Designated Orders for the Week of October 23-27

Professor Samantha Galvin of University of Denver Sturm College of Law brings us this week’s edition of Designated Orders. This week she looks at an order involving a motion for reconsideration. Those types of requests are always an uphill battle for the requestor and not to spoil her post but this one proves no different. She also discusses a designated order involving the capacity of the petitioner to be the petitioner and one involving subpoenas. Keith

There were several designated orders this week. Three are discussed below, but those not discussed are orders: 1) denying a motion to dismiss on a timely mailed petition (here), 2) granting partial summary judgment in connect with estate related transfers (here), 3) requesting supplemental briefs on a notice of final partnership administrative adjustment (here), 4) addressing an improper motion for nonconsensual depositions of party witnesses (here), 5) addressing how to treat a non-participating party in TEFRA litigation (here), 6) denying a motion for partial summary judgment in case involving gift tax (here), and 7) granting a motion for summary judgment for a case involving alternative minimum tax (here).

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No Reason to Reconsider

Docket #: 13243-15, Zane W. Penley and Monika J. Penley v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

In this first designated order Judge Wherry addresses a motion for reconsideration filed by petitioners, a husband and wife. The motion came after the Court issued an opinion finding for respondent, because petitioners had not adequately substantiated their argument. The Court also imposed an accuracy-related penalty.

Under Rule 161, a motion for reconsideration is an option available within 30 days after an opinion has been served, however, whether to grant the motion is within the Court’s discretion. A party may move for reconsideration to correct substantial errors of fact or law or to introduce new evidence that could not have been introduced by exercising due diligence in the first proceeding. A motion for reconsideration should not be used to revisit rejected arguments or present new legal theories.

The petitioners appear to believe that they are introducing new evidence, but the Court disagrees.

The issue in the case was whether husband petitioner, Mr. Penley, was a real estate professional entitled to take ordinary losses or an investor subject to passive activity loss rules. To be a real estate professional, section 469(c)(7)(b) requires a taxpayer to spend more than half of his or her working time on real estate activities and that the time spent working on real estate activities exceeds 750 hours in the taxable year at issue.

The “new” evidence petitioners present consists of a self-invented calculation method used to estimate of the amount of time Mr. Penley spent on real estate activities. A calendar, that had been introduced in the prior proceeding, is used as part of this calculation along with national median pay data for different occupations, a ratio of labor to renovation material purchase costs, phone records, an article about the need to work over 100 hours a week to survive on minimum wage and an article about a corporate CEO who worked 130 hours per week. As a result of this self-invented calculation, petitioners allege that Mr. Penley worked 2,520 hours on real estate activities in the year at issue.

The Court mentions that this evidence could have been raised before the Court’s decision was issued, but even so, goes on to address the key points raised by petitioners. The Court finds that the evidence is still too vague, untrustworthy, exaggerated and doesn’t prove that Mr. Penley actually worked more than 100 hours per week.

The Court goes on to say that even if the evidence was credible, petitioners still would have to prove that Mr. Penley was a real estate professional performing personal services in connection with a trade or business rather than an investor.

Regarding the accuracy-related penalty, although the petitioners had hired an enrolled agent to prepare their return, the Court found that no reasonable cause had been shown because petitioners did not accurately provide the preparer with all of the relevant facts.

Judge Wherry denies their motion for reconsideration, since petitioners did not show unusual circumstances, a substantial error of fact or law, or any other reason justifying relief.

LLC Lacks Legal Capacity

Docket #: 26053-15R, MD Facs Trust LLC v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

This designated order involves respondent moving to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction arguing (after supplementing its motion) that petitioner, a limited liability company (“LLC”), lacked legal capacity at the time it filed its Tax Court petition. The LLC petitioned the Tax Court after it allegedly sought review of a retirement plan and the IRS allegedly failed to provide a determination.

According to respondent, petitioner lacks legal capacity because the LLC was not in good standing with the State of Maryland when the petition was filed. A taxpayer must have capacity, under Rule 60(c), to engage in litigation but the rule does not specifically address how the capacity of an LLC is determined. Respondent argues that capacity should be determined by Maryland law because that is where the petitioner is organized. Petitioner does not challenge that approach.

Under Maryland law, if an LLC is no longer in good standing it is barred from initiating a lawsuit. In this case, the LLC was not in good standing because it was forfeited by the Department of Assessments and Taxation three years before it petitioned the Tax Court. As a result, the Court finds petitioner lacked capacity to commence the case so dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction is warranted.

Legal capacity aside, section 7476 gives Court jurisdiction to make a declaratory judgment regarding the tax-qualified status of a retirement plan, but before it can do so it must determine that the taxpayer has exhausted administrative remedies. The Court goes on to find that even if petitioner had legal capacity, it did not exhaust administrative remedies because its application was not procedurally complete. An application for tax-qualified status of a retirement plan is procedurally complete when it includes the appropriate forms, payment of the user fee, and a copy of the retirement plan and trust document among other things.

The petitioner alleges that it submitted the appropriate forms and presents copies of forms signed and dated in July 2014 to respondent and the Court. The version of one of the forms presented was published in August so it was not yet available in July, which suggests that the petitioner did not actually file the forms as he alleges. Additionally, the IRS had no record of forms being submitted nor record of the user fee being paid. Petitioner also did not submit a copy of the retirement plan nor trust agreement, which made a review by the IRS impossible.

In addition to lacking legal capacity to institute the Tax Court proceeding, the Court finds petitioner did not prove that it exhausted administrative remedies so the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction is granted.

Mind the Scope of Subpoenas

Docket #: 13370-13, Estate of Marion Levine, Deceased, Robert L. Larson, Personal Representative and Trustee, Robert H. Levine, Trustee and Nancy S. Saliterman, Trustee v. C.I.R., (Order Here)

In this order, petitioners move for a protective order to limit the scope of a subpoena that respondent served on one of petitioner’s attorneys and the attorney’s firm. Petitioner, an estate represented by its personal representative and trustees, argues the scope of the subpoena is overly broad as respondent sought all documents that petitioner’s attorney or his firm had in their files for Marion Levine and her estate for a period of more than 10 years, between January 2007 until July 2017. The petitioner argues anything after April 2013, when the notice of deficiency was issued, is work-product and likely undiscoverable.

Petitioner had also subpoenaed the attorney and his firm for the firm’s files for the period between beginning in January 2007 until the estate return was filed in April 2010. The reason petitioner subpoenaed this information was to prepare a reasonable cause defense to penalties.

Respondent agrees that documents prepared after the notice of deficiency was issued are work-product, but argues that by attempting to raise the reasonable cause defense petitioners waive any work-product privilege.

The work-product privilege specifically limits discovery of documents prepared in anticipation of litigation and not merely assembled in the ordinary course of business. In the tax realm, even audit documents could be prepared in anticipation of litigation.

Respondent refers to a case and an order in which the Court held that raising a good-faith defense could waive attorney-client privilege, but in the case and order the documents and notes were written before the transaction at issue and respondent was not seeking anything from a period after the taxpayer filed returns.

The Court agrees that good faith and reasonable cause can waive work-product protection for certain documents made before a return is filed, but Respondent does not cite any authority supporting the argument that the protection is waived for documents made after litigation begins.

Even so, a party can obtain work-product if there is a substantial need. Respondent says it has a genuine need for the information to rebut petitioner’s reasonable cause defense, but gives no reason for needing any of the information that was produced after the return was filed. The Court says subpoenas in the form of a “large scale drift netting” are generally not okay and grants petitioner’s protective order limiting the scope of the information available to respondent.

 

Designated Orders 9/25 to 9/29

Professor Samantha Galvin of University of Denver Sturm College of Law brings us this week’s edition of Designated Orders. This week she looks at an order involving a Collection Due Process case in which the notes of the Settlement Officer and the determination letter ultimately sent do not match. She also writes about an order ruling on the admissibility of the testimony of an expert witness because the expert witness left some information off of his report tending to show that he might be favorably disposed to the IRS. I have written before about disqualification of an expert witness. A motion to disqualify an expert creates a serious point in any case in which a party relies on such a witness and failing to properly set up such testimony can have consequences that can easily change the outcome of the case.  Samantha found a third order, the one in the Gabr case linked first in the next paragraph, to be of enough importance that she is going to write a standalone post on that case. Keith 

The Tax Court designated six orders last week and two are discussed below. The orders not discussed involved: 1) a faxed CDP request and a question of the Court’s jurisdiction (here); 2) an order granting a motion for continuance (here); 3) an order addressing several of petitioner’s various motions (here); and 4) an order denying a petitioner’s motion to seal (here).

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Notes are Not Determination

Docket #: 21235-16L, Scott Kimrey Goldsmith v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here)

This designated order covers a topic that is often blogged about by PT and in other designated orders, which is whether or not underlying liability can be raised during a CDP hearing. This time, however, the petitioner has an interesting argument for raising the underlying liability and for why he should not be liable. The petitioner resides in the 8th Circuit, so the Court has to follow Robinette v. Commissioner, 439 F.3d 455 (8th Cir. 2006), and review the determination based on the administrative record. Both parties have moved for summary judgment.

Petitioner was a lawyer and this is not the first time he has been before the Tax Court. He was before the Court on a different, but related issue where he was indicted and convicted for failure to pay over income and FICA taxes owed, in addition to other charges.

The tax at issue also concerns employment taxes owed by his now inactive law firm, and specifically, the trust fund recovery penalties (TFRP) assessed to petitioner in his individual capacity. Trust fund recovery penalties can be assessed without the right to judicial review, but a taxpayer has the right to request a hearing with an IRS appeals officer before the assessment takes place. Petitioner received a Letter 1153, proposing to assess TFRP, and he requested such a hearing.

In his pre-assessment hearing, the petitioner argued that the had filed returns for the quarters at issue more than three years prior when he gave the returns to an IRS criminal investigator, and therefore, the IRS’s assessment statute had expired before the assessment at issue was made. To make this argument, petitioner incorrectly relied on Dingman v. Commissioner, 101 T.C.M. 1562 (2011). The appeals officer, in the pre-assessment hearing, disagreed that the returns had been filed because unlike in Dingman, the returns had not actually been filed, and found petitioner liable for the underlying employment taxes, and thus, the TFRP.

The IRS sent petitioner a Notice of Federal Tax Lien and notice of intent to levy and petitioner requested another hearing, this time a collection due process hearing. In this CDP hearing, petitioner attempted to make the same argument he had made in his pre-assessment hearing. This time, the appeals officer assigned to the CDP hearing believed petitioner was correct and made notes in the file stating that the “taxpayer can raise liability and the assessment is not valid.”

These notes were never written into a notice of determination, and instead the appeals officer was removed from the case. The case was reassigned, but the second appeals officer had had prior involvement so was also removed from the case.

A third appeals officer was assigned to the CDP case and sustained the lien, but not the levy. Similar to the appeals officer in the petitioner’s pre-assessment hearing, the third appeals officer found that turning over the returns to an IRS criminal investigator was not a filing, so the assessment statute had not expired. He also found that petitioner had no right to challenge the liability in the CDP hearing, since he had had a prior opportunity to do so.

Petitioner petitioned Tax Court on the third appeals officer’s notice of determination. Petitioner argued that first appeals officer’s notes should be treated as the determination and that the Court give full force and effect to the first CDP hearing appeals officer’s findings, decisions and agreements.

Code sections 6320 and 6330 do not define the word determination, but the applicable regulation defines it by stating that a notice of determination will be sent by certified or registered mail and set forth Appeals’ findings and decisions. The determination defined in the regulations is the type of determination that is needed to establish the Court’s jurisdiction, so the IRS’s preliminary notes or drafts are not a determination.

Since petitioner had an opportunity to raise the underlying liability in his pre-assessment hearing, the Court found he could not do so again in the CDP context. The Court found that the appeals officer did not abuse his discretion, denied petitioner’s motion for summary judgment, granted respondent’s motion and allowed respondent to proceed with the collection of the TFRP for the relevant periods.

Petitioner Out of Luck, Expert Testimony Not Struck

Docket #: 17152-13, Estate of Michael J. Jackson, Deceased, John G. Branca, Co-Executor and John McClain, Co-Executor v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

PT previously covered a different designated order from the Estate of Michael Jackson’s case a few months ago. The first, here, involved section 6751(b).

In this designated order involving a completely different issue, petitioner moved to strike the testimony of respondent’s expert witness. The expert witness testified about the value of some of the estate’s assets. The expert witness was also respondent’s only witness, so without his testimony the Respondent will have no evidence.

In his motion, petitioner argued that Tucker v. Commissioner should apply. In Tucker, the Court excluded an expert witness’s testimony for violating Tax Court Rule 143(g).

Rule 143(g) governs expert witness reports and establishes requirements for what the reports should contain. The requirements relevant in Tucker, as well as this case, are: 1) the witness’s qualifications, including a list of all publications authored in the previous ten years; and 2) a list of all other cases in which, during the previous four years, the witness testified as an expert at trial or by deposition. If the requirements are not, the rule also requires that the witness’s testimony be excluded altogether unless good cause is shown, and the failure does not unduly prejudice the opposing party.

In Tucker, the Court excluded the witness’s testimony because he failed to disclose two cases in which he had testified as an expert during the previous four years and the Court could not find good cause for the omission. The witness also omitted or exaggerated other information which caused the Court to be concerned.

In the present case, the petitioner asserted that the witness lied when he testified that he had not worked similar issues for the IRS, but the witness admitted to the lie during trial when confronted by documentary evidence and further questioning. The witness also omitted two items, one case and one publication, from his CV.

Petitioner argued that the Court should strike all of the witness’s testimony and expert reports due to perjury, however, perjury is a criminal offense and this is not a criminal case so instead the Court finds, and neither party disputes, that the witness lied under oath.

Respondent, to show good cause, stated the witness’s omissions were a clerical error and the Court agreed with that reasoning because the witness disclosed hundreds of cases and more than 100 publications, so omitting only two items was an oversight. The petitioner also did not assert that it was unduly prejudiced by the omission.

Petitioner also argued the witness is biased in favor of the Respondent. The Court pointed out that bias goes to weight of testimony and not admissibility, unless the report is absurd or “so far beyond the realm of usefulness” to be admissible.

The petitioner also argued that Rule of Evidence 702 (addressing reliability) and 402 (addressing relevancy) should apply to exclude the evidence. The Court finds excluding the evidence is too severe since it will result in leaving Respondent without any evidence about one of the key issues in the case and instead, a proportionate remedy is to discount credibility and weight given to the expert witness’s opinions.

 

Designated Orders: 8/28/2017 – 9/1/2017

Professor Samantha Galvin of University of Denver Sturm College of Law brings us this week’s edition of Designated Orders. This week’s post looks at an order involving a Collection Due Process case and an order explaining the impact of sending a refund on the IRS’s subsequent ability to audit.  Keith

The Tax Court designated seven orders last week and three are discussed below. The designated orders not discussed are here, here, here and here.

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Dictum in Greene-Thapedi Does Not Apply

Docket # 23295-14L, VK&S Industries v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

In this designated order the taxpayer petitioned the Tax Court on a notice of determination, however, the Court remanded the case to Appeals to review the liability pursuant to section 6330(c)(2)(B) which indicates that the petitioner did not have a prior opportunity to dispute the underlying liability for the tax year at issue. Following its review, Appeals issued a supplemented notice of determination which the Court also has the authority to review under section 6330(d)(1).

The Appeals’ review on remand resulted in adjustments which abated a portion of the tax due and generated a large refund that was then paid out to petitioner. As a result of there no longer being any tax amount due, the IRS (respondent) moved to dismiss the case on the ground of mootness relying upon Greene-Thapedi v. Commissioner, 126 T.C. 1.

The majority in Greene-Thapedi held that the Tax Court has no jurisdiction to determine an overpayment or order a refund in section 6330 cases, however, the Court stated (in dictum) that it might consider whether a taxpayer had paid more than what was owed in collection cases where the underlying liability was properly at issue pursuant to section 6330(c)(2)(B). Other cases citing Greene-Thapedi have been recently discussed by Procedurally Taxing here and here.

Petitioner objected to respondent’s motion on grounds that its case was distinguishable from the majority’s decision in Greene-Thapedi since it was not allowed to raise its underlying liability in its initial CDP hearing, even though it satisfied section 6330(c)(2)(B). This was because, even though petitioner’s liability was reviewed and abated in large part on remand, petitioner believed additional amounts should have been abated during Appeals’ review.

The Court granted respondent’s motion and dismissed the case, stating that since Appeals reviewed the underlying liability on remand and eliminated petitioner’s balance, the circumstances described in the dictum of Greene-Thapedi did not apply.

Take-away point:

  • The circumstances described in the Greene-Thapedi dictum could potentially apply in cases where a petitioner was not provided an opportunity to dispute the underlying liability but there is also still a balance due, however, this was not the position in which the petitioner in this case found itself.

Respondent’s Motion Given the Boot, Not Moot

Docket # 20779-16S, Brooks v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Similar to the case discussed directly above, in this designated order respondent moved to dismiss the case, in part, on grounds of mootness because the taxpayer no longer owed a balance for 2003 which was one of two tax years at issue. This time, however, the balance was no longer owed because the collection statute had expired. The Court did not agree with respondent and denied the motion, because petitioner’s 2014 refund of $364 was applied to 2003 right before the collection statute expired. This meant it was possible that petitioner could still receive this refund because the issue before the Court was an innocent spouse determination, and the petitioner filed his petition within the requisite two-year period under section 6511(b)(2)(B). Whereas the Court in Greene-Thapedi held that it has no jurisdiction to find an overpayment (at least in some circumstances) under its CDP jurisdiction, the Court may determine an overpayment under its section 6015(e) stand-alone innocent spouse jurisdiction because that provision grants the Court jurisdiction “to determine the relief available to the individual under this section.”  Section 6015(g)(1) and (3) provide for the possibility of overpayments under subsections (b) or (f), but not under subsection (c).  See the recent opinion in Taft v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2017-66 (finding an overpayment under subsection (b)), on which PT blogged on May 3, 2017 here.

The Court has jurisdiction to review innocent spouse relief claims de novo. During tax years 2003 and 2006, petitioner earned a larger portion of the income reported on the joint return he filed with his wife. Petitioner’s wife’s income was from a combination of social security benefits and income from other sources, however, she was relieved of all joint and several liability in a bankruptcy proceeding to which petitioner was not a party. As a result, petitioner was the only one still responsible for the entire balance. Over time, petitioner’s income decreased and he was diagnosed with serious health issues.

The Court analyzed whether or not petitioner was eligible for relief under section 6015(f), with the caveat that the facts assumed in the order were not findings for purposes of the trial and the facts were still petitioner’s burden to prove.

First, it stated that petitioner was not entitled to streamlined relief because he was still married to his wife. The Court then went on to look at the factors outlined in Revenue Procedure 2013-34 and suggested that three of the factors may weigh in favor of relief, namely: economic hardship, health problems and compliance with tax laws. It also stated that holding petitioner solely liable could create an inequitable result since petitioner’s wife discharged her joint and several liability in bankruptcy.

At the end of this designated order, Judge Gustafson said that the case would proceed to trial and requested that the parties show, at trial, what petitioner’s individual liability would have been had he filed separately from his wife.

Update:

  • In a subsequent, non-designated order issued on September 5, 2017 (here) the Court granted respondent’s motion to submit the case under rule 122 and the case was stricken for trial. In that non-designated order, petitioner stipulated to the amounts of his and his wife’s income in the years at issue. The Court ordered the parties to file a status report stating whether they wished to provide additional briefs, or rely solely on the information in the pretrial memoranda, prior to the Court making its decision.

Receiving a Refund Does Not Preclude a Deficiency

Docket # 26549-16S, Chambers v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here)

In this case the taxpayer petitioned the Court after she incorrectly claimed an excess net premium tax credit in tax year 2014.  The error arose because the taxpayer entered the annual totals listed on her Form 1095-A as monthly amounts into the tax software that she used to prepare her return. The IRS audited the return and later issued a notice of deficiency reflecting a $2,880 deficiency, which was the difference between the amount of net premium tax credit to which she was entitled of $120 and the net premium tax credit which she had mistakenly claimed of $3,000.

Petitioner did not make the argument that the deficiency amount was incorrect, but rather she argued that the IRS had “ample” time to correct any miscalculations prior to sending her a refund. As a result, she believed that the IRS should be precluded from determining a deficiency. She filed her return on March 9, 2015 and received the refund on April 13, 2015. She stated that in between this (very short by IRS standards) time her return was audited and that the IRS requested copies of the information she had entered, presumably her Form 1095-A.

The Court doesn’t comment on whether the IRS actually requested any information in between the date the return was filed and the date the refund was issued. Instead, the Court held that even if a return was audited before a refund was issued, it would not bind the IRS in the absence of a closing agreement, valid compromise or final adjudication.

Since the petitioner did not dispute the substantive determinations made in the notice of deficiency, respondent filed a motion for summary judgement under Rule 121.

The Court agreed there was no genuine dispute to material fact so it granted respondent’s motion for summary judgment and decided that the petitioner had a deficiency in income in the amount of the excess refund.

Take-away points:

  • We often have clients who desire to make similar arguments in the belief that the onus is on the IRS to determine that a refund is correct before it is issued. Unfortunately, these are not arguments that the IRS nor Court are willing to entertain. I presume this belief arises often among low-income clients since most refunds are spent immediately, and often on necessary living expenses, leaving the client in a very uncomfortable spot once the IRS demands that the amount be repaid.
  • In my experience, errors made by state healthcare exchanges have been the culprit of issues with premium tax credits, unfortunately in this case, the taxpayer was the one who got it wrong.

 

 

Designated Orders: 7/31/2017-8/4/2017

Professor Samantha Galvin of University of Denver Sturm College of Law brings us this week’s edition of Designated Orders. This week’s post looks at an order involving Section 6751 and an order involving the Court’s power to impose sanctions. Les

The Tax Court designated four orders last week and two are discussed below. The designated orders that are not discussed are an order that a petitioner respond regarding his objection to respondent’s motion for summary judgment (here) and an order denying a petitioner’s motion for reconsideration to vacate the Court’s decision and dismissal where petitioner repeatedly failed to file a disclosure statement as required by Rule 20(c) (here).

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Section 6751(b) Compliance is Designated Again

Docket # 13535-16SL, Adrian Antionette McGee v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Here is yet another section 6751 designated order. After the Graev decision opened the door for these arguments, PT has posted frequently on the topic including, most recently, in a very informative designated order post dedicated to section 6751 a few weeks ago (here).

In this designated order, Judge Leyden is raising the issue of whether the IRS has complied with section 6751 when imposing an accuracy-related penalty. Judge Leyden also raised this issue in another (non-designated) order last week (here) which dealt with a failure to deposit penalty.

McGee is a pro se petitioner from Florida. Undoubtedly, she did not raise section 6751(b) non-compliance during her CDP hearing. As mentioned in our previous designated orders post, this issue is being treated slightly differently depending on the Judge. Judge Leyden appears to be one of the judges that does not think a taxpayer waives the section 6751(b) issue by not raising it.

In the present case, respondent filed a motion for summary judgment. Respondent’s motion was premature but petitioner didn’t object on that basis, so interestingly, the Court exercised its discretion and allowed the motion to proceed.

In case you haven’t been following the other posts, section 6751(b)(1) provides that, “a penalty cannot be assessed unless the initial determination of such assessment is personally approved (in writing) by the immediate supervisor of the individual making such determination or such higher level official as the Secretary may designate.” To demonstrate compliance with this section, respondent must show: 1) the identity of the individual who made the “initial determination”, 2) an approval “in writing”, and 3) the identity of the person giving approval and his or her status as the “immediate supervisor.” The settlement officer’s declaration stated that the requirements of applicable law or administrative procedure were met, but did not specifically verify that section 6751 requirements were met nor did it include any documents to substantiate that the requirements under the section were met.

The Court gives respondent three options: 1) prove that the requirements of section 6751(b)(1) were met, 2) prove that the “automatically calculated through electronic means” exception under section 6751(b)(2) applies and compliance need not be shown, or 3) concede the penalty.

The IRS must supplement its motion by August 15, and the petitioner may respond by August 30 – so we will wait in anxious anticipation to see where this one goes.

Section 6673 Penalty Imposed on Egregious Tax Protestor

Docket # 27787-16, Gary A. Bell, Sr. v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

The Tax Court sees a lot of tax protestors, in part because taxpayers do not have a lot to lose when petitioning the Tax Court. They can represent themselves, the tax liability is not required to be paid beforehand, and the court filing fee is not cost prohibitive and can be waived if the taxpayer can demonstrate economic hardship. The section 6673(a)(1) penalty is one of the Tax Court’s defenses against egregious tax protestors, and others who may meet the section’s criteria.

The petitioner in this case is particularly egregious. In the present case, he petitioned the Tax Court on CP71A notices for four different tax years. The CP71A notices are annual reminder notices informing the taxpayer of a balance due and do not provide a taxpayer with the right to petition the Court.

Petitioner had previously petitioned the Tax Court eight years ago for three out of the four years listed in his petition and the Court had rendered a decision for those years. As for the fourth year, neither a notice of deficiency (nor a notice of determination) had been issued. This meant the Court lacked jurisdiction for every year listed in petitioner’s petition.

As a result, in the present case, respondent filed a motion for summary judgment for lack of jurisdiction and requested that a section 6673(a)(1) penalty be imposed. Petitioner filed a Notice of Objection.

According to the Tax Court, “the purpose of section 6673 is to compel taxpayers to think and to conform to settled tax principles; it was designed to deter frivolity and waste of judicial resources.” In total, the petitioner had previously petitioned the Tax Court six separate times on various tax years using tax protestor arguments and had been warned about the imposition of the section 6673 penalty, to some degree, in all cases. Under section 6673, a penalty of up to $25,000 can be imposed whenever it appears to the Tax Court that proceedings before it have been instituted or maintained by the taxpayer primarily for delay; the taxpayer’s position in such proceeding is frivolous or groundless; or the taxpayer unreasonably failed to pursue available administrative remedies.

Due to the petitioner’s repetitively egregious behavior, the Court was convinced that petitioner instituted and maintained the proceeding for the purpose of delay and imposed a section 6673 penalty of $5,000.

Take-away points:

  • The Court likely designated this order as a warning to other tax protestors who wish, or continue, to drain the Court’s resources in a similar way.
  • The penalty is a necessary option for the Court since a taxpayer can take advantage of the Court’s time and resources, even when he or she has no basis on which to be there.

 

Designated Orders: 7/3/2017 – 7/7/2017

Today’s designated order post was written by Samatha Galvin from Denver Law School.  The orders continue to cover a variety of issues many of which we would not otherwise cover.  Keith

The Tax Court designated five orders last week and three are discussed below. The orders not discussed involved a TEFRA related issue (order here) and a motion to add small (S) case designation (order here).

Language Barrier Does Not Prevent NFTL Filing

Docket # 21856-16L, Carlos Barcelo & Vanessa Gonzalez-Rubio v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here)

In this designated order and decision, the Tax Court decided that the IRS Appeals Office did not abuse its discretion when it sustained a filing of a Notice of Federal Tax Lien (“NFTL”) for Spanish-speaking taxpayers, even though the taxpayers’ limited understanding of English may have created confusion about the administrative process and the IRS’s right to file an NFTL.

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The tax years involved were 2006 and 2007. The tax was self-reported and assessed after examination by the IRS for 2006, and only assessed after examination by the IRS for 2007.

Taxpayers set up a partial payment installment agreement but were informed that an NFTL would be filed to protect the government’s interest. Under section 6321, a lien is imposed whenever a taxpayer fails to pay any tax liability owed and this lien arises automatically at the time the tax is assessed. An NFTL is filed in certain circumstances to make this automatic lien valid against other creditors. Section 6320 requires the IRS to inform taxpayers of the NFTL and allow for an administrative review in the form of a collection due process (“CDP”) hearing.

Taxpayers timely requested a CDP hearing using the Spanish version of the Form 12153. In their request they asked for an installment agreement and asked that the NFTL be withdrawn. In an attachment they stated the NFTL would affect their credit and ability to find alternative employment. They also stated that their primary language was Spanish and they wanted assistance in Spanish.

The settlement officer assigned to the case sent taxpayers a letter, in English, scheduling a telephone conference for the hearing, but when the settlement officer called at the scheduled time and date the petitioners did not answer. The settlement officer made subsequent attempts to contact the taxpayers by mail and phone, including after the taxpayers had faxed her a letter, in English, requesting that the hearing be rescheduled. The record was not clear as to whether the settlement officer’s contact attempts were in English or Spanish.

After the unsuccessful attempts to hold a hearing with the taxpayers, the settlement officer determined that the requirements of applicable law and administrative procedures were met and that the filing of the NFTL balanced the need for efficient collection of taxes with petitioners’ concern regarding intrusiveness of the filing, as sections 6320(c) and 6330(c)(3) require.

Taxpayers (hereafter, petitioners) petitioned the Tax Court on the settlement officer’s notice of determination, and since their petition did not involve a challenge to liability the Court reviewed the case under an abuse of discretion standard.

At a hearing before the Court, petitioners with assistance from a Spanish language interpreter, argued that the NFTL should be withdrawn since they were in an installment agreement, but the Court held it was not an abuse of discretion for Appeals to sustain the filing of an NFTL because the partial pay installment agreement would not satisfy their liability in full. Petitioners also argued that the NFTL would affect their credit and their ability to find employment or housing if their circumstances changed, but did not offer any specific evidence to support the likelihood that their circumstances would change or that the NFTL would cause them hardship.

Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment which was supported by a declaration from the settlement officer involved in the case. Since petitioners’ did not submit any facts or offer any evidence that the determination to sustain the NFTL was arbitrary, capricious or without sound basis in fact or law, including any evidence that the language barrier may have been an issue, the Court granted respondent’s motion.

Take-away points:

  • Taxpayers often want to request a CDP hearing with respect to an NFTL filing whether or not there is a language barrier. Many taxpayers do not understand there are only a limited number of ways to have an NFTL withdrawn.
  • Although it may not have been an option for these taxpayers, the quickest way to have an NFTL withdrawn, without paying the liability in full, is to enter into a Direct Debit installment agreement. There are additional requirements, including that the liability must be $25,000 or less and paid in full after 60 months, but if the requirements are met, a taxpayer can request that the lien be withdrawn after payments are made for three months.

Pro Se Petitioner Attempts to Recover Costs

Docket # 12784-16, James J. Yedlick v. C.I.R (Order Here)

In this designated order, the parties appear to have reached a basis for settlement and the petitioner does not have a deficiency in income tax due for tax year 2013; however, petitioner indicated that he would like to recover his litigation costs (consisting of his Tax Court filing fee and then other costs, first of $60 and in a second request of $5,000).

Petitioner is representing himself pro se. On two separate occasions he submitted signed decision documents. The first time to the Court, bearing only his signature and not Respondent’s, with a letter asking the Court to “not close the case entirely” because he had planned to ask the Court about a secondary matter, but didn’t state what the matter involved.

Respondent filed a response to the letter stating that they had received a signed stipulated decision document with a written disclaimer from petitioner stating his signature was only agreeing with the decision, and he was requesting the case be ongoing, so respondent did not file them with the Court.

The Court informed petitioner that no stipulated decision had been submitted, and therefore, no decision had been entered and directed the parties to confer and file a status report regarding the present status of the case. In response to this, petitioner filed a motion to dismiss and requested litigation costs. The Court denied his motion because it is required to enter a decision, it also informed petitioner that if he wanted to recover his litigation costs he should agree to a stipulation of settled issues since doing so is required by Rule 231.

Under section 7430(a)(2), a prevailing party may be awarded the reasonable litigation costs that were incurred during a proceeding. The award of litigation costs is included in a single decision from the Tax Court, so petitioner’s attempt to agree to the decision and address the issue of costs later was not the correct way to do it.

If the signed decision documents were filed by the Court, petitioner would waive his right to recover such costs. Respondent planned to file a motion for entry of decision, and if the motion was granted, it would also prevent the petitioner from recovering litigation costs.

In order to allow the petitioner an opportunity to receive litigation costs, the Court explained the correct procedure for requesting such costs under Rule 231 and ordered petitioner to file a motion for an award of costs pursuant to the rule.

Take-away points:

  • If you wish to recover litigation costs, make sure to follow the procedures outlined in Rule 231.
  • This is a very good example of the Tax Court going above and beyond to help a pro se petitioner understand the Tax Court procedures and, hopefully, get the results he is after.

Whistleblowers Should Act Early to Protect Anonymity

Docket # 13513-16W, Loys Vallee v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Earlier this week, we mentioned a designated order in a whistleblower case where Rule 345 was used to protect a petitioner’s identity. Here is another designated order involving a whistleblower who moved the Court to seal the case under Rule 345, but in this case the Tax Court denied petitioner’s motion on the grounds that he had already revealed his identity to the public when he filed his Tax Court petition, which also had the final determination letter from the IRS denying petitioner’s request for a whistleblower award attached to it. Section 7461 makes reports of the Tax Court and evidence received by the Tax Court a matter of public record.

The petitioner’s desire for anonymity, eleven months into the case, came about after respondent accidentally sent two informal discovery letters meant for petitioner to an incorrect address. The letters were subsequently forwarded to petitioner but had been opened and resealed with tape.

In petitioner’s motion, he stated that good cause existed to seal the case because of his general concerns that he would be harmed or suffer economic retaliation if his identity was not protected, but his motion did not provide any specific proof that he was at risk of actual harm or retaliation.

It is possible for a petitioner to proceed anonymously in a whistleblower case pursuant to the factors enumerated in Rule 345(a). One such factor is that the litigant’s identity has thus far been kept confidential. This factor was not met in petitioner’s case since his request for anonymity came eleven months after the case began. Another factor is that the petitioner must set forth a sufficient, fact-specific basis for anonymity showing that the harm to petitioner outweighs society’s interest in knowing the whistleblower’s identity. In this case, since petitioner’s concerns were general and not specific this factor was also not met.

The Court denied petitioner’s motion to seal the case and instructed respondent to take care in assuring that any mail sent to the petitioner is correctly addressed going forward.

Take-away points and interesting information:

  • If anonymity is desired in a whistleblower case it should be requested early on in the case.
  • The requirements of Rule 345 must be met before the Court will seal a case.

 

Top of the Order – Tax Court Designated Orders 5/8/2017 – 5/12/2017

Today we continue our reporting on designated orders.  Guest blogger Samantha Galvin reports on three cases.  Professor Galvin teaches and represents low income taxpayers in the tax clinic at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver – one of the oldest and best tax clinics for low income taxpayers.  Keith.

 

Designated Orders: 5/8/2017 – 5/12/2017

Two out of three of last week’s designated orders involved the IRS moving to dismiss the case, in part, for lack of jurisdiction because the taxpayers did not petition the Tax Court on a Notice of Deficiency but ended up in Tax Court after walking down a different procedural path. In these types of cases, the IRS wants to ensure that all parties understand which issue(s) is in front of the Court.

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Choose Your Procedural Path Carefully

Docket # 4354-16L, Schwartz v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here)

The first case is a fairly common scenario, but it is a scenario in which new practitioners (and pro se petitioners) should be careful.  Petitioners’ original 2013 tax return showed a balance due of approximately $44,000, but they did not make any payments. They received a Final Notice of Intent to Levy and timely requested a collection due process (CDP) hearing asking for an installment agreement or an offer in compromise.

As part of the normal process, the IRS Appeals Office requested that the taxpayers submit a financial form and substantiation but taxpayers did not respond, nor did they participate in their CDP hearing phone conference. In October of 2015 (mistakenly referred to as 2016 in the Order and Decision), the taxpayers finally submitted a financial form, but again did not submit any substantiation.  In December of 2015, the taxpayers received a statutory Notice of Deficiency (NOD) for tax year 2013 proposing to assess an additional $7,058 in tax and penalties. Taxpayers’ failed to timely petition the Tax Court for a redetermination pursuant to the NOD.

On January 22, 2016 (less than a week after the deadline to petition the Tax Court on the NOD had passed), the IRS Appeals Office issued a notice of determination concluding the CDPhearing in which it sustained the proposed levy because the taxpayers did not submit any substantiation and because they had sufficient assets to pay the balance. This time the taxpayers petitioned the Tax Court claiming the IRS unfairly assessed penalties and seeking review of the NOD.

The IRS moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction to the extent the matter related to the NOD and the Tax Court granted the motion. Additionally because the taxpayer did not raise the issue of penalties during the administrative process, the Court held they were precluded from doing so in Tax Court.

The IRS’s motion to dismiss not only prevented the taxpayers from disputing the underlying liability, but also impacted the standard of review used by the Tax Court. On a deficiency case, the standard of review is “de novo” which generally means the Court will review the case without being bound by what the IRS or taxpayer has done to resolve the case prior to coming to Court. On a CDP hearing case, such as this when the underlying liability is not properly at issue, the Court reviews the case for an “abuse of discretion” which is whether the exercise of discretion by IRS Appeals was without sounds basis in fact or law.

The court reviewed the notice of determination for abuse of discretion and found that Appeals did not abuse its discretion in sustaining the proposed levy, since the taxpayers failed to participate in the CDP hearing and did not submit financial information or substantiation. As a result, the Court granted the IRS summary judgment.

Take-away points:

  • Be cognizant of the procedural path down which you are walking. It can get confusing especially if the taxpayer is in collections for a portion of liability, but another portion has not yet been assessed. If you want to dispute the underlying liability, then petition the Tax Court on an NOD rather than a notice of determination. It is rare that liability disputes can be raised in a collection due process hearing and it can really only be done if a taxpayer did not receive an NOD or did not otherwise have an opportunity to dispute the liability, an issue PT has covered extensively; see Keith’s post from this past March, for example. This is true even if a practitioner begins representing a client after the right to petition Tax Court pursuant to an NOD has expired.
  • Penalty abatement can be raised in a CDP hearing, but if it is not raised it may be precluded from being raised in Tax Court.
  • If a dispute to liability exists but the right to go to Tax Court on an NOD has expired, a practitioner or taxpayer should dispute the liability through audit reconsideration or a doubt as to liability offer in compromise instead.
  • Don’t petition Tax Court on a CDP hearing unless the IRS abused its discretion, which means it did not consider the facts or law in an appropriate way.

Innocent Spouse Relief is the Only Dispute

Docket # 15590-16, Starczewski v. C.I.R. (Order Here)

Similar to the Schwartz case (above) this is another case where the taxpayers did not petition the Tax Court on a Notice of Deficiency (NOD), but unlike the Schwartz case it seems like the taxpayers did not intend to dispute the underlying liability. In this case taxpayer wife and taxpayer husband ended up in Tax Court after the taxpayer wife’s request for innocent spouse relief was denied by the IRS (presumably this means the case involves taxpayer ex-wife and taxpayer ex-husband). Taxpayer husband intervened, which is permissible in an innocent spouse case and allows the non-requesting spouse the opportunity to testify about why the requesting spouse should not be granted relief. When an intervening spouse is successful, both spouses remain jointly and severally liable for the deficiency.

The IRS filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction as to the NOD, stating that the Tax Court only had the jurisdiction to determine whether petitioner (taxpayer wife) should be relieved of liability.

The Tax Court gave the petitioner (taxpayer wife) and intervenor (taxpayer husband) an opportunity to respond and neither did, but later in a telephone conference taxpayer husband had no objections and taxpayer wife’s counsel affirmatively consented to the Court granting the IRS’s motion.

Once all parties were made aware that a dispute to the liability was not before the Tax Court, the Court allowed the innocent spouse relief question to proceed to trial.

Take-away points:

  • In this case it is unclear if a dispute to the liability was raised in the petition, or if IRS always requests a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction in these case just so the taxpayers (and perhaps, the Court) are clear about what is really at issue.
  • The IRS is required to send separate original notices of deficiency to each spouse at their last known address (pursuant to I.R.M. 4.8.9.8.2.7), so even if taxpayers were divorced or separated at the time both taxpayers would have had the opportunity to petition the Tax Court on the NOD.

 

When Petitioners are Prisoners

Docket # 29472-12, Martinez v. C.I.R. (Order and Decision Here)

This case involves a taxpayer/petitioner who is currently an inmate in the Texas prison system, but the deficiency arose from tax years 2009 and 2010 (only 2009 was still at issue, because IRS had been granted summary judgment for 2010). In those years, the taxpayer was not yet in prison and he was a school teacher. The IRS sent him a Notice of Deficiency (NOD) after he began serving time and he timely petitioned the Tax Court asking for the deficiency to be redetermined. The deficiency arose from the taxpayer’s failure to substantiate gross receipts on his Schedule C and expenses on his Schedule C and Schedule A.

The Tax Court prefers to resolve cases expeditiously, even when a taxpayer is in prison. In this case, the taxpayer petitioned the Tax Court in 2012 and the decision was issued in 2017 so this case had been going on for a while. The Court worked with the taxpayer through the stipulation and summary judgment process (presumably for 2010) but then ordered the taxpayer to file written testimony stating his disagreement of the NOD for 2009 but the taxpayer failed to do so.

The Tax Court used its Rule 123(a) power which allowed the Court to default the taxpayer’s case, and pursuant to that rule, enter a decision against him.

Taxpayers without substantiation are a common phenomenon even when they are not in prison, so it was likely nearly impossible for the petitioner in this case to retrieve old records – but to view this as just another lack of substantiation case may be incorrect, because the Court took the time to describe the difficulties involved in resolving cases when a taxpayer/petitioner is in prison.

The Court referenced the BTK serial killer’s Tax Court case (in which the Court allowed the BTK killer to participate in trial via phone pursuant to Tax Court Rule 143). The Court also discussed that writs of habeaus corpus ad testificandum, which is an order from the court that a prisoner be brought to court to testify, are difficult to manage and security concerns make transportation difficult. Those concerns allow the Court to weigh the amount at issue with the need to find economical solutions for resolving the case.

Take-away points:

  • If a practitioner has a client in prison, the Tax Court may use Rule 143 in order to resolve the case without requiring the petitioner to be there in person.
  • These types of cases present potential substantiation-related issues and may require some creativity on the part of the practitioner.

 

There is another way to deal with prisoners, which is to try the case inside the prison.  In the Richmond office, we had more than our fair share of spy cases in which the spy neglected to report the income from spying on their tax return.  In the case of master spy, Aldrich Ames, he sought to contest the determination of additional income in Tax Court.  The Court decided to try the case inside the maximum security prison in Allenwood, PA.  John McDougal and Richard Stein tried the case for the office against Mr. Ames who represented himself.  The opinion is reported here.  Keith