IRS Can File a Proof of Claim in Bankruptcy Court for the Full Amount of Tax Liability Even After an Accepted Offer in Compromise

Guest blogger Ted Afield today discusses the intersection of offers in compromise with bankruptcy. Professor Afield (with co-author Nancy Ryan) will be creating a chapter on Offers in Compromise for the next edition of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS. Christine

In our clinic at GSU, we do a lot of collections work and routinely submit offers in compromise, which the IRS often accepts, on behalf of our clients. While our hope is always that the accepted offer will be a critical step that allows the taxpayer to get back in compliance with his or her tax obligations and get out from under the weight of a detrimental financial liability, unfortunately the accepted offer is sometimes not enough to prevent a taxpayer from continuing to be overwhelmed by other financial obligations. In situations like these, the taxpayer may in fact file bankruptcy during the 5-year compliance window for the offer in compromise. If this happens, the IRS potentially has a claim in the bankruptcy proceeding because the offer in compromise may have already been defaulted or may be defaulted in the future if the taxpayer fails to file tax returns and timely pay taxes. Accordingly, the IRS will file a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding, which raises the question of should this proof of claim be for the full amount of the tax liability or for the compromised amount of the tax liability.

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This was the question recently taken up in a memorandum opinion by the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, in In Re: Curtis Cole, No: 18-35182 (May 29, 2019). In this case, Mr. Cole and the IRS had entered into a compromise of tax liabilities for 2003-2014 totaling over $100,000 for the much more manageable sum of $1,000. During the five-year monitoring period, Mr. Cole started off well and timely filed and paid his 2016 income tax. For 2017, however, Mr. Cole recognized that he would not be able to timely file a return, and he accordingly requested and was granted an extension. Mr. Cole did then file his 2017 return and pay his 2017 tax bill on October 15, 2018.

PT readers who do a lot of OIC work will immediately recognize the potential problem that Mr. Cole created for his offer because an extension of time to file is not an extension of the time to pay taxes, raising the possibility that the IRS would default Mr. Cole’s offer for failing to pay his 2017 taxes in a timely manner. Compounding the problem was that Mr. Cole had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy one month earlier, on September 15, 2018. As a result, the IRS filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy proceeding for the full amount of the original tax liability that was compromised under exactly that theory (i.e., that Mr. Cole’s late payment of 2017 taxes caused his offer to default and thus caused the amount of the IRS’s claim to be the full amount of the tax liability).

Mr. Cole was not happy with this development and attempted to raise a couple of equitable arguments that did not have much of a leg to stand on. Mr. Cole’s first hope was that he would be simply forgiven his confusion over whether a filing extension also constituted a payment extension. This did not have much resonance in light of the fact that it is well established that filing extensions are not in fact payment extensions. Mr. Cole also attempted to argue that he effectively had rights under the Internal Revenue Manual by asserting that the IRS violated its own procedures when it did not offer him any opportunity to cure his late payment before declaring the offer to be in default. See I.R.M. 5.19.7.2.20, which states that in the event of a breach of the offer’s terms, the IRS should send the taxpayer a notice letter and provide an opportunity to cure before defaulting the offer. Again, this argument could not carry much weight in light of the well-established principle that the IRM does not give taxpayers any rights, and thus the IRS was not obligated to provide an opportunity to cure the default. Ghandour v. United States, 37 Fed. Cl. 121, 126 n.14 (1997).

Mr. Cole’s strongest argument was based on his reliance on a bankruptcy court opinion from the Eastern District of North Carolina that had ruled on a similar issue and had concluded that the proof of claim should be for the compromised amount rather than the full amount of the tax liability. In re Mead, No. 12-01222-8-JRL, 2013 WL 64758 (Bankr. E.D.N.C. Jan. 4, 2013). The Mead court found that the contractual language in Form 656 stating that the IRS may file a “tax claim” for the full amount of the tax liability if a taxpayer files for bankruptcy before the offer’s terms expire is ambiguous in regards to whether the “tax claim” refers to the full liability or the compromise amount. Accordingly, the Mead court held that the IRS violated the nondiscrimination rule of 11 U.S.C. § 525(a), on the grounds that it appeared that the IRS was trying to collect the full amount of the tax liability, rather than the compromised amount, solely because the taxpayer was in bankruptcy.

The Cole court, however, was not persuaded by its sister court in North Carolina and held that Mead was both distinguishable and simply incorrect.  Mead was distinguishable because, unlike in Cole, there was not an issue of whether the offer had been defaulted. However, even without that distinguishing characteristic, the Cole court noted that the outcome would be the same. In other words, regardless of whether the offer was in default, if the terms of the offer had not yet expired, the IRS would still need to file a proof of claim for the full amount of the tax liability in order to preserve its rights in case the taxpayer did subsequently default the offer. This is why the terms of the offer explicitly state in Section 7: “If I file for bankruptcy before the terms and conditions of the offer are met, I agree that the IRS may file a claim for the full amount of the tax liability, accrued penalties and interest, and that any claim the IRS files in the bankruptcy proceeding will be a tax claim.” I do not agree with the Mead court’s assertion that this language is ambiguous.

It’s not that the issue of whether the offer has been defaulted is irrelevant. Rather, that issue is simply premature at the moment when the IRS files its proof of claim. Even if the offer has unequivocally not yet been defaulted, the IRS must file a proof of claim for the full amount of the liability to protect its right to recover the full amount, should a default occur. So when can Mr. Cole attempt to make his likely to be very uphill arguments that he has not defaulted the offer? As the court notes, he does this when he submits his Chapter 13 plan, in which he will propose how to treat the IRS’s claim. If he believes he has not defaulted his offer, he can propose that the IRS only receive what it is owed if the offer is still in force. The IRS can then object if it believes that the offer is in default, and the issue can then be decided.

In comparing Cole and Mead, I think the Cole court likely has the better argument. The contractual language in Form 656 pretty unambiguously gives the IRS the right to file a claim for the full amount of the tax liability in a bankruptcy proceeding during the five-year monitoring period. That does not mean that the IRS will recover the full amount if the offer is not in default, but taxpayers should certainly expect such a claim to be filed and that they will have to litigate whether the offer is defaulted when they propose their bankruptcy plan.

Five Things to Know About FedEx and the Tax Court

Today Bob Kamman explores FedEx issues in Tax Court and brings us several interesting findings. The bottom line for practitioners (as always) is to be aware of the jurisdictional perils that await those who cut it close without carefully checking the list of designated private delivery services. Christine

Inspired by Keith Fogg’s post about the Tax Court petition that could not be delivered by FedEx during the January 2019 government shutdown, I searched recent Tax Court orders for similar cases. Here are five things I learned.

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1) You can’t always trust word searches on the Tax Court website.

I searched for orders with the word “FedEx” from October 1, 2018 through May 28, 2019.  The search returned three hits.  Then I searched for “FedEx” from April 30, 2019 through May 28, 2019.  That search returned ten hits.  So I searched for “FedEx” from only November 1 through December 31, 2018.  That search returned five hits, none of which were in my first search.

My conclusion, or at least hypothesis, is that the search “times out” after a certain number of orders are searched.  Results will be more accurate if done by month, rather than for longer periods. 

2) The case described in Keith’s post is not unique.

In the Awad case, in response to an earlier order the Court writes

The petition, filed January 30, 2019, arrived at the Court in an envelope with a FedEx ship date of January 29, 2019. . . . petitioners indicated that the petition was originally mailed to the Tax Court on January 16, 2019, (2) petitioners provided respondent a copy of the envelope in which the petition was originally sent to the Tax Court on January 16, 2019, a copy of which was attached to the Response, and (3) petitioners also provided respondent a copy of the envelope in which the petition was returned to them, a copy of which was attached to the Response.

It is not clear whether the first attempt was through the U.S. Postal Service, or through FedEx.

And then there is the unfortunate petitioner in Chicas, whose deadline for filing was December 31, 2018 – a date the government was closed.  He used UPS Ground to send his petition on January 3, 2019.  It was returned by UPS, and he sent it again by UPS Ground on February 22, 2019.  He was late the first time, and UPS Ground is not an acceptable service anyway. 

3) IRS does not always question jurisdiction.  Sometimes it needs help from the Tax Court.

That is what happened in Powerhouse Mortgage Corporation.  In dismissing the case on November 29, 2018,  Judge Foley explained,

Attached to the petition was a notice of determination concerning collection action dated July 17, 2018 . . .The petition had been received by the Court in an envelope sent by FedEx Express Standard Overnight and bearing a ship date of August 17, 2018. An answer to the petition followed on October 9, 2018, but did not address jurisdictional matters. Nonetheless, because review of the record suggested a fundamental jurisdictional defect, the Court by Order dated October 12, 2018, directed the parties, on or before November 2, 2018, to show cause in writing why this case should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, . . .Shortly thereafter and in lieu of a response, respondent on October 17, 2018, filed a Motion To Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction on the identical ground of an untimely petition.. . .petitioner was afforded additional time, until November 9, 2018, to object to respondent’s motion as well. 

The petitioner did not respond, and the motion to dismiss was granted.

See also Jones, dismissed by Judge Foley on December 3, 2018.  IRS didn’t notice that the petitioners not only were late, but used the wrong FedEx service.  However, the Court did:

The petition in the above-docketed proceeding was filed on September 4, 2018. Therein, petitioners alleged dispute with a notice of deficiency dated June 1, 2018, issued with respect to the 2015 and 2016 taxable years. The petition had been received by the Court in an envelope sent by FedEx Express Saver and bearing a ship date of September 1, 2018. Unexpectedly, respondent thereafter on September 21, 2018, filed an answer to the petition, not addressing the matter of timeliness.

Nonetheless, because review of the record continued to suggest a fundamental jurisdictional defect, the Court at that juncture issued an Order To Show Cause dated October 24, 2018, directing the parties to show cause in writing why this case should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, on the ground that the petition was not filed within the time prescribed by section 6213(a) or 7502. . . . In particular, the Order To Show Cause noted, first, that the date of the notice of deficiency underlying this proceeding indicated a statutory deadline for filing a petition pursuant to section 6213(a) . . .that expired on August 30, 2018, and, second, that FedEx Express Saver is not a designated private delivery service for purposes of the section 7502 . . . timely mailing provisions.

Substantially the same facts have also led Judge Foley to request both parties in Rodriguez to explain by June 11 why the case should not be dismissed when FedEx Express Saver was used and the petition was not received by the required date.  This May 22, 2019 order is somewhat confusing because it states the FedEx envelope “reflects a ship date of August 25, 2019.

I am sure that will be cleared up in later proceedings.  Maybe it was just another FedEx mistake, as happened in Muramota.  In that case, the petition was “in an envelope indicating that the petition was received and processed by FedEx on May 15, 2018, for delivery by FedEx 2-day mail.”  But when Judge Thornton questioned jurisdiction, because the last date to petition was May 14, 2018, “the parties are in agreement that the petition was delivered to FedEx on May 14, 2018, as evidenced by a receipt provided by petitioners’ counsel, and the petition was therefore timely mailed.”  A stipulated decision was entered the same day.

4) Petitioners continue to use FedEx services that do not qualify for “timely mailed” recognition.

Judge Foley’s four-page order of February 25, 2019,  dismissing the Thompson case explains why FedEx Express Saver service is not a qualified “private delivery service.”  The petitioners had noted that they followed the instructions on the second page of their Notice of Deficiency, which apparently did not explain “private delivery service” limitations.  I looked at a couple Notices of Deficiency from 2018 and did not find a reference to private delivery services on them. 

Similar language was used by Judge Foley in his four-page order of February 4, 2019, dismissing Griffiths.

5) The Tax Court uses FedEx also.

When it absolutely positively has to get there faster than the Postal Service can deliver, or when there may be other benefits, the Tax Court uses FedEx to contact Petitioners.  (It probably gets a discounted government rate.)  

For example, in McPhee,  “On May 7, 2019, the Court was informed of an unsuccessful delivery attempt by FedEx of the Notice of Change of Beginning Date of Session, served on petitioners on May 1, 2019. Petitioners subsequently advised the Court that their address has changed. . . .”

Breland, Jr. v. Commissioner: Another Bankruptcy-Tax Trap for the Unwary Practitioner

Today we welcome first-time guest blogger Brad D. Jones. With editorial assistance from returning guest Ken Weil, in this post Brad evaluates the implications for bankruptcy debtors and practitioners of the Tax Court’s recent Breland decision. For a bankruptcy primer written for tax practitioners, see the bankruptcy chapter of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS. Ken and Brad will be updating this chapter for the 8th edition of the book, expected to be published in December 2020. Several of Keith’s past PT posts also address the intersection of tax procedure and bankruptcy. Christine

If a tax is non-dischargeable, an understated IRS claim for that tax can have a devastating impact on an individual debtor’s financial well-being post-bankruptcy. This is because 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(1)(A) of the Bankruptcy Code provides that non-dischargeable IRS claims can be collected by the IRS post-petition “whether or not a claim for such tax was filed or allowed.” If the IRS’s claim is understated, a person’s unpaid tax liabilities will generally be collectible by the IRS even if all of the individual’s available assets were used in the bankruptcy to pay other, lower-priority debts. As a result, an unfiled or undervalued IRS claim can lead the IRS to continue to pursue an individual for unpaid tax debt post-bankruptcy, even if the IRS did not pursue its claims in the bankruptcy case or allowed funds that should have gone to its claims to be paid to other creditors. The issue of how to fix a debtor’s tax liability and what needs to occur in the bankruptcy court to do so was at issue in Breland, Jr. v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 9 (2019).

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Bankruptcy debtors generally have two main avenues to fix the amount of their tax liability for a given year: (1) file a motion for the bankruptcy court to determine the amount of their tax debt pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 505; or (2) object to the IRS’s proof of claim. See Internal Revenue Service v. Taylor, (In re Taylor), 132 F.3d 256, 262 (5th Cir. 1998). In Breland,the Tax Court considered the effect of a resolved proof-of-claim objection on the ability of the IRS to pursue post-petition claims “regardless of whether a claim for the tax was filed or allowed,” as contemplated in § 523(a)(1)(A).

Breland involved a commercial-real-estate investor who allegedly owed a substantial sum to the IRS post-bankruptcy. The issue was whether the IRS could agree in the bankruptcy to a consent order setting the amount of its priority claim, allowing the debtor to pay a substantial sum to creditors subordinate to the IRS, and then later issue a notice of deficiency seeking up to $45 million more for the same tax years that it had compromised. The Tax Court held that it could, narrowly interpreting the bankruptcy court’s order as not addressing the total amount of the debtor’s federal tax liability. The Tax Court reached that result even though its interpretation conflicted with the interpretation of the bankruptcy court that entered the order. The Tax Court’s holding is surprising given that proof of claim objections are generally res judicata on the IRS and final orders resolving contested matters in bankruptcy are typically given broad preclusive effect. The Breland ruling forces bankruptcy practitioners to be particularly vigilant in addressing tax issues in the bankruptcy context.

Breland undercuts the ability of individual debtors to rely on proof of claim objections to fix the amount of their tax liabilities. In Breland, the debtor filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case and the IRS filed a proof of claim stating it was owed over $2 million in income tax for the years 2004 to 2008. The debtor filed an objection, stating in its entirety, that the “Debtor objects to the penalties assessed against him on the grounds that the Debtor had reasonable cause for not paying the taxes on time.” The parties entered into a consent order in which the IRS agreed to settle the debtor’s objection by agreeing to specific amounts for its priority tax debts with both sides agreeing that the disputed penalty portion was a general unsecured claim to be resolved after bankruptcy plan confirmation. After conducting discovery related to the disputed penalty portion, the IRS filed an amended proof of claim and asserted additional tax was due. The debtor objected on the grounds that the consent order fixed the debtor’s tax obligation. The bankruptcy court granted the objection and the IRS appealed. The district court remanded to the bankruptcy court for clarification as to the preclusive effect of the consent order. In response to the remand from the district court, the bankruptcy court ruled:

[T]he Court finds that the Consent Order . . . is the controlling document as to the extent of the Debtor’s tax obligation to the IRS. The Consent Order contains a clear statement of the total IRS claim amount and divides that amount into priority and general unsecured values. . . Moreover, by its terms, the Consent Order appears binding and complete. No specific limitation on the Consent Order’s effect is indicated in its terms. The IRS did not reserve the right to assert additional claims. Indeed, the Consent Order did not reserve any rights to the IRS, only to the Debtor. The purpose of the Consent Order is unclear if it was not meant to bind the IRS to its terms.

The IRS appealed, losing in the district court and stipulating to dismissal of its appeal to the 11th Circuit. In the midst of the proceedings in the bankruptcy and district courts, the IRS issued its notice of deficiency, triggering the filing of the debtor’s petition before the Tax Court.

Outside of bankruptcy, a consent order would normally be res judicata on the IRS’s attempt to collect additional amounts for the tax years set forth in the consent order. See United States v. Int’l Bldg. Co., 345 U.S. 502, 506 (1953) (consent order not binding on the United States for tax years subsequent to those years covered in the consent order). The consent order would also be binding if the tax in question were dischargeable. And Breland agreed that the consent order would be res judicata on the IRS if the “order had fixed petitioner’s total Federal tax liability for the subject tax years.”

Even though on remand the bankruptcy court had directly addressed the issue before the Tax Court and found its own order to be “the controlling document as to the extent of the Debtor’s tax obligation to the IRS,” the Tax Court interpreted the consent order narrowly. In the Tax Court’s view, the bankruptcy court’s order did not control for two reasons: First, the Tax Court believed res judicata did not apply because it believed that the consent order establishing the amount of the IRS’s claim and resolving an objection to plan confirmation is an inherently different proceeding than a proceeding to determine whether a particular liability is owed. The Tax Court noted that debtor’s proof of claim objection only challenged the penalties assessed, which the Court found undercut his argument that the consent order determined the total pre-petition tax liability. Second, in the Tax Court’s view, reading the consent order as a final determination of the debtor’s tax liabilities would have the effect of discharging otherwise non-dischargeable debts and contradict § 523(a)(1)(A). The Tax Court did not think res judicata applied because in its view the consent order was not “a final judgment on the merits of [the debtor’s] entire Federal tax debt for any given year.”

The Tax Court’s statement that a determination of an individual’s tax debt in bankruptcy is not the same cause of action as determining the tax debt generally is puzzling. The Court did not cite to any cases in its res judicata analysis that arose in the context of a settled or litigated proof of claim objection. The Tax Court’s view that the consent order was a different cause of action than a determination of tax liability is a more restrictive interpretation than is typically applied in a res judicata analysis. Generally, causes of action are the same for res judicata purposes if they arise “out of the same nucleus of operative fact.” In re Piper Aircraft Corp., 244 F.3d 1289 (11th Cir. 2001). In the context of a contested proof of claim, it is difficult to see how a dispute over the amount of the same tax, for the same years, and involving the same individual, can possibly not arise out of a common factual nucleus, which is precisely the reason that proof of claim objections generally are res judicata. See Hambrick v. Commissioner, 118 T.C. 348, 353 (2002) (recognizing that unlike proof of claim objections or a tax liability determination by the bankruptcy court, the mere confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan generally does not require a determination of the amount of a debtor’s non-dischargeable tax liability).

Similarly, the Tax Court’s consideration of the non-dischargeable nature of the debt also does not make much sense in the context of interpreting the scope of the bankruptcy court’s order regarding a proof of claim settlement. While unpaid non-dischargeable debts will generally survive whether the plan is confirmed or not, the purpose of a proof of claim objection is different. A claim objection is generally filed to determine the total amount owed, which does not turn on dischargeability (though a claim objection often establishes the facts from which dischargeability can easily be determined). In this case, the debtor conceded the non-dischargeability of the tax at issue. So in compromising the amount of the priority claim under the consent order, the IRS knew it was establishing the amount of the non-dischargeable portion of its claim. The bankruptcy court clearly understood this difference, which is why it interpreted its order as controlling for the amount of tax at issue.

Moreover, the Tax Court did not give any consideration to the way proofs of claims fit within the bankruptcy scheme as a whole. A basic underpinning of bankruptcy law is the absolute priority rule: the concept that higher priority claims (such as priority tax claims) must be paid in full before estate assets are used to pay lower priority claims. See Czyzewski v. Jevic Holding Corp., 137 S. Ct. 973, 983 (2017) (recognizing that the “priority system has long been considered fundamental to the Bankruptcy Code’s operation”). Establishing the amount of priority tax claims and paying those claims before funds are lost paying lower priority debts is central to both the bankruptcy priority scheme and claims filing process – so much so that the Bankruptcy Code permits debtors to file a proof of claim on behalf of the IRS when doing so is necessary to determine the amount of the tax debt. 11 U.S.C. § 501(c); Taylor, 132 F.2d at 262 (suggesting the option of filing a claim for the IRS to fix the amount of the tax debt). The Tax Court’s decision to apply a restrictive reading of the consent order, at odds with the bankruptcy court’s own interpretation, frustrates these objectives of the Bankruptcy Code. It is also incompatible with the deference courts typically exercise in favor of orders entered by another court. See Colonial Auto Center v. Tomlin (In re Tomlin), 105 F.3d 933, 941 (4th Cir. 1997) (recognizing that the bankruptcy court is in the best position to interpret its own order and its interpretation warrants customary deference).

On May 7, 2019, the debtor filed a Motion to certify the Tax Court’s order to permit an immediate appeal and the Tax Court issued an order requiring the IRS to respond by June 10, 2019. Regardless of the outcome of any appeal, Breland is instructive for practitioners with bankruptcy clients facing tax debts. The Tax Court made much of the fact that neither the plan nor the consent order referenced the bankruptcy court’s authority under 11 U.S.C. § 505 to determine the amount of a debtor’s tax liability. It would be advisable for practitioners to seek to include language either in the Chapter 11, 12, or 13 plan or in orders resolving the IRS claims that specifically reference Bankruptcy Code § 505 and state that the plan or the order constitutes a determination of the amount of the total tax due for the years at issue. Similarly, the Tax Court in Breland also appeared troubled that the debtor’s proof of claim objection only stated that the objection was to the amount of the penalties. If a debtor is going to file an objection to the IRS’s proof of claim anyway, it may be helpful to include an objection to any amounts in excess of those asserted in the IRS proof of claim with a reference to 11 U.S.C. § 505.

Update: coincidentally, on the date this post was published the Tax Court issued a memorandum opinion holding that the Brelands had overstated their long-term capital loss by nearly a million dollars. Christine

Undesignated Orders: All in a Day’s Work for a Tax Court Judge

Today frequent guest blogger Bob Kamman takes us through a day in the life of a Tax Court judge, as viewed through the non-designated orders that occupy much of the Court’s day-to-day time. Christine

Much can be learned from the Designated Orders selected by Tax Court judges as noteworthy among the hundreds of orders issued each day. But sometimes we may learn just as much from those that are not designated. For examples, let’s shadow Judge David Gustafson for one day, as he works through his in-box to move cases along.

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These are all lessons from May 2, 2019. They include:

  1. A taxpayer (Augustine) hopes to get help from a Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic.
  2. A taxpayer (Pendse) wants a trial later this month because she will be out of the country for more than a year.
  3. Taxpayers (Emanouil) whose co-counsel wants to withdraw, but forgets to sign the motion.
  4. A taxpayer (Miruru) whose case was dismissed with tax deficiency upheld after failure to appear at trial and to respond to an IRS motion.
  5. A taxpayer (Baba) gets a second chance from IRS Appeals but has not confirmed he wants it.
  6. Taxpayers (Reuter and Stovall) have not returned proposed decision documents to IRS after a settlement seems to have been reached.
  7. A partnership (Cross Refined Coal) in whose case IRS has filed a motion to compel.
  8. A taxpayer (Insinga) in a 2013 whistleblower case, whose latest filing needs to be sealed without redactions.
  9. Taxpayers (Houchin) whose 2013 case will be continued again, as they and IRS requested, but not on Judge Gustafson’s calendar. (The docket shows a bankruptcy filing.)
  10. Taxpayers in two cases (Lugo, and Abdu-Shahid) in which IRS Counsel misfiled documents.

Darline Augustine, Docket 12248-18

Pro Se, New York

The Commissioner filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 7) in this “collection due process” (“CDP”) case. We ordered petitioner Darline Augustine to file a response by March 1, 2019, and we did our best to explain the nature of the IRS’s motion and what she should state in a response. (See Doc. 9.)

Ms. Augustine requested more time to submit her response (see Doc. 13), so we gave her until April 15, 2019 (see Doc. 14). On that date she filed a one sentence letter (Doc. 15) that did not respond substantively to the motion. By order of April 22, 2019 (Doc. 17), we allowed her to file a supplemental response by no later than May 6, 2019. On April 29, 2019, we received from Ms. Augustine another letter (Doc. 18), which informed us that she is getting the help of a Low Income Tax Clinic, and which states: “With regard to the reply to the summary judgment, I will have to get assistance from a low income legal service. I am not an attorney and legal language is quite opaque to me.” No attorney from an LITC has filed an entry of appearance in this case.

Ms. Augustine’s letters have asserted that she wants to appear before the Tax Court. Trials are conducted, however, to resolve disputes of fact. If there are no material facts that are disputed, then there is no need for a trial. The Commissioner’s motion purports to show that no trial is needed in this case because (the motion says) the undisputed facts show that the IRS is entitled to prevail. To preserve her opportunity for a trial, Ms. Augustine must show why we should not grant the Commissioner’s motion. We will give her one more opportunity to do so. It is

ORDERED that, no later than June 3, 2019, Ms. Augustine shall file any supplemental response to the Commissioner’s motion that she wishes to file. If she intends to obtain the assistance of an LITC, then she will need to obtain it in time to meet that deadline. In the absence of the entry of an appearance by an attorney representing Ms. Augustine, we would not expect to grant her any further extension of this deadline. It is further

ORDERED that, no later than June 24, 2019, the Commissioner shall file a reply to Ms. Augustine’s supplemental response, if she files one; or, if she does not file a supplemental response, then the Commissioner shall file a status report so stating.

Shona Pendse, Docket 25665-17

(Pro Se, Boston before taxpayer relocated)

Now before the Court is petitioner’s motion to calendar this case for trial this month. We will deny the motion.

This case was scheduled to be tried at a Boston session of this Court on April 1, 2019, but at the joint request of the parties, it was continued. The place of trial was changed to Washington, D.C., and the case was thereafter scheduled to be tried at a trial session beginning September 16, 2019. Petitioner wants a more prompt trial, and she says that she must be out of the country from June 2019 through August 2020. She therefore requested that the case be set for trial at a special trial session in Washington beginning May 21, 2019, at which the undersigned judge will coincidentally be presiding. Respondent objects. Counsel states that he received information from petitioner in April that prompted an inquiry by which he learned of a related refund case that is pending in U.S. district court, that involves a different taxpayer, and that is being handled by the U.S. Department of Justice. Counsel states that it is necessary to coordinate the two cases and that he cannot be ready for trial in this case in May 2019. Petitioner does not dispute the relatedness of the cases but maintains that respondent should have known about the related case already and should now be ready to proceed.

Even if we were otherwise inclined to grant petitioner’s motion, it might not be practical to try to fit this case into the special trial session beginning May 21, 2019. A special trial session is set based upon the anticipated situation and needs of the case being scheduled, and in this instance the other case set for that session is likely to use all of the available time in that session. Moreover, respondent’s counsel’s expressed need to coordinate this case with the refund case is plausible, and while perfect coordination of information between Chief Counsel and the various units of the IRS–and between Chief Counsel and the Department of Justice–might bring efficiencies, it would do so at a sometimes great cost, so we do not fault Chief Counsel nor his client agency for counsel’s unawareness of the related case before petitioner disclosed it to him.

Because we will deny the motion to calendar, this case remains on the calendar for the regular trial session in Washington, D.C., beginning September 16, 2019. However, we do not overlook petitioner’s scheduling difficulty with that trial session, and this order is without prejudice to any motion petitioner might make to continue this case from that trial session. We would consider any such motion on its merits. It is

ORDERED that petitioner’s motion to calendar is denied.

Peter C. & Pascale Emanouil, Docket 5089-17

(2-Day Trial in Boston, October 2018)

On April 25, 2019, an unopposed motion to withdraw as counsel of record was filed on behalf of Nicholas F. Casolaro. The motion states that co-counsel Richard M. Stone and Peter D. Anderson will continue as counsel for petitioners in this case. That motion, however, was not signed by Mr. Casolaro in compliance with Tax Court Rule 24(c), which requires that counsel seeking to withdraw his appearance must file a motion with the Court requesting leave to do so. It is therefore

ORDERED that, no later than May 7, 2019, counsel for petitioners shall file an amendment to the unopposed motion to withdraw bearing the signature of Mr. Casolaro in compliance with Rule 24(c).

Mbugua J. Miruru, Docket 25168-17

(New Hampshire, Pro Se)

When this case was called from the calendar for the Court’s March 11, 2019, Boston, Massachusetts, trial session, there was no appearance by or on behalf of petitioner Mbugua J. Miruru. Counsel for the Commissioner appeared and filed a motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution. In that motion, the Commissioner moves the Court to enter a decision with respect to Mr. Miruru in the amount for the tax year 2015 set forth therein. By order dated March 11, 2019 (served March 18, 2019), the Court directed Mr. Miruru to file a response to the Commissioner’s motion to dismiss on or before April 10, 2019. As of this date, the Court has received no response from Mr. Miruru. It is therefore

ORDERED that in addition to regular service, the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of this Order of Dismissal and Decision on Mr. Miruru at the additional address (in Bristol, New Hampshire) that appears on the certificate of service attached to the Commissioner’s motion. It is further

ORDERED that the Commissioner’s motion to dismiss for lack of prosecution is granted, and this case is dismissed for lack of prosecution. It is further

ORDERED AND DECIDED that there is a deficiency in income tax due from petitioner Mbugua J. Miruru for the tax year 2015 in the amount of $4,538.

Abu Baba, Docket 13186-18

(Virginia, Pro Se)

On April 26, 2019, the Commissioner filed two motions: (1) a motion for continuance [i.e., for a postponement] of the trial of this case, and (2) a motion for remand, in which it asks the Court to remand the case to the IRS’s Office of Appeals for further consideration. A continuance and remand would be welcome to many petitioners in a case such as this one, but the motions state that the Commissioner does not know whether petitioner Abu Baba objects to the motions. It is therefore

ORDERED that, no later than May 14, 2019, Mr. Baba shall file with the Court and serve on the Commissioner a response to the Commissioner’s two motions filed April 26, 2019.

Janet Ann Reuter & David Stovall, Docket 15641-17

(New York, Pro Se)

On May 1, 2019, the Commissioner filed a motion for entry of decision. The motion alleges that the parties have reached a basis of settlement and that counsel for the Commissioner sent to petitioners a proposed decision document effectuating that settlement, but indicates that petitioners have failed to return the decision document to counsel for the Commissioner. It is therefore

ORDERED that, if petitioners objects to the Commissioner’s motion for entry of decision, then on or before May 15, 2019, petitioners shall file with the Court and serve on the Commissioner a response to the motion, explaining why that motion should not be granted and a decision entered in this case.

Cross Refined Coal, LLC, Docket 19502-17

(Counsel for Both Parties in Chicago; Boston Trial Request)

On April 26, 2019, respondent filed a motion to compel (Doc. 50). It is

ORDERED that petitioner shall file a response by May 10, 2019, and that respondent shall file a reply by May 23, 2019.

Robert J. & Linda C. Houchin, Docket 27654-13

(Nevada; Counsel for Both Parties and Trial in Los Angeles)

In accordance with the parties’ joint recommendation in their status report filed April 29, 2019, it is

ORDERED that the undersigned judge no longer retains jurisdiction over this case and that this case is continued generally.

Joseph A. Insinga, Docket. 9011-13W

(New Jersey; Washington DC Trial)

(Petitioner Counsel in Memphis; IRS Counsel in Detroit)

 On April 26, 2019, petitioner filed a first amended reference list of redacted information (Doc. # 258). It is therefore

ORDERED petitioner’s first amended reference list of redacted information (Doc. 258), is sealed. It is further

ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall remove from the Court’s public record the first amended reference list of redacted information (Doc. 258), and that these documents shall be retained by the Court in a sealed file which shall not be inspected by any person or entity except by an Order of the Court.

Wanda M. Lugo, Docket 15028-18

(New York; Pro Se)

On May 1, 2019, the Commissioner mis-filed in this case a motion for extension of time (Doc. 10) that was obviously intended to be filed in another case. It is therefore

ORDERED that the Commissioner’s motion filed May 1, 2019 (Doc. 10), is stricken from the Court’s record in this case and shall not be viewable as part of this case.

Abdu-Shahid May, Docket 11654-18

(New York; Pro Se)

On May 1, 2019, the Commissioner mis-filed in this case a motion for extension of time (Doc. 12) that was obviously intended to be filed in another case. It is therefore

ORDERED that the Commissioner’s motion filed May 1, 2019 (Doc. 12), is stricken from the Court’s record in this case and shall not be viewable as part of this case.

What sort of day was it? “A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.” (If you were not a television viewer before 1972, you may not recognize that quotation from Walter Cronkite.) As this review demonstrates, a Tax Court judge in just one day may make a wide range of decisions –- for individuals and businesses disputing large amounts of tax and small ones; in collection due process matters; and even in whistleblower cases. Most of this work will not be found in published opinions and designated orders. What all of the cases have in common, though, is that each is the most important one before the Court, for the petitioner (and counsel, if any) involved.

Seeking Clarity from the IRS for Foreign Entities

Today we welcome first-time guest blogger R. D. David Young of RDDY Consulting LLC. David specializes in transaction structuring and global tax planning. Here David explains IRS’s planned changes to the EIN application process, and proposes clarifications that would be helpful for foreign entities in need of an EIN. Christine

As the IRS prepares to update its Employer Identification Number (EIN) application process to enhance security, it should also update the process to add some needed clarity for foreign entities.

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The IRS announced on March 27, 2019 that it is revising its EIN application process to enhance security. As part of that process, the IRS indicated that starting May 13 only individuals with tax identification numbers may request an EIN. The announcement indicated that the change will provide greater security to the EIN application process by prohibiting entities from being “responsible parties” and using their own EINs to obtain additional EINs. Interestingly, since December 2017, the only entities that have been permitted to utilize their own EIN to obtain additional EINs are government entities, so it is unclear what security issue the IRS is seeking to address.

Clarification for Responsible Parties Ineligible to Obtain SSN or ITIN

While the details of the specific changes to the EIN application process aren’t yet available, if the revised process will truly allow only individuals with tax identification numbers to request an EIN as the responsible party, the revised process could make obtaining EIN’s more challenging for many foreign entities. Under the current EIN application process, if a responsible party of an entity does not have and is ineligible to obtain a social security number (SSN) or individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), as is the case for responsible parties of many foreign entities, the instructions provide that they should leave line 7b (which requests the SSN, ITIN, or EIN of the responsible party) blank. It is possible that the IRS will continue to allow a responsible party that does not have and is ineligible to obtain an SSN or ITIN to leave line 7b blank, but clarification on this point would be welcomed.

Clarification of “Foreign Equivalent” of a Limited Liability Company

While the IRS is revising the EIN application process, another clarification that would be welcomed is with respect to the definition “foreign equivalent” of a limited liability company. Line 8a of Form SS-4 asks the question, “Is this application for a limited liability company (LLC) (or a foreign equivalent)?” The term “foreign equivalent” is not defined in the instructions to Form SS-4 and an applicant is instructed to “see Form 8832 and its instructions.” Unfortunately, instructions to Form 8832 are no more enlightening.

The instructions to Form 8832 correctly provide that a foreign eligible entity’s default characterization is an association taxable as a corporation if all members have limited liability, and either a disregarded entity or a partnership if the single owner, or at least one member, does not have limited liability, respectively. However, the term “foreign equivalent” does not appear in the instructions to Form 8832, leaving one to divine what the IRS means by its use of the term “foreign equivalent” on Line 8a of Form SS-4.

Since the hallmark of an LLC formed in the United States is generally that no member is obligated personally for any liability of the LLC solely by reason of being a member of the LLC, one would be reasonable in concluding that the “foreign equivalent” of a domestic LLC must be a foreign entity in which no member is obligated personally for any liability of the foreign entity solely by reason of being a member of the foreign entity.  Applying the default classification rules to such an entity results in such “foreign equivalent” being treated as an association taxable as a corporation. However, where such a foreign entity (such as a Cayman Islands LLC or a UK Private Limited Company) intuitively answers “yes” to Line 8a and identifies the appropriate default classification of such an entity as a corporation on Line 9a, such entity will be surprised to receive an EIN acceptance letter indicating that the IRS has assigned the entity an EIN as a disregarded entity or a partnership depending on the number of members.

Surprisingly, when processing Forms SS-4, the IRS interprets the term “foreign equivalent” to refer to a foreign eligible entity in which the single owner or at least one member does NOT have limited liability (precisely not the “equivalent” to a domestic LLC). The IRS appears to interpret “foreign equivalent” to mean a foreign eligible entity that has a default classification that is equivalent to the default classification of a domestic LLC. This interpretation ignores the fact that the default classification of a foreign eligible entity in which all members have limited liability is not equivalent to the default classification of a domestic LLC in which all members have limited liability.

Given that the IRS applies such a strained and counterintuitive interpretation of the term “foreign equivalent” to processing applications for EINs, the IRS should update the instructions for Form SS-4 to clearly explain that the IRS interprets the term “foreign equivalent” to mean a foreign eligible entity in which the single owner or at least one member does NOT have limited liability.

When A Promise to Pay Is Not A Debt

In this post, frequent guest blogger Bob Kamman provocatively explores possible links between the Thrift Savings Plan, tax refunds, and the federal debt limit. Christine

An army of accountants and lawyers is standing by while its employer cooks the books of their pension plan, but it’s nothing you should expect a special prosecutor to investigate.

That’s because their employer is the federal government, and the consent of IRS professionals along with all of their colleagues in other agencies and the military who participate in the Thrift Savings Plan was never requested. Like a shutdown with mandatory work hours, they have to take it or leave.

This situation arose when the federal debt limit returned on March 2, after being suspended for a year. Congress has told the Treasury not to borrow any more money. However, Congress has also told the government to spend more money than it collects. Treasury has a solution to this paradox, at least for the short term. It makes a side deal, off the books, with the employees who pay into the federal equivalent of a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

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The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), created in 1986, allows investments in several funds based on the stock or bond markets. The most popular is the “G” fund, which invests in a special variable-rate United States Treasury bond. Last year its rate of return was 2.91%. Today it earns 2.50%.

What could be safer than Treasury bonds, right? But right now the Treasury can’t issue those bonds, because of the pesky debt limit. So Treasury simply promises to sell them to TSP just as soon as Congress allows. Meanwhile, accounts are credited with interest as if these phantom bonds really existed. For those who want to withdraw their funds or take out an allowable loan, the account value includes this phantom interest.

On March 5, the Thrift Savings Plan assured federal employees that the TSP money in their “G” spot was safe. It issued a statement:

As of Tuesday, March 5, 2019, the U.S. Treasury was unable to fully invest the Government Securities Investment (G) Fund due to the statutory ceiling on the federal debt. However, G Fund investors remain fully protected and G Fund earnings are fully guaranteed by the federal government. This statutory guarantee has effectively protected G Fund investors many times over the past 30 years. G Fund account balances will continue to accrue earnings and will be updated each business day, and loans and withdrawals will be unaffected.

Further details on this scheme are provided in an article on the Govsmith website.

Why does this matter to tax law practitioners? Maybe it doesn’t. But in my mind, it’s a useful reminder that federal government employees, including those at IRS with whom we occasionally interact, face different challenges from many of the rest of us.

More importantly, the future of the IRS depends on recruiting qualified professionals to protect the Treasury’s revenue without violating taxpayer rights. The IRS “brain drain” is a real problem. The GAO recently reported that attrition is causing a serious risk to the IRS mission:

IRS officials told GAO that resource constraints and fewer staff with strategic workforce planning skills due to attrition required IRS to largely abandon strategic workforce planning activities. …

IRS staffing has declined each year since 2011, and declines have been uneven across different mission areas. GAO found the reductions have been most significant among those who performed enforcement activities, where staffing declined by around 27 percent (fiscal years 2011 through 2017). IRS attributed staffing declines primarily to a policy decision to strictly limit hiring. Agency officials told GAO that declining staffing was a key contributor in decisions to scale back activities in a number of program and operational areas, particularly in enforcement, where the number of individual returns audited from fiscal years 2011 through 2017 declined by nearly 40 percent.

While reduced budgets and government shutdowns bear most of the responsibility for the IRS brain drain, underfunding the Thrift Savings Plan can only make matters worse. Imagine a Chief Counsel recruiter at a law school campus, trying to answer questions about this make-believe bookkeeping.

On the other hand, the Thrift Savings Plan might be easier to sell because it is guided by BlackRock, one of the world’s largest money managers with nearly $6 trillion of assets under supervision. BlackRock recently disclosed  that its funds have an $11 million stake in Curaleaf Holdings, a Massachusetts-based medical cannabis company.

TSP does not yet have a W fund, for investments in the marijuana industry. But to my knowledge, no one has yet ruled it out.

Meanwhile, I am still wondering whether a record $45 billion in tax refunds was paid out on February 27, as I reported here, because the new debt limit was based on how much the federal government owed on March 1. Did Treasury tell IRS to clean out the bank account because the balance sheet needed to show as little cash as possible?

My suspicions grew when I saw the refund check my clients received that was dated March 1, based on an amended return they had filed in August. The explanation for the refund (“this is what you asked for with the amended return”) was not dated and mailed until March 11. Checks seldom arrive at the same time as the notices that explain them, but a ten-day lag seems unusual.

But I digress. At some point federal employees’ tolerance for TSP shenanigans may grow thin. Congress cannot afford to worsen the already critical brain drain at our nation’s revenue collection agency.

Sixth Circuit Remands Wrongful Levy SOL Dispute: Did IRS’s 2012 Levy Attach to 2016 Payments?

Today we welcome first-time guest blogger Matthew Hutchens. Hutch has several years’ experience as a low-income tax clinic attorney with Indiana Legal Services. He is now a lecturer of accountancy at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business. With co-author Erin Stearns, Hutch is currently updating the lien and levy chapters of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS.  Today he discusses a recent Sixth Circuit opinion analyzing the timeframe for filing a wrongful levy action, in a dispute over whether a past levy attached to recent payments owed to the taxpayer by their alleged alter ego. Guest blogger Lavar Taylor has explained the procedural barriers that alleged nominees and alter egos face in contesting IRS levies. In this case the Sixth Circuit declined to increase those barriers. Christine

Plaintiffs often face difficulties in meeting the statute of limitation deadlines in civil suits against the United States for improper tax collection action. But recently, the Sixth Circuit, in Gold Forever Music, Inc. v. United States, landed a third party a victory on the statute of limitations for an IRC Section 7426(a)(1) claim, which is the Code provision that allows innocent third parties to seek a return of property wrongfully levied to satisfy the tax debts of another taxpayer. Here, the third party, Gold Forever Music (Gold Forever), persuaded the court to vacate a district court’s dismissal based on the limitations period having expired prior to filing of the lawsuit. 

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Wrongful Levy Suits Background

In fiscal year 2017, the IRS served almost 600,000 levy requests according to the IRS Data Book. While this number has decreased substantially in recent years (there were over 1.4 million such levy requests in FY2015), the levy power does provide many opportunities for the IRS to seize property not owned by the liable taxpayer, but instead by an innocent third party.

In the event the innocent third party is aware of the potential issuance of a notice of levy, that party can attempt to convince a Revenue Officer that such property does not belong to the taxpayer. However, until the issuance of a notice of levy, the innocent third party likely has no advance knowledge of the IRS’s plans. 

Then, at the point the notice of levy is issued, it is likely fruitless for the innocent third party to attempt to convince the recipient of the levy to not turn over property to the government because Section 6332(d)(1) imposes personal liability on individuals who fail to remit property pursuant to a levy. As an additional incentive, Section 6332(e) provides the party surrendering the property with immunity against liability from any other party.

When a levy is issued, it attaches to a taxpayer’s entire interest in property unless the property is exempt. For payments that will arise after the issuance of the levy, the levy attaches to all amounts that are fixed and determinable at the time of levy. Examples of future payment streams that are potentially fixed and determinable include retirement benefits, pensions, interest payments, and—as in Gold Forever—royalty payments.

Once the levy is issued—regardless of whether property is actually surrendered—the third party has the option to file an administrative claim for wrongful levy with the IRS. Such a written request is required if damages beyond just a return of the levied property are sought. If the claim is unsuccessful or no claim is filed, the third party can bring a civil suit against the United States. For innocent third parties who have property levied by the IRS to satisfy another taxpayer’s liability, a suit against the United States under Section 7426(a) is the only judicial remedy available.

Prior to the 2017 tax act (a.k.a. TCJA), the limitations period (found in Section 6532(c)) for a return of wrongfully levied property action was a mere nine months from the date of the levy, which is the period applicable in Gold Forever. The TCJA extended this period to two years for new levies and for levies where the nine month period had not expired as of the date of the TCJA’s enactment. In cases where the third party makes a timely administrative claim for a return of levied property, the limitations period is extended until the earlier of twelve months from the date of filing the claim or six months from the IRS’s notice of disallowance.

Facts of the Case

Gold Forever is a music publisher owned by Edward Holland, Jr. Holland is famous for being a member of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team responsible for several hits from Motown’s top artists. Mr. Holland also owed the government over $19 million in unpaid taxes.

Gold Forever licensed its music catalog to Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) and Universal Music Publishing (Universal) and in exchange, received royalty payments. Due to this arrangement, the IRS issued notices of levy to BMI and Universal in August 2012 under the theory that Gold Forever was either the alter ego or nominee of Edward Holland. Soon after the notices of levy were issued, BMI and Universal began remitting payments to the IRS and this apparently continued for several years without any action by Gold Forever (although there was some dispute about the extent to which payments were made during this period).

In the present litigation, Gold Forever has denied ever being an alter ego or nominee of Mr. Holland and claimed that the majority of levied royalty payments were meant for other artists and not Mr. Holland. In addition, at oral argument before the Sixth Circuit, the attorney for Gold Forever speculated that the inaction on the levy from Gold Forever was due to a belief that the amounts due to it under the contracts with BMI and Universal were not worth litigating over.  

However, by 2016 and 2017, when BMI and Universal made additional royalty payments totaling almost $1 million to the IRS pursuant to the levy, Gold Forever decided to bring the Section 7426(a)(1) challenge in the Eastern District of Michigan seeking a return of those 2016 and 2017 payments.

District Court Proceedings

In district court, Gold Forever alleged that the 2016 and 2017 royalty payments were not amounts that were fixed and determinable as of August 2012 levies. Thus, the 2012 notices of levy could not have attached to these payments. Therefore, the IRS’s seizure of the 2016 and 2017 royalty payments could not have been pursuant to the 2012 notices of levy. Instead, the seizure of these payments should be viewed as a new, constructive levy, starting the limitations period for a wrongful levy claim anew and making Gold Forever’s action timely (although this argument was framed in the somewhat confusing context of what is “the meaning of the word levy”). Gold Forever also noted the due process issues that would arise if the government were able to seize after-acquired property with no post-deprivation opportunity to dispute the taking.

In response, the government’s argument was very straightforward. The notices of levy occurred in August 2012. Thus, because an administrative claim was not filed during the months after the notice of levy, the limitations expired nine months later in mid-2013. The code and regulations are quite clear that a notice of levy starts the limitations period. Section 6532(c) calculates the limitations period from “the date of the levy” and Treas. Reg. Section 301.6331-1(c) provides that the date of the levy is the date on which a mailed notice of levy is delivered. Section 7426(a)(1) itself notes that a wrongful levy action may be brought “whether such property has been surrendered.”

The government also contended that whether the 2012 levy notices actually attached to the 2016 or 2017 royalties was irrelevant. According to the government, because the royalty payments were surrendered pursuant to the 2012 notices of levy, those notices of levy started the limitations period.

The district court appears to have missed the underlying substance of Gold Forever’s argument that the 2012 notices of levy did not attach to the 2016 and 2017 payments and the later seizure of those funds should be viewed as a separate levy distinct from the 2012 notices of levy. Instead, the district court summarized Gold Forever’s position as one that revolved around word meanings, stating “Plaintiff argues that ‘the date of the levy’ may also refer to the date of a seizure, namely the funds paid in 2016 and 2017.” Based on this understanding, the court easily found for the government and determined that a notice of levy, not the actual seizure, starts the limitations period. The court did not discuss whether the 2012 levies attached to the 2016 and 2017 payments and whether the remittance of those funds—if not reached by the 2012 levies—could constitute a new constructive levy.    

Sixth Circuit

At the appellate level, it appears the government began to appreciate that whether the 2012 levy attached to the 2016 and 2017 payments could actually matter. At oral argument, counsel for the government acknowledged that there was insufficient information in the record below to determine whether the 2016 and 2017 royalty payments were fixed and determinable at the time of the 2012 levies.

Nonetheless, the government contended that Gold Forever could have filed a wrongful levy suit within nine months of the 2012 notices of levy to determine “whether the levy attached to its royalty rights.” Gold Forever, quite rightly in my opinion, pointed out the problems of the government’s argument that taxpayers should litigate the scope of a notice of levy to avoid the possibility of the IRS wrongfully using that levy to seize property in the future to which the government was not entitled.  

Alternatively, the government argued that if the levy did not reach the 2016 and 2017 payments to the government, then those amounts remitted to the IRS “were voluntary payments that cannot be recovered in a wrongful levy suit.” Instead of a wrongful levy suit, the government suggested Gold Forever’s only judicial remedy would be a third party civil action for release of an erroneous lien under Section 7426(a)(4), which would require a deposit by the taxpayer, contains much tighter deadlines, and – conveniently for the government in this case—would preclude the recovery of payments already made.

Again, this second argument from the government is quite troubling. Section 7426(h) authorizes additional damages in cases where an IRS employee negligently, recklessly, or intentionally takes a collection action in violation of the IRC. It would be an odd result if an IRS employee could knowingly demand after-acquired property be turned over pursuant to a notice of levy and then deprive the third party from being able to bring a suit for the return of the property because such payment was actually “voluntary.” It is further problematic in that the IRS would likely be using the carrot and stick provisions of immunity and personal liability under Section 6332 to convince parties to turn over property pursuant to a notice of levy and then later flip-flopping to argue it was not a levy at all.

In ruling for Gold Forever, the Sixth Circuit held that there was insufficient evidence in the record to determine whether the 2016 and 2017 royalties were fixed and determinable, and that whether they were would determine the outcome of the statute of limitations issue. The court explained:

Determining whether the 2012 levies attached to royalties acquired after the notices of levy is necessary to finding when the limitations period began to run for a wrongful levy action on those royalties. The government insists, without explanation, that determining the scope of the 2012 levies affects only the relief that could be awarded in the wrongful levy action and that considering the scope of the levies conflates “the statute of limitations with the merits of the claim.” The government’s concern is misplaced. Whether the levy attached to property is not part of the merits of a wrongful levy action—i.e., that the levy was made on property or a right to property in which the non-taxpayer has an interest. See Nat’l Bank of Commerce, 472 U.S. at 739 (quoting United States v. Rodgers, 461 U.S. 677, 695 (1983)). A levy attaching to property or the right to property is necessarily antecedent for the statute of limitations to begin running on a wrongful levy action concerning that property.

As for the government’s alternative argument that there could have been no levy if the 2012 notices did not attach to the 2016 and 2017 royalties, the court declined review since it was raised on appeal for the first time.

Final Thoughts

On remand, it will be interesting to see whether Gold Forever can convince the Court that the 2016 and 2017 royalty payments were not fixed and determinable at the time of the 2012 notices of levy. Nevertheless, it seems this is an issue a third party should have the opportunity to litigate. Otherwise, the possibility of improper IRS collection action pursuant to previously issued notices of levies would go potentially unchecked.

This case stands as good reminder for anyone who has a stream of payments currently being levied (and who might believe the applicable limitations period has passed) to take a closer look to confirm whether property levied today was a fixed and determinable amount at the date of the notice of levy. 

Additionally, when the IRS issues a notice of levy, parties should carefully evaluate what property is fixed and determinable at the time of the levy. And Gold Forever’s current litigation should cause third parties to at least consider proactive litigation under Section 7426(a)(1), even when the monetary amounts at stake appear small, if there is a possibility of increased payments at a future date. After all, if Gold Forever had prevailed in a suit in 2012 or 2013 under the theory that it was not an alter ego or nominee of Mr. Holland, the company would have avoided the after-acquired property issue of the 2016 and 2017 payments altogether.

Finally, if you happen to find yourself streaming Motown classics on your favorite streaming service, you can feel a little extra patriotic knowing that—at least for the time being—some of those royalties payments are going to help put a dent in those ever-increasing annual federal deficits.

How Will IRS and Taxpayers Deal with the Administration’s Newfound View that the Entire ACA Is Unconstitutional?

Today we welcome back guest poster Tom Greenaway. Tom is a principal in KPMG’s Tax Controversy Services practice. Tom raises a question about a potential collateral consequence of the Administration’s new litigating position in the ongoing Affordable Care Act litigation. For background on the case and additional implications, I recommend Katie Keith’s Health Affairs blog post. Christine

Last week the Department of Justice signaled that the United States now thinks that the entire Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is unconstitutional, in a filing in the Texas v. United States case. Eventually that position will be tested and decided by the appellate courts–again–but in the meantime, what will federal agencies like the IRS do?

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For instance, the 3.8 percent tax on net investment income was added to the Internal Revenue Code by the ACA. It generates about $20 billion in revenue each year. Will IRS put out guidance saying that taxpayers don’t need to pay that tax anymore? Doubtful.

Generally, both practitioners and the IRS dismiss, as frivolous, arguments that the federal tax laws are unconstitutional.

Nevertheless, some taxpayers may take the view that if both a district court and DOJ think the entire ACA is unconstitutional, there must be at least a reasonable basis, if not substantial authority, for that position. If so, taxpayers who decline to pay net investment income tax this filing season may avoid penalties in the event that they (and the administration) are proven wrong on the constitutional question.

Does it seem fair for the IRS to impose accuracy-related penalties on taxpayers who take the exact same position on an issue as DOJ?

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The information contained herein is of a general nature and based on authorities that are subject to change. Applicability of the information to specific situations should be determined through consultation with your tax adviser. This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG LLP.

©2019 KPMG LLP, a Delaware limited liability partnership and the U.S. member firm of the KPMG network of independent member firms affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. All rights reserved.