Designated (and other) Orders from January 15 through January 26

The past two weeks of designated orders have been light which allows us to combine two weeks of orders and get back on schedule. Samantha wrote up the first set of orders and William wrote up the second set. They continue to do a great job combing through Tax Court orders to allow us to see what the Tax Court thinks is important and to provide a discussion of cases that generally go unobserved in the tax press. Included in the designated orders is more fall out from Graev. Keith

Designated Orders 1/15 – 1/19

In stark contrast to my pre-holiday week post, during the week of January 15 the Tax Court only found four orders worthy of “designated” status and three of the four were very brief. I discuss two below, the other two were: 1) another motion for summary judgment is scheduled for a hearing so respondent can address how the Graev III decision may impact the motion and the case (here); and 2) an order granting a hearing on a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution (here).

read more...

Disallowing Extension is Not Abuse of Discretion

Docket No. 16456-17 L, John Lucian v. C.I.R. (Order here)

This designated order was the lengthiest of the group and is somewhat unique because the petitioner is represented by counsel, however, the mistake made by petitioner’s counsel is one pro se petitioners frequently make. Petitioner’s counsel did not provide the IRS with a financial statement, and thus, foreclosed the possibility of a collection alternative in a CDP hearing.

This order decides respondent’s motion for summary judgment to which petitioner’s counsel had an opportunity to respond, but did not.

Petitioner had requested an extension to file the tax returns for the years at issue, but never actually filed so the IRS prepared substitute for returns and assessed the balances, interest and penalties. The petitioner did not make any payments and eventually received a notice of intent to levy. Petitioner’s counsel requested a CDP hearing stating that petitioner could not pay the balance and that health issues had caused the petitioner to cash out his savings and retirement.

As usual in these types of cases, the settlement officer requested a collection financial statement. The settlement officer also requested a 2015 tax return and proof that petitioner had made estimated tax payments for the current year. Petitioner’s counsel filed the 2015 return but did not have a financial statement completed by the hearing date and requested more time which the settlement officer granted. The extended deadline date came, and petitioner’s counsel still did not have the financial statement completed, so he requested yet another extension. The settlement officer denied the request for a second extension and instead directed petitioner’s counsel to contact the collection unit once he had the information. Then the settlement officer issued a notice of determination sustaining the proposed levy.

It is not clear if the reason petitioner’s counsel was unable to comply with deadlines was due to the petitioner not supplying counsel with information in a timely manner, however, the Court reprimanded petitioner’s counsel by stating, “[Petitioner’s counsel], as an attorney, understands the importance of filing due dates and has a professional responsibility to exercise due diligence.”

The Court also pointed out that the Appeals Office will attempt to conduct a CDP hearing “as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances” but there is no time frame mandating when the Appeals Office must issue a notice of determination nor is there a time frame for when they must keep a case open despite not receiving requested information.

The Court finds the settlement officer did not abuse her discretion by not allowing a second extension for the financial statement, because she is not required to give extensions. The settlement officer was ultimately unable to determine an appropriate collection alternative due to the lack of information, which is also not an abuse of discretion, so the Court grants respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

No Jurisdiction Over Petitioner’s Requests

Docket No. 9661-16, Pankaj Mercia v. C.I.R. (Order here)

In this designated order the Court has already entered a stipulated decision, but the petitioner files a motion which the Court treats as a motion to revise pursuant to rule 162.

The Court denies the petitioner’s motion to revise. The case is a deficiency case concerning 2009, 2010, and 2011, but the petitioner’s motion requests relief for earlier years, later years and for collection-related issues. The petitioner also requested relief from credit reporting agencies. The Court does not have the authority to assist the petitioner with nearly all the issues he raised.

The one issue the Court may be able to address is petitioner’s allegation that the IRS assessed more tax than what the Court had determined he owed at the end of his Tax Court case. The Court can review claims of excessive interest, but that type of claim is not raised by the petitioner. The Court amount assessed is correct and consists of the amount decided in Tax Court plus the amount petitioner self-reported when he filed his tax return.

This is another good example of the Court trying to understand a pro se petitioner’s arguments and assist him through the process, while also being bound by subject matter jurisdiction.

Designated Orders: 1/22/18 to 1/26/18 by William Schmidt

In continuing the theme of light weeks for designated orders from the Tax Court, there were 2 orders this week.

The first, Charles Asong-Morfaw v. Commissioner, is a denial of petitioner’s motion for reconsideration of a denial of deductions for his vehicle. Since the Court did not believe he used it exclusively for business, he was only allowed to deduct mileage.

The second order, Cecil K. Kyei v. Commissioner, is from a Tax Court case filed in 2012 that has been delayed due to multiple stays from the petitioner’s bankruptcy proceedings. The parties came to a settlement, prompting the Court to enter a decision. After entry of the decision, the Court learned that the automatic stay of B.C. 362(a)(8) deprived the Court of jurisdiction. The existence of the automatic stay required the Court to vacate that decision. This situation happens occasionally when a taxpayer files a petition while the automatic stay is still in existence (which deprives the Tax Court of jurisdiction over the case) or, as here, files a bankruptcy case while the Tax Court case was pending (which stops the Tax Court from taking any action on the case until the stay is lifted.) Once the stay was lifted, the IRS filed a motion for entry of decision on January 12, 2018, but based it on that previously vacated decision. The judge did not realize the motion was based on the vacated decision and had ordered that arguments on the motion would be heard on January 22, 2018. The petitioner did not appear and respondent renewed his motion for entry of decision, with the judge stating he expected to grant the motion.

At the time of this current order, the judge noted the omission and the motion’s reliance on the alleged agreement entered into during the automatic stay. The judge then ordered that the motion is denied without prejudice unless there is a complete motion that addresses how the agreement was not void by virtue of the automatic stay. Each of the parties are to make a filing as to their recommendation for further proceedings no later than February 16.

Non-Designated Orders

Since there is a low showing of designated orders, I am going to turn to two non-designated orders brought to the attention of the Procedurally Taxing brain trust by Bob Kamman (the titles are his also).

  • Don’t Show Up For Trial; Win Graev Penalty Issue Anyway

Docket # 6993-17S, Clay Robert Kugler v. Commissioner (Order of Dismissal and Decision Here).

Petitioner did not appear for trial in Fresno on December 11, 2017. The Court directed the IRS to file a supplement to their motion to dismiss, showing that it is appropriate to impose a penalty under IRC section 6662(a) in that case. On January 18, 2018, the IRS filed their supplement, stating they concede the petitioner is not liable for the penalty. Petitioner failed to respond to respondent’s motion. The order decides that petitioner is not liable for the accuracy related penalty under IRC section 6662(a) for tax year 2014.

Despite the fact that the petitioner did not show up for trial and did not respond to respondent’s motion, the Tax Court’s focus on Graev led to the removal of a 6662(a) accuracy related penalty!

  • Oops!

Docket # [Redacted for Reasons Cited Below].

One Tax Court order last week had an attached copy of the petition, with the statement of taxpayer identification number included, potentially revealing social security numbers for the petitioners to others in the world with internet access. The Court immediately corrected the order when the problem was brought to their attention. Just like all of us the Court occasionally makes mistakes. Sometimes it is worth double checking the electronic footprint of your case to make sure what goes up is what you intended to go up. We mention this case to set the scene for the following practitioner’s tips.

Takeaways:

  • The statement of taxpayer identification number is regularly used by the Tax Court to keep a record of the social security number of the petitioner(s). It is not scanned and uploaded as part of the public file accessible by others. Quickly alert the Court in the unusual event this document is mistakenly scanned and made a part of the public record.
  • Before sending documents to the Court make sure to review the every document submitted to the Tax Court as part of the petition package. Carefully review the notice of deficiency or other IRS documents in order to redact the social security number of the petitioner(s).
  • Check all of the numbers on the IRS correspondence thoroughly before sending to Tax Court. Innocent-looking barcodes that have a sequence of numbers beneath them can contain a petitioner’s social security number. It is worth comparing the social security numbers of the petitioners to all of the number sequences in order to make sure the redacting is complete.
  • If your client files a bankruptcy petition while a Tax Court case is pending, alert the Court immediately. The Court will then issue an order placing the case in suspense and order the parties to file periodic status reports alerting the Court to the lifting of the stay so that the case could once again move forward.

 

 

Designated Orders: 1/8 – 1/12/2018—Shutdown Special Edition

We welcome Patrick Thomas at Notre Dame who brings us this week’s designated order post.  Keith

I’ve complained before about “light” weeks in designated orders from the Tax Court. But this week was truly a nothingburger: two orders from Judge Jacobs in two separate consolidated cases, along with an order from Judge Gustafson dismissing a deficiency case because neither the petitioner nor an attorney for the petitioner showed up to calendar call. That’s it.

Docket No. 24347-17, Oliver v. C.I.R.

So, our duty of recording each designated order fulfilled, we’ve decided to hit an “undesignated” order today, as well as muse generally regarding the Tax Court’s procedures during the short-lived, though perhaps recurring, government shutdown. Bob Kamman identified an order from Chief Judge Marvel regarding an IRS motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, due to the petitioner’s alleged failure to timely file. The Service argued that, based on the mailing address on the petition, and the time it takes to mail documentation from that address to the Tax Court in Washington, the petition must have arrived by June 30, 2017 for it to be timely.

However, the Court notes that the Service didn’t provide any information “with respect to the additional time required for the petition to undergo the irradiation process that is required for mail sent to the Tax Court.” I apparently showed my age in asking Keith just what an “irradiation process” was. This process derives from the anthrax attacks in 2001, which killed five people and injured 17. Currently, the Postal Service irradiates mail sent via certain mailing methods to certain government offices in the DC area—which, according to Chief Judge Marvel, includes the Tax Court. Apparently that process may delay the usual mail processing time.

read more...

That’s all well and good. However, the petition in this case was filed on December 7, 2017. Over five months after the Service calculated that the petition was due. Any seasoned practitioner would raise an eyebrow if the filing of a petition in the Tax Court was delayed by more than a couple weeks after mailing.

Is there any reason that the petition’s filing date could be so delayed, yet the petitioner still timely mailed the petition? If not, it appears that this litigant’s Tax Court case—like his petition—may end up irradiated as well. 

Shutdown: Past, Present, and Future(?)

I was not quite yet in practice during the 2013 shutdown. As the specter of the 2018 shutdown approached on Friday, I caught myself realizing that (1) I hadn’t thought much about the consequences of a shutdown on my practice, it being the beginning of a new and hectic semester, and (2) I had some Tax Court petitions to file and other deadlines coming up this week.

I was heartened to see that the Tax Court has a separate funding allocation that allowed its continued operation for the shutdown’s relatively limited duration. So those cases continued apace. Though apparently, it’s not always been the case that such funding exists; Carl Smith tells me that, when he was a Tax Court clerk for Judge Nims in 1982, the court underwent a three-day shutdown because the government was closed and there was at that time no special funding for the court to continue operations. All employees of the court were told not to come in. But, the judges came in and limited their work to stamping the mail received (nothing else).

In researching the consequences of the 2013 shutdown, I noted some lessons for practitioners and petitioners in interfacing with both the Court and Service during these periods. Given that current funding lasts until February 8—and the still unresolved nature of the fundamental differences between the parties—practitioners may do well to prepare for another shutdown in the near future.

  1. Keith has a great piece on a calendar call that occurred immediately prior to and after the 2013 shutdown in Philadelphia. I suggest reading it in full for a sense of pressure it applies to litigants and Tax Court judges at calendar call.
  2. The shutdown may not automatically extend the jurisdictional deadline in which to file a petition. Taxpayers and practitioners should continue to mail petitions to the Court to meet their statutory deadlines—especially if the Tax Court instructs petitions to do so on their website.

In McCoy v. Commissioner, the taxpayer’s attorney first attempted to e-file a petition (then and now, impossible), and that having failed, sought to hand-deliver the petition to the Tax Court’s courthouse in Washington, D.C. on October 11, 2013—during the middle of the shutdown. I’m not sure whether the Court’s funding had run out entirely, or whether it had furloughed its public-facing employees. Regardless, the Court was closed, and the attorney was unable to deliver the petition.

Meanwhile, the 90 day period after issuance of the Notice of Deficiency expired on October 15. Once the government reopened, the attorney hand-delivered the petition to the Court on November 4 (though the shutdown ended on October 17).

The Tax Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. It noted that, though hand-delivery was impossible, the petitioner could have filed a petition like the majority of petitioners who neither reside nor have counsel in the Washington, D.C. area: by mailing the petition to the Tax Court. Indeed, the Tax Court instructed litigants to do just that. The Postal Service operates on revenue, and so is unaffected by a shutdown. Presumably, as long as USPS actually delivers a petition bearing an appropriate date, the petition would be timely. I wonder, though, what the process of delivering/collecting the mail at the Tax Court during a shutdown looks like now, and whether petitions could be lost in the mix. Do judges continue to come in to stamp the mail, as they did in 1982?

McCoy’s very belated delivery aside, taxpayers who run into shutdown-related snafus with their petition dates should look to Guralnik v. Commissioner, which was decided after McCoy. Guralnik holds that a “snow day,” during which the Tax Court was closed, rendered the Court “inaccessible” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a)(3). Thus, the last date to file was extended to the next day the Court was open (and happily enough, the petition was received by the Court on that date).

Still, as noted above, the Court continues to operate from allocated funding during the initial stages of a shutdown. For those days that the Court is open, it is “accessible” under FRCP 6(a)(3). So, practitioners and petitioners shouldn’t assume that a shutdown automatically translates to additional time.

  1. Even if the Tax Court has reserve funding, your local counsel’s office, appeals office, and certainly the IRS campuses, do not. Monday was, thus, a rather lonely day at the Clinic.

Indeed, in 2013, the entirety of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, Automated Collection Systems, and other core functions of the Service were furloughed. As the National Taxpayer Advocate noted in the 2015 Objectives Report to Congress, however, automated collections actions continued apace—but there were no human beings to call—either in TAS or ACS—to request relief from that automated collection. During the two-week shutdown period, there were 3,902 Social Security levies, 5,455 levies on financial accounts, 7,025 wage levies, and 4,099 Notices of Federal Tax Liens filed. If any of these actions presented the kind of economic hardship that I routinely see in my Clinic (e.g., inability to pay rent, utilities, or other necessary living expenses), there was simply no immediate recourse for these taxpayers.

Given that, it’s probably a good idea to move quickly on cases where a levy can be proactively prevented—i.e., if a practitioner is sitting on a February 8 deadline to file a request for a Collection Due Process hearing (which would prevent a levy), it might be better to mail that request this week, rather than the deadline.

  1. Relatedly, it remains an open question whether the Commissioner has the authority to furlough the National Taxpayer Advocate or her staff. If not, this would certainly help with the problems identified above.

That’s all for this edition of Designated Orders. Here’s to another three weeks of a functioning government. And hopefully, in the meantime, a few more substantive orders from the Tax Court.

 

Fourth Circuit Declines to Rule on Whether CDP Filing Period is Jurisdictional, but Holds Against Taxpayer, Since It Says Facts Do Not Justify Equitable Tolling

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who discusses the most recent circuit court opinion regarding the jurisdictional nature of the time frames for filing a petition in Tax Court. The Fourth Circuit takes a different tack but reaches the same result as prior cases. Keith 

A few days ago, I did a post on the Ninth Circuit opinion in Duggan v. Commissioner, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 886 (9th Cir. 1/12/18). In Duggan, a pro se taxpayer mailed a Collection Due Process (CDP) petition to the Tax Court one day late, relying on language in the notice of determination that stated that the 30-day period to file a petition did not start until the day after the notice of determination. He read this to mean that he had 31 days to file after the date of the notice of determination. Keith and I filed an amicus brief in Duggan arguing that (1) the filing deadline in section 6330(d)(1) is not jurisdictional, (2) the deadline is subject to equitable tolling, and (3) in light of the fact that 7 other pro se taxpayers over the last 2 ½ years read the notice the same way, the IRS misled the taxpayer into filing a day late – justifying equitable tolling on these facts to make the filing timely. In Duggan, the Ninth Circuit did not have to reach the second or third arguments, since it held that the language of section 6330(d)(1) made its filing deadline jurisdictional under a “clear statement” exception to the Supreme Court’s usual rule (since 2004) that filing deadlines are no longer jurisdictional. Thus, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s dismissal of the case for lack of jurisdiction – a dismissal that had originally been done in an unpublished order.

Keith and I represented a formerly-pro se taxpayer in the Fourth Circuit who had a case on all fours with Duggan, Cunningham v. Commissioner. In another unpublished Tax Court order, she also had her CDP petition dismissed for lack of jurisdiction as untimely. Like the Ninth Circuit, the Fourth Circuit had no precedent on whether the CDP filing deadline is jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling. Only days after the Ninth Circuit’s published opinion in Duggan, the Fourth Circuit, on January 18, 2018, issued an unpublished opinion in Cunningham affirming the Tax Court. But, the Fourth Circuit avoided the tricky issues of whether the filing deadline is jurisdictional or whether it might be subject to equitable tolling in an appropriate case. Instead, the Fourth Circuit held that Ms. Cunningham has misread a clear notice of determination and that her mere error was not a fact sufficient to sustain a holding of equitable tolling, even assuming (without deciding) that the filing deadline might be nonjurisdictional and might be subject to equitable tolling in an appropriate case.

read more...

The opinions in Duggan and Cunningham do not mention the significant number of pro se taxpayers who have recently read the notice of determination filing period language differently, although the Cunningham opinion acknowledges that “other taxpayers” (number unspecified) have read the language like Ms. Cunningham.

The key passage in the Cunningham opinion states:

We have said that equitable tolling is appropriate “in those rare instances where—due to circumstances external to the party’s own conduct—it would be unconscionable to enforce the limitation period against the party and gross injustice would result.” Whiteside v. United States, 775 F.3d 180, 184 (4th Cir. 2014) (en banc) (internal quotation marks omitted).

We find these considerations to be wholly absent here. There is no suggestion of extraordinary circumstances that prevented Cunningham from timely filing her appeal, nor of circumstances external to her own conduct. Cunningham simply points to the language in the IRS’s letter, which she claims is misleading and tricked her and other taxpayers into filing late. But we see nothing misleading about it.

The letter informed Cunningham that she had “a 30-day period beginning the day after the date of this letter” to file an appeal. J.A. 5. We think the only reasonable reading of that language requires counting the day after the date of the letter (here, May 17) as “day one,” the following day (May 18) as “day two,” and so on up to “day thirty”—June 15. Cunningham claims she understood the language in the IRS letter to essentially count May 17 as “day zero,” and onward from there, resulting in a cutoff date one day later than the true deadline. Such a method of counting is certainly contrary to the practice set forth in Rule 25(a) of the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure. See United States v. Sosa, 364 F.3d 507, 512 (4th Cir. 2004) (“[I]gnorance of the law is not a basis for equitable tolling.”). We think it is also contrary to the plain language of the IRS letter and to principles of common sense.2

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2Cunningham also points out (correctly) that the language in the letter is not identical to the language in the statute. But it need not be, and Cunningham fails to explain why the difference in wording matters. In our view, the language of the letter and the language of the statute are two commonsense ways of expressing the same message.

 

After the Duggan opinion was issued, the DOJ filed a FRAP 28(j) letter in the Fourth Circuit to alert the latter court to the ruling of the former. But, pointedly, the Fourth Circuit in Cunningham does not mention Duggan, even for contrast.

Since there is no Circuit split between Duggan and Cunningham (just different reasoning for affirming the Tax Court’s dismissals), it is almost certain that the Supreme Court would never grant cert. to review either of these opinions. Thus, no cert. petitions will be filed.

Keith and I want to thank Harvard Law student Amy Feinberg, who did the oral argument in Cunningham before the Fourth Circuit on December 5, 2017.

Keith and I also represent in the Fourth Circuit another formerly-pro se taxpayer who filed her Tax Court petition late. In the case of Nauflett v. Commissioner, Fourth Circuit Docket No. 17-1986, however, the notice of determination was issued under the innocent spouse provisions, and the language governing her filing deadline is contained in section 6015(e)(1)(A). In Ms. Nauflett’s case, there is a better argument for equitable tolling because (1) notes of a TAS employee clearly show that, prior to the last date to file (a date also not shown on the innocent spouse notice of determination), that TAS employee told Ms. Nauflett the wrong last date to file, on which she relied, and (2) Ms. Nauflett alleges by affidavit that the IRS CCISO employee who actually issued the notice of determination also told Ms. Nauflett (over the telephone) the identical wrong last date to file. The Tax Court, in an unpublished order, dismissed Ms. Nauflett’s petition for lack of jurisdiction as untimely. We are arguing in the case that, under recent Supreme Court case law, the innocent spouse filing period is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling, and the facts in her case justify equitable tolling. It may be harder for the Fourth Circuit to avoid issuing a ruling in Nauflett on whether or not the filing period is jurisdictional or subject, theoretically, to equitable tolling in the right case. Nauflett is fully briefed. It is not yet clear whether or when oral argument will be scheduled in the case.

Nauflett will no doubt be another uphill battle for Keith and me, however, since last year, two Circuits, in two other cases where we represented the taxpayers, held that the filing deadline in section 6015(e)(1)(A) is jurisdictional under current Supreme Court case law. Rubel v. Commissioner, 856 F.3d 301 (3d Cir. 2017); Matuszak v. Commissioner, 862 F.3d 192 (2d Cir. 2017).

Despite recent setbacks in court, I do not consider Keith and my litigation of the nature of tax suit filing deadlines under current Supreme Court case law to be a waste of time. Clearly, although we have not (yet) convinced any Circuit court to find the innocent spouse or CDP Tax Court petition filing deadline not to be jurisdictional, we have highlighted problems in those areas that have led Nina Olson to propose two legislative fixes.

Further, there is a much better case under current Supreme Court case law for finding district court filing deadlines under section 6532 nonjurisdictional and subject to equitable exceptions like tolling or estoppel. As an amicus in Volpicelli v. Commissioner, 777 F.3d 1042 (9th Cir. 2015), I helped persuade the Ninth Circuit to hold that the period in section 6532(c) in which to file a district court wrongful levy suit is nonjurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling. And, if the court reaches the issue, Keith and I hope, as amicus, to help persuade the Second Circuit to hold that the 2-year period in section 6532(a) in which to file a district court refund suit is nonjurisdictional and subject to estoppel. In both section 6532 instances, by contrast to sections 6015(e)(1)(A) and 6330(d)(1), the sentence containing the filing deadline does not also contain the word “jurisdiction”, and the jurisdictional grants to hear such suits are far away (in 28 U.S.C. section 1346) – key factors under current Supreme Court case law demonstrating that filing deadlines are not jurisdictional. As I noted in my post on Duggan, the jurisdictional and estoppel issues under section 6532(a) are among the issues presented in Pfizer v. United States, Second Circuit Docket No. 17-2307, where oral argument is scheduled for February 13.

 

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

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

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

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

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

read more...

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

Consider the varying breadth of the primary statutes at play:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case closed… right?

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

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

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

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

Remaining Orders:

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more...

Judge Ashford’s Graev III Orders

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

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

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

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

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

Taxation of Railroad Retirement Income

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaways:

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

 

 

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

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

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

read more...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Designated Orders: 12/11 to 12/15/2017 – Hottest Part of Tax Court Web Site This Season

Today we welcome Patrick Thomas who runs the tax clinic at Notre Dame Law School and who is one of the four designated order bloggers for us. Patrick discusses three designated orders today in depth. The first one he discusses also implicates IRC 6304 and raises the importance of contacting the taxpayer’s representative in collection cases where the statute requires that the IRS deal with the authorized representative as part of the fair tax collection practices provisions. By giving the IRS a POA in a collection case, the taxpayer should expect that the IRS will only deal with the individual on the POA.

In addition to the discussion of designated orders here, I point the readers to the comments section of the blog where Carl Smith and Bob Kamman have been keeping up with the Tax Court’s heavy activity in the order area following its decision in Graev. Last Friday I blogged about the first designated orders coming out following the Graev decision. Many more designated and undesignated orders regarding pending deficiency cases with penalty issues. Go to the comment section of the blog for updates or go to the orders tab at Tax Court web site. Designated orders are a hot item this holiday season. Keith

While talk of tax reform abounds, the Tax Court continues its designated orders apace. We had six in the last week, three of which will be discussed here. A routine order from Judge Jacobs is here and an order regarding deductible mileage and travel expenses from Judge Carluzzo appears here.

We’ve also had a significant milestone here at Designated Orders HQ: a designated order of our own! One of our fellow contributors, Caleb Smith, is counsel of record in Wilson v. C.I.R., which was adjudicated in a bench opinion from Judge Buch. While the opinion itself is fairly sparse, it should remind readers (particularly newer clinicians) that cases can be won on credible testimony alone.

Caleb notes that all credit for the successful resolution of the case goes to the student attorney who handled the matter. Judge Buch also recognizes the “excellent presentation of the case” on the parts of both attorneys.

read more...

Dkt. # 12007-16L, Dicker v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

This order from Judge Leyden is the latest installment in the sordid tale of Adrian Dicker, a former partner at BDO in New York, who in 2009 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in selling tax shelter transactions. For some reason, his sentencing did not occur until 2014, at which time the district court ordered criminal restitution for the tax years in question, 1998 and 1999. The Service assessed the criminal restitution in 2015 and filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien with regards to those assessments later that year. Mr. Dicker timely requested a CDP hearing, asking that the Service follow the lead of the District Court, which had ordered a $300 per month payment plan.

The main issue in this order concerns whether Mr. Dicker was given a CDP hearing under section 6320. At the end of the day, the CDP officer upheld the NFTL because he did not receive a timely response from Mr. Dicker or his POA. A review of the timeline is helpful here:

  • November 2015: Mr. Dicker timely files a CDP request, noting that the attorney in his criminal case, Laura Gavioli, “has a Power of Attorney in place” and requesting that “all correspondence … be copied to her.” He also purported to grant the Service authority through his letter to speak with his probation officer. Mr. Dicker later argues, essentially, that he viewed Ms. Gavioli only as a facilitator of the hearing, and someone with relevant information.
  • March 2, 2016: The settlement officer sends a letter to Mr. Dicker, setting the hearing for March 24, 2016. The letter requested a Form 433-A.
  • March 16, 2016: The settlement officer and Ms. Gavioli speak on the phone. She also sends the SO a Form 2848 and a letter requesting a telephonic meeting between the SO and his probation officer. Neither the SO nor Ms. Gavioli makes a record of the conversation’s substance.
  • March 24 – April 6, 2016: The SO attempts to contact Ms. Gavioli six times, leaving voicemail messages.
  • April 6, 2016: The SO contacts Mr. Dicker and informs him that he’s been unable to contact Ms. Gavioli. Mr. Dicker tells the SO that he’ll contact Ms. Gavioli, and have her contact him as soon as possible.
  • April 8 & 12 2016: The SO attempts to contact Ms. Gavioli again, leaving voicemail messages. On the 12th, he informed her via voicemail that he was issuing a Notice of Determination sustaining the NFTL.
  • April 25, 2016: The SO issues the Notice of Determination, which upholds the NFTL due to Mr. Dicker not providing a Form 433-A.

In the Tax Court, the Service moved for summary judgment, arguing that the SO did not abuse his discretion in upholding the NFTL, because neither the petitioner nor his POA provided a Form 433-A. Petitioner moved to remand the case to Appeals, arguing that he never received a CDP hearing, as the statute requires, and that the purported POA, Ms. Gavioli, wasn’t his POA for purposes of the CDP hearing.

Judge Leyden buys the petitioner’s argument—at least for purposes of the motion for summary judgment. A reasonable inference could be made that Ms. Gavioli was only petitioner’s counsel for his criminal tax proceeding—not for the CDP hearing. Rather, Ms. Gavioli (according to her affidavit) only needed to provide relevant information to the SO, which could most expeditiously be accomplished by filing a Form 2848. As practitioners know, the Service is loathe to talk to anyone about a taxpayer’s account absent an active Form 2848 or 8821. Since Ms. Gavioli presumably is an attorney, she filed a Form 2848. Because the Service didn’t show undisputed material facts indicating that a CDP hearing was held with the petitioner’s representative, Judge Leyden denies summary judgment on this basis.

The Service also argues that telephonic communication with the taxpayer, followed by non-receipt of a Form 433-A, was independently sufficient to constitute a CDP hearing. However, petitioner only had one phone call with the SO—and importantly for Judge Leyden, the SO didn’t subsequently call petitioner when he continued to experience problems contacting Ms. Gavioli. The SO could have attempted to hold a CDP hearing with petitioner directly, but did not. Additionally, petitioner stated that his understanding of the March 16 call was that all future deadlines would be “waived and rescheduled,” so as to allow for a conversation between the SO, Ms. Gavioli, and petitioner’s probation officer.

This case presents a unique assortment of disputed facts, which is why I suspect Judge Leyden falls on the side of allowing more facts to potentially come out in a hearing. The facts established indeed do not seem appropriate for issuance of summary judgment. Accordingly, Judge Leyden denies the summary judgment motion, and allows respondent to supplement his response to the motion to remand in light of her order.

However, I think the petitioner isn’t out of the woods quite yet; if the court ultimately finds that Ms. Gavioli was petitioner’s representative in the CDP hearing—a reasonable conclusion given a Form 2848 was submitted to the SO—the arguments available to him become much more limited. It will be helpful that Ms. Gavioli had particularly difficult personal circumstances that caused her unavailability during that time—though that wasn’t communicated to the SO.

My advice to criminal tax counsel would be to appropriately limit a Form 2848 to that criminal representation—if that’s even necessary, as one could simply enter an appearance in the criminal tax case. I think a Form 8821 may have been more useful here, as that allows for information flow between the Service and another individual, without suggesting to the Service that the individual represents the taxpayer. If Ms. Gavioli’s role was limited to providing useful information, this would have been a safer option. If it wasn’t, then Mr. Dicker is in trouble.

Dkt. #8884-13, Soleimani v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Now this was a page turner. The crux of this deficiency case is a disputed long-term capital loss of over $5.5 million, stemming from real property in Iran alleged seized by the Iranian government. To prove the loss, petitioners submitted three documents at trial: (1) a deed registration, (2) a declaration from the Justice Administration of the Iranian government, and (3) a letter from a Mr. Soltanpour—who allegedly procured the first two documents—to an attorney in petitioner’s counsel’s office,.

In a previous order, Judge Gale identified a number of discrepancies between the documents and the Court’s own review of maps of Tehran. He ordered the petitioners to address the inconsistencies; the petitioners did so through submitting a supplemental expert report. But they neglected to follow Rule 143(g) in so doing; thus the Court had no opportunity to qualify the expert and respondent had no opportunity to cross examine him. In response, the Court held a call with petitioner’s and respondent’s counsel, and agreed to allow respondent to hire an expert to prepare his own report, as well as assist in rebuttal of petitioner’s expert and his report.

Respondent’s expert submitted a doozy of a report. It concluded that the deed registration and judicial declaration were forgeries, and further that Mr. Soltanpour did not exist. Eventually, petitioner’s counsel also conceded that Mr. Soltanpour did not exist (though was sure to note that counsel didn’t become aware of this until after reviewing the respondent’s expert report). A second trial was held this past August, where both experts were qualified and both reports submitted. At the end of trial, respondent orally moved under Rule 41(b)(1) to conform the pleadings to the evidence, such that a fraud penalty under section 6663(b) could be asserted.

The desire to further punish petitioner is understandable, given respondent’s expert’s conclusion; however, this is a highly unusual maneuver, as Judge Gale’s order shows. Ordinarily, a fraud penalty is asserted in a notice of deficiency, though Chief Counsel certainly can assert a fraud penalty in its Answer. Further, respondent could have amended its Answer under Rule 41(a) within 30 days after service.

However, after the pleadings are closed, a pleading may be amended only by leave of the court. Given that this matter just held its second trial session, the court would understandably be loathe to amend the pleadings, which were filed in 2013.

But under Rule 41(b)(1), the court may allow amendment of pleadings to conform to evidence on issues tried by consent of the parties. The moving party must first show that the issue raised was indeed tried by consent of the parties. Given that, the court then looks at (1) whether an excuse for the delay exists, and (2) whether the other party would suffer unfair prejudice, surprise or disadvantage if the motion were granted.

Respondent attempts to shoehorn this situation into Rule 41(b)(1), but Judge Gale isn’t having any of it given the late stage of these proceedings. First, respondent knew about the purportedly forged nature of the documents much earlier—prior to trial (or at least, the second trial in this case). So, Judge Gale implies, they should have filed this motion at that time. More importantly, petitioner wasn’t afforded the opportunity to receive notice of and an opportunity to defend against imposition of the fraud penalty—which goes, I think, to both the issue of whether the fraud issue was tried with consent of the parties, along with the unfair surprise element. Judge Gale notes that he himself may have asked additional questions of the witnesses, were he on notice that the fraud penalty was an issue in the case.

While I think the ultimate conclusion is fair, I find myself wanting a bit more from this order. There seems only to be a discussion of the fact that this motion is unprecedented, untimely, and surprising. A lack of precedent doesn’t strike me as persuasive, given the uniqueness of this situation. Further, this motion isn’t really untimely, given that all Rule 41(b)(1) motions necessarily occur post-trial. And finally, given that the issues of unfair surprise and implied consent to try an issue effectively dovetail with each other, I think it would have been helpful in this order to see more development of how the issues raised at trial did not show that petitioner didn’t impliedly consent to try the fraud penalty issue. But because a Rule 41 motion lies within the discretion of the Court, I don’t think respondent’s counsel can disturb this ruling with an appeal.

Dkt. # 2003-17S, Levinson v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Eventually, I’d like to produce a statistical summary of the designated orders that we’ve seen in our now nearly 7 months of coverage. A small preview: Judge Carluzzo currently has, with his two orders this week, produced the third highest number of designated orders of any Tax Court judge, at 29 since 4/14/2017.

Judge Carluzzo’s opinion this week comes from a fairly simple underreporting case that involves the section 6662(a) penalty. The Petitioner didn’t include IRA income or dividend income on his original return; because of that, the Service sent him a Notice of Deficiency, which also included a computational adjustment to his Social Security income. At trial, Petitioner didn’t appear, but did submit a statement. In that statement, Petitioner didn’t mention the dividend income, and indicated that, in “good faith”, he intended to roll over funds from his old IRA to a new IRA, but never did so.

The only real issue here is the section 6662(a) penalty. Judge Carluzzo overrules the imposition of the penalty and comments on the supervisory approval requirement of section 6751. In particular, the government didn’t introduce any evidence of supervisory approval, and instead argued that it wasn’t necessary from them to comply with section 6751. The substantial understatement penalty under section 6662(b)(2), the Service argues, is “automatically calculated through electronic means” under section 6751(b)(2)(B). Carluzzo questions the Service’s position (“We’re not so sure that respondent is correctly construing that exception…”), but ultimately finds that the petitioner acted in good faith relying on petitioner’s statement submitted in the record. Apparently, IRS counsel didn’t provide any evidence pushing the other way, and that’s enough for Judge Carluzzo.