to self-assessed debts reported on a return, but also to debts arising from a Notice of Deficiency. Under section 6213(a), the Service may neither assess nor collect such a deficiency-related debt until 90 days after issuing the Notice of Deficiency. If the taxpayer files a petition in Tax Court, this prohibition lasts until the case becomes final.

What happens if only one taxpayer subject to a joint Notice of Deficiency files in Tax Court? Assessment and collection against that taxpayer is barred under section 6213. But the Service may and will assess the tax (90 days after issuance of the Notice of Deficiency) against the other joint filer.

That other filer can get into the Tax Court case—and receive protection against assessment and collection—in certain circumstances. To do so, this “omitted” petitioner would need to either (1) file their own petition before the 90 days expires or (2) cause the already-filed petitioner to amend their petition under Rule 41.

An omitted petitioner may always successfully get into Tax Court before the 90 days expires, but after that, the omitted petitioner’s options are limited by that veritable refrain: “The Tax Court is a court of limited jurisdiction.” Under Rule 34, the Tax Court views jurisdiction as depending on the timely filing of a petition on the part of each petitioner subject to a Notice of Deficiency.

Thus, the individual prohibition on assessment and collection for the petitioning spouse is of limited value, especially where the spouses have joint liquid assets or the non-petitioning spouse earns the majority of household income. In these cases, taxpayers must simultaneously prosecute their cases in Tax Court and defend themselves against IRS Collections. Even outside of those situations, no one likes IRS notices coming through the mail, regardless to whom they’re addressed. The notices must undoubtedly confuse the taxpayers, who believed they had successfully petitioned the Tax Court for a fresh look at their case.

Why would a spouse fail to sign a Tax Court petition? In one of my cases, my client’s spouse passed away before the audit even began, and my client couldn’t afford to open an estate to obtain authority to sign the petition on behalf of her deceased husband.

In others, the tax issue may result solely from one spouse’s income or other tax issue. Knowing this, a pro se petitioner may not realize that both spouse’s signatures are required on the petition. They may view the tax dispute as only that spouse’s problem—one that that spouse will resolve independently.

There are also very limited indications to pro se taxpayers that both spouses must sign a Tax Court petition to avoid IRS Collections. While Notices of Deficiency are issued to both spouses, those living at the same address may just see this as typical IRS notice duplication. The Tax Court form petition, while suggesting “Spouse” as an example of an “additional petitioner”, gives no clear indication that failure of both spouses to sign could lead to these very serious consequences.

Nevertheless, Rule 60(a) provides an opening if the original petitioner can show that they also brought the case on behalf of the omitted petitioner. The omitted petitioner may thereby “ratify” the original petition, which will date back to the time of filing under Rule 41. To do so, the original petitioner must show that they (1) were authorized to file the petition on behalf of the omitted petitioner and (2) objectively intended to do so.  Indicia of objective intent appear to be: the original petition’s caption; pronoun usage in the petition and attachments (i.e., first-person plural vs. singular); and the delay between the petition’s filing and attempts to correct the petition.

The substantive dispute in Heath centers on two Schedule K-1s issued to Mrs. Heath. She disputes having an ownership interest in the issuing organization for this tax year. (Accordingly, Judge Armen denies the Service’s motion for partial summary judgment on this issue, as it was sufficiently disputed as to make summary judgment inappropriate.)

But only Mrs. Heath filed and signed the petition. Eventually, Mrs. Heath retained counsel (the Tax Clinic at the Chicago-Kent College of Law), who noticed the issue and seeking to add Mr. Heath to the Tax Court case, filed the present motion.

Judge Armen denies the motion, running through a number of factors that indicate Mrs. Heath’s lack of objective intent to file a motion on her husband’s behalf. These include:

  • – She handwrote, filed, and signed the petition on her own
  • – She captioned the case in her name alone
  • – She used first-person pronoun in the petition and various attachments
  • – Counsel noted in the motion that “the underlying tax issue had nothing to do with [Mr. Heath] and ‘arose before they were married.’ ”
  • – Counsel didn’t enter an appearance for husband.
  • – The motion was filed one year after the petition and six months after Counsel entered his appearance
  • – The motion was filed in response to IRS collection activities
  • – No ratification was filed with the motion (but was filed later)

Of these reasons, only two appear relevant to me: (1) Mrs. Heath captioned the case in her name alone and (2) a ratification wasn’t filed until the Court’s order in June 2018.

The rest are tautological, irrelevant, or—with more explanation—not indicative of a lack of intent. All cases involving these disputes will, without question, involve a petitioner who signed and filed the petition herself. Most such cases will also involve adjustments that only pertain to one petitioner; petitioner’s admission thereof in this motion thus doesn’t seem terribly relevant to this inquiry. Handwriting a petition seems neutral on the intent question. Finally, first-person singular language may be relevant, but in the seminal case on this topic, Brooks v. Commissioner, 63 T.C. 709 (1975), such language was present, yet the Court found an objective intent to file a petition on behalf of the taxpayer’s wife.

The timing issues all seem consistent with the underlying causes of petitioner’s challenge in Brooks: the petitioner first raises the issue once he or she notices it. In Brooks, a petition was filed in December 1974 and Brooks began challenging the issue in February 1975—fairly quick! But Brooks had a cue that the Heaths lacked: Respondent’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. Because Mr. Brooks included Mrs. Brooks in the caption, but she didn’t sign the petition, Respondent sought to remove him from the case.

Here, only Mrs. Heath appeared on the caption. So, Respondent didn’t bug the Heaths about the issue. Only after the Service’s machinery (1) assessed the tax, and (2) started sending notices to the Heaths, could they have possibly discovered that Mr. Heath was in jeopardy. So yes—of course, the Heaths only took steps to resolve the issue once they discovered it, through the collection notices sent to Mr. Heath. The petition was filed on March 13, 2017, meaning that the IRS likely didn’t start sending out notices until mid-summer 2017 at the earliest. Counsel was retained in September 2017. Admittedly, the motion wasn’t filed until March 2018, but this doesn’t necessarily indicate Mrs. Heath’s lack of an objective intent to file a petition on behalf of her husband. The Heaths were also sorting through respondent’s motion for summary judgment at the time.

Finally, Counsel could not have easily entered an appearance for husband through the Court’s electronic filing system. Mr. Heath was not a party to the case in September 2017, so he would not appear as a party one could represent when e-filing an entry of appearance. While a paper could be filed purporting to represent Mr. Heath, the electronic filing system would treat the paper’s caption as applicable only to Mrs. Heath. Moreover, this factor seems only tangentially relevant to the underlying issue: did Mrs. Heath intend to file a petition on behalf of Mr. Heath?

More fundamentally, what does it mean to have intent to file a petition at all? Must Mrs. Heath have intended to file a particular piece of paper on behalf of Mr. Heath? Why is that so seemingly important to the jurisdictional question?

The Court might reframe its intent analysis in terms of the petition’s function—not the petition as a document. A timely filed petition provides (1) independent judicial review of the Service’s determination and (2) protection from assessment and collection while that review occurs. Surely Mrs. Heath desired this both for herself and her husband—particularly if they shared joint assets or income. There may be circumstances where spouses do not intend those results; the Court could decline to exercise jurisdiction in such a case.

Notwithstanding that she likely possessed that intent, Mrs. Heath likely finds herself subject to IRS collections while the Tax Court case proceeds. It appears as if she believed the issue shouldn’t ultimately have anything to do with her husband, given her substantive argument that the Schedules K-1 are incorrect. Whether she knew the adverse consequences of failing to file a joint petition seems irrelevant.

In any case, Judge Armen denies the motion, but suggests that the IRS defer collections administratively. Here’s hoping that Counsel follows that reasonable suggestion.

Docket No. 23891-15, Muhammad v. C.I.R. (Orders Here and Here)

This case had two orders: one on Respondents motion for entry of decision under Rule 155 and one on Respondent’s motion to reopen to supplement the record per Graev III. Ultimately, Judge Gustafson grants the latter motion, because petitioner didn’t object to it. Nevertheless, he sets forth a very thorough primer on the hearsay and authentication issues under the Federal Rules of Evidence, given potential concern with the taxpayer’s pro se status. He finds that form falls into the FRE 803(6) exception of a regularly conducted activity, and that it is a self-authenticating document record under FRE 902(11). Rather than describe the details here, I strongly suggest you read Judge Gustafson’s order in full.

The other motion is fairly interesting. Apparently, petitioner deducted $7,400 on his return as a charitable contribution. The Notice of Deficiency disallowed this in full. Petitioner fully conceded this issue, so this should have been a $7,400 adjustment, right?

Well, petitioner also submitted an amended return to IRS counsel at some point, which reported a reduced charitable contribution of $4,700. The Service never processed this return, but somehow it wound up before Judge Gustafson as an exhibit.

Judge Gustafson disposed of this case via a bench opinion. He orally noted that the Notice of Deficiency’s $7,400 adjustment appeared incorrect, looking as he was at the $4,700 deduction apparently claimed on Schedule A of the amended return.

As with most Tax Court cases, this one is ultimately resolved under Rule 155. The Court itself doesn’t determine the ultimate tax result; instead, the Service issues a computation based on the Court’s decision. Here, the computations came back with a $7,400 deduction. Substantively correct—but in violation of Judge Gustafson’s decision in the bench opinion.

That’s a no-no under Rule 155. Rule 155(c) specifically proscribes reconsideration of the decision itself. It’s “not a remedy for correcting errors.” Indeed, it’s difficult to intuitively ascertain whether an adjustment of this sort appears in a Rule 155 computation; indeed, there’s nothing that would “flag” the issue, as a more substantive motion would. So, in response to the Rule 155 motion, Judge Gustafson orders the IRS to show cause why there should not be a supplemental computation reducing the adjustment to $4,700, as originally decided in the bench opinion.

This may all seem like a lot of work to get to the wrong tax result. But there’s an important principle that emerges: the Service may not simply correct the Tax Court’s error by fiat through computations. If the Service (or petitioner) believes a decision to be wrongly decided, they must either move for reconsideration or appeal, so that the Court can fully consider respondent’s arguments, hear any objections from petitioner, and firmly decide the ultimate liability. While he suggests that the Court may have jurisdiction to reconsider the decision sua sponte, he declines to do so. (It also appears Judge Gustafson exhibits some reticence to a now very untimely motion for reconsideration).

To date the Service has not responded substantively to this order, but has received additional time to do so. We will keep an eye on further developments here.

Designated Orders: 8/6/18 to 8/10/18

William Schmidt of the Legal Aid Society of Kansas brings us this week’s designated order post. The case discussed involves a mystery regarding how the IRS made the assessment that led to the filing of the notice of federal tax lien that led to the collection due process case. There may be more orders yet to come in this case. Because the case is scheduled for trial next month in Denver, perhaps Samantha Galvin, another writer of designated order posts and one of the clinicians working in Denver, will have personal knowledge of the case. Keith

For the week of August 6 to 10, there were two designated orders from the Tax Court so this posting will be briefer than usual. It is unclear if this is a week where summer vacations took their toll. Both orders examined are from the same case so the analysis will include all the orders for the week.

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Docket No. 6161-17 L, Debra L. March v. C.I.R.

The Court provided 2 orders in this case starting from IRS Appeals issuing a determination to sustain the filing of the notice of lien for the collection of income tax for tax years 2009 and 2010.

Petitioner had a prior collection due process (CDP) case, Docket No. 10223-14, resulting from a notice of intent to levy. In the prior case the IRS issued a notice of determination sustaining the levy and the petitioner filed a Tax Court petition in which it challenged the validity of the assessment. The parties to that case entered into a stipulated decision on June 25, 2015, that did not sustain Appeals’ determination. The decision document stated that the IRS would abate the liability for tax year 2009 on the basis that the IRS failed to send the statutory notice of deficiency (SNOD) to the petitioner’s last known address. The Court, in the current case, states that it assumes the IRS complied with the decision entered in the prior case and made the abatement.

At issue in this week’s designated order is how the IRS came to have an assessment against the petitioner after the abatement of the prior assessment. The case presents a very curious situation; however, the order does not resolve the mystery but rather seeks to have the parties, particularly the IRS, explain how to resolve it.

At some point after the “presumed abatement” of the 2009 assessment following the first CDP case in Tax Court, the IRS appears to have reassessed the 2009 liability and filed a notice of lien on that 2009 liability. Appeals issued a notice of determination on February 6, 2017. The notice of determination states that the original assessment was abated (due to the wrong address on the notice of deficiency) and the taxpayer was given additional time to file an original tax return. Since the taxpayer continued not to file the return for 2009, the IRS reinstated the assessment. The problem with the verification is that how the IRS reinstated the assessment remains entirely unclear. It seems clear that the taxpayer did not consent to the reassessment by filing a tax return. What remains unclear is what the IRS did to acquire authority to reassess.

The language of the Settlement Officer in the notice of determination contains only a vague statement regarding the basis for the new assessment. For verification, the notice of determination states: “The Settlement Officer verified through transcript analysis that the assessment was properly made per IRC section 6201 for each tax and period listed on the CDP notice.” Ms. March timely petitioned the Tax Court on March 6, 2017 with the new CDP case again contesting the assessed liability.

The Court then analyzes code section 6201. Section 6201(a)(1) authorizes the IRS to assess “taxes…as to which returns…are made” though Ms. March has yet to file a return for 2009. The Court states that the other provisions for making an assessment do not seem to apply beyond the authority for the IRS to determine a deficiency, mail the taxpayer a SNOD, and assess the deficiency upon the passage of 90 days following the mailing (unless the taxpayer files a timely petition with Tax Court). But, the parties stipulated in that prior case that no SNOD was properly mailed, and the notice of determination appears to indicate no SNOD was mailed subsequent to the conclusion of the first Tax Court case.

The Court would like an explanation for the authority the IRS had to “restore the tax assessment.” The Court’s order is for the IRS to file a status report explaining the position about the validity of the 2009 income tax underlying the lien filing at issue in the case.

Takeaway: The IRS looks to have been caught making another bad assessment and then providing an alleged verification that fails to verify the proper statutory procedure for making an assessment. Perhaps they will have a suitable explanation or be able to cite different authority. Either the IRS “reinstated” the assessment without statutory authority for doing so or the Settlement Officer did not know how to write the verification section of the CDP determination and explain a statutory basis for the new assessment. In either case the IRS does not look good but if the IRS simply “reinstated” the assessment as the Settlement Officer describes, it appears the IRS is headed for its second CDP loss with respect to the same taxpayer for the same year for the same problem. Under the circumstances, the IRS attorney might also have noticed this issue before it got in front of a judge a second time. Tough. 

The Court discusses an IRS motion to show cause regarding why proposed facts and evidence should not be accepted as established. This order relates to a routine Rule 91(f) motion requiring a party to stipulate. Because the petitioner is unrepresented, the judge explains in the order how stipulations can be used to include evidence that a self-represented petitioner such as Ms. March would otherwise have to introduce at trial on her own. The judge also explained that Ms. March would not be prevented from introducing additional evidence beyond what was including in the stipulated evidence. The order provides an example of a typical Tax Court order to a pro se taxpayer in which the Court provides a simple, straight-forward explanation of the rules and why the unrepresented individual should comply for their own best interest. While this order uncoupled from Order 1 discussed above would not deserve designated order status, it offers a glimpse of a routine order issued in Tax Court cases to pro se petitioners uncomfortable with the stipulation process for fear of stipulating themselves out of court.

After providing the careful explanation for the benefit of the petitioner, the Court granted the IRS motion to show cause and ordered that the petitioner file a reply on or before August 27. If no response is provided, the Court will issue an order accordingly.

Takeaway: While the Court is reasonable in explaining to an unrepresented petitioner the process of stipulations, the Court also does not stray from the rules or let that delay the upcoming trial (September 24 in Denver).

 

 

Ninth Circuit to Hear Oral Argument on November 9 in Two Cases Raising Constitutionality of President’s Removal Power Over Tax Court Judges

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith. Carl writes today about an issue of power – the power to remove – who should have it which implicates where the Tax Court lands in the various branches of government. All of this seems like an academic exercise until it doesn’t and then the discussion of the issue will have importance. My former colleague at Villanova, Tuan Samahan, raised this issue early. He recently wrote a symposium piece on the topic for the law review at my alma mater. Keith

PT readers are familiar with the argument, raised in Kuretski v. Commissioner, 755 F.3d 929 (D.C. Cir. 2014), that the President’s removal power over Tax Court judges at section 7443(f) violates the separation of powers. In Kuretski, the D.C. Circuit rejected that argument, finding no constitutional problem because the Tax Court was located in the Executive Branch. Congress responded to Kuretski by amending section 7441 to add the following: “The Tax Court is not an agency of, and shall be independent of, the executive branch of the Government.”

In response to this, Florida attorney Joe DiRuzzo, in a number of his Tax Court cases appealable to various Circuits, made motions to recuse all Tax Court judges, contending that the judges suffered from the same separation of powers problem – particularly in light of the amendment to section 7441. In Battat v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 2 (2017), the Tax Court denied that motion and refused to certify an interlocutory appeal of the ruling under the procedures at section 7482(a)(2). The Tax Court disagreed with the D.C. Circuit that it was located in the Executive Branch, refused to say in which Branch the Tax Court was located, and found no constitutional problem because the Tax Court only dealt with public rights controversies, unlike Article III courts. The Tax Court then entered unpublished interlocutory orders citing Battat in Joe’s other cases.

Despite the Tax Court’s refusal to certify immediate appeals, Joe appealed to a number of Circuit courts of appeal anyway (including the 11th Circuit in Battat). All attempts so far to do interlocutory appeals have failed, though in non-precedential unpublished opinions of the Circuit courts issued without oral argument. See, e.g., Teffeau v. Commissioner, 709 Fed. Appx. 170 (4th Cir. 2017); and the unpublished opinion in Elmes v. Commissioner, Eleventh Cir. Docket No. 17-11648-DD (June 20, 2017).

Another one of those interlocutory appeals is now before the Ninth Circuit in a case named Thompson v. Commissioner, Ninth Cir. Docket No. 17-71027. Unlike in the prior interlocutory appeals, however, Thompson will be getting oral argument in Seattle on November 9, with the court allocating the parties 15 minutes per side. Thompson has already generated a Tax Court opinion, T.C. 148 T.C. No. 3 (2017), which also denied an Eight Amendment Excessive Fines Clause argument against the section 6662A penalty, but the current interlocutory appeal is limited to the section 7443(f) issue.

The oral argument in Thompson will be immediately preceded by oral argument in another of Joe’s cases, Crim v. Commissioner, Ninth Cir. Docket No. 17-72701. In Crim, the taxpayer submitted an OIC, and, after it was not accepted, went to Appeals. Appeals confirmed the OIC denial. Despite the fact that the OIC was not part of a Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing, the taxpayer petitioned the Tax Court for review. In the case, Joe also moved for recusal of all Tax Court judges on the constitutional issue. Citing Battat, the Tax Court first denied the constitutional motion in an unpublished order. Then, the court issued a second unpublished order holding that, in the absence of a CDP proceeding, the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction to review Appeals’ denial of an OIC.   Crim’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit is thus not an interlocutory one, since there is nothing more to be done in the Tax Court case. It seems much more likely that the Ninth Circuit in Crim will reach the constitutional issue, though the DOJ argues that the court still need not do so. The court has allocated the parties 10 minutes per side for oral argument.

For those interested in the briefs, I attach here the Thompson appellant, appellee, and reply briefs and the Crim appellant, appellee, and reply briefs.

Designated Orders the Week of July 30 – August 3

Samantha Galvin from University of Denver’s Sturm Law School brings us this week’s designated orders. We congratulate Professor Galvin on her recent promotion to associate professor (and congratulate the law school on its wise decision.)  The first order she discusses concerns a somewhat unusual taxpayer. We thank Bob Kamman for bringing the back story to our attention. If the case goes to trial and the taxpayer does not change his arguments, he may face additional penalties for taking a groundless position that needlessly burdens the Court even if it is entertaining.  Professor Galvin points you to additional information if you find his story entertaining. Keith

There were a good number of designated orders the week of July 30, most were unremarkable, but for those interested they can be found: here, here, here, here, here and here.

And of course, Chai/Graev was back but in a slightly different context this time being used as a defense to penalties in a case where (consolidated) petitioners do not want the record to be reopened. The order (here) includes an analysis of the penalty rules applicable to C Corporations, individuals and a TEFRA partnerships.

But on to the orders I found most interesting…

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Credit for Creativity

Patrick Combs v. C.I.R., Docket No: 22748-14 (Order here)

My lecture on the assignment of income doctrine typically begins with me stating that it’s an antiquated concern that is rarely at issue in today’s electronic, information reporting world. Aside from genuine identity theft cases, it’s difficult for taxpayers to argue that someone else should pay tax on income earned by them and reported to the IRS in their name – so I was delighted to see this order be designated during the week of July 30.

Before getting into the details of the order, this petitioner’s background is worth mentioning. He is a monologist whose most famous work to date is a show called “Man 1, Bank 0” which details his successful attempt at cashing a non-negotiable, fake advertisement check for nearly $100,000 and the aftermath that followed when the bank realized its error. It’s worth a Google search.

Unlike writing him off as just another tax protestor, I can’t ignore the fact that his arguments (which are almost performance-like) in Tax Court may evolve into yet another successful comedy show.

So why is he in Tax Court? Petitioner failed to report income he earned as a monologist and from rental real estate that he owned in San Diego. At the time of this order, the Court had provided petitioner with many opportunities to reach a settlement and went as far as issuing a preclusion order, which barred petitioner from introducing at trial any records he failed to disclose to the IRS by a December deadline.

Petitioner met this deadline and the documents he provided included a written statement on the theory (or the “epiphany”) of his case. His theory involves another taxpayer, Mr. Holcomb (“Mr. H.”) and while the exact nature of their relationship is not disclosed, petitioner states that he is a penniless artist entirely dependent on Mr. H. to whom he has signed over (either via trust or agency agreements) all his income and property.

As a result, petitioner does not understand how he could be liable for any tax because if there are any taxes due they are due strictly from Mr. H. and the Court should address the issue with Mr. H.

Even if the Court had a reason to address anything with Mr. H, it would be difficult to do so. Mr. H. has his own interesting background and was recently found guilty by a jury of four counts of making a false statement to a financial institution.

Petitioner’s argument that he has no rights to the income becomes contradictory when he also writes that he is authorized by Mr. H. to spend the “signed over” funds for petitioner’s personal purposes in whatever way petitioner sees fit. This arrangement, petitioner states, “goes to the heart of why I chose to be one of [Mr. H.’s] fiduciaries in the first place. I am an artist (monologist) and there is no better space for an artist to be in other than one that frees him of all concerns relative to financial liability (income tax included), while at the same time being able to properly provide for himself and his family members.” Petitioner concludes his impassioned written statement with, “in simple straight forward speak; I am a “kept” man.”

The “trust arrangement” that petitioner has with Mr. H. calls Mr. H. the “director” of petitioner’s future income and property, and in return, Mr. H. agrees petitioner is the “manager” or “general manager” of such income and property and is free to do whatever petitioner wants to do with it.

The Court calls it an anticipatory assignment of income and warns petitioner that a 6673 penalty may be in his future if he continues with his theory.

The Court grants summary judgment in part for petitioner’s failure to report income, orders the parties to submit settlement documents with respect to other issues and if no settlement is reached expects the parties to appear at trial – where I’d expect there to be an inspired performance by petitioner.

Quash a Lot

Mufram Enterprises LLC, Wendell Murphy, Jr, Tax Matters Partner, et al. v. C.I.R., Docket Nos: 8039-16, 14536-16, 14541-16 (Order here)

Next before the Court is petitioners (in a consolidated docket) motion to quash two subpoenas duces tecum, which the Court grants in part.

The case involves a property appraiser that petitioners retained as a consulting expert, and specifically not as an expert witness, to assist them in preparing their case. Before the case commenced, the appraiser had also been hired by prospective lenders to appraise the properties involved in the case.

Respondent had requested appraisals of the properties from petitioners, but petitioners said appraisals did not exist.

Respondent issued a subpoena to the appraiser requesting documents beginning when he had become petitioners’ consulting expert. Without looking at the details of the subpoena, the appraiser stated aloud that he was not surprised by the subpoena because he had done appraisals of the properties.

This prompted IRS to issue another subpoena to the appraiser for records and correspondence from the last 23 years. The subpoena also requests that the appraiser testify at trial about facts, but not as an expert witness.

Petitioner argues the first subpoena should be quashed because the documents beginning at the time the appraiser became a consulting expert are protected work product, and the Court grants this motion to quash.

Regarding the second subpoena, petitioner argues that requiring the appraiser to produce records or correspondence that pre-date 2010 (the year of the first property appraisal related to this case) is unreasonable and oppressive. The Court agrees and limits the scope of the subpoena to the appraiser’s non-work product records and correspondence beginning in 2010.

With respect with whether the appraiser will need to testify at trial, the Court will hold judgement on the matter until trial, but if IRS intends to call the appraiser it will determine whether it is as a fact or expert witness, rule on the propriety of his being called, and then determine what fee amount (either the regular or expert witness fee) the IRS should pay to him.

Motion to Compel and Section 6103

Loys Vallee v. C.I.R., Docket No: 13513-16W (Order here)

Here is another whistleblower case where the IRS is arguing that petitioner’s submission did not lead to the collection of any tax, but in this case, the administrative record does not clearly demonstrate that.

Petitioner filed motion to compel production of documents and respondent filed a motion for summary judgment.

In opposition to respondent’s motion, petitioner is (as construed by the Court) challenging the sufficiency of the administrative record. Pursuant to Kasper v. Commissioner, 150 T.C. No. 2, the Court limits the scope of its review in whistleblower cases to the administrative record, but the administrative record can be supplemented if it is incomplete or when an agency action is not adequately explained in the record.

Respondent’s position is that the returns were already selected for exam at time petitioner’s information was received as supported by declaration from IRS employees, however, the administrative record does not contain the declarations that respondent relies upon. It also appears that employees beyond the ones identified by respondent were involved in reviewing petitioner’s submission.

Petitioner’s motion to compel is broad and requests information about all of the target taxpayers in his whistleblower submission (referred to a Corporate D, Related A and Related B by the Court). There are section 6103 disclosure concerns that come with petitioner’s motion to compel. Section 6103 generally prohibits disclosure of returns or return information, but there is an exception under 6103(h)(4)(B) that return information can be disclosed in a judicial proceeding pertaining to tax administration if treatment of an item reflected on a return is directly related to resolution of an issue in the proceeding.

Without ruling on petitioner’s motion (holding it in abeyance), the Court orders respondent to file petitioner’s Form 211 (the whistleblower application) and its attachments with the Court to enable it to review petitioner’s claims. It also orders respondent to respond to petitioner’s challenge to the sufficiency of the administrative record, and denies respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

 

IRS Updates Guidance on How to Handle Premature Petitions

The work that the IRS must perform at the beginning of a Tax Court case requires more effort than readily meets the eye and results in issues easily overlooked. Bob Kamman wrote earlier this year about the answers the IRS files in Tax Court cases in which the taxpayer has yet to pay the filing fee (and in some cases never does so.) That discussion raises questions concerning the filing of an answer before a case has properly come before the court.

In another issue involving answers in Tax Court case, the IRS has been trying for over a decade to reverse a 2007 decision of the Tax Court to require answers in small tax cases. Since approximately 50% of the petitions filed in the Tax Court request small case status, this issue has a huge impact on the effort the IRS must expend at the beginning of the case. The attachment to the IRS submission on the issue, attached to our post, discusses that impact on the IRS. I see no change coming on that front in the near future. The IRS will continue to file answers in small tax cases. The answers will continue to provide almost no useful information since the IRS denies everything in the vast majority of cases including matters it could admit if it took the time to look in its file. The answers will confuse pro se taxpayers. The answers will provide the taxpayer with the name of the IRS attorney and that, at least, will keep, or at least reduce the numbers, taxpayers from contacting the Tax Court to find out the status of their case. Filing the answer also should cause the IRS attorney to pay attention to jurisdictional issues at the outset of the case although that does not always happen.

Today’s post discusses another issue that the IRS faces at the outset of the Tax Court case – identifying and addressing petitions filed prior to the time the taxpayer receives the notice of deficiency. (The issue can arise in other types of Tax Court jurisdiction such as notices of determination in CDP and innocent spouse cases or whistleblower cases but the Chief Counsel notice discussed today focuses on deficiency cases.) It is important that the IRS identify cases filed prematurely since the filing can have an impact on the statute of limitations on assessment and collection.

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Notice CC-2018-008, issued on July 6, 2018, alerts Chief Counsel attorneys to revisions in their manual regarding Tax Court petitions filed prior to the issuance of the notice giving the taxpayer the right to petition. The Notice makes clear that the suspension of the statute of limitations on assessment provided by IRC 6503 does not apply when someone petitions the Tax Court in a situation in which the IRS did not issue a notice of deficiency. Of course, Chief Counsel attorneys are not the only part of the IRS that play a role in these cases. They must coordinate with exam and with appeals as they tie down the facts to show that no notice of deficiency was sent. The information regarding the absence of a notice of deficiency needs to be gathered quickly so that the Chief Counsel attorney handling the case can notify the Tax Court before the case gets too far along and so that it does not impair the examination division in its review of the case.

Although the Tax Court rules and the instructions printed on the form petition require that the taxpayer attach a copy of the notice of deficiency to the petition, many petitioners do not attach the notice.   If the taxpayer attaches a valid notice of deficiency, the case becomes easy to work. Once the IRS attorney receives the administrative file, the IRS can file an answer or file any other appropriate responsive pleading. In the relatively high percentage of cases in which a notice of deficiency is not attached to the petition, then the Service must run down the notice of deficiency before it knows what to do. While it may seem like a simple task to run down a notice of deficiency, the IRS sometimes has problems finding the administrative file. The task becomes more difficult if the IRS has not recently been handling the case. Some taxpayers file petitions based on almost any document they receive from the IRS and some do not mention the year(s) at issue. Determining the reason for the petition can involve a fair amount of detective work in some cases.

The notice informs Chief Counsel attorneys that internal guidance is changing regarding the handling of these cases and that their manual will soon change. One change provides that:

If no notice of deficiency is attached to the petition, the attorney should determine whether a notice of deficiency has in fact been issued. If a notice of deficiency has not been issued because the tax year is still under examination, the petition is premature…. For any such year, the attorney should file a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction… also remind Examination personnel that the statute of limitations on assessment is not tolled by premature petition and the ASED must be protected by extending the statute of limitations with Form 872….

Further in the Notice Chief Counsel attorneys are advised that:

If the petition is premature, attorneys should move to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. In this instance, the motion should make out a prima facie case that the petition is based upon a 30-day letter, notice of rejection of a claim for refund, or other similar notice, or not based on any communication from the Service at all… If Field counsel does not receive a Form 15022 (a form the IRS has devised to certify to the attorneys that a notice of deficiency was NOT issued), Field Counsel must conduct a search to verify that a notice of deficiency or other determination letter that would confer jurisdiction on the Tax Court has not been issued to the taxpayer for the tax/period at issue….

I do not know what prompted the Notice. It’s possible that the IRS blew the statute of limitations on assessment in one or more case because it failed to pay careful attention to the running of the statute while it sorted out a prematurely or improperly filed petition. In any event, the IRS seems to seek to catch these issues with renewed vigor. Because of the high volume of cases handled by correspondence examination providing low income taxpayers with no person to really talk to about their case, it’s not surprising that many taxpayers get confused about when to file their Tax Court petitions. The fact that the IRS publishes this Notice suggests that representatives should look closely at the statute of limitations on assessment for clients they represent who may have prematurely petitioned the Tax Court so that a decision can occur regarding the timeliness of the proposed assessment.

 

Designated Orders 7/16 – 7/20

Caleb Smith from the University of Minnesota brings us this week’s designated orders. The parade of orders involving Graev continues and Professor Smith explains the evidentiary issues present when the IRS seeks to enter the necessary approval form after reopening the Tax Court record. Professor Smith also provides advice, based on another order entered this week, on how to frame your CDP case. A non-procedural matter that might be of interest to some readers is ABA Resolution 102A passed this week, urging Congress to repeal the repeal of the alimony deduction. For those interested in this issue, the resolution contains much background on the deduction.  Keith

Submitting Evidence of Supervisory Approval Post-Graev III

Last week, William Schmidt covered three designated orders that dealt with motions to reopen the record to submit evidence of supervisory approval under IRC 6751. I keep waiting for this particular strain of post-Graev III clean-up to cease, but to no avail: the week of July 16 two more designated orders on issues of reopening the record were issued. Luckily, there are important lessons that can be gleaned from some of these orders on issues that have nothing to do with reopening the record (something that post-Graev III cases shouldn’t have to worry about). Rather, these cases are helpful on the evidentiary issues of getting supervisory approval forms into the record in the first place.

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Choosing the Right Hearsay “Exception” Fakiris v. C.I.R., dkt. # 18292-12 (here)

In Fakiris, the IRS was once again confronted with the issues of (1) reopening the record to get supervisory approval forms into it, and (2) objections to those forms on hearsay grounds. At the outset (for those paying attention to docket numbers), one may be forgiven for wondering how it is even possible that this case was not decided well before Graev III. The briefing in Fakiris was completed in August, 2014 with no apparent court action until June, 2017. Judge Gale walks us through the procedural milestones in a footnote: although a decision was entered for the IRS about a year ago in T.C. Memo. 2017-126, the IRS filed a motion to vacate or revise (surprisingly, since they appear to have won on all fronts). The decision that the IRS sought to vacate includes a footnote (FN 20) providing that because petitioner did not raise a 6751 issue, it is deemed conceded. At the time, there was some uncertainty about whether the taxpayer had to affirmatively raise the issue, or whether it was a part of the IRS’s burden of production under Higbee. See earlier post from Carl Smith.

In any event, and no matter how old the case may be, it is still before the Court and the record must still be reopened for the IRS to succeed on the IRC 6751 issue. After the usual explanation of why it is proper for the Court to exercise its discretion to reopen the record, we arrive at the evidentiary issue: isn’t a supervisory approval form hearsay? At least so objects petitioner.

Where petitioners object to IRS supervisory approval forms as “hearsay” it appears to be the standard operating procedure of IRS counsel to argue the “business records” exception (see FRE 803(b)). Generally, the IRS prevails on this theory, but this theory creates potentially needless pitfalls. Fakiris demonstrates those pitfalls, noting that under the business record exception the IRS has certain foundational requirements it must meet “either by certification, see 902(11), Fed. R. Evid. [here], or through the testimony of the custodian or another qualified witness, see Rule 803(6)(D), Fed. R. Evid.” Without that foundation, the business records exception cannot hold -and indeed, in Fakiris the IRS lacks this foundation and is left spending more time and resources to go back and build it as their proffered evidence is excluded from the record.

So how does one avoid the time-consuming, perilous path of the “business exception?” Judge Gale drops a rather large hint in footnote 9: “We note that Exhibits A and B [the actual penalty approval forms] might also constitute “verbal acts”, i.e., a category of statements excluded from hearsay because ‘the statement itself affects the legal rights of the parties or is a circumstance bearing on conduct affecting their rights.’” If it is a “verbal act” it is categorically not hearsay (and not an “exception” to the hearsay rule). I have made exactly this argument before, although I referred to verbal act as “independent legal significance.” I am surprised that the IRS does not uniformly advanced this argument. In the instances that the IRS used it, the IRS has prevailed (as covered in the designated orders of the previous week). Judge Gale also refers to the advisory committee’s note to bolster the argument that the supervisory approval form is not hearsay: “If the significance of an offered statement lies solely in the fact that it was made, no issue is raised as to the truth of anything asserted, and the statement is not hearsay.” Advisory Committee Note on FRE 801(c) [here]. To me, that is what appears to be happening here. The IRS is simply trying to prove that a statement was made (i.e. a supervisor said “I approve of this penalty.”) The penalty approval form is that statement. It is absurd to think that the form is being offered for any other purpose (e.g. as evidence that the taxpayer actually was negligent, etc.).

If you don’t believe me (or Judge Gale), perhaps Judge Holmes will change your mind? In a designated order covered last week in Baca v. C.I.R., the IRS prevails on a theory that the supervisory approval form is a verbal act, without relying on the business exception. In reaching that determination, Judge Holmes references not only the FRE advisory committee note on point, but also Gen. Tire of Miami Beach, Inc. v. NLRB, 332 F.2d 58 (5th Cir. 1964) providing that a statement is a nonhearsay verbal act if “inquiry is not the truth of the words said, merely whether they were said.”

If you just aren’t sold on the “verbal acts” argument, Judge Gale’s Footnote 9 has yet more to offer. As a second possible avenue for getting the penalty approval form into evidence, Judge Gale suggests the public records exception of FRE 803(8). This exception to hearsay requires proper certification, but apparently has been successfully used by the IRS in the past with Form 4340 (See U.S. v. Dickert, 635 F. App’x 844 (11th Cir. 2016)).

All of this is to say, I think the IRS has ample grounds for getting the supervisory approval form properly into evidence. For petitioners, though it is likely a losing argument, if there are actual evidentiary concerns you must be sure to properly raise those objections -even if in the stipulation of facts. A second designated order issued the same week as Fakiris (found here) does not even get to the question of whether the forms are hearsay after reopening the record -presumably because the objections were never raised (the docket does not show a response by petitioner to the IRS’s motion to reopen the record).

Setting Yourself Up for Favorable Judicial Review on CDP Cases: Jackson v. C.I.R., dkt. # 16854-17SL (here)

Taxpayers that are unable to reach an agreement with the IRS on collection alternatives at a Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing generally have an uphill battle to get where they want to go. Yes, they can get Tax Court review of the IRS determination, but that review is under a fairly vague “abuse of discretion” standard. Still, there are things that petitioners can do to better situate themselves for that review.

At an ABA Tax Section meeting years ago, a practitioner recommended memorializing almost everything that is discussed in letters to IRS Appeals. Since the jurisdiction I practice in is subject to the Robinette “admin record rule,” it is especially important to get as much as possible into the record. Conversely, one may argue that the record is so undeveloped that it should be remanded because there is nothing for the Court to even review: see e.g. Wadleigh v. C.I.R., 134 T.C. 280 (2010). The order in Jackson provides another lesson: how to frame the issue before the Court.

In Jackson, the taxpayers owed roughly $45,000 for 2012 – 2015 taxes due to underwithholding. After receiving a Notice of Intent to Levy, the Jacksons timely requested a CDP hearing, checking the boxes for “Offer in Compromise,” “I Cannot Pay Balance,” and “Installment Agreement” on their submitted Form 12153. Over the course of the hearing, however, the only real issue that was discussed was an installment agreement -albeit, a “partial pay” installment agreement (PPIA). A PPIA is essentially an installment agreement with terms that will not fully pay the liability before the collection statute expiration date (CSED) occurs.

Obviously, the IRS is less inclined to accept a PPIA than a normal installment agreement, because a PPIA basically agrees to forgive a part of the liability by operation of the CSED. Sensibly, IRS Appeals required a Form 433-A from the Jacksons to determine if a PPIA made sense.

The Form 433-A submitted by the Jacksons appears to have pushed the envelope a bit. Most notably, the Jacksons claimed $740 for monthly phone and TV expenses (the ultra-deluxe HBO package?) and $629 per month in (voluntary) retirement contributions as necessary expenses. The settlement officer downwardly adjusted both of these figures (and possibly others) pursuant to the applicable IRM, and determined that the Jacksons could afford to pay much more than the $300/month they were offering. Going slightly above and beyond, the settlement officer proposed an “expanded” installment agreement (i.e. one that goes beyond the typical 72 months) of $1,100 per month. The Jackson’s rejected this, but appear to have proposed nothing in its stead. Accordingly, the settlement officer determined that the proposed levy should be sustained.

Judge Armen notes that with installment agreements (as with most collection alternatives under an abuse of discretion standard of review), “the Court does not substitute its judgment for that of the Appeals Office[.]” Sulphur Manor, Inc. v. C.I.R., T.C. Memo. 2017-95. If the IRS “followed all statutory and administrative guidelines and provided a reasoned, balanced decision, the Court will not reweigh the equities.” Thompson v. C.I.R., 140 T.C. 173, 179 (2013).

The Thompson and Sulphur Manor, Inc. cases provide, in the negative, what a petitioner must argue for any chance on review. Starting with Sulphur Manor, Inc., the petitioner must strive to present the question as something other than a battle of who has the “better” idea. In other words, don’t frame it as a battle of bad judgment (IRS Appeals) vs. good judgment (petitioner). If it must be a question of judgment, then Thompson gives the next hint on how to frame the issue: not that the IRS exercised “bad” judgment, but that they didn’t provide any reasoning for their decision in the first place (i.e. that they did not “provide a reasoned, balanced decision”). A lack of reasoning is akin to an “arbitrary” decision, which is by definition an abuse of discretion.

Better than framing the determination as lacking any reasoning, however, is where the petitioner can point to “statutory and administrative guidelines” that the IRS did not follow. Of course, this is difficult in collection issues because there are generally fairly few statutory guidelines the IRS must follow in the first place. But administrative guidelines do exist in abundance, at least in the IRM. Of course, this cuts both ways: the IRM can also provide cover for the IRS when it is followed, but appears to get to an unjust outcome.

Returning to the facts of Jackson, the petitioner faced an extremely uphill (ultimately losing) battle. It is basically brought before the Court as a request for relief on the grounds that the taxpayer just doesn’t like what the IRS proposes. As Judge Armen more charitably characterizes the case, by failing to engage in further negotiations with Appeals on a proper amount of monthly installment payments, “petitioners framed the issue for decision by the Court as whether the settlement officer, in declining to accept their offer of a partial payment installment agreement in the monthly amount of $300, abused her discretion by acting without a reasonable basis in fact or law.” This is asking for a pretty heavy lift of the Court, since there is no statute that provides the IRS must accept partial pay agreements, and the facts show the IRM was followed by the IRS. Not surprisingly, the Court declines to find an abuse of discretion.

Odds and Ends: Remaining Designated Orders

End of an Era? Chapman v. C.I.R., Dkt. # 3007-18 (here)

The Chapmans appear to be Tax Court “hobbyists” -individuals that enjoy making arguments in court more than most tax attorneys, and generally with frivolous arguments. The tax years at issue (going back to 1999) have numerous docket numbers assigned to them both in Tax Court and the 11th Circuit, all with the same general take-away: you have no legitimate argument, you owe the tax. But could this most recent action be the secret, silver bullet? Could this newfound argument, that they are not “taxpayers” subject to the Federal income tax when the liability is due to a substitute for return, be their saving grace?

Nope. All that argument does is get them slapped with a $3,000 penalty under IRC 6673(a). One hopes this is the end of the saga.

The Vagaries of Partnership Procedure: Freedman v. C.I.R., dkt. # 23410-14 (here)

Freedman involves an IRS motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction the portion of an individual’s case that concerns penalties the IRS argues were already dealt with in a prior partnership-level case. For a fun, late-summer read on the procedures under TEFRA for assessment and collection against a partner, after a partnership-level adjustment, this order is recommended.

 

Designated Orders: 7/9/18 to 7/13/18

William Schmidt from the Kansas Legal Aid Society brings us this weeks designated orders. Three orders in cases involving the Graev issue keep that issue, no doubt the most important procedural issue in 2018, front and center. As with last week, there is an order in the whistleblower area with a lot of meat for those following cases interpreting that statute. Keith

For the week of July 9 through July 13, there were 9 designated orders from the Tax Court. Three rulings on IRS motions for summary judgment include 2 denials because there is a dispute as to a material fact (1st order based on employment taxes here) (2nd order involves petitioners denying both having a tax liability and receiving notice of deficiency for 2012 here) and a granted motion because petitioner was not responsive (order here). What follows are three orders where Judge Holmes takes on Chai ghouls, an exploration of a whistleblower case, and two quick summaries of cases. Overall, the Chai ghoul cases and whistleblower case made for a good week to read judicial analysis.

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Chai Ghouls

All three of these are orders from Judge Holmes that deal with Chai and Graev issues. The first two discussed were later in the week and had more analysis. As you are likely aware, the Chai and Graev judicial history in the Tax Court has led to several current cases that need analysis regarding whether there was supervisory approval regarding accuracy-related penalties, as required by Internal Revenue Code section 6751. In each of these cases, the IRS has filed a motion to reopen the case to admit evidence regarding their compliance with 6751(b)(1).

  • Docket Nos. 11459-15, Hector Baca & Magdalena Baca, v. C.I.R. (Order here).

The Commissioner filed the motion to reopen the record to admit the form. The Bacas couldn’t tell the Commissioner whether or not they objected to the motion. When given a chance to respond, they did not object. The Bacas did not raise Code section 6751 at any stage of the case (petition, amended petition, trial, or brief). The Commissioner conceded 6662(c) (negligence or disregard) penalties because the only penalty-approval form found is the one for 6662(d) (substantial understatement) penalties.

The Court’s analysis sets out the standard for reopening the record. The evidence to be added cannot be merely cumulative or impeaching, must be material to the issues involved, and would probably change the outcome of the case. Additionally, the Court should consider the importance and probative value of the evidence, the reason for the moving party’s failure to introduce the evidence earlier, and the possibility of the prejudice to the non-moving party.

The Court then analyzes those elements set out above. For example, the Court finds the penalty-approval form to be properly authenticated nonhearsay and thus admissible. Ultimately, the Commissioner had less reason to anticipate the importance of section 6751 because it was following Chai and Graev that it was clarified the Commissioner had the burden of production to show compliance with 6751 when wanting to prove a penalty.

In this case, the Court states because the Bacas did not object to the accuracy-related penalties, that is some excuse for the Commissioner’s lack of diligence. Additionally, the Court concludes that it can’t decide the Bacas would be prejudiced because they never said they would be.

Takeaway – Respond when the court requests your opinion or you may suffer consequences that could have been avoided if you had raised your hand and notified the court of your concerns.

  • Docket Nos. 19150-10, 6541-12, Scott A. Householder & Debra A. Householder, et al., v. C.I.R. (Order here).

This set of consolidated cases differ from the Bacas’ case because of an objection submitted by the petitioners. Arguments by the petitioners begin that the record should not be reopened because the Commissioner’s failure to introduce evidence of compliance with 6751(b)(1) shows a lack of diligence, and the Commissioner doesn’t offer a good reason for failing to introduce the form despite possessing it when trying the cases. They argue they would be prejudiced by reopening the record because they have not had a chance to cross-examine the examining IRS Revenue Agent on their case. They argue the form is unauthenticated and that both the declaration and the form are inadmissible hearsay.

Again, the form is found to be admissible nonhearsay. Regarding the authentication argument, the IRS recordkeeping meets the government’s prima facie showing of authenticity. The Court brings up that the Revenue Agent in question was a witness at trial that the petitioners did cross-examine, it’s just that they did not have section 6751 in mind at the time. In fact, the Court reviews a set of questions the petitioners listed and finds that those answers likely would not have helped them so comes to the conclusion that they would not be prejudiced by admitting the form.

Overall, both parties should have been more diligent to bring up section 6751. Since they did not, the lack of diligence on the Commissioner’s part is counterbalanced by the probative value of the evidence and the lack of prejudice to the petitioners if the record were reopened to admit the form.

Takeaway – The IRS is not the only party on notice of the Chai and Graev issue. Petitioners bear responsibility to raise the issue of supervisory approval just as the IRS has a responsibility to show proper authorization of the penalty. The court seems to be shifting a bit from prior determinations.

  • Docket Nos. 17753-16, 17754-16, 17755-16, Plentywood Drug, Inc., et al., v. C.I.R. (Order here).

These consolidated cases also deal with the 6751 accuracy-related penalties and the IRS motion to reopen the record to admit penalty-approval forms. While the petitioners originally disputed the penalties, they conceded penalties on some issues but did not want to concede penalties on others. As a result, they did not object to the Commissioner’s motion. The Court did not grant the motion regarding penalties determined against the corporate petitioner as it would not change the outcome of the case. In Dynamo Holdings v. Commissioner, 150 T.C. No. 10 (May 7, 2018), the Court held that section 7491(c)’s burden of production on penalties does not apply to corporate petitioners, so that, in a corporate case, where the taxpayer never asked for proof of managerial approval and so did not get into the record either a form or an admission that no form was signed, the taxpayer had the burden of production on this section 6751(b) issue and had failed. For the penalties determined against the individual petitioners, the Court granted the motion since they did not raise any objections.

In all three cases, the Court orders to grant the IRS motion to reopen the record to admit the penalty-approval form attached to the motion (with the exception of the denial of the application to Plentywood Drug, Inc.).

Comments: I must admit when Judge Holmes mentions Chai ghouls in his orders it makes me think of Ghostbusters (Chai ghoul bustin’ makes him feel good?). In looking over these three cases, it seems to me they have the same result no matter what the petitioners did. It is understandable when the petitioners never objected to the penalties or the approval form. However, the Householders objected and still got the same result. Perhaps I am more sympathetic to the petitioners, but the reasoning also does not follow for me that petitioners would not be prejudiced by admitting a form that allows them to have additional penalties added on to their tax liabilities. 

Whistleblowers and Discovery

Docket No. 972-17W, Whistleblower 972-17W v. C.I.R. (Order here).

By order dated April 27, 2018, the Court directed respondent to file the administrative record as compiled by the Whistleblower Office. Petitioner filed a motion for leave to conduct discovery, the IRS followed with an opposing response and the petitioner filed a reply to respondent’s response. On June 25, the Court conducted a hearing on petitioner’s motion in Washington, D.C., where both parties appeared and were heard.

Internal Revenue Code section 7623 provides for whistleblower awards (awards to individuals who provide information to the IRS regarding third parties failing to comply with internal revenue laws). Section 7623(b) allows for awards that are at least 15 percent but not more than 30 percent of the proceeds collected as a result of whistleblower action (including any related actions) or from any settlement in response to that action. The whistleblower’s entitlement depends on whether there was a collection of proceeds and whether that collection was attributable (at least in part) to information provided by the whistleblower to the IRS.

On June 27, 2008, the petitioner executed a Form 211, Application for Award for Original Information, and submitted that to the IRS Whistleblower Office with a letter that identified seven individuals who were involved in federal tax evasion schemes. The first time the petitioner met with IRS Special Agents was in 2008 and several meetings followed. The IRS focused on and investigated three of the individuals listed on petitioner’s Form 211 following those initial meetings.

The first taxpayer (and I use that term loosely for these three individuals) was the president of a specific corporation. In 2013, that individual was convicted of tax-related crimes including failing to file personal and corporate tax returns due in 2006, 2007, and 2008. This person received millions of dollars in unreported dividends (from a second corporation, also controlled by this individual). This individual was ordered to pay restitution of $37.8 million.

The second individual was the chief financial officer of the corporation. This person received approximately $13,000 per month from the corporation in tax year 2006 but failed to report that as taxable income, and did not file a tax return in 2007. After amending the 2006 tax return and filing the 2007 tax return, the criminal investigation ended. The Revenue Officer assessed trust fund recovery penalties for the final quarter of tax year 2006 and all four quarters of tax year 2007. This taxpayer filed amended tax returns for 2005 and 2006 in March 2009 and filed delinquent returns for 2007 and 2008 in July 2010. The IRS filed liens to collect trust fund recovery penalties of approximately $657,000 and income tax liabilities of $75,000 for tax years 2005 and 2006.

The third individual was an associate of the first two but had an indirect connection with the corporation. This taxpayer had delinquent returns for 2003-2011 and there was a limited scope audit for tax years 2009 and 2010. The IRS filed tax liens for unpaid income taxes totaling approximately $2.4 million for tax years 2003 to 2011.

For each of the individuals, the IRS executed a Form 11369, Confidential Evaluation Report, on petitioner’s involvement in the investigations. For taxpayer 1, the IRS Special Agent stated that all information was developed by the IRS independent of any information provided by petitioner. For taxpayer 2, the form includes statements the Revenue Officer discovered the unreported income and petitioner’s information was not useful in an exam of the 2009 and 2010 tax returns. For taxpayer 3, the form states the taxpayer was never the subject of a criminal investigation (which is inconsistent with the record) and that petitioner’s information was not helpful to the IRS.

The petitioner seeks discovery in order to supplement the administrative record, contending the record is incomplete and precludes effective judicial review of the disallowance of the claim for a whistleblower award. Respondent asserts the administrative record is the only information taken into account for a whistleblower award so the scope of review is limited to the administrative record and petitioner has failed to establish an exception.

The Court notes the administrative record is expected to include all information provided by the whistleblower (whether the original submission or through subsequent contact with the IRS). The Court’s review of the record in question is that it contains little information, other than the original Form 211, identifying or describing the information petitioner provided to the IRS. While the record indicates that there were multiple meetings concerning the three taxpayers, there are few records of the dates and virtually no documents of the information provided. The Court agreed with the petitioner that the administrative record was materially incomplete and that the circumstances justified a limited departure from the strict application of the rule limiting review to the administrative record.

The Court states the petitioner met the minimal showing of relevant subject matter for discovery since the administrative record was materially incomplete and precluded judicial review. The information petitioner seeks is relevant to the petitioner’s assertion that the information provided led the IRS to civil examinations and criminal investigations for the three taxpayers and led to the assessment and collection of taxes that would justify an award under section 7623(b). The IRS did not deny petitioner’s factual allegations and did not argue the information sought would be irrelevant so failed to carry the burden that the information sought should not be produced.

The Court limited petitioner’s discovery to three interrogatories concerning conversations with a Revenue Officer and two Special Agents, two requests for production of documents concerning notes and records of meetings with those three individuals.

Petitioner sought nonconsensual depositions if the IRS did not comply with the interrogatories and requests for production of documents. Since the Court directed the IRS to respond to the granted discovery requests, it is premature to consider the requests for nonconsensual depositions at this time. The footnote cites Rule 74(c)(1)(B), which calls that “an extraordinary method of discovery” only available where the witness can give testimony not obtained through other forms of discovery.

Respondent is ordered to respond to those specific interrogatories and requests for production of documents by August 17, 2018.

Comment: On the surface, this step forward looks to be a win for the petitioner as there seems to be a cause and effect that justifies a substantial whistleblower award. I discussed the case with an attorney with a whistleblower case in his background who commented that to get a whistleblower award the whistleblower had to be the first one to make the reporting and the information had to be outside public knowledge (though that was outside the tax world). From his experience, the government made it difficult to win a whistleblower award and I would say that looks to be the case here.

Miscellaneous Short Items

  • The Petitioner Wants to Dismiss? – Docket No. 11487-17, Gary R. Lohse, Petitioner, v. C.I.R. (Order here). Petitioner files a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, stating the notice of deficiency is not valid. The judge denies his motion because there is a presumption of regularity that attaches to actions by government officials and nothing submitted by the petitioner overcomes that presumption.
  • Petitioner Wants a Voluntary Audit – Docket No. 24808-16 L, Tom J. Kuechenmeister v. C.I.R. (Order here). Petitioner filed a motion for order of voluntary audit, also claiming that the IRS was negligent in allowing the third party reporter to issue the forms 1099-MISC for truck driving. As Tax Court is a court of limited jurisdiction, the Court cannot order the IRS to conduct a voluntary audit. While the petitioner was previously warned about possible penalties up to $25,000, this motion was filed prior to the warning so no penalty assessed for this motion. Petitioner’s motion is denied.

Takeaway: Each time here, the petitioner does not understand the purpose of the Tax Court. The petitioners may have come to a better result by treating Tax Court motions as surgical tools rather than as blunt weapons.

 

Designated Orders 7/2/2018 – 7/6/2018

Samantha Galvin from University of Denver’s Sturm Law School brings us this week’s designated orders. The first two orders she discusses demonstrate the difficulty pro se taxpayers have in determining when to appeal an adverse decision while the third order is a detailed opinion regarding the factors necessary to obtain a whistleblower award. The whistleblower case reminds us that many dispositive orders have the same amount of analysis as many opinions but when issued as an order lack any precedent and generally fly under the radar of those looking for Tax Court opinions. Keith

The week of July 2nd started off light but ended with a decent amount of designated orders – three are discussed below. The six orders not discussed involved the Court granting: 1) a petitioner’s motion to compel the production of documents under seal (here); 2) respondent’s motion for summary judgment when a petitioner did not respond nor show up at trial (here); 3) respondent’s recharacterized Motion to File Reply to Opposition to Motion for Summary Judgment (here); 4) respondent’s motion for summary judgment on a petitioner’s CDP case for periods that were already before the Tax Court and Court of Appeals (here); 5) respondent’s motion for summary judgment in CDP case where petitioners’ did not provide financial information (here); and 6) an order correcting the Judge’s name on a previously filed order to dismiss (here).

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Ring the Final (Tax Court) Bell on Bell

Docket No. 1973-10L, Doug Stauffer Bell and Nancy Clark Bell v. CIR (Order here)

This first order is for a case that William Schmidt blogged about (here). Bob Kamman also followed up on this case, in the comments to William’s post, with useful background information that sheds light on the petitioners’ circumstances. In the last designated order, the Court had ordered petitioners to show cause as to why the Court should not dismiss their case for failure to prosecute no later than June 28. Petitioners did not respond to the order to show cause, so the Court has dismissed the case.

If you recall the petitioners filed for bankruptcy three separate times while their Tax Court case was pending but ultimately failed to complete the bankruptcy process each time. Then they prematurely appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which dismissed their case for lack of jurisdiction after finding that the IRS appeals’ determination (issued after remand by the Court) was not “a final order nor an appealable interlocutory or collateral order.”

Now that the Court has dismissed their case it becomes appealable, however, the petitioners’ lack of meaningful participation in the process up to this point unfortunately does not bode well for an appeal.

The next order I discuss also involves a premature attempt to appeal a not-yet-final Tax Court decision.

Appeal after Computations

Docket No. 12871-17, Duncan Bass v. CIR (Order here)

This case is pending under rule 155 and it is somewhat understandable why petitioner thought the decision was final. Petitioner was served a bench opinion on June 8, 2018, and subsequently appealed to the Fifth Circuit, however, the bench opinion was an interlocutory order and the Court withheld entry of its decision for the purposes of permitting parties to submit computations, as rule 155(a) allows.

Interlocutory orders are generally not appealable, but there is an exception for “orders that include a statement that a controlling question of law is involved with respect to which there is a substantial ground for differences of opinion” and “an immediate appeal from that order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.” The order in this case does not contain such a statement. As a result, the Court orders the parties to continue to comply with rule 155 to resolve the computational issues so that the Court may enter a final, and thus appealable, decision.

A Disappointed “Whistleblower”

Docket No. 8179-17W, Robert J. Rufus v. CIR (Order here)

The petitioner in this case is an accountant who was hired to help prepare a statement of marital assets as part of a divorce proceeding, which gave him access to his client’s soon-to-be ex-husband’s (“the ex-husband’s”) tax information. This information led petitioner to believe that the ex-husband had underreported gifts and treated gifts as worthless debts. He provided information about these two violations in an initial and supplemented submission to the Whistleblower Office, which ultimately denied him an award.

In this designated order, respondent moves for summary judgment on petitioner’s challenge of the denial of the award. Respondent argues that it did not abuse its discretion in denying the award because, although the ex-husband was audited and tax was assessed, the IRS did not rely on the information petitioner provided.

Regarding petitioner’s initial submission, the IRS examined the ex-husband’s underreporting of gifts but found that there was not enough independent, verifiable data to support a gift tax assessment. The ex-husband had also filed amended returns which included worthless debts of $23 million and generated losses which he carried back and forward in amended 2003, 2004, and 2006 returns. Petitioner was aware of these amended returns and provided the IRS with information about the worthless debts in a supplemented submission, alleging that the debts were actually gifts to family and friends. According to respondent, the large refund amounts claimed on the returns are what triggered the audit, rather than petitioner’s information.

The information petitioner sent was never seen or used until after the case was closed because the assigned revenue agent believed, for unexplained reasons, that the information was based on grand jury testimony and was tainted. In the audit, the revenue agent concluded the ex-husband failed to substantiate the bad debts he claimed and assessed tax accordingly.

The Whistleblower office sent petitioner a letter denying his claim regarding the gift tax liabilities to which petitioner responded stating that his claim involved the gift tax liabilities and the treatment of gifts as worthless debts. The Whistleblower Office then sent a final determination reviewing each item, and with respect to the worthless debt the IRS stated that it had identified the issue prior to receiving information from petitioner.

Petitioner petitioned Tax Court on that final determination arguing that the exam was initiated due to his information and the information was directly, and indirectly, beneficial to the IRS and resulted in the assessment of tax, penalties, and interest but he offered no evidence to support these claims. He also argued that respondent was too focused on the timing of his supplemented submission in an attempt to deny the award.

A whistleblower is entitled to an award if the secretary proceeds with any administrative or judicial action based on information submitted by the whistleblower. Additionally, the award is only available if the whistleblower’s target’s gross income exceeds $200,000, and if the amount or proceeds in dispute exceed $2,000,000. The IRS must take action and collect proceeds in order to entitle the whistleblower to an award. If the IRS’s action causes the whistleblower’s target to file an amended return, then the amounts collected based on the amended return are considered collected proceeds.

Since the petitioner in this case did not provide additional evidence, the Court reviews the administrative record which reflects that petitioner’s first submission was related to the gift tax issue, on which no proceeds were collected. The administrative record also reflects that petitioner’s supplemented submission about the worthless debts was not used in the exam of the amended returns and the revenue agent received the information after the returns were already selected for exam. Based on its review of the administrative record, the Court grants respondent’s motion for summary judgment.