Summary Opinions — For the last time.

This could be our last Summary Opinions.  Moving forward, similar posts and content will be found in the grab bags.  This SumOp covers items from March that weren’t otherwise written about.  There are a few bankruptcy holdings of note, an interesting mitigation case, an interesting carryback Flora issue, and a handful of other important items.

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  • Near and dear to our heart, the IRS has issued regulations and additional guidance regarding litigation cost awards under Section 7430, including information regarding awards to pro bono representatives. The Journal of Accountancy has a summary found here.
  • The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida in In Re Robles has dismissed a taxpayer/debtor’s request to have the Court determine his post-petition tax obligations, as authorized under 11 USC 505, finding it lacked jurisdiction because the IRS had already conceded the claim was untimely, and, even if not the case, the estate was insolvent, and no payment would pass to the IRS. Just a delay tactic?  Maybe not.  There is significant procedural history to this case, and this 505 motion was left undecided for considerable time as there was some question about whether post-petition years would generate losses that could be carried back against tax debts, which would generate more money for creditors.  This became moot, so the Court stated it lacked jurisdiction; however, the taxpayer still wanted the determination to show tax losses, which he could then carryforward to future years (“establishing those losses will further his ‘fresh start’”).  The Court held that since the tax losses did not impact the estate it no longer a “matter arising under title 11, or [was] a matter arising in or related to a case under title 11”, which are required under the statutes.
  • The Tax Court in Best v. Comm’r has imposed $20,000 in excess litigation costs on an attorney representing clients in a CDP case. The Court, highlighting the difference in various courts regarding the level of conduct needed, held the attorney was “unreasonable and vexations” and multiplied the proceedings.  Because the appeal in this case could have gone to the Ninth Circuit or the DC Circuit, it looked to the more stringent “bad faith” requirements of the Ninth Circuit.  The predominate issue with the attorney Donald MacPherson’s conduct appears to have been the raising of stated frivolous positions repeatedly, which the Court found to be in bad faith.
  • And, Donald MacPherson calls himself the “Courtroom Commando”, and he is apparently willing to go to battle with the IRS, even when his position may not be great…and the Service and courts have told him his position was frivolous. Great tenacity, but also expensive.  In May v. Commissioner, the Tax Court sanctioned him another seven grand.
  • The Northern District of Ohio granted the government’s motion for summary judgement in WRK Rarities, LLC v. United States, where a successor entity to the taxpayer attempted to argue a wrongful levy under Section 7426 for the predecessor’s tax obligation. The Court found the successor was completely the alter ego of the predecessor, and therefore levy was appropriate, and dismissal on summary judgement was proper.
  • I’m not sure there is too much of importance in Costello v. Comm’r, but it is a mitigation case. Those don’t come up all that frequently.  The mitigation provisions are found in Sections 1311 to 1314 and allow relief from the statute of limitations on assessment (for the Service) and on refunds (for taxpayers) in certain specific situations defined in the Code.  This is a confusing area, made more confusing by case law that isn’t exactly uniformly applied.  The new chapter 5 of SaltzBook will have some heavily revised content in this area, and I should have a longer post soon touching on mitigation and demutualization in the near future.  In Costello, the IRS sought to assess tax in a closed year where refunds had been issued to a trustee and a beneficiary on the same income, resulting in no income tax being paid.  Section 1312(5) allows mitigation in this situation dealing with a trust and beneficiary.  There were two interesting aspects of this case, including whether the parties were sufficiently still related parties where the trust was subsequently wound down, and whether amending a return in response to an IRS audit was the taxpayer taking a position.
  • The First Circuit has joined all other Circuits in holding “that the taxpayer must comply with an IRS summons for documents he or she is required to keep under the [Bank Secrecy Act], where the IRS is investigating civilly the failure to pay taxes and the matter has not been referred for criminal prosecution,” and not allowing the taxpayer for invoking the Fifth Amendment. See US v. Chen. I can’t recall how many Circuit Courts have reviewed this matter, but it is at least five or six now.
  • The District Court for the District of Minnesota in McBrady v. United States has determined it lacks jurisdiction to review a refund claim for taxpayers who failed to timely file a refund request, and also had an interesting Flora holding regarding a credit carryback. The IRS never received the refund claim for 2009, which the taxpayer’s accountant and employee both testified was timely sent, but there was not USPS postmark or other proof of timely mailing, so Section 7502 requirements were not met.  Following an audit, income was shifted from 2009 to other years, including 2008.  This resulted in an outstanding liability that was not paid at the time the suit was filed, but the ’09 refund also generated credits that the taxpayer elected to apply to 2008.  The taxpayers also sought a refund for 2008, arguing the full payment of the ’09 tax that created the ’08 credit should be viewed as “full payment”, which they compared to the extended deadline for refunds when credits are carried back.  The Court did not find this persuasive, and stated full payment of the assessed amount of the ’08 tax was needed for the Court to have jurisdiction over the refund suite under Flora.  Sorry, couldn’t find a free link.
  • The IRS lost a motion for summary judgement regarding prior opportunity to dispute employment taxes related to a worker reclassification that occurred in prior proceeding. The case is called Hampton Software Development, LLC v. Commissioner, which is an interesting name for the entity because the LLC operated an apartment complex.  The IRS argued that during a preassessment conference determining the worker classification the taxpayer had the opportunity to dispute the liability, and was not now entitled to CDP review of the same.  The Court stated the conference was not the opportunity, as the worker classification determination notice is what would have triggered the right under Section 6330(c)(2)(B), and such notice was not received by the taxpayer (there was a material question about whether the taxpayer was dodging the notice, but that was a fact question to be resolved later).  The Hochman, Salkin blog has a good write up of this case, which can be found here.
  • The IRS has issued additional regulations under Section 6103 allowing disclosure of return information to the Census Bureau. This was requested so the Census could attempt to create more cost-efficient methods of conducting the census.  I don’t trust the “Census”.  Too much information, and it sounds really ominous.  That is definitely the group in Big Brother that will start rounding up undesirables, and now they have my mortgage info.
  • The Service has issued Chief Counsel Notice 2016-007, which provides internal guidance on how the results of TEFRA unified partnership audit and litigation procedures should be applied in CDP Tax Court cases. The notice provides a fair amount of guidance, and worth a review if you work in this area.
  • More bankruptcy. The US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has held that exemption rights under section 522 of the BR Code supersede the IRS offset rights under section 533 of the BR Code and Section 6402.  In In Re Copley, the Court directed the IRS to issue a refund to the estate after the IRS offset the refund with prepetition tax liabilities.  The setoff was not found to violate the automatic stay, but the court found the IRS could not continue to hold funds that the taxpayer has already indicated it was applying an exemption to in the proceeding.   There is a split among courts regarding the preservation of this setoff right for the IRS.  Keith wrote about the offset program generally and the TIGTA’s recent critical report of the same last week, which can be found here.

 

 

Ninth Circuit Denies En Banc Rehearing In Volpicelli v. U.S.

On January 30, in Volpicelli v. United States, 777 F.3d 1042, the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed its previous precedents from 20 years ago that held that the 9-month period at section 6532(c) in which to file a wrongful levy suit was not jurisdictional and was subject to equitable tolling.  See our post of that date summarizing the holding.  On March 16, the DOJ requested en banc rehearing — alleging a Circuit split and an unmanageable parade of future wrongful levy cases alleging equitable tolling.  See our post of March 18 for an analysis of how the DOJ may have exaggerated both the Circuit split and the administrative problems.  On April 8, the Ninth Circuit denied the request for an en banc rehearing.  The ball is now in the Solicitor General’s court to ask for cert. or not.  We will keep you posted.

Volpicelli v. U.S: DOJ Asks 9th Cir. for En Banc Rehearing

We again welcome Carl Smith.  Today he writes about a case he has discussed before and one that bears a close watch for anyone with a statute of limitations issue.  Keith

In a previous post, I noted how on January 30 of this year a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit in Volpicelli v. U.S., 777 F.3d 1042, reaffirmed what the Circuit had held 20 years before in Capital Tracing, Inc. v. U.S., 63 F.3d 859, 861-62 (9th Cir. 1995), and Supermail Cargo v. U.S., 68 F.3d 1204, 1206-07 (9th Cir. 1995) — (1) that the 9-month period in section 6532(c) in which to bring a wrongful levy suit under section 7426 is not “jurisdictional” and (2), applying the presumption in favor of tolling non-jurisdictional statutes of limitations involving the government announced in Irwin v. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89 (1990), the 9-month period at section 6532(c) was subject to equitable tolling.  Irwin had overturned long-standing Supreme Court precedent holding that time limits, as parts of waivers of sovereign immunity, must be construed to exclude equitable tolling.  Irwin held, instead, that the same rebuttable presumption in suits among private litigants that statutes of limitations could be subject to equitable tolling applied in analogous suits involving the United States.  In my post, I predicted that the government would not want to live with the Volpicelli panel’s ruling and would try to take the Volpicelli case to the Supreme Court.  Keith was quoted in an article in Tax Notes Today to the effect that “the allegations in Volpicelli, should they be proven or accepted as true, make it a potentially challenging case for the government. The government might prefer to find a case with more favorable facts to take to the Supreme Court.” 2015 TNT 22-9 (Feb. 3, 2015).  I agree with Keith.  But, the government did not listen to Keith.  Instead, it has embarked on a road likely leading to the Supreme Court.  On March 16, it filed a request for an en banc rehearing of Volpicelli by the 9th Circuit, a copy of which can be found here.  The grounds for rehearing are a nominal Circuit split on this issue and the alleged administrative nightmare for the government if it had to deal with so many suits that would be triggered by this ruling where plaintiffs would now argue for equitable tolling.

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I have been an amicus in support of the plaintiff in the Volpicelli case, so I am tempted to refute, point-by-point, all the arguments made by the government in seeking rehearing.  I will resist that temptation, but only say that any arguments the government made in its rehearing request are not new, and though the panel did not address all of the arguments in its opinion, answers to all those arguments can be found in the plaintiff’s briefs (ably done pro bono by Brian Goldman and colleagues at Orrick).

There are two points that I want to address, though:  The administrative nightmare argument and the existence of a live Circuit split.  In fact, neither argument really holds water.

U.S. v. Brockamp, 519 U.S. 347 (1997), concerned whether the 3-year period in which to file an administrative refund claim under section 6511 was subject to equitable tolling.  There, the Court held that, even if one applied the Irwin presumption to this period (which was not for a court filing, but for a filing in an agency), several factors overcame the presumption.  One of those factors was a possible administrative nightmare.  The Court wrote:

The IRS processes more than 200 million tax returns each year.  It issues more than 90 million refunds.  See Dept. of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, 1995 Data Book 8-9. To read an “equitable tolling” exception into §6511 could create serious administrative problems by forcing the IRS to respond to, and perhaps litigate, large numbers of late claims, accompanied by requests for “equitable tolling” which, upon close inspection, might turn out to lack sufficient equitable justification.  See H. R. Conf. Rep. No. 356, 69th Cong., 1st Sess., 41 (1926) (deleting provision excusing tax deficiencies in the estates of insane or deceased individuals because of difficulties involved in defining incompetence). The nature and potential magnitude of the administrative problem suggest that Congress decided to pay the price of occasional unfairness in individual cases (penalizing a taxpayer whose claim is unavoidably delayed) in order to maintain a more workable tax enforcement system.  At the least it tells us that Congress would likely have wanted to decide explicitly whether, or just where and when, to expand the statute’s limitations periods, rather than delegate to the courts a generalized power to do so wherever a court concludes that equity so requires. [Id. at 352-353]

In its Volpicelli rehearing request, the DOJ writes (at p. 2) that “[t]he case . . . has substantial administrative importance. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has informed us that, in 2013 and 2014, it served nearly 2 million levies per year, for an annual yield of about $2.5 billion in collected proceeds. The panel’s holding invites a parade of lawsuits against the Government by third parties alleging stale claims to property levied upon by the IRS to collect unpaid taxes owed by delinquent taxpayers, in direct contravention of the clear statutory intent to provide certainty.”

But the mention of this 2 million annual levies is misleading.  The real issue is how many additional wrongful levy suits would be filed if equitable tolling continued to be allowed in the 9th Circuit, as it has been over the last 20 years.  The statement of the question indicates the answer:  There will be no additional suits in the 9th Circuit raising equitable tolling, since equitable tolling has been permitted there all along this past 20 years.

Then, the next question should be:  If the 9th Circuit’s holding were spread countrywide, would there be more wrongful levy suits brought in other Circuits where equitable tolling was sought?  Well, the plaintiff’s lawyers in Volpicelli looked into how many wrongful levy suits were brought countrywide in the five calendar years preceding the filing of the plaintiff’s opening brief in 2014 (i.e., for the calendar years 2009-2013).  They found an average of 37 wrongful levy suits annually in the whole country.  Opening brief at 32 n. 5.  They also found that in the 20 years after the Capital Tracing and Supermail Cargo rulings allowing for tolling in the 9th Circuit, only 5 reported district court opinions in the 9th Circuit (one of them being Volpicelli) considered equitable tolling — or about one opinion every 4 years in the 9th Circuit’s district courts.  Id. at 35-36 (citing opinions).  If we were to assume that the 9th Circuit had only 10% of the country’s population (it has more, in fact), then this would suggest that one could expect 10 times as many such suits if the rest of the country allowed equitable tolling like the 9th Circuit — i.e., 50 suits in 20 years or 2.5 suits raising equitable tolling in the whole country, on average, in any year.  Does 2.5 more suits a year constitute a “parade of lawsuits . . . alleging stale claims”?  I think not.

Turning to the alleged Circuit split on whether section 6532(c) may be equitably tolled, the DOJ wrote:

Not only is the panel’s holding in substantial tension with United States v. Brockamp, . . ., but it is also in direct conflict with Becton Dickinson and Co. v. Wolckenhauer, 215 F.3d 340 (3d Cir. 2000), where the Third Circuit, relying on Brockamp, held that § 6532(c) is jurisdictional and cannot be equitably tolled.  The panel’s decision also conflicts with the decisions of a host of other circuits which have refused to consider wrongful levy claims brought more than 9 months after the levy was made.  See Miller v. Tony & Susan Alamo Found., 134 F.3d 910, 916 (8th Cir. 1998); Amwest Sur. Ins. Co. v. United States, 28 F.3d 690, 691 (7th Cir. 1994); Williams v. United States, 947 F.2d 37, 39-40 (2d Cir. 1991); Diekmann v. United States, 550 F.2d 622, 623 (10th Cir. 1977). Accord Compagnoni v. United States, 173 F.3d 1369, 1370 n. 3 (11th Cir. 1999).

Let’s look a bit more closely at this alleged Circuit split:

First, none of the cases cited by the DOJ except Becton Dickinson even discuss Irwin or equitable tolling.  The opinions from outside the 3d Circuit only hold that a late-filed wrongful levy suit should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction — citing the limited sovereign immunity construction of time limits that was rejected by the Supreme Court in Irwin.  So, all those opinions are incompatible with Irwin and are not currently good law.  (It is embarrassing that the courts deciding three of these cases after Irwin did not even note Irwin.)

Moreover, Becton Dickinson, which was decided after Irwin, and held that the section 6532(c) time period is jurisdictional, did so by using the expansive version of “jurisdictional” that the Supreme Court has more recently rejected.  In recent cases, the Supreme Court has admitted that both it and lower courts previously overused the word “jurisdictional”, and henceforth “jurisdictional” should be reserved for subject-matter and personal jurisdiction, but not claims processing rules — unless Congress makes very clear that it, unusually, wants a claims processing rule like a time period to be jurisdictional.  See, e.g., Henderson v. Shinseki, 131 S. Ct. 1197, 1202-03 (2011) (“Because the consequences that attach to the jurisdictional label may be so drastic, we have tried in recent cases to bring some discipline to the use of this term.  We have urged that a rule should not be referred to as jurisdictional unless it governs a court’s adjudicatory capacity, that is, its subject-matter or personal jurisdiction.  Other rules, even if important and mandatory, we have said, should not be given the jurisdictional brand.” Citations omitted).

The “jurisdictional” aspect of Becton Dickinson is clearly incompatible with current Supreme Court case law.

Further, Becton Dickinson also predicated its no-tolling ruling on the assumption that the Irwin presumption in favor of tolling statutes of limitation could not apply if a suit could only be brought against the government (as opposed to the situation in Irwin, where the employment discrimination suit was the kind of suit that could be brought against private parties or the government).  The 3d Circuit wrote:

[L]ike the time limitation at issue in Brockamp, but unlike the time limitation at issue in Irwin, the time limitation in section 6532(c) applies only to suits brought against the government and not suits brought against private defendants.  Indeed, section 7426(a)(1), which section 6532(c) modifies, authorizes only suits against the government. Thus, Irwin‘s “rebuttable presumption” does not apply; “makingthe rule of equitable tolling applicable to suits against the Government, in the same way that it is applicable to private suits” has no meaning in the context of a statute that creates only a cause of action against the government. [215 F.3d at 348-349]

This reasoning has also been rejected by the Supreme Court more recently.  In Scarborough v. Principi, 541 U.S. 401, 422 (2004), the Supreme Court suggested that Irwin does not “demand a precise private analogue” for its presumption to apply to suits against the government.  The Court wrote that “[l]itigation against the United States exists because Congress has enacted legislation creating rights against the Government, often in matters peculiar to the Government’s engagements with private persons . . . Because many statutes that create claims for relief against the United States or its agencies apply only to Government defendants, Irwin‘s reasoning would be diminished were it instructive only in situations with a readily identifiable private-litigation equivalent.”  Id. For this reason, the Supreme Court more recently found — applying the Irwin presumption — that a one-year period in which to file in federal court for habeas review in death penalty cases was subject to equitable tolling — even though such a suit could naturally only be brought against the government.  Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631 (2010).

In short, the opinions from other Circuits that the DOJ cites to create a Circuit split in Volpicelli have been completely sapped of their vitality, such that even a 3-judge panel in each of those other Circuits would be able to ignore the cited opinions as incompatible with current Supreme Court case law.  How do these ghost opinions create a Circuit split?

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I regret that Logan Volpicelli is being delayed in getting his college money back, but I actually am happy that the government is continuing to pursue this case — probably to the Supreme Court.  Unless the Supreme Court overturns a decade of its recent case law, I am pretty sure that the Supreme Court will rule that section 6532(c) is subject to equitable tolling.  I would love such a holding — not because I think it will benefit many people bringing wrongful levy suits, but because such a ruling will call into question whether many other time periods in the Internal Revenue Code are subject to equitable tolling.

Indeed, I think this is the government’s real fear about Volpicelli.  It isn’t the fear of lots of late wrongful levy suits worrying the government, but of late other suits — such as refund lawsuits brought after the end of the 2-year period after claim disallowance found in section 6532(a) and maybe some late suits brought in the Tax Court.  The government doesn’t want equitable tolling to spread throughout the Tax Code, so it is making a stand here with Volpicelli.  We’ll now see if this is a Last Stand, like Custer’s.

 

Volpicelli v. US — is the 6532(c) 9-month period to bring wrongful levy suits “jurisdictional”?

Guest blogger: Carlton Smith

There are many court of appeals opinion from a decade or more ago holding the 6532(c) 9-month period in which to file a wrongful levy suit and the 6532(a) 2-year post-disallowance period in which to file a tax refund suit “jurisdictional”. However, in recent years, the Supreme Court, in non-tax cases, has severely narrowed the instances in which mere “claims processing rules” — such as time periods in which to file in courts — are jurisdictional. See Sebelius v. Auburn Regional Medical Center, 133 S. Ct. 817 (2013) (holding a 180-day period in which Medicare providers had to file an administrative review board action not jurisdictional, though also not subject to equitable tolling); Henderson v. Shinseki, 131 S. Ct. 1197 (2011) (holding a 120-day period in which veterans were required to file in an Article I veteran’s court to complain of benefits denials not jurisdictional). Also see my article in Tax Notes, “Cracks Appear in the Code’s ‘Jurisdictional’ Time Provisions”,2012 TNT 210-4 (10/30/12). Will this trend in non-tax cases extend to the tax refund and wrongful levy suit statutes of limitations?

A case pending in the Ninth Circuit, Volpicelli v. U.S., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 140827 (D. Nev.2011), on appeal as 9th Cir. Docket No. 12-15029, is set to decide the issue of whether the wrongful levy statute of limitations is jurisdictional and, if not, whether it may be equitably tolled. Since the Third Circuit and a few others have previously held that the 6532(c) period is not subject to tolling, and the Ninth Circuit has previously held that the period is both not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling, a conflict may be shaping up that winds up in the Supreme Court.

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If it gets there, the Supreme Court will no doubt grapple with how its recent non-tax “jurisdictional” precedents apply to IRC time limits and whether any other time limits in the Code may be equitably tolled. It was in 1997 that the Supreme Court — without discussing whether the administrative refund claim filing periods under 6511(a) or (b) were jurisdictional — ruled in U.S. v. Brockamp, 519 U.S. 347 — that the periods were not subject to equitable tolling. Since then, the DOJ and IRS have usually argued in court that Brockamp stands for the proposition that no IRC time periods are subject to tolling and all are jurisdictional. Recognizing the importance of the Volpicelli case, the Ninth Circuit a few weeks ago assigned a pro bono counsel to the previously-pro se Mr. Volpicelli in both redoing his briefing and conducting the oral argument. The counsel appointed is Brian Goldman of Orrick’s San Francisco office. Mr. Goldman’s specialty is appellate litigation, and during the October 2013 Term of the Supreme Court, he clerked for Justice Sotomayor, after having previously clerked for a judge on the Ninth Circuit. Below is a description of Volpicelli’s facts and a little of the relevant law.

Logan Volpicelli was a minor child in 2003, when the Reno police were investigating his father for theft. Logan’s father, Ferrill, has had many run-ins with the law (see on www.PACER.gov Ferrill’s many cases in the Ninth Circuit) and is currently incarcerated in Lovelock, Nevada. After getting a search warrant for Ferrill’s safe deposit box, the police found two checks totaling around $10,000 that were made out to Ferrill from Ferrill’s parents. The police turned these over to the IRS, since Ferrill owed the IRS over $150,000 in back taxes. Within the 9-month period in section 6532(c) to bring a wrongful levy suit, Ferrill brought suit on behalf of Logan, arguing that the funds for the checks were intended as gifts from Logan’s great-grandparents, so were not really Ferrill’s property. However, the district court told Ferrill that he could not, as a parent, represent his minor son. He had to hire a lawyer for Logan’s suit to proceed. Ferrill lacked money to hire a lawyer, so the suit was dismissed without prejudice.

In 2010, when Logan reached the age of majority (18), he promptly brought a new wrongful levy suit in the Nevada district court. In two Ninth Circuit opinions from 1995, Supermail Cargo, Inc. v. U.S., 68 F.3d 1204, and Capital Tracing v. U.S., 63 F.3d 859, the court had held that the 6532(c) time period was not jurisdictional and could be equitably tolled under the rebuttable presumption in favor of tolling that the Supreme Court had announced in Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89 (1990). Citing these Ninth Circuit authorities, Logan asked the court to toll the 6532(c) time period. However, the district court dismissed this second suit for lack of jurisdiction as untimely. After noting the single exception in 6532(c) for tolling the 9-month period, the court wrote: “Because the limitations do not provide for an implicit reading of an equitable exception due to the age of majority, Plaintiff is barred by the statute of limitations pursuant to Brockamp.” In 1995, the Ninth Circuit, in Brockamp, had also held that the 6511 time periods for filing administrative refund claims could be equitably tolled under the Irwin presumption — a ruling the Supreme Court rejected two years later. Among the reasons why the Supreme Court rejected tolling for 6511 were the complexity of the numerous other exceptions in the statute, the possible administrative nightmare involved in reviewing late refund claims on tens of millions of tax returns, and the fact that (so the court said), “Tax law, after all, is not normally characterized by case-specific exceptions reflecting individualized equities.” In my article, I criticize this last comment of the Court and point out over a dozen instances in the tax collection process where equity determinations are made — e.g., equitable recoupment, suits in equity to foreclose on property, and, arguably, the Collection Due Process provisions.

In the Ninth Circuit, the government is arguing that both Supermail Cargo and Capital Tracing were wrong and were implicitly overruled by Brockamp. The government also cites a 2000 Third Circuit opinion — i.e., post-Brockamp — holding that the 6532(c) period may not be equitably tolled, Becton Dickinson & Co. v. Wolkenhauer, 215 F.3d 340, 352. But even Becton Dickinson was decided before the recent Supreme Court case law restricting the use of the word “jurisdictional”. For example, here is a quote from the Supreme Court’s 2011 opinion in Henderson v. Shinseki about how, even the Supreme Court acknowledges, it over-used the term “jurisdictional”:

Because the consequences that attach to the jurisdictional label may be so drastic, we have tried in recent cases to bring some discipline to the use of this term. We have urged that a rule should not be referred
to as jurisdictional unless it governs a court’s adjudicatory capacity, that is, its subject-matter or personal jurisdiction. Other rules, even if important and mandatory, we have said, should not be given the jurisdictional brand. Among the types of rules that should not be described as jurisdictional are what we have called “claim-processing rules.” These are rules that seek to promote the orderly progress of litigation by requiring that the parties take certain procedural steps at certain specified times. Filing deadlines, such as the 120-day filing deadline at issue here, are quintessential claim-processing rules. Accordingly, if we were simply to apply the strict definition of jurisdiction that we have recommended in our recent cases, we would reverse the decision of the Federal Circuit, and this opinion could end at this point. Unfortunately, the question before us is not quite that simple because Congress is free to attach the conditions that go with the jurisdictional label to a rule that we would prefer to call a claim-processing rule. The question here, therefore, is whether Congress mandated that the 120-day deadline be “jurisdictional.” In Arbaugh [v. Y & H Corp., ], we applied a “readily administrable bright line” rule for deciding such questions. Under Arbaugh, we look to see if
there is any “clear” indication that Congress wanted the rule to be “jurisdictional”.

Last year, the Federal Circuit held that the 6511(b) lookback tax payment periods were not jurisdictional (though, citing Brockamp, held that no equitable tolling could apply to those periods). Boeri v. U.S., 724 F.3d 1367, 1369, cert. denied 2013 U.S. LEXIS 8950 (Dec. 9, 2013). And the year before, the D.C. Circuit, citing Henderson, held that the time period in which to bring a wrongful collection activity damages suit under 7433 was not jurisdictional. Keohane v. U.S., 669 F.3d 625, 630.

But, of course, if a time period is not jurisdictional, that does not mean that it is necessarily subject to equitable tolling. It just means that the inquiry can proceed to the equitable tolling issue and the Irwin presumption in favor of tolling. See the Auburn Regional Medical Center opinion from the Supreme Court last year, which held that a time period was not jurisdictional, but also was not subject to tolling. If 6532(c)’s wrongful levy time period is not jurisdictional, there are good reasons for holding it subject to tolling in the appropriate case. For example, the 9-month period is relatively short and has only one exception (if one files an administrative claim first) — not complicated with multiple exceptions like 6511. Since there are very few wrongful levy lawsuits, there would be no administrative nightmare if tolling were allowed of the period.

There is no pending challenge that I am aware of in the courts of appeal over whether the 6532(a) 2-years-from-disallowance period to bring a tax refund lawsuit under 28 USC 1346(a)(1) is jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling. In the past, all Circuits to consider the question — usually in cases quite old — have held the 6532(a) period to be jurisdictional and not subject to tolling. See, e.g., RHI Holdings, Inc. v. U.S., 142 F.3d 1459 (Fed. Cir. 1998). Surprisingly, recent lower court opinions facing this issue seem not to discuss the recent changes in Supreme Court case law on what is jurisdictional. For example, last year, in Aljundi v. U.S., 112 AFTR 2d 2013-7297 (C.D. Cal.) (cited in Stephen Olsen’s post earlier this week), the district court did not cite any Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit authority, but merely cited the RHI opinion of the Federal Circuit for the court’s holding that the 6532(a) period was jurisdictional.

It is time for the courts in tax cases to consider at length the recent Supreme Court opinions both on what is jurisdictional and what is subject to equitable tolling. Perhaps the Volpicelli case in the Ninth Circuit will bring some clarity to this issue — particularly if it goes further on to the Supreme Court.