Mixing a Pro Se Taxpayer and Confusing Innocent Spouse Deadlines Leads to Bad Result

In Vu v Commissioner, a summary case from late last year, the Tax Court held that a pro se taxpayer did not establish the Tax Court’s jurisdiction to hear an appeal of an IRS’s denial of a request for innocent spouse relief. What makes the case unusual is that the taxpayer Amanda Vu did file a petition requesting relief but she did so before the IRS issued what it styled as a notice of determination and just prior to 6 months elapsing after her request to the IRS for relief was made. In other words, her petition jumped the gun on the two separate avenues needed to confer the Tax Court’s jurisdiction.

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Before digging into the case I note that I came across the case and wrote a draft of this post without realizing that Carl and Keith are now representing the taxpayer Ms. Vu. As I discuss below, what intrigued me initially about the case was how the result was unfair. Carl and Keith and the Harvard Tax Clinic have filed a motion to set aside the dismissal and remove the case’s small case designation. I will discuss below why the Tax Court dismissed the case, and why I agree with the Tax Court judge that the outcome inequitable and hope that the legal argument Carl and Keith have advanced persuade the Tax Court to reconsider its approach.

I also note that we have discussed premature petitions before, albeit in the context of straight up deficiency cases. In Tax Court Order Finds Jurisdiction Even When Taxpayer Files a Petition Before the IRS Issues Notice of Deficiency a taxpayer filed a petition prior to the stat notice but in response to other correspondence IRS issued in its exam. I discussed how the Tax Court in Weiss v Commissioner went out of its way to confer jurisdiction, essentially allowing the taxpayer’s response to IRS motion to dismiss the case confer jurisdiction, so long as the taxpayer amended its petition and the IRS’s motion and the taxpayer’s response were issued prior to the actual 90-day period ran. I speculated that the problem of premature petitions filed in good faith was likely a common one, and that the Weisses were lucky in that the IRS motion, and their response, were within the 90-day period.

Vu was not nearly as fortunate as Weiss. I will simplify the facts to bring home the procedural conundrum Vu found herself in.

She, with a friend’s assistance, submitted a request for innocent spouse relief that she signed and dated February 28, 2014. IRS recorded it as received on March 24, 2014.

Vu testified that she received from IRS on June 12 an “Innocent Spouse Relief Lead Sheet” that was dated June 4, 2014. The document was designated Workpaper # 615 and reads in part:

Conclusion: (Reflects the final determination on the issue.)

Conclusion for 6015(b):

Note: A summary of your conclusion should go here. Ensure that reference is made as to what factors are met if allowing or granting partial relief, and what factors are not met

It was concluded that the Taxpayer does not meet innocent spouse relief under IRC 6015(b).

*******

Conclusion for 6015(c):

Note: A summary of your conclusion should go here. Ensure that reference is made as to what factors are met if allowing or denying partial relief, and what factors are not met if disallowing or granting partial relief.

It was concluded that the Taxpayer does not meet innocent spouse relief under IRC 6015(c).

*******

Conclusion for 6015(f):

Note: A summary of your conclusion should go here.

It was concluded that the Taxpayer does not meet innocent spouse relief under IRC 6015(f).

*******

Vu sent in a petition to Tax Court and it had a September 8, 2014 postmark, and Tax Court received it on September 12, 2014.

About one month after Vu filed her petition, on October 9, 2014 IRS mailed Vu a final determination denying her request for innocent spouse relief.

On November 3, 2014, IRS filed an answer. In the answer it denied issuing a notice of determination from New Mexico and indicated that it issued a notice of determination from Phoenix on October 9, 2014. IRS did not in the answer indicate that the petition Vu filed was premature; that was too bad because if it had flagged the issue, the taxpayer, like the early bird in Weiss, could have cured her defect and filed a petition that would have clearly been timely.

On January 27, 2015 Vu, more than 90 days after issuing what it called a final determination and over four months after Vu filed her petition, IRS filed a motion to dismiss Vu’s petition on the ground that she filed it prior to the time that the IRS issued its October 9 notice of determination.

Vu did not respond to the Tax Court’s order ordering a response to the motion. The motion was argued at a June 2015 calendar in New Mexico.

The Law

A petition to Tax Court is timely in innocent spouse cases if it is made (1) within 90 days of the mailing of a notice of final determination of relief, or (2) if the IRS has not yet mailed a notice of determination, at any point after six months has transpired since the taxpayer’s request for relief was made with the Commissioner.

Applying the above rules to Vu meant that the Tax Court would have had jurisdiction under two alternate theories:

  • if it considered the IRS’s Innocent Spouse Relief Lead Sheet IRS issued sometime in June a notice of determination and Vu filed a petition within 90 days of that determination, or
  • if at the time she filed her petition to Tax Court 6 months had elapsed following her request for relief and IRS had issued no determination in the case.

On both grounds the Tax Court held that Vu came up empty leaving the Tax Court to conclude that it had no jurisdiction in the case.

Both issues are interesting and walk us down some complicated procedural rules. First let’s look at issue 1. The opinion indicates that it likely would have been willing to conclude that the Workpaper #615 correspondence was a determination, noting cases such as Barnes v Commissioner that neither the statute or regs impose a specific form or spell out the content of what should be in a determination and the language of the workpaper led the taxpayer to conclude it was a final IRS determination. The problem for Vu was that there was no evidence in the record when IRS issued that correspondence, making it impossible to conclude that the petition she filed was within 90-days (and allowing the court to punt on concluding definitively that the Workpaper was a determination).

There were two possible dates: June 4, when the document was dated, or June 12, when Vu claimed to receive it. Determining which was correct was key, because if it were issued on June12th the petition she mailed on September 8 would have been filed within 90 days, using the mailbox rule that allows date of mailing to be the date of filing. If it were issued on June 4th the petition would have been filed outside the 90-days.

According to the Tax Court Vu did not offer any evidence as to why June12th was the correct date:

As for the June 12, 2014, date, petitioner however did not present any evidence whatsoever showing that any relevant action occurred on June 12, 2014, and has specifically failed to establish that respondent provided her the requisite final determination notice on that date.

What about issue 2, the 6-month rule? That issue turned on whether Vu’s request was considered made on February 28, when she signed, dated and testified that she mailed it, or March 24, when IRS records treated the request as received. If the operative date were February, then Vu’s petition would have conferred jurisdiction, as the petition she mailed on September 8 and which the Tax Court received on September 12 would have been filed after 6 months had elapsed from her administrative request for relief and prior to the IRS’s issuance of the October 9 final determination.

Vu came up empty here too. How it gets there requires a detour to Section 7502, the mailbox rule. The Vu opinion treats the statutory language “made” in the same manner as if it interpreted when the request were filed. The opinion treated the request for relief as having been filed or made in March (when IRS received it) and not when  mailed in late February. It does so because the mailbox rule under Section 7502 is actually an exception to the general rule that a document is filed when it is received by the IRS. Recall that the mailbox rule of Section 7502 only applies when documents are filed with and received after the expiration of a filing period. Here, the filing period limitation relates to the time period to bring an administrative request for innocent spouse relief, and that limitation was years in the future:

Because petitioner’s Form 8857…was filed before respondent initiated any collection action with respect to that year (indeed, before respondent even issued the joint notice of deficiency to petitioner and Mr. Nguyen with respect to that year), we find that respondent timely received the form on March 24, 2014; section 7502 therefore does not apply, and the relevant date for section 6015(e)(1)(A)(i)(II) is not six months after the alleged mailing date of the form but six months after the date of receipt of the form, or September 25, 2014.

The opinion made clear why Vu came up short:

Consequently, we can exercise jurisdiction over the petition herein only if it was filed “at any time after the earlier of” October 9, 2014 [the date of the formal notice of determination], or September 25, 2014 [six months after Vu’s request was made], see sec. 6015(e)(1)(A)(i), and “not later than” January 7, 2015, see sec. 6015(e)(1)(A)(ii). Because the petition was filed with the Court on September 12, 2014, it does not meet this requirement and we thus lack jurisdiction over it.

This opinion noted the unfairness of the outcome:

While we acknowledge that this is an inequitable result, as petitioner filed her petition believing in good faith that it was timely and her opportunity to file another petition has now expired, we are unfortunately constrained by the statute, and our role is to apply the tax laws as written.

Final Thoughts

This is a bad outcome. I do not understand why counsel for IRS did not alert Vu of the premature petition issue earlier in the process. It appears that counsel for the IRS did not appreciate the 90-day issue fully until it filed the motion; otherwise one would have hoped that counsel would have filed the motion in lieu of the answer. That would have given Vu time to file a petition within the 90-day window, as the taxpayer in Weiss did. I also note that the IRS only raised the 6-month issue at the hearing itself on the motion, which was many months after the IRS filed its motion to dismiss.

We have discussed before the difficulties associated with confusing IRS correspondence. When you add to the mix the reality that many taxpayers are pro se and not equipped to understand the nuances of differing IRS procedures you can get to a place where a taxpayer is denied her day in court despite efforts to have her case heard.

There is a possibility that the Tax Court will change its mind and the case will get heard. Keith and Carl in their motion to set aside the dismissal argue that the IRS forfeited the right to make an SOL argument by waiting too long in this case, as it should have been made in the answer. This is an argument similar to the way the Supreme Court in the 2004 case of Kontrick v. Ryan held that a bankruptcy debtor waited too long in his case to raise the untimeliness of a creditor’s filing because the time period was not jurisdictional, so had to be raised earlier in the case.  Kontrick is the Supreme Court opinion that first began the narrowing of the use of the word “jurisdictional”.

We have discussed the issue of jurisdictional deadlines repeatedly; the most recent was Carl’s discussion of Tilden earlier this week, an opinion that does not help the argument in Vu. Admittedly there is no direct precedent in support of Vu’s argument, and the Tax Court in Pollock v Commissioner has previously held that the deadline under Section 6015(e)(1)(A) was jurisdictional and not subject to equitable tolling. To be sure, there is no long line of Supreme Court precedent holding deadlines under Section 6015 jurisdictional, and the Tax Court’s opinion in Pollock was prior to the Supreme Court and other courts’ narrowing of the term jurisdictional. Moreover, the language in Section 6015(e) consists of a single sentence containing both jurisdictional grants and time periods to file a petition, a type of statute that the Supreme Court has previously held to be not jurisdictional.

Keith and Carl have a few cases other than Vu in the pipeline making this argument and I hope the courts at a minimum address the changing law and meaningfully apply those changes to these and other deadlines where IRS conduct has contributed to taxpayer confusion and the denial of a day in court.

Tilden v. Comm’r: Seventh Circuit Reverses Tax Court’s Untimely Mailing Ruling

Frequent guest blogger Carl Smith provides a detailed analysis of Friday’s 7th Circuit opinion in the Tilden case.  The opinion discusses two issues: 1) whether the time to file a petition in Tax Court in a deficiency case is jurisdictional and 2) the proper application of the timely mailing regulations.  Carl analyzes both issues in the case.  Keith

I have blogged on this case four times before here, here, here and here.  In my last post, I said I was grabbing a bowl of popcorn to watch how the Seventh Circuit ruled in the appeal of Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188. In an opinion issued on January 13, the Seventh Circuit again changed course – abandoning the argument two judges on the panel had raised sua sponte at oral argument – that the time period to file a Tax Court deficiency petition might no longer be jurisdictional under current non-tax Supreme Court case law on jurisdiction.  Instead, the court (following decades of Tax Court and Circuit court precedent) continued to hold that the time period to file a deficiency petition is a jurisdictional requirement.

However, the Seventh Circuit reversed the Tax Court’s holding that the envelope containing the petition was not entitled to the benefit of the timely-mailing-is-timely-filing rules of the regulations under section 7502.  In the case, the Tax Court had held that USPS tracking data showed the envelope placed in the mail beyond the last date to file.  The Seventh Circuit criticized the usage of tracking data as evidence of the date of mailing.  Rather, the Circuit court held that the petition had been timely filed under the private postmark provision of the regulations, not a different provision of the regulations on which the Tax Court had relied.

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Tilden Facts

Tilden is a deficiency case.  The envelope containing the petition bore a private postage label from stamps.com, dated the 90th day.  Apparently, the envelope was placed in the mail by an employee of counsel for the taxpayer, and that employee also affixed to the envelope a Form 3800 certified mail receipt (the white form), on which the employee also handwrote the date that was the 90th day.  The Form 3800 did not bear a stamp from a USPS employee.  Nor did the USPS ever affix a postmark to the envelope.

The envelope arrived at the Tax Court from the USPS.  The USPS had handled the envelope as certified mail.  That meant that the USPS internally tracked the envelope under its “Tracking” service.  Plugging the 20-digit number from the Form 3800 into the USPS website yielded Tracking data showing that the envelope was first recorded in the USPS system on the 92nd day.  The envelope arrived at the Tax Court on the 98th day.

In Tilden, the IRS moved to dismiss the case based on the ground that the USPS Tracking data showed the petition was mailed on the 92nd day.

In his objection, the taxpayer disagreed, arguing that this was a situation covered by Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1).  That regulation states:

(B) Postmark made by other than U.S. Postal Service.–(1) In general.–If the postmark on the envelope is made other than by the U.S. Postal Service–

(i) The postmark so made must bear a legible date on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment; and

(ii) The document or payment must be received by the agency, officer, or office with which it is required to be filed not later than the time when a document or payment contained in an envelope that is properly addressed, mailed, and sent by the same class of mail would ordinarily be received if it were postmarked at the same point of origin by the U.S. Postal Service on the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or mailing the payment.

The taxpayer argued that the stamps.com mailing label, combined with the Form 3800, was a “postmark” not made by the USPS that legibly showed a date that was the 90th day and that the 8-day period between the 90th day and receipt by the Tax Court was when mail of such class would “ordinarily be received”.  Thus, under the regulation, the petition was timely filed.

In responding to the objection, the IRS changed position and now argued that the taxpayer had the wrong portion of the regulation, and that the relevant portion of the regulation was actually Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(2), which provides:

(2) Document or payment received late.–If a document or payment described in paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(B)(1) is received after the time when a document or payment so mailed and so postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service would ordinarily be received, the document or payment is treated as having been received at the time when a document or payment so mailed and so postmarked would ordinarily be received if the person who is required to file the document or make the payment establishes–

(i) That it was actually deposited in the U.S. mail before the last collection of mail from the place of deposit that was postmarked (except for the metered mail) by the U.S. Postal Service on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment;

(ii) That the delay in receiving the document or payment was due to a delay in the transmission of the U.S. mail; and

(iii) The cause of the delay.

The IRS argued that the petition had arrived beyond the time it would “ordinarily be received”, triggering the taxpayer’s obligation to prove the three conditions of the relevant portion of the regulation – none of which had been proved.

Tilden Tax Court Ruling 

In his opinion, Judge Armen held that both parties had relied on the wrong portions of the regulation.  He believed the relevant portions of the regulation were found at:

(1) Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(2), which provides:

(3) U.S. and non-U.S. postmarks.–If the envelope has a postmark made by the U.S. Postal Service in addition to a postmark not so made, the postmark that was not made by the U.S. Postal Service is disregarded, and whether the envelope was mailed in accordance with this paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(B) will be determined solely by applying the rule of paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(A) of this section; and

(2) Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(A), which provides:

If the postmark does not bear a date on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment, the document or payment is considered not to be timely filed or paid, regardless of when the document or payment is deposited in the mail.

Judge Armen admitted that no postmark from the USPS actually appeared on the envelope, but he cited his opinion in Boultbee v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-11.  In Boultbee, a deficiency petition was mailed from Canada, but bore no timely postmark from the USPS (only a timely postmark from the Canadian mail service).  Still, the USPS Tracking information showed that the envelope entered the USPS mail stream before the end of the filing period.  The judge held that such tracking information could serve as a postmark of the USPS, making the petition timely mailed.

Relying on Boultbee, he held in Tilden that the envelope was deemed to bear a USPS postmark as of the tracking information date.  Then, relying on the portion of the regulation dealing with a situation where there is both a USPS postmark and a private postmark, he said the USPS postmark (the tracking information date) governed, so the petition was untimely.

Tilden Motion for Reconsideration 

In a motion for reconsideration filed by the taxpayer, the taxpayer, among other things, argued for applying the common law mailbox rule.  The taxpayer reported that the IRS told him that the IRS objected to the granting of the motion for reconsideration.

But, when the IRS actually filed a response to the motion, the IRS changed position again and now did not object to the granting of the motion.  The IRS noted that section 7502 has been held to supersede the common law mailbox rule in most Circuits (with one exception not relevant to this case).  And, in any case, the common law mailbox rule couldn’t apply here where there was actual delivery – and delivery was on a date after the due date.  You still needed section 7502 to make the late envelope timely.

But, the IRS now took the position that the envelope had been received at the limit of, but still within, the time in which the envelope would be expected to “ordinarily be received” if mailed on the 90th day from Utah, where the taxpayer’s attorney’s office was.  In part, the IRS concession was based on the delay to be expected because (as many people forget), since the 2001 anthrax in the mail scare, all mail to the Tax Court gets irradiated.  Thus, the IRS conceded that the taxpayer’s petition was timely under the portion of the regulation on which the taxpayer relied, Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1).  The IRS, without mentioning Boultbee, simply told the court that the court had relied on the wrong provisions of the regulation, since there was no actual USPS postmark in this case, just tracking data.

Somewhat incensed that neither party responded to Boultbee — the lynchpin of his prior ruling in Tilden —  Judge Armen denied the motion for reconsideration, telling the parties the truism that the court’s jurisdiction may not be conferred by mere concession by the parties.

Seventh Circuit Oral Argument

At the oral argument in the Seventh Circuit, two judges on the panel, sua sponte, raised a different issue:  Whether the time period in section 6213(a) to file a deficiency petition is still a jurisdictional requirement in light of non-tax Supreme Court case law since 2004 that generally excludes compliance with filing periods from jurisdictional status, unless (1) there is a “clear statement” that Congress wants the particular time period to be jurisdictional or (2) for decades, the Supreme Court in prior rulings has held the particular time period jurisdictional (stare decisis).  Anyone listening to the oral argument (posted on the Seventh Circuit’s website) would tell you that the court was leaning toward holding the time period not jurisdictional and that the IRS had now waived any complaint in the case that the time period (now a mere statute of limitations) had been violated.

But, unbidden, after the oral argument, the parties filed supplemental briefs on this question, with the parties taking opposite views on whether the deficiency filing period is jurisdictional.

Seventh Circuit Holding

Apparently, the panel had second thoughts about what it raised sua sponte.  Instead, it held that the time period in section 6213(a)’s first sentence was a jurisdictional requirement.  After acknowledging that case law cited to it from prior Circuit opinions, including itself, had not discussed the applicability of the current Supreme Court case law on jurisdiction to the Tax Court deficiency filing period, the Seventh Circuit, found three reasons to support its holding:

First, the court implicitly looked to the “clear statement” exception, finding a “magic word” (Slip op. at 5):  There was a reference to “jurisdiction” in a later sentence in section 6213(a) limiting the Tax Court’s power to issue injunctions against premature assessment or collection of the deficiency to when “a timely petition . . . has been filed”.  The Seventh Circuit wrote:  “Tilden does not want either an injunction or a refund; he has yet to pay the assessed deficiencies. But it would be very hard to read §6213(a) as a whole to distinguish these remedies from others, such as ordering the Commissioner to redetermine the deficiency (sic).” Id.  (Comment:  What does the injunctive provision have to do with the first sentence?  Where is the “clear statement” that the first sentence filing period is jurisdictional?  Moreover, “timely” in the injunctive jurisdiction sentence obviously includes filings deemed timely by other Code provisions such as section 7502, 7508 (combat zone extensions), and 7508A (disaster area extensions), so “timely” doesn’t show Congress wanting the 90-day period in the first sentence of section 6213(a) to be rigidly applied.)

Second, the court noted the pre-2004 longstanding holdings of the Tax Court and many Circuits that the time period was jurisdictional (i.e., stare decisis).  “We think that it would be imprudent to reject that body of precedent, which (given John R. Sand & Gravel) places the Tax Court and the Court of Federal Claims, two Article I tribunals, on an equal footing.”  (Slip op. at 6)  In John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 552 U.S. 130 (2008), the Supreme Court had held that, purely on a stare decisis basis, it would not follow its current rules on what is jurisdictional because for over 100 years (in multiple opinions), the Court had held the 6-year time period to file a Court of Federal Claims petition under the Tucker Act (28 U.S.C. section 2501) is jurisdictional.  (Comment:  But, in Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428 (2011), the Supreme Court held that the filing period in the Article I Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is not jurisdictional.  And, for tax cases, the relevant comparable time period to file a refund suit in the Court of Federal Claims is not 28 U.S.C. section 2501, but I.R.C. section 6532(a); Detroit Trust Co. v. United States, 131 Ct. Cl. 223 (1955); on which the Supreme Court has never made a jurisdictional ruling.  Moreover, the stare decisis exception to the current Supreme Court case law is to a long line of Supreme Court precedents on the particular time period, not to precedents of lower courts, on which the Seventh Circuit was relying.)

Third, the Seventh Circuit accepted the conclusion of the Tax Court that the section 6213(a) time period was jurisdictional in the Tax Court’s recent opinion in Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. No. 15 (June 2, 2016), which held that the CDP petition filing period under section 6330(d)(1) is jurisdictional in part because of the Tax Court’s reliance on its precedents that all filing periods in the Tax Court are jurisdictional.  (Comment:  This is pretty circular.  Is this even a separate reason, or just a restatement of the previous stare decisis ground?)

As to the section 7502 issues, the Seventh Circuit said the Tax Court had relied on the wrong provisions of the regulation.  The right provision was the one relied on by the taxpayer and, eventually, the IRS – the rules for private postmarks where there is no USPS postmark.  The Seventh Circuit did not consider tracking data to be a USPS postmark, writing, as well:

“For what it may be worth, we also doubt the Tax Court’s belief that the date an envelope enters the Postal Service’s tracking system is a sure indicator of the date the envelope was placed in the mail. The Postal Service does not say that it enters an item into its tracking system as soon as that item is received . . . .” (Slip op. at 7)

The Seventh Circuit acknowledged that parties are not allowed to collude to give a court jurisdiction that it doesn’t otherwise have, but the appellate court held that there was no apparent collusion in this case, and the Tax Court was bound to accept the IRS’ factual concession (after the motion for reconsideration) that the envelope had been placed timely in the mails (a factual concession that had no evidentiary support, by the way).  (Comment:  This holding is going to shock a lot of Tax Court judges.)

Finally, the Seventh Circuit excoriated the lawyers who failed to put a proper postmark on the envelope:  “Stoel Rives was taking an unnecessary risk with Tilden’s money (and its own, in the malpractice claim sure to follow if we had agreed with the Tax Court) by waiting until the last day and then not getting an official postmark or using a delivery service.”  (Slip op. at 8)

Additional Observations             

The Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Tilden certainly doesn’t help the argument that Keith and I are pursuing in the Circuit courts that the time periods in which to file CDP and innocent spouse petitions in the Tax Court are not jurisdictional.  However, a stare decisis argument is harder as to those two filing periods:  There is only one published opinion of a Circuit court holding that the CDP filing period is jurisdictional (and it did not mention the recent Supreme Court case law on jurisdiction) and there are no opinions of any Circuit courts on whether the innocent spouse filing period is jurisdictional.  Keith and I are not giving up.

Without citing Boultbee, the Seventh Circuit casts doubt on Boutlbee’s reliance on USPS tracking data – at least for purposes of finding the Tax Court lacked jurisdiction.  This alone is a major event.

As pointed out in my prior posts, there are a number of cases in the Tax Court where the proceedings have been stayed pending the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Tilden.  We can expect some of them to generate opinions soon, including possibly a Tax Court court conference opinion discussing whether or not the Tax Court now agrees with the Seventh Circuit as to which regulation provisions govern and how relevant USPS tracking information is.  Ironically, one of the cases awaiting this ruling is factually identical to Tilden and apparently involves the same law firm making the same postmark mistake (though that case would be appealable to the Eighth Circuit).

Finally, a National Office attorney informed me last month that there is a “reverse Tilden case” pending in the Tax Court – i.e., one where the postmark is untimely (not sure if it is USPS or not), but the tracking data shows the envelope in the USPS mail stream before the end of the filing period.  There’s always something . . . .

Procedure Grab Bag – Collection Financial Standards & 7-Eleven

Over the last two months, the IRS has made two administrative changes that we didn’t previously cover that impact the collection of taxes, predominately from low income taxpayers.  One is fairly negative (National Standards for collection potential), and I have mixed feelings about the other (paying taxes while buying a Big Gulp).

Deflation Nation

The Service has issued updated National Standards for taxpayer expenses when determining collection potential.  These amounts are what the Service views as reasonable expenses for food, housekeeping supplies, clothing, and miscellaneous expenses.  A taxpayer can rely on the National Standards without having to put forth any evidence of the actual expenses paid.  The Service also issues amounts by County for taxpayers for expenses relating to housing and utilities.  If a taxpayer seeks to claim expenses in excess of the National Standards (or local for housing), the taxpayer has to substantiate the same and prove the additional expense is necessary.  This can be onerous, especially for people using predominately cash, those who are ESL, and those with temporary housing.

The most recent National Standards, and at least some of the local housing and utilities amounts, have decreased from 2015.  The new 2016 amounts are:

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Expense One Person Two Persons Three Persons Four Persons
Food $307 $583 $668 $815
Housekeeping supplies $30 $60 $60 $71
Apparel & services $80 $148 $193 $227
Personal care products & services $34 $61 $62 $74
Miscellaneous $119 $231 $266 $322
Total $570 $1,083 $1,249 $1,509

 

More than four persons Additional Persons Amount
For each additional person, add to four-person total allowance: $341

Source: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/national-standards-food-clothing-and-other-items

While in 2014 (and I think 2015), those amounts were:

Expense One Person Two Persons Three Persons Four Persons
Food $315 $588 $660 $794
Housekeeping supplies $30 $66 $69 $74
Apparel & services $88 $162 $209 $244
Personal care products & services $34 $61 $64 $70
Miscellaneous $116 $215 $251 $300
Total $583 $1,092 $1,249 $1,482

 

More than four persons Additional Persons Amount
For each additional person, add to four-person total allowance: $298

 

For larger families, the amount increased slightly, but for smaller families, the amount decreased, when many taxpayers making these types of offers were already feeling the pinch.  Various local amounts for housing and utilities also decreased, some of which by over $100.   When putting both together, collection potential is increased by well over $100, perhaps approaching $200 per month.  Having worked in the clinic at Villanova and assisting various pro bono clients in my private practice, I know most taxpayers using these standards felt the national amounts were difficult to live on and assumed significantly more discretionary income than they had.  That got squeezed a bit more with these adjustments.

7-Eleven Payment Heaven

The IRS has issued a new cash payment option largely aimed at helping unbanked taxpayers pay their taxes.  The notice can be found here.  The payment option allows taxpayers to use cash to pay their taxes at the over 7,000 domestic 7-Elevens (not sure it works in the roughly billion international 7-Elevens—I had no idea it was so popular overseas).   This is being done with a partnership with PayNearMe and ACI Worldwide’s  Officialpayments.com.  With rumors that the IRS will stop allowing walk in cash tax payments (already only allowed in limited locations) and taxpayers receiving penalties for certain cash payments, any additional payment method for those without bank accounts and credit cards is welcome.  I’ll be honest, the idea of 7-Eleven collecting our taxes is entertaining and seems quintessentially American (even if it is owned by a Japanese company).  It also makes me nervous, as outsourcing tax collection in other areas has not panned out well, and the franchise model strikes me as potentially allowing for less corporate oversight (7-Eleven in Australia is also currently battling a huge human rights issue over its wages).  Also, Slurpees are gross.  But, apparently other countries have been using 7-Elevens to pay some taxes and traffic tickets, so maybe this will work out splendidly.

Ignoring the major Slurpee issue, the IRS program requires the taxpayer to go to IRS.gov and to the payments page (so, no bank account, but easy access to the internet is needed).  There you select the cash option, and walk through the steps.  Once the taxpayer’s info is in the page, the taxpayer will receive an email from Officialpayments.com, which confirms their information.  The IRS then has to verify the information, at which point PayNearMe sends the taxpayer another email, with a link to a payment code and instructions (this is sort of seeming like a pain in the @$*).  The individual can then print the payment code, or send it to his or her smart phone.  The taxpayer then can go the closest 7-Eleven, make the payment, and receive a receipt.  Only $1000 per day can be paid, and there is a $3.99 charge per payment.

I applaud the notion, but the implementation, especially for low income and ESL, seems pretty onerous.  I’m not sure all taxpayers who may need to use this service have easy access to the internet, computers, email addresses, printers, and/or smart phones.  Not to mention, there are quite a few steps, this does take a while, and we are charging them to pay their taxes.

The IRS is also encouraging taxpayers to start the process well ahead of tax time, due to the three step process, and the fact that the funds “usually posts to the taxpayer’s account within two business days.”  The notice does not indicate what the payment date is for the penalties and interest, but the notice would seem to indicate it is the posting date and not the date the taxpayer hands the funds over to 7-Eleven.  I don’t think Section 6151 has a Kwik-E-Mart exception for time of paying tax, and I do not think 7-Eleven qualifies as a government depository under Section 6302, so taxpayers do need to be certain to allow for substantial time to pass between the payment date and the tax return due date.

Tax Court Won’t Rule in Similar Stamps.com Mailing Label Cases Until the Seventh Circuit Rules in Tilden v. Comm’r

Frequent guest poster Carl Smith was at last week’s ABA Tax Section meeting in Washington and brings us up to date on the Tilden case, now on appeal and which Carl discussed in a post from December. As Carl discusses, now that the case is on appeal the Tax Court seems to be taking a wait and see approach in other cases with similar issues.   Les

I wanted to pass along to PT readers some things I learned at the ABA Tax Section Court Procedure Committee meeting in Washington D.C. this past Friday. It has to do with the Stamps.com mailing case of Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188. I blogged on Tilden this past December. The things I learned, including after doing my own further investigations, are: (1) that Tilden is currently on appeal in the Seventh Circuit, (2) that four other currently-pending Tax Court cases present the same issue, and (3) that Chief Judge Thornton has stayed further proceedings in these four other cases – each appealable to different Circuits – “pending the ultimate outcome in Tilden”.

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In Tilden, a taxpayer mailed a deficiency petition to the Tax Court, affixing both a postage label from Stamps.com showing the 90th day and a certified mail sticker.  When the envelope arrived at the Tax Court on the 98th day, the envelope bore no USPS postmark.  In its initial motion, to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, the IRS relied on one provision of the section 7502 regulations – arguing that internal USPS tracking information should be treated as a USPS postmark and that since the tracking information showed the envelope entering the USPS system after the 90th day, the petition was untimely.  During the course of later filings on the motion, the IRS, however, changed its position on which was the applicable regulation provision, pointing to a different one for dismissing the case.  The taxpayer took a third position – pointing to a third section 7502 regulation provision that the taxpayer thought applied and made the filing timely.

In Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188, the Tax Court agreed with the IRS’ first position and held the petition untimely based on the USPS tracking information.

The taxpayer then filed a motion for reconsideration — arguing that the Court was relying on the wrong provision of the section 7502 regulations.  Surprisingly, in responding to the motion, the IRS joined the taxpayer’s argument as to the proper regulation provision and now argued that, under this third provision of the regulations, the petition was timely.  In an unpublished order, the Tax Court refused to change its ruling.

So, in Tilden, the IRS had taken three different positions on which provision of the section 7502 regulations applied – coming to its own conclusion different from the Court.

At the ABA Tax Section Court Procedure Committee meeting this past Friday, Richard Goldman – a long-time Branch Chief in the Associate Chief Counsel (Procedure & Administration)’s office – alerted the audience that Tilden had been appealed and that there were a number of similar Tax Court cases pending in which the court was suspending ruling on motions to dismiss until the appeals court rules in what will be a case of first impression in the appellate courts.

When I got back home, I did a little research. First, I found that on December 21, 2015, the taxpayer appealed the dismissal of Tilden to the Seventh Circuit, where the appeal has been given Docket No. 15-3838. From a PACER docket search, I learned that the case did not settle during a settlement conference – which may mean that the Department of Justice disagrees with the IRS about whether the Tax Court has jurisdiction in the case.  Next, the opening appellant’s brief is due June 13, 2016, and the government’s answering brief is due on July 13, 2016. Until the DOJ files its answering brief this summer, we really won’t know what position the government takes in the appeal. Finally, Tilden is represented by counsel in the appeal, so this will likely not be a badly-argued case for the taxpayer. However, it is that counsel whose office affixed the Stamps.com label.

Using the Tax Court’s order search function and searching for orders issued since last December that mentioned Tilden, I located the following four pending Tax Court cases in which the IRS initially moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, but is now asking (in supplemental filings) that the court not dismiss the cases because the IRS relied on the wrong provision of the section 7502 regulations in its initial motion: Corey v. Commissioner, Docket No. 13312-15 (pro se case, appealable to Ninth Circuit); Frieda G. Oliner Irrevocable Trust v. Commissioner, Docket No. 12766-15 (has counsel, appealable to the First Circuit); Pearson v. Commissioner, Docket No. 11084-15 (has same counsel as in Tilden, appealable to Eight Circuit); Piepmeyer v. Commissioner, Docket No. 30486-15S (pro se case; if “S” removed, appealable to the Sixth Circuit).

One of the orders I found quotes a little from the IRS supplemental filing as follows:

  1. On reflection and contrary to respondent’s motion, respondent believes the timeliness of the petition is properly determined under Treas. Reg. § 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1), because the postmark was made by other than the U.S. Postal Service and the item was received by the Court not later than the time when a document contained in an envelope that is properly addressed, mailed, and sent to the Court would ordinarily be received if it were postmarked at the same point of origin by the U.S. Postal Service on the last day of the period prescribed for filing.

  1. Because the petition in this case was received and filed by the Court on the 98th day from the date of the notice of deficiency and in light of the fact that the 90th day fell on a Sunday, respondent now believes the petition was timely placed in the mail by the petitioner not later than the last day of the period for filing, i.e., November 30, 2015; therefore, respondent asks that the motion be denied.

Order of Chief Judge Thornton, dated March 31, 2016, in Piepmeyer.

In each of the four cases, Chief Judge Thornton has issued an order formally staying proceedings “pending the ultimate outcome in Tilden”.

I will keep monitoring the Tilden appeal and these four other stayed Tax Court cases and report back to PT readers any important developments.

Private Carriers, APA Impact on Notices and New Blog

Les and I each wrote short, essentially follow up posts which we are combing into one.  We anticipate we will be writing more on mailing deadlines and on the APA impact on notices.  Keith

Using Private Carriers to Meet a Filing Deadline

In Notice 2016-30, IRS published a new list of designated private delivery services  (“designated PDSs”) for purposes of the timely mailing treated as timely filing/paying rule of section 7502. The Notice provides rules for determining the postmark date for these services. The Notice updates Notice 2015-38, which had updated Notice 2004-83. This marks the second time IRS has updated the rules in under a year after an eleven or so year run for the original notice.

The main change is that the notice, effective April 11, 2016, adds to the acceptable list a number of DHL-provided services. IRS dropped DHL in last year’s following DHL’s cutback in services.

The Notice reminds people that not all services offered by the anointed carriers qualify as PDS’s. We have discussed numerous times issues taxpayers and practitioners have had meeting petition deadlines. Failing to track which services qualify can have major consequences. Keith has discussed the sad case of Guralnik v Commissioner when the taxpayer used FedEx First Overnight to mail his petition, a service not found within the 2004 notice but one IRS added in 2015. In addition, a summary opinion from a couple of years ago, Sanders v Commissioner, involved a pro se taxpayer who sent in his petition on day 89 using UPS Ground. UPS Ground was then and is still not one of the many UPS services that the IRS treats as a PDS.

In Sanders, the petition arrived at Tax Court after the 90-day period elapsed. IRS moved to dismiss, and the Tax Court held that the petition was untimely “because UPS Ground has not been designated by the Commissioner as a private delivery service.”

Addressing the consequences the Tax Court added:

In so holding we acknowledge that the result may appear harsh, notwithstanding the fact that petitioner had nearly 90 days to file his petition but waited until the last moment to do so However, the Court cannot rely on general equitable principles to expand the statutorily prescribed time for filing a petition.

The Tax Court concluded that Sanders was not without recourse; he could pay the tax and file a refund claim and suit. Given that he deficiency was for two years and totaled over $40,000, with the Flora rule requiring full payment, that option may not have given Sanders much comfort.

Follow up on Statutory Notice and the Administrative Procedure Act Post

One commenter on the post suggested additional links.  After the post was written, QuinetiQ filed its reply to the Government’s brief.  So, this brief post will provide a quick update of documents available for those interested in this case.

In the post I provided a link to the Tax Court opinion; however, the commenter pointed out that the most pertinent document from the Tax Court case was an order, linked here, setting out the Court’s views on the motion to dismiss based on lack of jurisdiction due to the (allegedly) improper notice of deficiency.  The order provides details about the Tax Court’s reasoning in denying the motion that I did not include in the original post.

In the 4th Circuit, QuinetiQ filed the opening brief as the appellant.  For some reason we could not access that brief and did not include it as a link in the post.  It is linked here.  Now that QuinetiQ has filed a reply brief, it is also available and is linked here.  The briefs filed by QuinetiQ make clear that it thinks the notice of deficiency in this case really provided no meaningful notice.  Not having seen that notice I can only imagine from other notices I have seen that the possibility certainly exists that the notice itself was bad.  Then the question is so what?  Must the taxpayer move forward on the substance of the matter gleaning what it can from the notice, from what it knew of the audit and from the information that comes out during the Tax Court case or can it get a court to strike the notice of deficiency as inadequate under provision s of the Administrative Procedure Act.  Do those provisions apply to an informal agency action such as a notice and, if they do, in applying them to this notice, should it be stricken?  Is this just another example of tax exceptionalism that needs to fall or is the notice of deficiency something totally covered by the IRC, outside of the APA, and subject to very relaxed standards for what provides adequate notice.

 

New Tax Blog

A group of tax professors, some of whom publish great material on tax procedure, have just started a new blog for those who might be interested.  Check it out at https://surlysubgroup.com/

 

 

Summary Opinions for November

1973_GMC_MotorhomeHere is a summary of some of the other tax procedure items we didn’t otherwise cover in November.  This is heavy on tax procedure intersecting with doctors (including one using his RV to assist his practice).  Also, important updates on the AICPA case, US v. Rozbruch, and the DOJ focusing on employment withholding issues.

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I’ve got a bunch of Jack Townsend love to start SumOp.  He covered a bunch of great tax procedure items last month.  No reason for me to do an inferior write up, when I can just link him.  First is his coverage of the Dr. Bradner conviction for wire fraud and tax evasion found on Jack’s Federal Tax Crime’s blog.  Why is this case interesting?  Because it seems like this Doc turned his divorce into some serious tax crimes, hiding millions offshore.  He then tried to bring the money back to the US, but someone in the offshore jurisdiction had flipped on him, and Homeland Security seized the funds ($4.6MM – I should have become a plastic surgeon!).  His ex is probably ecstatic that the Feds were able to track down some marital assets.   I am sure that will help keep her in the standard of living she has become accustom to.

  • I know I’ve said this before, but you should really follow Jack Townsend’s blogs.  From his Federal Tax Procedure Blog, a write up of the Second Circuit affirming the district court in United States v. Rozbruch.  Frank Agostino previously wrote up the district court case for us with his associates Brian Burton and Lawrence Sannicandro.  That post, entitled, Procedural Challenges to Penalties: Section 6751(b)(1)’s Signed Supervisory Approval Requirement can be found here.  Those gents are pretty knowledgeable about this topic, as they are the lawyers for the taxpayer. As Jack explains, the Second Circuit introduces a new phrase, “functional satisfaction” (sort of like substantial compliance) as a way to find for the IRS in a case considering the application of Section 6751(b) to the trust fund recovery penalty.
  • The Tax Court in Trumbly v. Comm’r  has held that sanctions could not be imposed against the Service under Section 6673(a)(2) where the settlement officer incorrectly declared the administrative record consisted of 88 exhibits that were supposed to be attached to the declaration but were not actually attached.  The Chief Counsel lawyer failed to realize the issue, and forwarded other documents, claiming it was the record.  The Court held that the Chief Counsel lawyer failed to review the documents closely, and did not intentionally forward incorrect documents.  The Court did not believe the actions raised to the level of bad faith (majority position), recklessness or another lesser degree of culpability (minority position).  Not a bad result from failing to review your file!
  • This isn’t that procedure related, but I found the case interesting, and I’ve renamed the Tax Court case Cartwright v. Comm’r as “Breaking Bones”.  Dr. Cartwright, a surgeon, used a mobile home as his “mobile office” parked in the hospital parking lot.  He didn’t treat people in his mobile home (which is good, because that could seem somewhat creepy), but he did paperwork and research while in the RV.  Cartwright attempted to deduct expenses related to the RV, including depreciation.  The Court found that the deductions were allowable, but only up to the percentages calculated by the Service for business use verse personal use.  I’m definitely buying an Airstream and taking Procedurally Taxing on the road (after we find a way to monetize this).
  • The IRS thinks you should pick your tax return preparer carefully (because it and Congress have created a monstrosity of Code and Regs, and it is pretty easy for preparers to steal from you).
  • Les wrote about AICPA defending CPA turf in September.  In the post, he discussed the actions the AICPA has been taking, including the oral argument in its case challenging the voluntary education and testing regime.  As Les stated:

The issue on appeal revolves whether the AICPA has standing to challenge the plan in court rather than the merits of the suit. The panel and AICPA’s focus was on so-called competitive standing, which essentially gives a hook for litigants to challenge an action in court if the litigant can show an imminent or actual increase in competition as a result of the regulation.

On October 30th, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed the lower court, and held that the AICPA had standing to challenge the IRS’s Annual Filing Season Program, where the IRS created a voluntary program to somewhat regulate unenrolled return preparers.  The Court found the AICPA had “competitive standing”, which Les highlighted in his post as the argument the Court seemed to latch on to.   For more info on this topic, those of you with Tax Notes subscriptions can look to the November 2nd article, “AICPA Has Standing to Challenge IRS Return Preparer Program”.  Les was quoted in the post, discussing the underlying reasons for the challenge.

  • Service issued CCA 201545017 which deals with a fairly technical timely (e)mailing is timely (e)filing issue with an amended return for a corporation that was rejected from electronic filing and the corporation subsequently paper filed.  The corporation was required to efile the amended return pursuant to Treas. Reg. 301.6011-5(d)(4). Notice 2010-13 outlines the procedure for what should occur if a return is rejected for efiling to ensure timely mailing/timely filing, and requires contacting the Service, obtaining assistance, and then eventually obtaining a waiver from efiling.  There is a ten day window for this to occur.  The corporation may have skipped some of the required steps and just paper filed.  The Service found this was timely filing, and skipping the steps in the notice was not fatal.  The Service did note, however, that efiling for the year in question was no longer available, so the intermediate steps were futile.  A paper return would have been required.  It isn’t clear if the Service would have come to the same conclusion if efiling was possible.
  • Sticking with CCAs, in November the IRS also released CCA 201545016 dealing with when the IRS could reassess abated assessment on a valid return where the taxpayer later pled guilty to filing false claims.   The CCA is long, and has a fairly in depth tax pattern discussed, covering whether various returns were valid (some were not because the jurat was crossed out), and whether income was excessive when potentially overstated, and therefore abatable.  For the valid returns, where income was overstated, the Service could abate under Section 6404, but the CCA warned that the Service could not reassess unless the limitations period was still open, so abatement should be carefully considered.

 

 

Tilden v. Comm’r: Postal Service Tracking Data Determines Timeliness of Tax Court Petition

Today we welcome back our frequent contributor, Carlton Smith, who is writing on the September Tax Court case, Tilden v. Commissioner.  Tilden was an IRS victory where a stamps.com label did not constitute a valid postmark for timely mailing, which the Service subsequently tried to reverse.  Carl explains what the heck is going on below. Steve 

I considered doing a post on Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188, when it came out on September 22, 2015.  I didn’t.  But, now that the IRS has challenged its own victory in Tilden and asked for a reversal, I couldn’t resist.  After all, how often does the IRS succeed in getting a Tax Court case dismissed for being untimely brought, then not object to a taxpayer’s motion for reconsideration that asks the Tax Court to find the petition timely?  Indeed, the IRS has taken three different positions in this case as to the applicable law.  However, in an order dated December 3, 2015, Special Trial Judge Armen refused to reconsider his ruling, despite the IRS’ most recent change of heart.

So, what was all the hubbub about?  Well, Tilden is a case where a deficiency petition arrived at the Tax Court after the 90th day.  It arrived by certified mail (United States Postal Service (USPS)), but bore no real postmark, just a shipping label from stamps.com and a certified mail receipt, both dated the 90th day, and the latter only dated in the handwriting of an employee of the taxpayer’s attorney.  Applying regulations under section 7502 and prior Tax Court case law, Judge Armen held that since internal USPS tracking data showed that the USPS first got possession of the envelope after the 90th day, section 7502 did not apply, the petition was untimely, and the Tax Court therefore lacked jurisdiction.

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Section 7502(a) provides a rule that allows a Tax Court petition to be timely when it is received by the court after the date by which it must be filed and bears a timely “United States postmark”.  Section 7502(b) provides:  “This section shall apply in the case of postmarks not made by the United States Postal Service only if and to the extent provided by regulations prescribed by the Secretary.”  As PT has noted in its recent post on the Guralnik case (found here and here) , section 7502(f) provides rules for certain private delivery services to get the benefit of the subsection (a) rule.  Tilden did not involve a private delivery service, though.  The issue in Tilden was whether subsection (b) or the common law mailbox rule applied, and what the regulations under subsection (b) provided.

Boultbee

Before discussing Tilden, we need to detour here to another opinion decide by Judge Armen, Boultbee v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2011-11 – especially since Judge Armen relied on it as the centerpiece of his Tilden rulings.

In Boultbee, the IRS sent a notice of deficiency to a taxpayer in Canada, who, thus, being out of the country, had 150 days under section 6213(a) to file a Tax Court petition.  A petition arrived at the Tax Court after the 150th day in the USPS mail.  The envelope bearing it had been sent through the Canadian Post by its registered mail and bore a clearly visible Canadian post postmark within the 150-day period. The envelope bore no USPS postmark, but internal USPS tracking information (from the USPS’ “Track and Confirm” service) showed that the envelope had entered the USPS system in Los Angeles several days before the 150th day and arrived at the Tax Court 7 days later.

The IRS moved to dismiss the petition as untimely.  The IRS argued that foreign postmarks do not get the benefit of section 7502.  The IRS distinguished a provision of the regulations that allowed extrinsic evidence of mailing where a USPS postmark was illegible or missing, arguing that no USPS postmark was required for foreign mail transmitted to the USPS, so no USPS postmark was “missing”.

Judge Armen wrote that in, these circumstances, “we regard the U.S. Postal Service Track and Confirm data as tantamount to, and/or the functional equivalent of, a U.S. Postal Service postmark. See sec. 7502(f) (regarding the treatment of private delivery services and the use of corporate records electronically written to a database)”.  Slip op. at *13.  Therefore, relying on that USPS data, he held that the petition was filed timely.

Boutlbee was never appealed by the IRS, perhaps because the case was later dismissed for lack of prosecution.

Tilden 

Tilden similarly involved an envelope that bore no USPS postmark.  Since this case involved a Wisconsin taxpayer, the 90-day period in section 6213(a) was applicable.  The envelope containing the petition bore a private postage label from stamps.com dated the 90th day.  Apparently, the envelope was placed in the mail by an employee of counsel for the taxpayer, and that employee also affixed to the envelope a Form 3800 certified mail receipt (the white form) on which the employee also handwrote the date that was the 90th day.  The Form 3800 did not bear a stamp from a USPS employee.  Nor did the USPS ever affix a postmark to the envelope.

The envelope arrived at the Tax Court from the USPS.  The USPS had handled the envelope as certified mail.  That meant that the USPS internally tracked the envelope under its “Tracking” service (formerly known as “Track and Confirm”).  Plugging the 20-digit number from the Form 3800 into the USPS website yielded Tracking data showing that the envelope was first recorded in the USPS system on the 92nd day.  The envelope arrived at the Tax Court on the 98th day.

In Tilden, the IRS moved to dismiss the case based on the ground that the USPS Tracking data showed the petition was mailed on the 92nd day.

In his objection, the taxpayer disagreed, arguing that this was a situation covered by Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1).  That regulation states:

(B) Postmark made by other than U.S. Postal Service.–(1) In general.–If the postmark on the envelope is made other than by the U.S. Postal Service–

(i) The postmark so made must bear a legible date on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment; and

(ii) The document or payment must be received by the agency, officer, or office with which it is required to be filed not later than the time when a document or payment contained in an envelope that is properly addressed, mailed, and sent by the same class of mail would ordinarily be received if it were postmarked at the same point of origin by the U.S. Postal Service on the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or mailing the payment.

The taxpayer argued that the stamps.com mailing label, combined with the Form 3800, was a  “postmark” not made by the USPS that legibly showed a date that was the 90th day and that the 8-day period between the 90th day and receipt by the Tax Court was when mail of such class would “ordinarily be received”.  Thus, under the regulation, the petition was timely filed.

In responding to the objection, the IRS changed position and now argued that the taxpayer had the wrong portion of the regulation, and that the relevant portion of the regulation was actually Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(2), which provides:

(2) Document or payment received late.–If a document or payment described in paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(B)(1) is received after the time when a document or payment so mailed and so postmarked by the U.S. Postal Service would ordinarily be received, the document or payment is treated as having been received at the time when a document or payment so mailed and so postmarked would ordinarily be received if the person who is required to file the document or make the payment establishes–

(i) That it was actually deposited in the U.S. mail before the last collection of mail from the place of deposit that was postmarked (except for the metered mail) by the U.S. Postal Service on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment;

(ii) That the delay in receiving the document or payment was due to a delay in the transmission of the U.S. mail; and

(iii) The cause of the delay.

The IRS argued that the petition had arrived beyond the time it would “ordinarily be received”, triggering the taxpayer’s obligation to prove the three conditions of the relevant portion of the regulation – none of which had been proved.

Judge Armen held that both parties had the wrong portions of the regulation.  He believed the relevant portions of the regulation were found at:

(1) Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(2), which provides:

(3) U.S. and non-U.S. postmarks.–If the envelope has a postmark made by the U.S. Postal Service in addition to a postmark not so made, the postmark that was not made by the U.S. Postal Service is disregarded, and whether the envelope was mailed in accordance with this paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(B) will be determined solely by applying the rule of paragraph (c)(1)(iii)(A) of this section; and

(2) Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(A), which provides:

If the postmark does not bear a date on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document or making the payment, the document or payment is considered not to be timely filed or paid, regardless of when the document or payment is deposited in the mail.

Judge Armen admitted that no postmark from the USPS actually appeared on the envelope, but he cited his opinion in Boultbee for the proposition that USPS Tracking data was the equivalent of a USPS postmark.  “After all,” he wrote, “both USPS Tracking data and the more traditional postmark are products of the USPS, and nothing would suggest that the former is not as reliable and accurate as the latter when it comes to determining the time of mailing.”  Tilden, slip op. at *11.  Since the Tracking data first showed the envelope with the USPS as of the 92nd day, the non-USPS “postmark” was disregarded, and it did not matter when the envelope was deposited in the mail.  The petition was untimely.

The judge dismissed the taxpayer’s argument that the USPS data does not accurately reflect either where or when the envelope first entered the USPS mailstream.  The court noted that similar arguments had been rejected when it was clear that the USPS postmark had been affixed at a postal facility other than the one where the envelope was placed into the mailstream or because the USPS was dilatory in postmarking the envelope.  The judge observed:

As section 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(A), Proced. & Admin. Regs., makes clear, “the sender who relies upon the applicability of section 7502 assumes the risk that the postmark will bear a date on or before the last date, or the last day of the period, prescribed for filing the document”. The regulation goes on to advise that such risk may be avoided by using registered mail or by using certified mail and having the sender’s receipt postmarked by the postal employee to whom the document is presented . . . .  Such risk may also be avoided through the judicious use of a designated delivery service. See sec. 7502(f)(2)(C). [id. at *12-*13 (some citations omitted)]

 Motion for Reconsideration

In its motion for reconsideration, the taxpayer, among other things, argued for applying the common law mailbox rule.  The taxpayer reported that the IRS told him that the IRS objected to the granting of the motion for reconsideration.

But, when the IRS actually filed a response to the motion, the IRS changed position again and now did not object to the granting of the motion.  A copy of the IRS response can be found here.  The IRS noted that section 7502 has been held to supersede the common law mailbox rule in most Circuits (with one exception not relevant to this case).  And, in any case, the common law mailbox rule couldn’t apply here where there was actual delivery – and delivery was on a date after the due date.  You still needed section 7502 to make the late envelope timely.

But, the IRS now took the position that the envelope had been received at the limit of, but still within, the time in which the envelope would be expected to “ordinarily be received” if mailed on the 90th day from Utah, where the taxpayer’s attorney’s office was.  In part, the IRS concession was based on the delay to be expected because (as many people forget), since the 2001 anthrax in the mail scare, all mail to the Tax Court gets irradiated.  Thus, the IRS conceded that the taxpayer’s petition was timely under the portion of the regulation on which the taxpayer relied, Reg. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1).  The IRS, without mentioning Boultbee, simply told the court that the court had relied on the wrong provisions of the regulation, since there was no actual USPS postmark in this case, just tracking data.

Somewhat incensed that neither party responded to Boultbee — the lynchpin of his prior ruling in Tilden —  Judge Armen denied the motion for reconsideration, telling the parties the truism that the court’s jurisdiction may not be conferred by mere concession by the parties.

To date, neither the taxpayer nor the IRS has appealed the December 3 denial of the motion for reconsideration in Tilden.

 Observation

Tilden presents a common situation and now may throw up more obstacles in those situations to the Tax Court taking jurisdiction of such cases.  Many attorneys’ offices have mailroom people who use private postage meters, and such mailroom people, when sending an envelope certified mail, themselves date the Form 3800, rather than getting a date stamp on the envelope and the Form 3800 by a USPS employee.  I know that at Cardozo School of Law, where I worked running the Tax Clinic, that was also the procedure for certified mail in its mailroom.

I don’t know what is acceptable proof of timely mailing in other areas of the law, but I always told my students that a Tax Court petition had best be sent certified mail, and the students should themselves go down to the post office and see that both the envelope and the Form 3800 get timely, legible date stamps made on them by a USPS employee.  I banned my students from simply dropping the envelope with the completed Form 3800 in the Cardozo mailroom.  Either take this step or use the private delivery service companies, after double-checking the current list of approved private delivery companies and the approved services of those companies.

In comments on PT, Jason T has often complained that any Tax Court practitioner who does less – like the attorney did in the Tilden case – has probably committed malpractice if the mailing is later held to fail the section 7502 rules.  I agree.  Take Tilden as a cautionary tale.

Quirky Mail Service Issue Surfaces Again: The IRS Plays “Gotcha” Rather Than Looking for Solution

I recently wrote about two separate mail issues.  In the Guralnik case, the use of the wrong private delivery service, a better faster one than the IRS had approved, caused a Tax Court petition to arrive without the benefit of the timely mailing rule of section 7502.  In the Mendoza v. Cicernos case, the failure to mail the notice of non-judicial sale to the correct IRS office caused the federal tax lien to remain on the property after foreclosure by the senior lienholder.

On June 12, 2015, the IRS released a Chief Counsel Advisory opinion, CCA-06120638-15 that combines the painful aspects of both prior opinions.  The opinion addresses a situation in which a senior lienholder provided notice to the IRS pursuant to IRC 7425(c).  The issue in the advisory opinion concerns the validity of the notice provided by the senior lienholder.  The advisory opinion concludes that the notice was no good and, therefore, the federal tax lien remains on the property.

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As discussed in the Mendoza post, section 7425 requires that the IRS receive notice of a non-judicial sale in the proper office more than 25 days prior to the sale.  In the Mendoza case a problem arose because even though the notice was sent to the IRS more than 25 days prior to the sale, the notice went to the wrong office of the IRS.  The applicable regulation requires that the notice go to the office listed in Publication 4235 and instead Weld County in that case sent the notice to the local IRS office.  The IRS had actual notice but the correct part of the IRS did not receive notice as required by the applicable regulation.

The senior lienholder in the advisory case sent notice of the sale more than 25 days prior to the sale and sent it to the address listed in Publication 4235; however, the senior lienholder used a private delivery service to deliver the notice.  The private delivery service used by the senior lienholder was on the list of approved private delivery services in the applicable Revenue Procedure issued pursuant to section 7502.  What’s the problem if you mail the notice within the right time frame to the right address using an approved private deliver service?  The problem is that when sending a notice of sale pursuant to section 7425(c) the notice must be given, pursuant to regulations prescribed by the IRS, ‘in writing, by registered or certified mail or by personal service.”  The regulations under section 7425 do not authorize the use of a private delivery service and the statute says the notice must be mailed by “registered or certified mail.”

The private delivery services described in section 7502 take the place of “regular” mail.  Nowhere in the regulations has the IRS provided for the private delivery services to take the place of “registered or certified mail.”  The opinion provides that “even if section 7502 could be construed to expand the definition of ‘registered and certified mail’ for purposes of section 7425, no private delivery services are currently treated under section 7502 as equivalent to registered or certified mail.  So, yet another taxpayer is lulled into the private delivery service mistake.

But another argument exists that the advisory opinion also shoots down.  Section 7425 permits personal service of the notice of sale.  What if the delivery of the notice to the IRS by the private delivery service is viewed as personal service rather than a substitute for “registered or certified mail?”  After all, in many instances, the employee of the private delivery service actually walks up the office and hands off the envelope.  Neither the code, the regulations, the IRM provisions nor the relevant publications define what is meant by “personal service.”  In the absence of guidance from any of these sources, the author of the advisory opinion takes the position that the personal service can only occur when the delivery occurs by the submitter of the notice and not by a third party.

The position that the “submitter of the notice” must be the person to effect personal delivery raises interesting questions itself.  Does it need to be the city or county manager if the notice comes to the IRS from a local property tax sale or the head of the property tax office?  Could it be any county employee who could effectively deliver the notice even someone remote from the city or county tax office such as a sheriff?  Does the person delivering the notice need to be a full time employee?  What if the city or county or corporation uses a temp agency employee to deliver the notice or uses leased employees?  This rule not only seems unnecessary to the spirit of the notice but seems difficult if not impossible to administer.

The goal of 7425 is to make sure that the IRS receives the notice in time to take action to protect its lien interest.  The seemingly picky rule requiring delivery to a specific office of the IRS that caused Weld County to trip up in the Mendoza case makes sense because the IRS is a huge organization and notice to one part of it will not necessarily get the information on a time sensitive matter like this to the right place.  Moving from the concern in Mendoza to the concern here, it is necessary to look for some reason that the letter needs to come by certified or registered mail.  Did Congress have in mind that the receipt of a letter in one of those deliver forms would make the IRS sit up and take notice of the contents of the letter faster than it would with regular mail?  At the time Congress passed that law, private delivery services were uncommon.  It is possible that Congress thought registered or certified mail delivery to the IRS would enhance the notice and that is a justification for not allowing the private delivery service to take the place of certified or regular mail but Congress does not appear to have thought of this when passing the statute.

To make itself appear more reasonable, the IRS should justify why it does not want a private delivery service to serve the same purpose as certified mail.  If no reasonable justification exists, the IRS should update the language in the regulation to permit private delivery to work for types of mailing other than just regular mail.  Even if the IRS does not permit private delivery to work in place of registered or certified mail because of a business reason, it should reexamine the statement in the advisory concerning delivery by the submitter of the notice.  Here again, it needs to provide reasoning rather than to just fall back to the most favorable position for the IRS.  The goal is the right answer not tripping up someone with an unnecessary rule.  The IRS only comes out looking bad without a business justification for playing “gotcha.”