Tax Court Won’t Certify Battat for Interlocutory Appeal

We welcome back frequent guest blogger Carl Smith who writes today in continuation of coverage concerning the status of the Tax Court within the constitutional framework.  We especially thank Carl for his timely guest post as Les presents on taxpayer rights in Vienna, Steve shovels out in Philadelphia, and I visit warmer climes for spring break.  Keith

In Battat v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 2 (Feb. 2, 2017), on which we blogged here and here, the Tax Court (Judge Colvin) held that there is no constitutional separation of powers problem in the President’s holding a removal power under section 7443(f) with respect to its judges.  Battat holds that the Tax Court is not a part of the Executive Branch — unlike the D.C. Circuit in Kuretski v. Commissioner, 755 F.3d 929 (D.C. Cir. 2014), which held that the Tax Court was still an Executive Branch entity.

Joe DiRuzzo is the lawyer for the Battats and several additional clients in whose cases he raised the same constitutional argument.  He has cases that could be appealed to several different Circuits.  His cases are before Judges Colvin, Jacobs, and Wherry, and Chief Judge Marvel.  After the Battat opinion, Joe moved for permission to file an interlocutory appeal on this separation of powers issue in the cases that are before Judges Colvin, Jacobs, and Wherry.  Interlocutory appeal orders are not granted automatically, and must be issued under section 7482(a)(2)(A).  The court should grant an interlocutory appeal motion if (1) a controlling question of law is involved, (2) substantial grounds for a difference of opinion are present, and (3) an immediate appeal may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.

In First Western Government Securities v. Commissioner, 94 T.C. 549 (1990), affd. sub nom. Samuels, Kramer & Co. v. Commissioner, 930 F.2d 975 (2d Cir. 1991), the Tax Court had held, unanimously and en banc, that it is a Court of Law for purposes of the Appointments Clause, so there is no problem with the Chief Judge’s appointment of its Special Trial Judges.  Despite the absence of any contrary holding at the time, the Tax Court in First Western certified an interlocutory appeal of its holding because of the importance of the issue — eventually leading to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868 (1991). See 94 T.C. at 569 (Appendix E) for the interlocutory certification.

On March 14, Judges Colvin, Jacobs, and Wherry each denied Joe DiRuzzo’s motions to certify the Kuretski/Battat issues in his cases for immediate interlocutory appeal.  Here’s a link to the order in Battat, though the orders are identical in each case.  The orders admit that there is a divergence in the reasoning between the Tax Court and D.C. Circuit as to how both courts get to the conclusion that there is no constitutional problem in the removal power.  But, the Tax Court judges do not think that divergence enough to warrant interlocutory appeals.  The orders simply state:

The Court of Appeals in Kuretski applied a different analysis, but it rejected, as did this Court, the contention that Presidential removal authority is unconstitutional. Petitioners cite, and we are aware, of no legal authority supporting petitioners’ contention regarding the controlling issue of law in this case. Thus, we conclude that the second requirement of section 7482(a)(2), the presence of “substantial grounds for a difference of opinion”, is not met.

I beg to differ, and so, doubtless, would the late Justice Scalia.  He wrote in his concurrence in Freytag:

When the Tax Court was statutorily denominated an “Article I Court” in 1969, its judges did not magically acquire the judicial power. They still lack life tenure; their salaries may still be diminished; they are still removable by the President for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” 26 U.S.C. § 7443(f).   (In Bowsher v. Synar, supra, [478 U.S. 714] at 729 [(1986)], we held that these latter terms are “very broad” and “could sustain removal . . . for any number of actual or perceived transgressions.”) How anyone with these characteristics can exercise judicial power “independent . . . [of] the Executive Branch” is a complete mystery. It seems to me entirely obvious that the Tax Court, like the Internal Revenue Service, the FCC, and the NLRB, exercises executive power.

501 U.S. at 912 (emphasis in original; some citations omitted).

I am surprised that the orders make no mention of the interlocutory appeal certification granted in First Western.  I think that this, at the very least, is inconsistent behavior by the Tax Court as to allowing interlocutory appeals.

 

Tax Court Holds President’s Removal Power Constitutional, Part II

Here is part 2 of a two part post by frequent guest blogger Carl Smith on last week’s important decision on the location of the Tax Court within our constitutional framework.  Keith 

This is part two of a post on the Tax Court’s recent opinion in Battat v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 2 (Feb. 2, 2017), where the Tax Court disagreed with the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning in Kuretski v. Commissioner, 755 F.3d 929 (D.C. Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2309 (2015), but came to the same result.  In this part of the post, I explain the reactions of Congress to the Kuretski D.C. Circuit opinion and the reaction of Florida attorney Joe DiRuzzo, who decided to raise the Kuretski Presidential removal power issue in a number of his pending Tax Court cases, including Battat. Then, I set out in detail the Tax Court’s reasoning in Battat.

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The D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Kuretski was issued in June 2014.  On November 26, 2014, the Kuretskis filed a petition for certiorari, arguing that the D.C. Circuit had misapplied the Supreme Court’s holding in Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868 (1991).

Florida tax attorney Joseph A. DiRuzzo, III and other lawyers at the firm at which he works, Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph, PL, read the Kuretski cert. petition and thought the constitutional argument in it had merit.  On their own (not with my prodding), they decided to borrow the argument from the cert. petition and include it as an argument in some Tax Court cases that their firm had pending at the pretrial stage.  There were motions on other issues already pending in some of those cases.  The cases were both deficiency and Collection Due Process cases.  The taxpayers lived in a number of Circuits around the country.  Joe did not count on the Supreme Court granting cert. in Kuretski without a Circuit split.  (He was right.)  The lawyers hoped that the Tax Court would issue a ruling disagreeing with the D.C. Circuit and that courts of appeals outside D.C. would also disagree with the D.C. Circuit – leading to a grant of cert. in one of these cases.

The first case in which Joe and his firm raised the Kuretski removal power issue was a Collection Due Process case named Elmes v. Commissioner, Tax Court Docket No. 24872-14L, where, on December 19, 2014, Joe and his firm filed a “Motion to Disqualify & Motion to Declare 26 U.S.C. § 7443(f) Unconstitutional”.  The motions in Elmes prayed that “this Court . . . declare 26 U.S.C. § 7443(f) unconstitutional and disqualify all the judges of the Tax Court until such time as § 7443(f)’s constitutional infirmity is cured”.

Over the next few weeks, Joe and his firm filed similar motions in about a dozen other cases.  By filing each motion pretrial, they hoped to avoid getting a ruling that the motion was filed too late in the case for the Tax Court to have to address it – the kind of ruling Judge Wherry had issued to the Kuretskis in an unpublished order.

On May 18, 2015, the Supreme Court denied cert. in Kuretski.

On September 1, 2015, the Chief Judge assigned the Battat case to Judge Colvin.

The Tax Court was annoyed enough with the D.C. Circuit’s calling the Tax Court still an Executive Branch entity that, before any judge ruled on any of Joe’s firm’s motions, the Tax Court asked for, and obtained from Congress (in December 2015), an amendment to section 7441 that added the following sentence (which the legislative history said was to clarify the status of the Tax Court in light of Kuretski):  “The Tax Court is not an agency of, and shall be independent of, the executive branch of the Government.”

Battat and Thompson Rulings 

More than two years after Joe and his firm began filing these section 7443(f) motions, the Tax Court ruled on two of them on February 2, 2017, in Battat and Thompson v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 3.

Thompson is a deficiency-jurisdiction opinion by Judge Wherry that primarily addresses a motion that Joe and his firm filed concerning the constitutionality of the penalty at section 6662A under the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause.  In the opinion, Judge Wherry denies the section 6662A motion and also denies the section 7443(f) motion.  For the latter ruling, he merely cites to the court’s simultaneous opinion in Battat.  Thus, Battat is currently the only Tax Court opinion that gives reasoning for the rulings on the section 7443(f) motions.

The Thompsons resided in California when they filed their Tax Court petition, so an appeal of their case would go to the Ninth Circuit.  The Battats, whose case is also a deficiency case, resided in Florida when they filed their petition, so an appeal of their case would go to the Eleventh Circuit.  Thompson involves income tax deficiencies and penalties for the tax years 2003-2007 of nearly $400,000, in aggregate.  Battat involves income tax deficiencies and penalties for 2008 exceeding $2 million, in aggregate.  So, there is enough at stake in the cases to justify the costs of appeals.  Hereafter, I will ignore Thompson (which may be the subject of someone else’s post on the section 6662A issue).

Battat is an oddly-written 45-page opinion.  Since there are no facts in dispute, the opinion is divided into the usual Background and Discussion sections.  However, in the Background section, Judge Colvin gives a running commentary on the significance of the recited background and takes issue frequently with the Kuretski opinion on a number of points.  One might normally expect these disagreements to be raised in the Discussion section.  With apologies to Judge Colvin, I will summarize the Battat case in an order that makes more sense to me for a summary.

The Discussion section of Battat begins with Judge Colvin observing that all Tax Court judges are potentially affected by the ruling in the case.  There is a judicial rule of necessity that provides that when all possible judges have a conflict (such as in cases deciding their salary issues), since it is necessary that some judge decide the case, any judge may decide the case.  Therefore, Judge Colvin rules that he may decide the case.  Interestingly, the opinion does not discuss a suggestion by the taxpayers that a district court judge (who would have no conflict) be assigned over to the Tax Court to decide the Battat motion.

In the Discussion part of his opinion, Judge Colvin then notes that the Tax Court is one of those “public rights” courts where all litigation involves suits between citizens and the sovereign. The Supreme Court has held that, since, at common law, such suits need not have been heard by regular court judges, it is acceptable for Congress to assign public rights cases to special tribunals, either to Article I courts or Executive agenciesNorthern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S.50, 67-70 (1982) (involving bankruptcy courts).  Thus, the Tax Court is constitutional.

In the Background section of the opinion, Judge Colvin laid out much of the history of the Tax Court and its judges.  There, Judge Colvin interpreted Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868 (1991), to hold that the Tax Court is not a part of the Executive Branch.  This reading is contrary to the reading of the D.C. Circuit in Kuretski, which held that the Tax Court is still in the Executive Branch, notwithstanding the 1969 amendment to section 7441.  Judge Colvin wrote:

[I]n the 1969 Act Congress deleted the designation of the Tax Court as an “independent agency in the Executive Branch of the Government”. The only amendment needed if Congress had intended to establish the Tax Court as an Article I court located in the executive branch would have been deletion of the words “as an independent agency”. If only those words had been deleted, section 7441 would have said the Tax Court “shall be continued * * * in the Executive Branch of the Government”. But that is not what Congress did. Congress also deleted from section 7441 the words “in the Executive Branch of the Government”. That additional change would have been superfluous if Congress had intended for the Tax Court to remain within the executive branch.

Slip op. at 10.

Judge Colvin also buttressed his holding that the Tax Court was not in the Executive Branch by citing the 2015 amendment to section 7441 and a number of amendments to the Internal Revenue Code since 2006 that align the Tax Court’s functioning more closely with that of Article III courts.

Judge Colvin took issue with the D.C. Circuit in Kuretski’s comparing the Tax Court, for location purposes, to the Article I Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces:

10 U.S.C. sec. 946 (2012) requires judges of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to meet annually with the Judge Advocates General and two members of the public appointed by the Secretary of Defense to “survey the operation” of the military justice system. Edmond [v. United States], 520 U.S. [651] at 664 n.2 [(1997)]. This contrasts with the Tax Court, which “exercises judicial power to the exclusion of any other function”, Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. at 891, and which has no statutory mandate to survey the operation of the IRS or any of its offices. These statutory differences led the Supreme Court to conclude that the Tax Court is independent of the executive branch and the Court of Military Appeals for the Armed Forces is within the executive branch.

Slip op. at 17 (footnote omitted).

Judge Colvin also took issue with Kuretski’s comparing the Tax Court to other Executive Branch agencies:

[I]ndependent executive branch agencies perform substantial nonadjudicatory functions, e.g., rulemaking, while the Tax Court “exercises judicial power to the exclusion of any other function.” Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. at 891.

In considering the relationship between independent executive branch agencies and other executive branch agencies, the Court of Appeals in Kuretski v. Commissioner, 755 F.3d at 944, said that Congress may allow independent executive branch agencies “a measure of independence from other executive actors”. Presumably, “a measure of independence” means less than total independence. If the Tax Court were in the executive branch, the relevant “other executive actor” would be the IRS. Surely any taxpayer would find it repugnant if the Tax Court, which by congressional design is the Federal court which decides the most taxpayer disputes with the IRS, has only some nebulous “measure of independence” from the IRS.

Slip op. at 30-31 (footnote omitted).

One gets the impression that the Tax Court was more concerned to issue an opinion declaring its independence from the Executive Branch than worrying about the specific removal power at issue in the case.  But, interestingly, Judge Colvin refuses to hold in which other Branch the Tax Court might be located.  It is unnecessary to his analysis, since all he felt he needed to discuss was case law, like Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714 (1986), holding that interbranch removal powers were problematic under the separation of powers.  Once the Tax Court is not located in the Executive Branch, an interbranch removal power is at issue in the case, not the less problematic intrabranch removal power that Kuretski addressed.

Judge Colvin noted that the Supreme Court has held that not all interbranch removal powers are unconstitutional under Bowsher.  Judge Colvin highlighted the opinion in Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361 (1989).  Mistretta involved the seven-member U.S. Sentencing Commission – the commission that drafts the sentencing guidelines.  Congress placed the Sentencing Commission in Article III and peopled it with at least three Article III judges, the Attorney General, and others appointed by the President.  The President held for cause removal power over its members similar to that in section 7443(f), which meant that he could remove an Article III judge from the Article III Sentencing Commission.  This posed the potential interbranch Bowsher violation.  But, the Supreme Court held there was no violation of the separation of powers because the activities of the Sentencing Commission were not core functions of the Judicial Branch, but rather Executive functions.  Removing a judge from the Commission would not interfere with the judge’s core judicial functions.

In Battat, Judge Colvin extended Mistretta’s teaching as follows:

Presidential authority to remove Tax Court Judges for cause does not violate separation of powers principles. We so conclude because, even though Congress has assigned to the Tax Court a portion of the judicial power of the United States, Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. at 890, the portion of that power assigned to the Tax Court includes only public law disputes and does not include matters which are reserved by the Constitution to Article III courts.

Slip op. at 43.

Like the D.C. Circuit, the Tax Court in Battat did not discuss at all the fact that Article III judges of the Federal Circuit are permitted to remove for cause Article I Court of Federal Claims judges.  I continue to wonder how two similar Article I courts can have different removal actors in different Branches.

Observations 

I agree heartily with what Judge Colvin says in Battat right up to the point of his discussion of Misretta, but I think his holding extending Mistretta, with all due respect, is not defensible.  Indeed, note that he cites no other court opinion (or even a law review article) to support his holding that removing a Tax Court judge for what is his core function (not a side administrative function, as in Mistretta) is permissible.  I don’t think it logically follows that because the removal power only affects public rights court cases, there is no problem.  That seems to reintroduce the idea (rejected in Freytag) that the Tax Court doesn’t exercise the “real” Judicial Power of the United States, which is held only by Article III judges.  Query:  Under Judge Colvin’s theory, could Congress constitutionally pass a law that says that Article III judges can decide public rights cases, such as tax refund cases, and that the President is free to remove them from those cases for cause?  That would certainly bother me greatly, but would seem allowed under Judge Colvin’s theory.  However, maybe he is right.  Further litigation in the courts of appeals, and possibly, eventually, the Supreme Court, will give the answer.

Note:  The day after the Battat opinion, Judge Jacobs denied similar section 7443(f) motions made by Joe DiRuzzo and his firm in three other of their cases, Elmes v. Commissioner, Docket No. 22003-11; Lewis Teffau v. Commissioner, Docket No. 27904-10; and Linda Teffau v. Commissioner, Docket No. 27905-10.  The Elmes case docket in this note is not the Elmes CDP case docket mentioned above.  Elmes lives in the Eleventh Circuit.  The Teffaus live in the Fourth Circuit.  These cases appear to involve the U.S. taxation of people apparently claiming to be residents of the U.S.V.I., possibly similar to the issues litigated by the firm in the case of Cooper v. Commissioner, T,C, Memo. 2015-72.

Tax Court Holds President’s Removal Power Constitutional, Part I

We welcome back frequent guest blogger, Carl Smith.  When Carl, Frank Agostino, and my Villanova colleague, Tuan Samahon, began making the removal argument in the Kuretski case, I confess I thought it was “Much Ado about Nothing.”  That was before the guilty plea of a Tax Court judge for actions I never expected and before we elected a Chief Executive who likes to take on judges and has a TV show inspired reputation for firing people.  If you want more background on Kuretski, I recommend the recent article published by Tax Court scholar and Washington and Lee Dean, Brant Hellwig, in which Les says Brant basically throws up his hands saying any home is troublesome. 

In communicating with Carl about this case, he told me that the situation reminded him of a famous line from a Broadway musical.  He was reluctant to use the line because he was not sure about being misunderstood if he brought up Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls running the “Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York”.  After Judge Colvin in Battat held that the Tax Court isn’t in the Executive Branch, but says he won’t say where it is, Carl allowed me to include the query in the introduction of whether the Tax Court is now running the “Oldest Established Permanent Floating Court in the United States”.  For those of you who are fans of Guys and Dolls or just fans of the Tax Court, here is the latest on where the Tax Court fits into the federal judiciary.  Keith  

In Kuretski v. Commissioner, 755 F.3d 929 (D.C. Cir. 2014), cert. denied, 135 S. Ct. 2309 (2015), the D.C. Circuit held that the Tax Court is an Executive Branch entity, so there is no separation of powers problem in the fact that, under section 7443(f), the President – the head of the Executive Branch – can remove a Tax Court judge on the grounds of “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office”.  Deciding to face the issue for the first time, last week in Battat v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 2 (Feb. 2, 2017), the Tax Court disagreed with the D.C. Circuit’s reasoning, but came to the same result.  The Tax Court held that it does not reside in the Executive Branch (though the Tax Court wouldn’t say where it did reside).  However, the Tax Court held that, while its judges exercise a portion of the judicial power of the United States; Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868, 890-891 (1991); its judges exercise no portion of the judicial power reserved to Article III judges.  Thus, Presidential removal authority cannot interfere with the Article III judicial power, regardless of the Tax Court’s placement in the Branches of Government.

This Tax Court holding in Battat and similar holdings in other cases brought by the same attorney, Joe DiRuzzo, including Thompson v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. No. 3 (also decided on Feb. 2, 2017), are destined to be appealed to several Circuit courts of appeals other than the D.C. Circuit.  Joe is seeking a split among the Circuits that only the Supreme Court can resolve.

In part one of this two-part post, I provide the taxpayers’ argument and what the D.C. Circuit held in Kuretski.  In the second part of the post, I set out in detail (and comment on) the Tax Court’s reasoning in Battat.

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Warning:  This is a biased post, since I was one of three principal attorneys who brought the constitutional argument initially in Kuretski – the other two attorneys being Professor Tuan Samahon of Villanova (who developed the taxpayers’ argument from a comment of Justice Scalia’s in his Freytag concurrence) and Frank Agostino.  But, I will try to be fair to all sides.  Indeed, even though I disagree with parts of the Battat opinion, I commend Judge Colvin (its author) for doing an excellent and exceedingly fair job of summarizing the Tax Court’s history and the pertinent separation of powers case law.  He presents far more information than was in the D.C. Circuit’s Kuretski opinion or was in the parties’ briefs in Battat.  Indeed, he even, unbidden, went back and read the briefing in Kuretski to determine what in fact had been argued in Kuretski.

There have been, to date, 32 posts on PT that mentioned one aspect or another of the Kuretski case – which must be a record.  However, I won’t refer you back to any, but I will here provide a condensed version of the Kuretski case, both at the Tax Court and the D.C. Circuit. This is necessary to understand how the reasoning in the Battat opinion significantly differs from that of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Kuretski.

Separation of Powers Theory

There are at least half a dozen highly-relevant Supreme Court opinions on the separation of powers doctrine, and the Kuretski and Battat opinions discuss them.  However, for this post, I will just point to Bowsher v. Synar, 478 U.S. 714 (1986) (authored by Chief Justice Berger) and Freytag.

The Framers envisioned a government in which three powers – the Legislative Power, the Executive Power, and the Judicial Power – each balanced the other.  As Judge Colvin notes in Battat, the Framers generally spoke about “Powers”, not using the more modern references to three “Branches” of government.  This distinction is important, since Congress sometimes creates entities that hold one or more powers, but which are placed in a Branch that one would not expect.  That’s permissible.  What’s not permissible is for actors holding one power to have control over actors holding another power.  That can upset the separation of the powers.  The powers must stay separated to function properly.

In Bowsher v. Synar, a mid-1980s balanced budget law gave to a Congressional employee, the Comptroller General, certain additional powers to cut expenditures that the Court held were Executive Powers.  Congress, which holds the Legislative Power, had long possessed statutory authority to remove the Comptroller General for cause, including for inefficiency, neglect of duty, and malfeasance in office – the same grounds specified for removal of Tax Court judges in section 7443(f).  The Court held this arrangement unconstitutional as a violation of the separation of powers, since, it observed, a person who is subject to a removal power is likely to act subservient to the actor who has the power to remove him or her.  It is a subtle pressure, one that can upset the balance of the powers.  In Bowsher, Congress (holding the Legislative Power) had removal power over a person in its Branch, but who held a portion of the Executive Power.  In response to the argument that the for-cause limitations were a sufficient check on Congress abusing its power, the Court wrote:  “[T]he dissent’s assessment of the statute fails to recognize the breadth of the grounds for removal. The statute permits removal for ‘inefficiency,’ ‘neglect of duty,’ or ‘malfeasance.’ These terms are very broad and, as interpreted by Congress, could sustain removal of a Comptroller General for any number of actual or perceived transgressions of the legislative will.” 478 U.S. at 729.

In Freytag, the issue was whether Tax Court Special Trial Judges needed to be appointed under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause.  The Supreme Court held that they did, which next raised the question of whether their appointment was consistent with the limitations of the Appointments Clause because Tax Court STJs are appointed by the Chief Judge of the Tax Court.  The Appointments Clause permits Congress to delegate power to appoint such “inferior Officers” only to the President, the “Heads of [Executive] Departments”, or “the Courts of Law”.  Thus, the statutory appointment power would only be valid if the Tax Court Chief Judge was either the head of an Executive Department or acted for one of the Courts of Law.

As originally created, the Board of Tax Appeals was made an “independent agency” in the Executive Branch.  In 1969, however, Congress amended what is now section 7441 to instead provide:  “There is hereby established, under article I of the Constitution of the United States, a court of record to be known as the United States Tax Court.”  Using a largely functional analysis, in Freytag, the Supreme Court held that the Tax Court performs judicial functions to the exclusion of any Legislative or Executive functions, even though the Tax Court is not an Article III court where judges have life tenure.  The Supreme Court rejected the government’s argument that the Tax Court was an Executive Department, but instead found that the Tax Court was one of the Courts of Law.  It wrote:

The Tax Court exercises judicial, rather than executive, legislative, or administrative, power. It was established by Congress to interpret and apply the Internal Revenue Code in disputes between taxpayers and the Government. By resolving these disputes, the court exercises a portion of the judicial power of the United States. . . .

The Tax Court remains independent of the Executive and Legislative Branches. . . .

The Tax Court’s exclusively judicial role distinguishes it from other non-Article III tribunals that perform multiple functions . . . .

501 U.S. 890-892.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia held that the appointment of Special Trial Judges was valid, but only because the Tax Court was still, after 1969, an Executive Department.  He scoffed at the idea that any non-Article III actor could hold any portion of the Judicial Power.  In attacking the majority opinion, he wrote:

When the Tax Court was statutorily denominated an “Article I Court” in 1969, its judges did not magically acquire the judicial power. They still lack life tenure; their salaries may still be diminished; they are still removable by the President for “inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.” 26 U.S.C. § 7443(f).   (In Bowsher v. Synar, supra, at 729, we held that these latter terms are “very broad” and “could sustain removal . . . for any number of actual or perceived transgressions.”) How anyone with these characteristics can exercise judicial power “independent . . . [of] the Executive Branch” is a complete mystery. It seems to me entirely obvious that the Tax Court, like the Internal Revenue Service, the FCC, and the NLRB, exercises executive power.

501 U.S. at 912 (emphasis in original; some citations omitted).

Kuretski in the Tax Court                                  

Professor Tuan Samahon of Villanova, who is a separation of powers scholar (not a tax professor), noticed Justice Scalia’s comment that the Freytag majority’s holding seemed incompatible with the Presidential removal power over Tax Court judges, and, in 2012, mentioned this issue to me.  Frank Agostino had just lost a Collection Due Process case before Judge Wherry, Kuretski v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2012-262.  Frank was about to file a motion for reconsideration on certain other issues.  I persuaded him to add to that motion a motion to vacate the decision on the ground that the Tax Court was impermissibly and unconstitutionally biased against taxpayers because the judges operated under a removal power subtly pressuring them to rule for the IRS, the President’s instrument.  We moved for the Tax Court to declare the power unconstitutional and inoperative.  We argued that the Tax Court was likely in the Judicial or Legislative Branch, but even if it was in the Executive Branch, since the President held the Executive Power, and the Tax Court held a portion of the Judicial Power, just as in Bowsher (where the Congress and Comptroller General were in the same Branch), the removal power violated Bowsher and could not be rescued by its for cause limitations.

In an unpublished order, Judge Wherry denied both motions.  He thought the motion for reconsideration was just a rehash of arguments that he had already rejected.  With respect to the removal power argument in the motion to vacate, he held that it was raised too late in the case for him to consider it, and, since the argument was that he was biased, he questioned whether he should be the person issuing a ruling on the issue.  That is why Battat is the first opinion of the Tax Court that actually addresses the removal power argument.

Kuretski in the D.C. Circuit

The Kuretskis appealed to the D.C. Circuit.  There, the D.C. Circuit also made quick work of their arguments not involving the removal power.  But, as to the removal power, the court held that it could exercise its discretion to hear separation of powers arguments at any point in a case (as was done in Freytag).  It also held that the taxpayers’ proposed remedy – striking the removal power – was a permissible cure for the problem, if there was a problem.  But, the D.C. Circuit found no constitutional problem.  It did so in a curious way:

First, as noted by Judge Colvin in footnote 29 of Battat, the D.C. Circuit mischaracterized the Kuretskis’ primary argument as being that the Tax Court exercises a portion of the Judicial Power under Article III.  Writes Judge Colvin:  “It is not apparent to us that the taxpayers in that case made that obviously incorrect argument. In fact, in their answering brief at p. 11 the Kuretskis state that they ‘do not challenge the Tax Court Judges’ non-Article III status.’”

Next, the D.C. Circuit rejected the argument that the Tax Court Judges are in the Article III Judicial Branch, observing that Tax Court judges don’t possess life tenure, so can’t be.

Third, the D.C. Circuit rejected an alternative argument made by the Kuretskis that the Tax Court was part of the Legislative Branch.  The D.C. Circuit also correctly observed that the Tax Court does no legislating.  As to the fact that section 7441 purports to establish the Tax Court as a court of record “under Article I,” the D.C. Circuit felt that this was just a statement that the Tax Court was established pursuant to Congress’ Article I powers to lay and collect taxes and make necessary and proper laws for carrying into execution the taxing power.  The D.C. Circuit did not think this meant that the Tax Court was established in the Legislative Branch.

So, by process of elimination, the Tax Court was still an Executive Branch entity (though the Circuit court carefully never called the Tax Court an “agency” anymore).

The D.C. Circuit wrote:  “We need not explore the precise circumstances in which interbranch removal may present a separation-of-powers concern because this case does not involve the prospect of presidential removal of officers in another branch. Rather, the Kuretskis have failed to persuade us that Tax Court judges exercise their authority as part of any branch other than the Executive.”  755 F.3d at 939.

The D.C. Circuit noted that the Supreme Court has stated that Congress may give non-Article III tribunals jurisdiction to hear “public rights” cases – i.e., cases involving disputes between the citizen and sovereign, which did not exist at common law.  The D.C. Circuit saw no problem with the Tax Court sitting in review of other Executive agencies, noting that other Executive agencies do so – like the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The D.C. Circuit observed that the Tax Court was like another Article I court, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, which the Supreme Court had held to be in the Executive Branch in Edmond v. United States, 520 U.S. 651 (1997).  The D.C. Circuit failed to discuss the Court of Federal Claims, which, the Kuretskis pointed out, was an Article I court whose judges are removable, for similar causes, by judges of the Article III Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, under 28 U.S.C. § 176(a).  The Kuretskis couldn’t see how the Court of Federal Claims should have judicial actors holding a judicial removal power, while the Tax Court should have an Executive actor holding a judicial removal power.  Both can’t be constitutional.

The D.C. Circuit admitted that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Freytag “adds a wrinkle to what would otherwise be a straightforward analysis”; 755 F.3d at 940; but the D.C. Circuit thought the majority opinion in Freytag could be harmonized with the D.C. Circuit’s holding that the Tax Court was still in the Executive Branch:

The Freytag majority rejected the argument that the Tax Court is an executive “Department” for purposes of the Appointments Clause.  But, the majority also made clear that an entity can be a part of the Executive Branch without being an executive “Department.” See id.at 885 (“We cannot accept the Commissioner’s assumption that every part of the Executive Branch is a department, the head of which is eligible to receive the appointment power.”) . . . .

The Freytag majority also observed that the Tax Court “remains independent of the Executive . . . Branch[],” and in that sense exercises something other than “executive” power. 501 U.S. at 891. We understand that statement to describe the Tax Court’s functional independence rather than to speak to its constitutional status. The Supreme Court has used similar language to describe “quasilegislative” and “quasijudicial” agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, noting that such agencies are “wholly disconnected from the executive department” and that their members must “act in discharge of their duties independently of executive control.”

755 F.3d at 943 (some citations omitted).

A number of independent observers who read the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, however, felt that it essentially adopted the reasoning of Justice Scalia’s Freytag concurrence concerning the location of the Tax Court, not the Freytag majority opinion.

Moreover, the D.C. Circuit wholly failed to discuss the Kuretskis’ further argument that, even if the Tax Court is located in the Executive Branch, Bowsher v. Synar indicates that intrabranch removal powers can be unconstitutional when actors holding one power hold removal power over actors holding a different constitutional power – the situation that would be presented with the President holding the Executive Power and the Tax Court holding a portion of the Judicial Power while being in the Executive Branch.

In the second part of this post, I will explain both Congress’ and Joe DiRuzzo’s responses to the D.C. Circuit’s Kuretski opinion and the Tax Court’s new opinion in Battat, which disagrees with much of the reasoning of the D.C. Circuit in Kuretski.

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 . . . .

Storm at SEC Over Appointments Clause Violations Concerning Its ALJs and Possible Implications at to Circular 230 ALJs, Part IV

Frequent guest blogger Carl Smith brings us up to date with what has been happening in the litigation concerning administrative law judges (ALJs) and whether their selection meets the requirements of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  Although tax practitioners do not routinely encounter ALJs in their practice and probably hope never to encounter them because such encounters usually occur in disciplinary proceedings, these decisions do have meaning in the tax area and deserve attention.  Keith

In three prior posts beginning in September 2015, which can be found here, here, and here, I have reported on challenges brought under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause to SEC ALJs.  This is to report that on December 27, in a case named Bandimere v. SEC, a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit held that SEC ALJs are inferior officers who need to be (but are not currently) appointed under the Constitution’s Appointments Clause.  This creates a direct Circuit split with the D.C. Circuit, which held last August that SEC ALJs are not inferior officers needing appointment.  Raymond J. Lucia Cos., Inc. v. SEC, 832 F.3d 277, 283-89 (D.C. Cir. 2016).  Thus, the issue of which, if any, of the nearly 2,000 federal government ALJs need to be appointed under the Appointments Clause appears headed to the Supreme Court.

The IRS uses ALJs to hold hearings on Circular 230 violations.  Anyone representing a person in such a Circular 230 proceeding should probably forthwith do some discovery to get into the record how, if at all, those ALJs were appointed or hired.  The resolution of the issue for SEC ALJs may dictate a similar resolution for IRS ALJs, though, in my second post, I explained why there might be some differences.

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Dodd-Frank created the system of having SEC ALJs decide many SEC sanctions cases in the first instance, rather than having the SEC sue in the district courts to impose sanctions.  If an SEC ALJ’s ruling is appealed to the full SEC, the full SEC reviews the ALJ de novo, though giving some deference to the ALJ on factual findings.   Review of the SEC’s rulings can be had directly in the Circuit courts of appeals.

In my first two posts, I reported that in the summer of 2015, two district courts held the ALJs to be inferior officers of the United States who need to be appointed under the Appointments Clause.  The SEC concedes that its judges were not so appointed.

Much of the time between my first two posts and my third post was taken up by Circuit court opinions holding that district courts in these and in other collateral proceedings lacked jurisdiction to decide the constitutional issue.  Hill v. SEC, 825 F.3d 1236 (11th Cir. 2016); Tilton v. SEC, 824 F.3d 276 (2d Cir. 2016); Jarkesy v. SEC, 803 F.3d 9 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Bebo v. SEC, 799 F.3d 765 (7th Cir. 2015). (Hill was issued two days after my last post.)

But, in August of 2016 (also after my last post), the D.C. Circuit, in a case on direct review of an SEC order affirming the sanctions imposed by an SEC ALJ, held that under the Supreme Court’s “significant authority” standard used in Freytag v. Commissioner, 501 U.S. 868 (1991), SEC ALJs were not inferior officers because they could not render final decisions in their cases.  Raymond J. Lucia Cos., Inc. v. SEC, 832 F.3d 277, 283-89 (D.C. Cir. 2016).  In Freytag, the Supreme Court held that Tax Court Special Trial Judges (STJs) were inferior officers exercising significant authority on behalf of the United States because of the many judge-like powers they possessed, including their wide discretion to issue rulings.

The Freytag opinion was admittedly less than clear in whether, to be an inferior officer, a person needed the ability to render final decisions binding the government.  In 2000, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit in Landry v. FDIC, 204 F.3d 1125 (D.C. Cir. 2000), had held that FDIC ALJs did not need to be appointed – based on the panel’s interpretation of Freytag to require final decision-making authority in a person to render that person an officer of the United States.

In an opinion issued by a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit on December 27, in Bandimere v. SEC, the Tenth Circuit rejected Landry’s holding and held that Freytag did not require that inferior officers need the power to render final decisions.  Rather, the Bandimere majority said that, in Freytag, the Supreme Court discussed the finality of STJ rulings under what is now section 7443A(b)(7) only in response to a government concession – and not as part of the Supreme Court’s actual holding in the case.  (I agree.)  Thus, while having the ability to enter final, binding orders was one factor that could lead to a finding that a person was an officer, it was not a “but for” requirement, according to Bandimere.  And, in any event, even though the SEC had the authority to do de novo review, Bandimere pointed out that in about 90% of cases either there was no SEC review of the ALJ or the SEC review resulted in upholding the ALJ verbatim, so it is really the ALJ who effectively binds the government in the vast majority of SEC cases.  Further, even the de novo review of the ALJ that the SEC gives is one in which the SEC in fact gives deferential review of facts found by the ALJ.  This is similar to the deferential review on factual issues of STJs by Tax Court judges.

The dissenting judge in Bandimere worried that the ruling of the majority would lead to all ALJs in the federal government needing to be appointed.  This particularly would affect the Social Security Administration, where over 1,500 such ALJs are located.  (The SEC only has 5 ALJs at present.)  I am not so sure other ALJs lack proper appointment under the Appointments Clause.  5 USC § 3105 authorizes agencies to appoint ALJs.  Systems of hiring or appointment may vary by agency.  Moreover, I don’t think the result worried about by the dissent would surprise the Supreme Court.  Even Justice Scalia, in his Freytag concurrence (joined by three other Justices), noted:  “Today, the Federal Government has a corps of administrative law judges numbering more than 1,000, whose principal statutory function is the conduct of adjudication under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), see 5 U.S.C. §§ 554, 3105. They are all executive officers.”  Freytag, 501 U.S. at 910 (emphasis in original).

Observations

While the holding of Bandimere primarily impacts, for tax practitioners, only the IRS ALJs who try Circular 230 violations, the Tax Court’s ruling in Tucker v. Commissioner, 135 T.C. 114 (2010), affd. 676 F.3d 1129 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (in which I represented the taxpayer), is now called somewhat into question.  In Tucker, the Tax Court refused to hold that the IRS Settlement Officers and their Appeals Team Managers who hold CDP hearings and render determinations therein were individuals needing to be appointed under the Appointments Clause.  The Tax Court’s reasoning, in part, was that these IRS employees do not render final rulings, but Landry v. FDIC held that the ability to enter final orders was a necessary requirement for a person to be an inferior officer.  See 135 T.C. at 162-165.  “Since we find persuasive the reasoning of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in its determination that ALJs for the FDIC do not exercise ‘significant authority’, we hold that the lesser position of CDP ‘appeals officer’ (‘or employee’) within the Office of Appeals likewise does not exercise ‘significant authority’”.  Id. at 165.

In the D.C. Circuit’s affirmance of the Tucker opinion, however, the D.C. Circuit disagreed with the Tax Court and held that such Appeals personnel did have final authority, just that the authority was on issues (1) not of constitutional significance (collection) or (2) where their discretion was too circumscribed by IRS Counsel’s potential involvement (liability determinations).  “[W]e conclude that the lack of discretion is determinative, offsetting the effective finality of Appeals employees’ decisions within the executive branch.”  676 F.3d at 1134.

The Supreme Court denied cert. in Tucker, and no taxpayer has again made the same argument that I made therein.  But, the intrepid pro se taxpayer Ronald Byers has a CDP case in the Tax Court (not the same one that he took to the D.C. Circuit), in which he tells me that he plans to raise the same Appointments Clause argument that I raised in Tucker with respect to CDP Appeals Office personnel.  He will appeal this case to the Eight Circuit (where he lives).  He may try to create a Circuit split.  He may get the Tax Court to address the effect of Bandimere on his argument, as well.

After the Tax Court Finds It Lacks CDP Jurisdiction, Seventh Circuit Says It Should Keep Quiet About Other Collection Issues

We welcome back frequent guest blogger, Carl Smith, who discusses a recent 7th Circuit case that rejects a line of cases decided by the Tax Court concerning the scope of its authority when dismissing a Collection Due Process case.  Keith

In a precedential opinion issued on November 18 in Adolphson v. Commissioner, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court’s dismissal of a Collection Due Process (CDP) petition under section 6330(d)(1) for lack of jurisdiction. The Tax Court dismissed the petition because the IRS had never issued a notice of determination after a CDP hearing – a ticket to the Tax Court.  But, the Seventh Circuit was unhappy that the Tax Court also went on to consider (though, ultimately reject) the taxpayer’s argument that there had been no CDP hearing and no notice of determination (NOD) only because the IRS failed to send a notice of intention to levy (NOIL) to the taxpayer at the taxpayer’s last known address.  In effect, the Seventh Circuit said that where the Tax Court lacks jurisdiction because of the lack of an NOD, the Tax Court should keep quiet about other potential collection issues – such as, in this case, whether the IRS had issued an NOIL to the taxpayer’s last known address before it had started levying.  The Seventh Circuit particularly rejected a line of Tax Court opinions beginning with Buffano v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2007-32 – which, according to the Seventh Circuit, the Tax Court has only intermittently followed – in which the Tax Court has considered as part of its jurisdictional dismissals, issues going to the validity of NOILs.

This post will discuss Buffano, the unpublished order issued by Judge Carluzzo in Adolphson, and the Seventh Circuit opinion in Adolphson.

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Readers are no doubt aware that before the IRS issues a CDP NOD (a ticket to the Tax Court), the IRS Office of Appeals must hold a CDP hearing.  CDP hearings can only be requested after the IRS validly issues an NOIL or NFTL.  One way for the IRS to validly issue an NOIL or NFTL is to send it by certified or registered mail to a taxpayer’s last known address.  Sections 6320(a)(2)(C) and 6330(a)(2)(C).  If certified or registered mail is used for an NOIL, levy is prohibited for the 30-day period in which a taxpayer can request a CDP hearing.  Section 6331(d)(1) and (2).  If a CDP hearing is requested, no levy is allowed and the collection statute of limitations is suspended until the CDP hearing (and any judicial appeals) are over.  Section 6330(e)(1).

Buffano

In Buffano, the first the taxpayer knew about collection was when the IRS sent a levy to his employer.  The taxpayer was upset that he had not, before then, received an NOIL.  The taxpayer sent a Form 12153 requesting a CDP hearing with respect to the taxes being levied, and the IRS decided that, since it had sent an NOIL to what it had thought was the taxpayer’s last known address (even though the NOIL was returned by the USPS undelivered), the IRS had done all it needed to do to commence levy.  Since the request for a CDP hearing was made more than 30 days after the IRS mailed the NOIL, the IRS instead gave the taxpayer an equivalent hearing.  At the end of the equivalent hearing, the taxpayer was unsatisfied with the equivalent letter, and, within 30 days, filed a petition in the Tax Court under section 6330(d)(1).

The IRS moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction on the ground that no NOD following a CDP hearing had been issued.  Thus, the taxpayer had not received a ticket to the Tax Court.  The taxpayer cross-moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction on a different ground:  No NOIL had validly been sent to his last known address.  The court decided that it had to determine the reason for the jurisdictional dismissal that was inevitable in the case.  The Tax Court held that the NOIL had not been sent to the taxpayer’s last known address.  Thus, it was invalid, and the dismissal was predicated on the NOIL’s invalidity.  Presumably, the Tax Court expected that this holding would mean that the IRS had to send a new NOIL to the taxpayer for the same taxes before the IRS could commence any levy.

In subsequent cases presenting the same fact pattern as Buffano, the Tax Court has sometimes (but not always) followed Buffano and issued a ruling on whether or not the NOIL was mailed to the last known address.  If the NOIL was mailed to the last known address, then the Tax Court has dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the basis of a lack of an NOD.  If the NOIL was not mailed to the last known address, the Tax Court has dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on the basis of a lack of a validly-mailed NOIL.  See, e.g., Anson v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2010-119; Space v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2009-230; Kennedy v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2008-33.

Adolphson Tax Court Order 

Mr. Adolphson’s fact pattern was quite similar to Buffano – i.e., he first learned of collection from an actual levies on third parties who held his funds, but he had never before received an NOIL. Unlike Buffano, he did not thereafter ask for and get an equivalent hearing, but went straight to the Tax Court.  In the Tax Court, Mr. Adolphson first moved to restrain further levies and for the Tax Court to order the IRS to refund what had already been levied – arguing that the IRS had not sent an NOIL to his last-known address and citing Buffano.  Then, the IRS cross-moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because of the absence of an NOD.  The IRS, however, attempted to show it had mailed an NOIL to his last known address.  Since Mr. Adolphson had not filed returns for many years, there was a serious issue as to which address was his last known address.

In an unpublished order at Docket No. 21816-14L, issued on February 3, 2015, Special Trial Judge Carluzzo granted the government’s motion, first stating:

Petitioner agrees that the Court is without jurisdiction in this matter. That being so, his motion to restrain must be denied as our authority to grant the relief he seeks arises only in cases where our jurisdiction under section 6330(d) has properly been invoked. See sec. 6330(e). Petitioner, however, disagrees with respondent’s ground for the dismissal.

Then, the judge distinguished Buffano as follows (footnote omitted):

Petitioner’s reliance upon Buffano is misplaced. The record in Buffano contained information showing the address shown on the taxpayer’s relevant Federal income tax return, the starting point for purposes of establishing a taxpayer’s last known address. See sec. 301.6212-2(a) Proced. & Admin. Regs.; Kennedy v. Commissioner, 116 T.C. 255 (2001); Abeles v. Commissioner, 91 T.C. 1019 (1988). Petitioner has not established what, if any, address was shown on his Federal income tax return(s) most recently filed before the relevant notices of intent to levy were issued.  Furthermore, under the circumstances before us and contrary to petitioner’s suggestion, the address shown on respondent’s November 5, 2012, letter to him is hardly determinative as to his “last known address” for purposes of section 6330.

Because of the paucity of information as to petitioner’s last known address, we decline to make any finding on the point in resolving the jurisdictional motion before us. To the extent that there are any irregularities in the assessment process giving rise to the above-mentioned liabilities, or to the collection of those liabilities, petitioner’s remedies, if any, lie in a different Federal court.

Adolphson Seventh Circuit Opinion 

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the Tax Court, but using a lot of words criticizing both the Tax Court’s rulings and the DOJ lawyers’ briefs and oral argument.  In a 16-page opinion, the panel took apart Judge Carluzzo’s barely 3-page order.

Initially, the panel stated that, if it were going to apply the Buffano line of cases, it disagreed that the IRS had shown that it mailed an NOIL to the taxpayer’s last known address.  In particular, the panel noted that some of the IRS evidence of mailing consisted of improperly-authenticated transcripts that only indicated the issuance of one or more NOILs, but there was no evidence in the record of any mailing or evidence of even the address used.  The panel accused Judge Carluzzo of improperly shifting the burden of proof on mailing to the taxpayer and wrote:  “In other words, had the tax court followed Buffano and required the Commissioner to prove proper mailing, the ‘paucity of information’ should have led to a win for Adolphson.” Slip op. at 10-11.

The panel was also critical of the DOJ lawyers for, among other things, (1) not taking a position on whether the Buffano line of cases was correct, (2) not taking a position on whether Judge Carluzzo correctly distinguished Buffano, (3) making no attempt to justify the IRS collection behavior in the case, and (4) unhelpfully arguing that “Adolphson, proceeding pro se, erred by asking the tax court to enjoin further collection efforts and refund money already collected, rather than asking the court to invalidate the levies.”  Id. at 11.  “Instead, the Commissioner insists that Adolphson is relegated either to an administrative claim before the IRS or a refund suit in district court, while maintaining that ‘whether the IRS mailed a Notice of Intent to Levy to taxpayer’s last known address is not relevant in this case.’” Id.

Turning to the law, the panel wrote:

Notwithstanding this unwillingness to confront the salient issue, the Commissioner is correct that, absent a notice of determination, the tax court lacks jurisdiction under 26 U.S.C. § 6330(d).  A decision invalidating administrative action for not following statutory procedures is a quintessential merits analysis, not a jurisdictional ruling. The Buffano line of cases therefore represents an improper extension of the tax court’s statutorily defined jurisdiction.

Id. at 12 (citations omitted).

The panel blamed the Tax Court’s error in Buffano on its uncritically importing into CDP, from its deficiency jurisdiction case law, the practice of allowing a taxpayer who files a late deficiency petition to ask that the court determine that the notice of deficiency was not sent to the last known address, and, so, the Tax Court lacked deficiency jurisdiction because of an invalid notice.  Calling the deficiency jurisdiction practice “less problematic”, the panel distinguished it from determining whether an NOIL was properly sent to a last known address, since the challenged notice in a deficiency case is the ticket to the Tax Court (the “jurisdictional hook”), whereas an NOIL is not.  In a passage I find confusing, the panel wrote:

Although calling this ground for dismissal [of an improperly-mailed notice of deficiency] “jurisdictional” is a misnomer, the logical underpinning is the same: The tax court is determining whether the IRS has met statutory requirements to proceed with collection, but there isn’t a question of whether or not the jurisdictional hook exists (were there no deficiency, there would be nothing to collect).

Id. at 14.  Earlier in the opinion, the panel had written:

This [Buffano] practice of invalidating collection activity [in a CDP case] where the tax court lacks statutory authority to proceed also violates the Tax Anti‐Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. § 7421(a), which (with exceptions inapplicable here) provides that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.” This statute deprives courts of jurisdiction to enter pre‐collection injunctions and “protects the Government’s ability to collect a consistent stream of revenue” by ensuring that “taxes can ordinarily be challenged only after they are paid, by suing for a refund” under 28 U.S.C. § 1346(a)(1). By invalidating levies despite the absence of a notice of determination under § 6330—a taxpayer’s jurisdictional hook to enter tax court—decisions such as Buffano stand in direct opposition to the Act.

Id. at 12-13 (citations omitted).

Ultimately, the panel concluded that a taxpayer in Mr. Adolphson’s position is left only the remedy of a refund suit.  I would call that remedy completely useless, since one can only get a court to order a refund in such a suit if one has overpaid one’s taxes.  Lewis v. Reynolds, 284 U.S. 281 (1932).  It is of no relevance in a refund suit whether the IRS improperly forced all or part of the tax payments by a procedurally-improper levy.

The panel regretted that it saw no statutory remedy for Mr. Adolphson’s plight:

The framework used in Buffano to scrutinize the IRS’s compliance with its statutory obligations does have equitable appeal; a taxpayer to whom the IRS fails to mail a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and, through no fault of her own, misses the 30-day window to request a CDP hearing might otherwise be left without an opportunity to petition the tax court prior to seizure of her assets. This is the system devised by Congress, however . . . .  Troubling though this [refund suit] “remedy” may be, given the expense and potential delays inherent in such a suit, there is no lawful basis for expanding the tax court’s jurisdiction to resolve the perceived problem. Absent a notice of determination, the tax court simply has no lawful authority to hear a taxpayer’s claim under § 6330(d).

Adolphson, at 15-16.

Observations

Because Mr. Adolphson was pro se and the DOJ’s briefing was so unhelpful, the panel may have misunderstood certain things about tax procedure when it wrote the opinion.  The opinion conspicuously fails to mention three possible avenues for relief for him.

First, section 6330(e)(1) suspends the collection statute of limitations if a person requests a CDP hearing.  In this case, no CDP hearing was requested because no NOIL was issued to the last known address (probably).  Section 6330(e)(1) goes on to provide:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 7421(a), the beginning of a levy or a proceeding during the time the suspension under this paragraph is in force may be enjoined by a proceeding in the proper court, including the Tax Court.  The Tax Court shall have no jurisdiction under this paragraph to enjoin any action or proceeding unless a timely appeal has been filed under subsection (d)(1) and then only in respect of the unpaid tax or proposed levy to which the determination being appealed relates.

Since there was no NOD here to which an appeal under subsection (d)(1) could be timely, the Tax Court lacked that injunctive power under subsection (e)(1).  I don’t see the district court having injunctive power under (e)(1), either, since the injunctive power is provided during the period of the suspension.  Since no CDP hearing was requested (probably, since no NOIL was issued to the last known address), no suspension period is in effect.

Second, the Supreme Court acknowledged a judicial, equitable exception to the anti-injunction act in Enochs v. Williams Packing & Navigation Co., 370 U.S. 1 (1962).   To succeed under that exception, a taxpayer must show (1) that under no circumstance could the government prevail, and (2) that there is equity jurisdiction – i.e., that the taxpayer would suffer irreparable harm if the government’s actions were not enjoined.  While I think that an IRS levy made without previously sending a proper NOIL might meet the first requirement, merely being forced to pay money would doubtless not be considered irreparable injury.  However, there might be irreparable injury if, say, the levies would end up forcing the taxpayer’s business into bankruptcy.

Short of injunctive relief, though, Congress has provided in section 7433 a suit for money damages on account of negligent wrongful collection actions.  But, under this section, a taxpayer is limited to actual damages – and I am not sure merely paying taxes prematurely constitutes actual damages.  However, collateral damage – such as the levies ending up causing the taxpayer to lose clients or to go into bankruptcy – would seem to be compensable damages.

I also don’t think the Adolphson court appreciated how the dismissal of a deficiency petition for lack of jurisdiction because of an invalid notice doesn’t amount to an injunction against the IRS.  The Tax Court has jurisdiction to find facts necessary to its jurisdiction. When the Tax Court determines that a notice of deficiency wasn’t valid, that is a jurisdictional fact found by the court that could be used by a taxpayer in later litigation to collaterally estop the IRS from, say, judicially foreclosing on the tax lien that arose from the deficiency.  By contrast, if the Tax Court holds an NOIL was invalid, the court would be deciding an issue not necessary to its CDP jurisdiction, so the discussion would be dicta.  A taxpayer could not use this dicta to collaterally estop the IRS in later litigation from arguing that the NOIL was valid. The result of a ruling in a Buffano-type case that the NOIL wasn’t properly mailed is simply an advisory opinion to the IRS not to pursue collection under that NOIL. The IRS usually follows that advice. But, since the Tax Court shouldn’t be issuing advisory opinions, perhaps that is part of why I agree with the Seventh Circuit that Buffano is incorrect.

Finally, Adolphson may also call into question Craig v. Commissioner, 119 T.C. 252 (2002), where the Tax Court held that it has jurisdiction under section 6330(d)(1) to hear a case where the IRS mistakenly issued an equivalent hearing letter, rather than an NOD.  In Craig, the Tax Court said it would treat the equivalent hearing letter as an NOD.  Adolphson seems to suggest that when no NOD was actually issued, the Tax Court should just keep quiet about any other merits issue, as it lacks jurisdiction under section 6330(d)(1).

 

Seventh Circuit Wonders if a Refund Claim is a Jurisdictional Requirement for a Refund Suit

Guest poster Carl Smith brings us up to date on the latest in developments relating to courts reconsidering whether certain time limits in the Internal Revenue Code are jurisdictional. Les

Recently, a panel of the Seventh Circuit hearing the appeal of Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188, sua sponte, at oral argument raised the question whether a failure to file a deficiency petition in the Tax Court within the 90-day period set out in section 6213(a) is still a jurisdictional defect in light of non-tax Supreme Court case law since 2004 that has generally limited jurisdictional requirements to those involving personal and subject matter jurisdiction, not “claims processing rules”, such as filing timing requirements. My post on the October 6 Tilden oral argument can be found here. In an unpublished opinion issued by another panel of the Seventh Circuit on November 1, in Gillespie v United States, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 19604, affg. 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12891 (E.D. Wisc. 2016), the panel speculated (but did not decide) that the requirement in section 7422(a) to file an administrative refund claim before bringing a refund lawsuit may also no longer be a jurisdictional requirement under that same Supreme Court case law.

This post is to explain the facts of Gillespie and the panel’s non-jurisdictional thinking. It is also to report how the Gillespie opinion scared the DOJ enough into filing, on November 10, a motion for leave to file a supplemental brief in Tilden laying out in detail, for the first time, the government’s reasons for believing that the deficiency filing period is still jurisdictional. The Tilden panel immediately granted this unexpected motion, to which the  proposed brief was attached, and directed the taxpayer to file his own supplemental brief on the jurisdictional question by November 28.

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Gillespie Facts

The Gillespies initially filed a joint income tax return for 2009 reporting $82,499 of wages from a private employer on which they calculated the tax as $5,145, all of which had apparently been withheld. I am not sure why, but by April 2013, the taxpayers had been forced to pay a total of $13,653 in tax, penalties, and interest towards the 2009 year. At that point, the taxpayers filed an amended return for 2009 showing their wages, income, and tax all as $0. They took the position, apparently, that only employees of the U.S. government had reportable wages, not employees of private employers. So, they sought a refund of the entire $13,653.

The IRS refused to process the amended return, so the Gillespies filed suit in district court for the refund. There, the DOJ moved under FRCP 12(b)(1) to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that no valid refund claim had been filed, and that Congress only waived sovereign immunity under section 7422(a) for refund lawsuits after a taxpayer first files a refund claim.

Gillespie District Court Ruling

The district court held that section 7422(a)’s requirement for a refund claim to have been filed before a refund suit is maintained is not a jurisdictional requirement. It wrote (at footnote 2):

While Congress can create statutory limitations on jurisdiction, such as prerequisites to suit, “when Congress does not rank a statutory limitation on coverage as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional in character.” Arbaugh v. Y & H corp., 546 U.S. 500, 516 (2006). The statute at issue here, which waives sovereign immunity in taxpayer suits but requires taxpayers to first file a claim with the IRS, contains no language suggesting that this requirement is jurisdictional. 26 U.S.C. § 7422(a).

Arbaugh is one of the line of recent Supreme Court opinions that has cut back on the use of the word “jurisdictional”. The district court in Gillespie said that a defense of a lack of a waiver of sovereign immunity is a defense on the merits. The court then converted the motion to dismiss into one under FRCP 12(b)(6) to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted. The court then cited Seventh Circuit case law (relying indirectly on one of the factors in Beard v. Commissioner, 82 T.C. 766, 779 (1984)) requiring that any refund claim or tax return must evince an honest and genuine endeavor to satisfy the law. Since the legal position taken by the taxpayers on the amended return reflected a long-rejected tax protestor argument, the court held that the amended return did not evince an honest and genuine endeavor to satisfy the law, and, thus, the taxpayers had failed to file a refund claim before bringing suit. The court granted the motion to dismiss.

Gillespie Seventh Circuit Ruling

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit agreed with the district court that no refund claim had been filed before suit had been brought because the purported amended return did not evince an honest and genuine endeavor to satisfy the law. While affirming the district court’s dismissal of the suit for failure to comply with section 7422(a)’s requirement, the court of appeals dodged the issue of whether the dismissal was properly on the merits or should have been for lack of jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit wrote:

The Gillespies do not respond to the government’s renewed argument that § 7422(a) is jurisdictional, though we note that the Supreme Court’s most recent discussion of § 7422(a) does not describe it in this manner, see United States v. Clintwood Elkhorn Mining Co., 553 U.S. 1, 4-5, 11-12 (2008). And other recent decisions by the Court construe similar prerequisites as claims-processing rules rather than jurisdictional requirements, see, e.g., United States v. Kwai Fun Wong, 135 S. Ct. 1625, 1632-33 (2015) (concluding that administrative exhaustion requirement of Federal Tort Claims Act is not jurisdictional); Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154, 157 (2010) (concluding that Copyright Act’s registration requirement is not jurisdictional); Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 504 (2006) (concluding that statutory minimum of 50 workers for employer to be subject to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not jurisdictional). These developments may cast doubt on the line of cases suggesting that § 7422(a) is jurisdictional. See, e.g., United States v. Dalm, 494 U.S. 596, 601-02 (1990); Greene-Thapedi v. United States, 549 F.3d 530, 532-33 (7th Cir. 2008); Nick’s Cigarette City, Inc. v. United States, 531 F.3d 516, 520-21 (7th Cir. 2008).

Supplemental DOJ Brief in Tilden

 As I noted in my prior post on Tilden, the DOJ there had not briefed the issue of whether the time period in which to file a deficiency petition in the Tax Court was jurisdictional under recent non-tax Supreme Court case law on the meaning of “jurisdictional”. Counsel had incorrectly assumed that all they had to show was that the filing of the deficiency petition was or was not timely under the timely-mailing-is-timely-filing regulations under section 7502.

But, the panel of the Seventh Circuit in Tilden (which consisted of different judges from the panel in Gillespie), sua sponte, at oral argument, raised the jurisdictional question and was surprised that counsel in the case were not prepared to discuss it. In my prior post, I mentioned that the day after oral argument, the DOJ filed a short letter setting out its position that the deficiency petition filing period is still jurisdictional under the recent Supreme Court case law. I linked to that letter in my post on Tilden. But, this initial letter triggered off three more short letters back and forth between the parties on the issue – all filed after my post.

According to the DOJ, the opinion in Gillespie on November 1 triggered its concern that a fuller explanation of the government’s position as to why the deficiency filing period was jurisdictional was in order. So, without warning (and apparently without even contacting the taxpayer’s attorney), on November 10, the DOJ moved in Tilden to file a 24-page supplemental brief on the issue, a copy of which the DOJ attached to its motion. Without asking the taxpayer’s attorney whether there was an objection to the motion, the Seventh Circuit immediately granted the motion and directed the taxpayer to file a responding supplemental brief by November 28.

In my post on Tilden, I mentioned a couple of things that suggest that the deficiency filing period (unlike the filing periods under sections 6015(e)(1)(A) and 6330(d)(1)) might still be jurisdictional, despite the recent non-tax Supreme Court case law. In particular, I mentioned (1) a possible res judicata problem (if the court would hold otherwise) with the application of section 7459(d) and (2) that Congress in 1998 had, in Committee reports, called the deficiency time period “jurisdictional”. It may be that the DOJ lawyers read my Tilden post, since their brief makes these two points — though the DOJ lawyers also present a few other arguments that I did not articulate.

Interestingly enough, in its supplemental brief, the DOJ does not argue that the first sentence of section 6213(a) that contains the filing period contains a “clear statement” that Congress wants the time period to be jurisdictional. Rather, the DOJ points to other sentences in section 6213(a) and other Tax Court provisions that suggest that the time period must be jurisdictional. I won’t belabor this post with the details of and possible responses to what the DOJ argues, but suffice it to say that I can construct some responses that I suspect Mr. Tilden will present. I don’t consider this a slam dunk issue for either side.

Finally, once again, the DOJ, in its supplemental Tilden brief (as the Tax Court did in its opinion in Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. No. 15 (June 2, 2016)), put great weight on the long history of the Tax Court and Courts of Appeals holding that the deficiency filing period is jurisdictional. In one of Mr. Tilden’s short post-argument letters, he had written:

One of the issues in Guralnik was whether the 30-day period in 26 U.S.C. § 6330(d)(1) to file a Collection Due Process Tax Court petition is jurisdictional. The Tax Court’s primary reasoning for not abandoning its prior holdings indicating that §6213 is jurisdictional is the long history of the Tax Court’s own interpretation of the §6213(a) time period as jurisdictional, which the Tax Court thought it was entitled to follow under the stare decisis exception to the current jurisdictional rules set out in John R. Sand. But, that exception only applies for a long history of Supreme Court opinions, not opinions of lower courts. See Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Muchnick, 559 U.S. 154, 173-174 (Ginsburg, J., concurring, joined by Stevens and Breyer, JJ.) (“[I]n Bowles and John R. Sand & Gravel Co. . . . we relied on longstanding decisions of this Court typing the relevant prescriptions ‘jurisdictional.’ Amicus cites well over 200 opinions that characterize § 411(a) as jurisdictional, but not one is from this Court. . . .”; emphasis in original; citations omitted). Thus, the Tax Court’s reliance on stare decisis in Guralnik was misplaced.

In its Tilden supplemental brief, the DOJ responds:

But even if Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion supports the broad proposition taxpayer advances (and it is not clear that it does), the fact remains that a concurring opinion expressing the views of three justices does not represent a holding of the Court.

In the situation presented here, we think that the reasoning of the Court in John R. Sand & Gravel Co. supports our contention that I.R.C. § 6213(a)’s time limit is jurisdictional. As the Court explained in John R. Sand & Gravel Co., “re-examin[ing] … well-settled precedent” holding that a limitations period is jurisdictional would “threaten to substitute disruption, confusion, and uncertainty for necessary legal stability.” 552 U.S. at 139. Here, more than 35 years ago, the Fifth Circuit aptly described the state of the decisional law, observing that “[i]t cannot now be seriously questioned that the timely filing of the petition for redetermination is jurisdictional.” Johnson v. Commissioner, 611 F.2d 1015, 1018 (5th Cir. 1980). And, the absence of Supreme Court precedent confirming the decisional law of the courts of appeal only reflects the fact that the Supreme Court has had no reason to address the matter. As noted above, since the enactment of I.R.C. § 6213(a) in 1954, the twelve circuit courts that have jurisdiction to review decisions of the Tax Court have held that the statute’s time limit is jurisdictional. In these circumstances, there is no meaningful difference between the disruption that would occur from overturning this long-standing appellate court precedent and the disruption that would occur from overturning a Supreme Court precedent. Accordingly, under the Court’s reasoning in John R. Sand & Gravel Co., the long-standing and unanimous treatment of I.R.C. § 6213(a)’s time limit by the courts of appeals as jurisdictional should be sustained.

Furthermore, the Court in John R. Sand & Gravel also took into account the fact that “‘Congress remains free to alter what [the Court] ha[s] done.’” 552 U.S. at 139 (citation omitted). Here, Congress has had ample opportunity to amend I.R.C. § 6213(a) if it disagreed with the unanimous decisions of the judiciary. That it has not done so speaks volumes as to the correctness of those decisions.

All I can say is that I am grabbing a bowl of popcorn and, from the peanut gallery, I will be watching how the deficiency petition filing period jurisdictional fight comes out. Fascinating.

Editor’s Update: Carl’s comment to this post references Duggan v. Commissioner, which involves an appeal of a Tax Court dismissal of a CDP petition for lack of jurisdiction for being mailed to the Tax Court one day late. Here is the DOJ brief that Carl references in his comment.

Seventh Circuit May Hold 90-day Period to File Deficiency Petition Not Jurisdictional

We welcome back frequent guest blogger, Carl Smith, who discusses a surprising development in the issue of whether a time period to file a Tax Court petition in a deficiency case is jurisdictional. Jurisdictional in this context is a code word for set in stone. Depending on the outcome of this case, jurisdiction in Tax Court cases could get very interesting. Keith

As you may recall from a recent post of mine, Keith and I are in the midst of litigation in the Circuit courts about whether the time periods in which to file Tax Court petitions in Collection Due Process (CDP) (§ 6330(d)(1)) and stand-alone innocent spouse (§ 6015(e)(1)(A)) cases are jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling under recent non-tax Supreme Court case law that has made time periods to file almost never jurisdictional.  Even though the Supreme Court has been issuing many opinions on its new jurisdictional thinking since 2004, our arguments are, shockingly, ones of first impression in the Circuit courts. In June, the Tax Court, en banc, rejected our arguments in a CDP case named Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. No. 15 (June 2, 2016), basically saying that the Supreme Court case law we cited is distinguishable because it does not involve tax law or the Tax Court and because the Tax Court would prefer to stick, by analogy and stare decisis, to its old case law holding the § 6213(a) period to file jurisdictional. See Byran Camp’s post on Guralnik here.

I have done a couple of posts on the case of Tilden v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2015-188, see my posts here and here. It is a deficiency case that was taken up on appeal. On October 6, 2016, the parties did oral argument before the Seventh Circuit in the case, and it appears that at least two judges on the panel, Judge Easterbrook and Chief Judge Wood, (and maybe all three) are inclined to hold that the current non-tax Supreme Court case law on jurisdiction makes the § 6213(a) time period to file a deficiency case non-jurisdictional. If they do this in the deficiency area, it will certainly constitute a revolution in the tax controversy world and a slap at the unanimous Tax Court holding in Guralnik. Yikes!

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By way of background on the Tilden case, I quote from one of my earlier posts:

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.

In the appeal, both the taxpayer and the DOJ are arguing that Judge Armen was wrong and that the Seventh Circuit shouldn’t rely on the provision of the § 7502 regulations that he relied on. Both sides now agree that this case should be treated as if the envelope bore a non-USPS postmark, where the regulations would treat the filing as timely if the petition arrived at the Tax Court within a normal period that would apply to regular mail sent by USPS on the last date to file. The parties agree here that the petition arrived 8 days after the last date to file. Given the extra screening done to Tax Court mail since the 2001 anthrax scare, the DOJ and IRS now concedes that 8 days is within the outer edge of the normal period for USPS mail to reach the Tax Court from Utah.

The parties filed briefs in the Seventh Circuit arguing about which was the correct regulation under § 7502, but not discussing, one way or the other, recent non-tax Supreme Court case law on whether time periods to file are jurisdictional. Indeed, the parties at oral argument admitted ignorance of the non-tax Supreme Court case law that appellate judges are applying almost every week to overturn prior holdings.

The parties just assumed that the time period to file a deficiency petition was jurisdictional, as most Circuit courts and the Tax Court had held long ago. But, no one has ever asked the Tax Court or a Court of Appeals to reconsider whether the § 6213(a) period is really still jurisdictional under the Supreme Court’s new case law severely limiting the use of the word “jurisdictional”. Under that new case law, time limits to file in courts are not jurisdictional, unless either (1) Congress has made a “clear statement” in the statute that it wants the time period to be jurisdictional, or (2) the Supreme Court has for over 100 years in its own opinions held the time period jurisdictional (even though the time period wouldn’t be considered jurisdictional under the new Supreme Court rules).

At the oral argument in Tilden on October 6 (which can be heard on the Seventh Circuit’s website and linked above), at least two and maybe all of the judges on the panel spent a large part of each side’s time asking: “Why isn’t the § 6213(a) filing period not jurisdictional under current non-tax Supreme Court case law?”  It is clear that at least two of the judges think that the time period is obviously not still jurisdictional under that case law.  No judge on the panel suggested it was.

The judges were rather shocked that neither party’s lawyer was prepared to discuss the jurisdictional issue under current Supreme Court case law, but Robert Metzler of the DOJ noted to the court that this same issue was being raised in two other cases, Duggan v. Commissioner (a Ninth Circuit CDP case, where Keith and I are amicus) and Matuszak v. Commissioner (a Second Circuit innocent spouse case under § 6015(e), where Keith and I are taxpayer’s counsel and which Meltzer erroneously said was going on in the Third Circuit). Metzler was confused. Keith and I are litigating, as counsel for the taxpayer, a § 6015(e) case named Rubel v. Commissioner in the Third Circuit. Metzler forgot to mention Rubel.  Metzler also failed to mention that none of our cases involve the deficiency time period in § 6213(a), so the issue is not exactly the same, but only similar.

Metzler is counsel for the DOJ in the Duggan case, and only on October 4 (i.e.,2 days before the Seventh Circuit oral argument in Tilden), the Ninth Circuit had accepted Keith and my amicus brief in the Duggan CDP case. At the same time, the Ninth Circuit ordered Metzler to file a response to our amicus brief no later than October 25. (Metzler is not the DOJ counsel in either Matuszak or Rubel.)  Metzler told the Seventh Circuit that he was just beginning to familiarize himself with the issues we raised, but that he was not prepared to make any argument on the jurisdictional point to the Seventh Circuit. He offered, instead, to provide supplemental briefing, but the judges were not interested in more briefing on Supreme Court case law on jurisdiction that they said they already knew quite well.

Metzler also warned that this panel might have to go en banc to overrule Seventh Circuit existing precedent, Petrulis v. Commissioner, 938 F.2d 78, 79 (7th Cir. 1991); Sanders v. Commissioner, 813 F.2d 859, 861 (7th Cir. 1987); and McPartlin v. Commissioner, 653 F.2d 1185, 1188 (7th Cir.1981); that described the filing period as jurisdictional. But, Judge Easterbrook seemed already to have looked at those opinions: The statement in Sanders that timely filing is a jurisdictional defect for a deficiency case was dicta, not the least necessary to the holding. Thus, Sanders is not current Seventh Circuit precedent. While the other two opinions clearly state that the filing period is jurisdictional, the Supreme Court would call those two opinions “drive-by jurisdictional rulings,” deserving of no precedential weight, since it would not have mattered in either case whether the time period was called an element of the claim to be proved, instead of a jurisdictional defect. See Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 511 (2006).

Although it is always dangerous to predict, at the end of the argument, it seemed that the judges were going to hold that the § 6213(a) time period is not jurisdictional and remand the case to the Tax Court.  The judges pointed out that since non-jurisdictional statutes of limitations are subject to waiver, and the IRS was not arguing that the petition was untimely, the Tax Court could just proceed to the merits after a remand if the Seventh Circuit held the time period not jurisdictional.

The day after the oral argument, a fairly desperate Meltzer submitted an FRAP 28(j) letter in which he argued that, just as the Supreme Court in John R. Sand & Gravel Co. v. United States, 552 U.S. 130 (2008), refused to use its new thinking on jurisdiction to overturn its prior holdings for over 100 years that the 6-year time period in which to file a suit in the Court of Federal Claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2501 is jurisdictional, similar stare decisis grounds should caution the Seventh Circuit from overruling its precedent under § 6213(a). Unfortunately for the government, the Supreme Court has not said there is a stare decisis exception from its current rules on jurisdiction to consistent prior holdings of lower courts. So, I doubt this comment will go anywhere with the Seventh Circuit, though the Tax Court accepted this argument in Guralnik.

Oddly, Meltzer, in his letter, makes no attempt to show that the Congress made a “clear statement” in § 6213(a) that the time period to file is jurisdictional.

Finally, in his letter, Meltzer referred the Seventh Circuit to the Tax Court’s opinion in Guralnik, which, he said, “contains a well-reasoned discussion of whether the jurisdictional status of time limits for Tax Court petitions has been changed by recent Supreme Court cases.”

Observations

Even though a good argument could be made that the deficiency jurisdiction time period is not jurisdictional, Keith and I have been careful not to make that argument and to point out to the courts why we aren’t making that argument. While such a holding might benefit individuals who are seeking equitable tolling for a late-filed deficiency petition, we fear the argument’s consequences on people who had no good reason for late filing. Most people have no good reason for late filing.

It has long been held that a person who files a deficiency petition late can, after the case is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, simply pay the tax and sue for refund in district court. Budlong v. Commissioner, 58 T.C. 850, 854 n.2 (1972); McCormick v. Commissioner, 55 T.C. 138, 142 n.5 (1970). That is because § 7459(d) provides, in relevant part:

If a petition for a redetermination of a deficiency has been filed by the taxpayer, a decision of the Tax Court dismissing the proceeding shall be considered as its decision that the deficiency is the amount determined by the Secretary. An order specifying such amount shall be entered in the records of the Tax Court . . . unless the dismissal is for lack of jurisdiction.

If the § 6213(a) filing period is not jurisdictional, then, if a person files a late Tax Court deficiency petition, § 7459(d) would turn the decision in the case into a decision on the merits upholding the deficiency.  I am not sure that the person could then pay and sue for a refund.  Wouldn’t the Tax Court merits decision be res judicata in the district court for the same tax year?

Further, the point of the Supreme Court making a stare decisis exception to its new rules because of a long history of its case law holding a time period jurisdictional is that Congress, having read that case law, might have legislated on the assumption that the time period was jurisdictional. Even though there is no Supreme Court case law interpreting § 6213(a) or its predecessors, it is clear that Congress has legislated on the assumption that § 6213(a) is jurisdictional. The Committee reports accompanying the 1998 legislation adding a sentence to the end of that subsection allowing taxpayers to rely on the last date to file shown in notices of deficiency state that Congress is making the change because the time period is jurisdictional. See H. Rept. 105-364 (Part 1) at 71, 1998-3 C.B. 373, 443; S. Rept. 105-174 at 90, 1998-3 C.B. 537, 626. Accord H.R. (Conf.) Rept. 105-599 at 289, 1998-3 C.B. 747, 1043-1044.

It would have been helpful if Meltzer had also told the Seventh Circuit about the potential § 7459(d) problem we foresee and the Committee report language noted in the prior paragraph.

Well, if the Seventh Circuit rules § 6213(a)’s time period is not jurisdictional, I suppose the problem we foresee could easily be fixed by a statutory amendment to § 7459(d).