About William Schmidt

William Schmidt joined Kansas Legal Services in 2016 to manage cases for the Kansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and became Clinic Director January 2017. Previously, he worked on pro bono tax cases for the 3 Kansas City metro area Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. He records and edits a tax podcast called Tax Justice Warriors and is now an adjunct professor for Washburn University School of Law.

Subpoenas in the Virtual Tax Court Age: Designated Orders 9/28/20 to 10/2/20

The focus for this blog post will primarily be about how the Tax Court is handling subpoenas in this age of virtual trials. There are some miscellaneous designated orders I will also touch on for the week I monitored. Also for those of you keeping track – I also monitored the week of August 31 through September 4, but did not write a report because there were no designated orders submitted that week. Perhaps the judges were ready for the Labor Day holiday?

Subpoenas and Virtual Tax Court

Docket Nos. 14546-15, 28751-15 (consolidated), YA Global Investments, LP f.k.a. Cornell Capital Partners, LP, et al., Order available here.

I was listening to the UCLA Extension’s 36th Annual Tax Controversy Conference’s panel on “Handling Your Tax Court Matter in the Covid-19 Environment” on October 20. The panel was moderated by Lavar Taylor (Law Offices of Lavar Taylor) and panelists were Judge Emin Toro (U.S. Tax Court), Lydia Turanchik (Nardiello and Turanchik), and Sebastian Voth (Special Trial Counsel, IRS Office of Chief Counsel). The topic turned to subpoenas and Ms. Turanchik cited the YA Global order in question as being a good example of the Tax Court’s, specifically Judge Halpern’s, approach to subpoenas in our virtual Tax Court era.

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YA Global made a previous appearance in designated orders write-ups concerning scheduling issues in the pandemic. Now, the issue is that that the IRS requested an order setting the cases for remote hearing and a notice of remote proceeding in order to provide a return date and location for subpoenas duces tecum that they would like to issue. The petitioners requested a protective order precluding the IRS from issuing the subpoenas.

First of all, the Tax Court has a document with instructions on subpoenas for remote proceedings. With respect to subpoenas for production of documents from a third party, if a Tax Court litigant needs to obtain documents from a third party for use in a case set for trial, the litigant should, no later than 45 days before the trial session, file a motion for document subpoena hearing. If the motion is granted, the judge will issue an order setting the case for a remote hearing and issue a notice of remote proceeding. The hearing date will be approximately two weeks before the first day of the trial session. The litigant should immediately serve the subpoena for documents on the third party. The third party may voluntarily comply with the subpoena by delivering the documents and the Court will cancel the hearing. Otherwise, the third party may (assuming the party does not object to the subpoena) elect to present the relevant documents on the day of the hearing.

In the YA Global order, the IRS followed that procedure – their motion requested an order setting these cases for a remote hearing and a notice of remote proceeding. The notice then provides the date and location for the subpoenas duces tecum that the IRS would like to issue. That motion, however, triggered a motion from the petitioners for a protective order on the grounds that the IRS is trying an end run around the discovery deadline that the parties agreed to (May 1, 2020, which the Court incorporated into its pretrial order).

Tax Court Rule 147 is the rule on subpoenas, but we need some guidance on how it applies to this situation. Rule 147(d) subpoenas are time-bound by the period allowed to complete discovery, but Rule 147(b) subpoenas are not limited in the same way. Those subpoenas command the person who receives the subpoena to appear at the time and place specified (a hearing or trial). Does that mean a 147(b) trial subpoena allows a party to have additional discovery time?

There is relatively little authoritative Tax Court precedent regarding claims of misuse regarding 147(b) trial subpoenas. In Hunt v. Commissioner, the Court quashed subpoenas issued on the eve of trial for large quantities of documents not reviewed during discovery as impermissible. There, the Court stated “respondent simply cast an all-encompassing net in the search for information with which to build a case. Rule 147 was not intended to serve as a dragnet with which a party conducts discovery.”

There is, instead, larger authority in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (regarding civil actions and proceedings in United States district courts). In fact, when the Tax Court set up Rule 147, the goal was to have a rule governing subpoenas substantially similar to Fed. R. Civ. P. 45 (“Subpoenas”). Rule 45 has been subsequently amended to authorize the issuance of subpoenas to compel nonparties to produce evidence independent of a deposition. This is a different direction from Tax Court Rule 147.

Yet, it “is black letter law that parties may not issue subpoenas pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 ‘as a means to engage in discovery after the discovery deadline has passed’” (Joseph P. Carroll Ltd. v. Baker). To expand and explain, Moore’s Federal Practice – Civil states “once the discovery deadline established by a scheduling order has passed, a party may not employ a subpoena to obtain materials from a third party that could have been procured during the discovery period.”

In reviewing the IRS actions in these cases regarding the subpoenas, some fall in the category of opportunities passed up for discovery and others allude to a purpose to learn facts or resolve uncertainty. The Court states those subpoenas fall under the current Tax Court Rules for discovery, which apply appropriately here. Overall, the Court denies the IRS motion as the subpoenas would be used for an inappropriate purpose, the conduct of discovery.

Only one subpoena is excepted from the denied subpoenas. This subpoena is intended to facilitate authorization to view and potentially use documents already produced by that individual that he may not have been authorized to produce previously. The proposed IRS subpoena is to rectify the individual’s possible lack of authority in producing documents that the IRS already has in hand and may use (presumably at trial). The Court is allowing this subpoena as an appropriate use of a trial subpoena. The Court then grants the IRS motion to set a remote hearing and notice of remote proceeding with regard to that one third party subpoena.

Miscellaneous Cases

Another Scattershot Petition

  • Docket No. 13130-19, William George Spadora v. C.I.R., Order available here.

In my last designated orders post, I wrote about scattershot petitions. Bob Probasco made a comment and I sent him a follow-up email. His theory is that these scattershot petitions may actually be a promoter scheme for tax protestors to get the dismissal in Tax Court and then file a refund suit in district court or the Court of Federal Claim with the argument that “the IRS has no jurisdiction” and the usual result of no success in that court either. That may be a possibility as there seem to be several such petitions filed in the Tax Court.

Which brings us to Mr. Spadora (whatever his motivations are) as his petition refers to tax years 2000 through 2018.  The IRS checked and there were notices of deficiency for 2004 and 2010-2012 only, but all of those were expired.  Instead of immediately granting the IRS motion to dismiss, Judge Gale strikes the case from the San Francisco calendar scheduled for October 19. The petitioner has until November 18 to respond with his reasoning why the Court has jurisdiction and to submit the applicable notices of deficiency or determination.

A Day Late and a FedEx Receipt Short

  • Docket No. 13949-19, Artur Robert Smus v. C.I.R., Order of Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction available here.

Mr. Smus filed his Tax Court petition 91 days after the Notice of Deficiency was sent by the IRS. He was supposed to file a response to the IRS Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, but did not. He was also supposed to appear at the remote hearing for Denver to explain at the hearing regarding the motion to dismiss. Mr. Smus did not appear so the IRS Counsel explained to the Court about the attempts to reach him and why the motion should be granted. The Court tried to contact Mr. Smus, but they were unsuccessful.

What did Mr. Smus do? He electronically filed his response to the motion ten minutes prior to the scheduled remote hearing. In his response, he states he petitioned the Court on the evening of July 23, 2019 (day 90), but FedEx did not ship out the package until the morning of July 24 (day 91). He is not able to find his FedEx receipt. Because of his late response and failure to appear at the hearing combined with admitting the mailing occurred on the 91st day, the Court grants the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.

My advice? Do not wait until the last minute to file the Tax Court petition. If you are close to the deadline, you have to make sure the filing gets done absolutely right.

How Old Is Old and Cold?

  • Docket Nos. 27268-13, 27309-13, 27371-13, 27373-13, 27374-13, 27375-13 (consolidated), Edward J. Tangel & Beatrice C. Tangel, et al., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The Tangels appeared in a prior designated orders post I wrote concerning how the IRS was nonresponsive to discovery requests in this case about the research credit. This time, they are seeking to seal 2,472 trial exhibits. 2,417 relate to “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense” while the other 55 relate to “Capstone” (no, not Treadstone). About 75% of the first group of exhibits have a warning stamp concerning technical information where the export is restricted by federal law. The petitioners argue that disclosure of the proprietary information will irreparably harm their business, violate trade secret protections, and may impact national security.

In the Court’s analysis, there is not enough evidence to support those claims. The motion for protective order is two pages long and without supporting affidavits – a party must provide appropriate testimony and factual data to support claims of harm resulting from disclosure and not rely on conclusory statements.

Next, the tax years at issue are 2008-2010 so the documents in question are presumably at least 10 years old. Sensitive documents lose saliency over time and become “old and cold.” In other cases, documents that were older than certain years (examples: 5, 7, or 10 years old) were excluded from being confidential information. The petitioners have not addressed how the age of the documents affects their confidential nature.

The Court was inclined to believe that a protective order may be necessary, but not for all 2,472 documents. The Court proposed that the parties work to submit a joint protective order or to submit their own separate proposed protective orders if they cannot agree. The current motion for a protective order from the petitioners was denied.

Day 2 of Collection Due Process Summit Initiative

Yesterday, we reported on the discussions of the the communication and administrative process issues related to Collection Due Process (CDP) that occurred in the 2019 CDP Summit.  Today, we continue the series with a report on the litigation issues presented by CDP as discussed in that summit.

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Breakout: Exploring CDP Rights and Procedures within Judicial Proceedings

Panelists: Keith Fogg, Christine Speidel

Focused on improving effectiveness and efficiency for all participants in Tax Court matters, this session will analyze common petitioner and respondent approaches to litigating CDP in Tax Court. The session will explore opportunities to increase the number of taxpayers who exit litigation with a sustainable plan to collect the correct amount of tax due. Participants will discuss the Tax Court’s authority and limits to achieving a result satisfactorily resolving the issues between the parties; typically, a collection solution for taxpayers litigating in good faith.

Jurisdiction

Filing the CDP Request.

  • LITCs encountered the problem of the IRS offering an equivalent hearing where the taxpayer timely filed a CDP request with the IRS but sent it to the wrong address. In both cases, the jurisdictional issue was not litigated because the taxpayer’s OIC was accepted.
  • In Webber v. Commissioner, the IRS conceded that the taxpayer who accidentally used the wrong IRS address was entitled to a CDP hearing.
    • IRS Chief Counsel reported that they are working on an administrative solution within the IRS. They are working on two fronts: (a) changing the CDP notice to be more clear; and (b) granting CDP hearings if the taxpayer sends the request timely to any IRS office.
  • Question raised, could IRS accept CDP requests by e-file?
    • Clinicians should continue to litigate the issue presented in Webber, and also look out for good equitable tolling cases, where the CDP request was made late but for a very good reason.
      • E.g., reliance on bad advice from the IRS. The merits of the underlying case must also be good in order for it to make a compelling equitable tolling case.

Filing the Tax Court petition

  • Clinicians should continue to litigate equitable tolling in the circuit courts (only the 9th Circuit has conclusively ruled against equitable tolling here). The case must have compelling equitable circumstances and good merits.

Timing; Motions for Summary Judgment

IRS may expedite currently not collectible cases where a CDP hearing is requested.

  • Attendees mentioned instances in which an IRS employee (not from Appeals) responds to CDP requests by offering currently not collectible status if the taxpayer withdrew their request for a hearing. However, taxpayers do not always understand what they’re giving up (i.e., CDP hearing, Tax Court review).
    • Some attendees believe this practice continues, others thought it had stopped.
    • The working group should investigate whether this still happens and whether it violates taxpayer rights.

The group considered whether there should be an expedited track for certain CDP cases in Tax Court.

  • May be based on economic harm, including taxpayers expecting refunds and IRS concerns about pyramiding.
  • The group considered proposing criteria in the context of the Tax Court’s docket, which includes other cases that might merit expedition, like passport cases.
    • If there were a Tax Court rule allowing either party to request expedited review on economic harm grounds, could that include passport cases?
    • Is this a legislative issue rather than a Tax Court rules issue?

Could the Office of Chief Counsel review CDP petitions earlier and would that expedite these cases?

  • Some Counsel offices do review the case thoroughly as they prepare the Answer, and they do reach out to taxpayers to suggest a remand where appropriate. It would be good to ensure that is nationally uniform practice.
  • Although some in the Office of Chief Counsel are proactive at the Answer stage, in many cases the IRS does not file a motion for summary judgment until shortly before the deadline (60 days prior to the calendar call). The Tax Court could amend its rule to move up the motion for summary judgment filing deadline in CDP cases. The Office of Chief Counsel could also make a policy change to encourage earlier filling of motions for summary judgment.

Could petitioners’ counsel file early motions for summary judgment? What would need to happen for this to be possible?

  • The parties would need to agree on the administrative record and identify if there are any disputes about what evidence the Court can consider.
  • Something to keep in mind regarding an early motion for summary judgment is how the Tax Court works its cases. When a case is not on a trial calendar yet, the case is not assigned to a trial judge. The Special Trial Judges take turns reviewing motions that come in on those cases. If it appears that a hearing is needed, they need to ask permission from the judge presiding over the next calendar in the petitioner’s city whether they can add the case to their calendar.

Could expedited CDP cases be heard by video conference?

  • Some Tax Court judges may prefer in-person hearing/testimony.
  • Though no one in the group could recall seeing video conferences used, petitioners might prefer a virtual method that was expedited over waiting for trial.

The group briefly discussed the use of FOIA versus requesting the administrative file from Counsel.

  • Several clinicians use both tools and get different results from each.
  • Counsel does not like taxpayer representatives using FOIA while a case is pending, but if they want to stop the practice they need to address the problems that exist with getting the full administrative file from them.
  • Concerns about obtaining the administrative file by members of the group include inappropriate redaction by Counsel of the record produced; difficulty in obtaining the administration file from Counsel’s office; failure by Counsel’s office to provide a complete administrative record to settlement officers; and Counsel’s office including hearsay in the administrative record, such as in the settlement officer’s declaration.

How could the administrative record be established early in CDP cases?

  • Petitioners’ counsel could send a Branerton letter soon after the pleadings close, requesting the administrative record and a conference to reach agreement on the contents of the record.
  • Tax Court judges could individually implement a standing order requiring the parties to agree on the administrative record and jointly certify it to the court by X date, or otherwise file their proposals/objections.
    • Judge Leyden has a standing order that she uses to efficiently handle 6751(b) issues in deficiency cases that include a 6662 penalty: 60 days prior to trial, she asks the IRS to let her know if they have proof of supervisory approval and, if not, to explain why it’s not needed. This clears out many issues prior to calendar call. A standing order akin to Judge Leyden’s in the context of administrative records would also streamline the trial process. 
  • The Tax Court could adopt a rule requiring Respondent to propose the administrative record within 30 days of filing the answer and giving a period of time for Petitioner to respond.
    • This could parallel or draw from the procedures that US district courts have implemented to manage litigation.
    • This process would set up either party to make a motion for summary judgment as the next step in the case.

Verification vs Merits

  • Petitioner’s counsel should ensure they raise any potential verification issues in the petition.
    • The group did not see the verification issues in petitions very often.
    • Include manager approval of penalties.
    • Include the Marlow issue – IRS cannot rely solely on its computer system when taxpayer raises a credible dispute to the information contained in the system (e.g., that Statutory Notice of Deficiency was correctly mailed).

Remands

Keith brought up the Brown v. Commissioner case, in which there were 3 remands to a settlement officer to consider a merits issue that the settlement officer did not understand how to handle.

  • Why couldn’t the Office of Chief Counsel simply resolve the merits of the liability?
    • There was a general consensus among attendees that Chief Counsel’s office could settle the underlying liability in CDP as they do in deficiency cases, as detailed within the Chief Counsel Directives Manual.

In addition to settling the merits when they are properly at issue, many attendees thought it would be helpful if the Office of Chief Counsel were empowered to settle CDP collection alternative cases.

  • The IRS is not currently set up to do this and it would take quite a lot of effort to accomplish. However, the Department of Justice is a model that the Office of Chief Counsel could use. The Department of Justice consults with the IRS but it makes the settlement decision/offer.
  • There is some limited authority for Counsel to facilitate a collection solution, but they seem reluctant to use it.

A potential suggestion for change was that the IRS develop a 1-page flyer explaining what a remand means, which Counsel could send to pro se taxpayers alongside the motion to remand. The IRS did a great job with this in the deficiency Answer context.

  • It was suggested that the Court develop an FAQ on remands as well.

Breakouts: Other Issues Raised

  • Increased funding is necessary for IT services at the IRS;
  • Creating secure portals and QR codes which will provide a web link in the notice explaining in the Taxpayer Roadmap where the taxpayer is in process with the IRS;
  • Adding confirmation language to the CDP withdrawal form that the taxpayer is in currently not collectible status;
  • Adjust account transcripts to reflect the CDP notice and hearing activity (also, general transcripts information could be improved).

Updates

  • Previously, the IRS position was to treat timely requested CDP hearings as those mailed only to the proper address as listed in the CDP notice.  The problem was that there may be two or more addresses listed on the CDP notice mailed to the taxpayer.  It was IRS policy that if there was a delay in routing a request mailed to the wrong address, that request would likely be treated as not timely filed.  Some of these issues came to a head in the Webber v. Commissioner case as Judge Gustafson criticized this IRS practice in a designated order as discussed here.  Later in the year, Keith wrote about changes to IRS policy regarding the request of a CDP hearing here.  Now, A CDP hearing request mailed to any address on the CDP notice with a postmark by the 30th day after the notice will be treated as timely filed.  This change comes from Chief Counsel technical advice memorandum PMTA-2020-02, dated December 12, 2019.  The memo SBSE-05-0720-0049, dated July 6, 2020, provides that IRM 5.1.9.3.2 will be updated within 2 years from the date of the memo to reflect that change.  I credit Procedurally Taxing and the CDP Summit Initiative for bringing attention to this issue and helping to foster this IRS solution for taxpayers.
  • One of the breakout issues raised regarding QR codes has partially been implemented by the IRS.  IR 2020-233 (October 9, 2020) gives details about how taxpayers can use the QR codes on CP14 notices to find information on the IRS website.  Starting in 2021, the taxpayers will be able to access their account, set up a payment plan or contact the Taxpayer Advocate Service.

We appreciate those of you interested in CDP reform and those of you who have taken the time to read these reports.  For those of you interested in taking part in a CDP committee, please contact my email address, schmidtw at klsinc.org.

Breakout Session Reports From the Collection Due Process Summit Initiative

Last year, Procedurally Taxing reported on the Collection Due Process Summit Initiative here.  The Initiative grew out of the American Bar Association Section of Taxation 2019 May Meeting and continued for an in-person meeting in Washington, D.C. for the Section of Taxation’s Low Income Taxpayer Representation Workshop.

At the Workshop, we gathered individuals in IRS Chief Counsel, LITC personnel, Taxpayer Advocate Service representatives, private practitioners, law school professors and others interested in discussing CDP reform.  The Workshop included breakout sessions where the group solicited feedback and asked if individuals were willing to volunteer for committees that would discuss CDP issues and bring potential solutions to the IRS for evaluation.  You can still sign up – send me an email:  schmidtw at klsinc.org.

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This year, there were some setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic and shifts in the leadership of the CDP Summit Initiative.  While the larger discussion in the tax arena during this year has been on various pandemic issues regarding the distribution of Economic Impact Payments and interruptions of IRS services, we do believe that problems in CDP areas will be another tax concern resulting from the pandemic.  As taxpayers face difficult economic times based on unemployment or other financial situations, that will ultimately result in tax issues dealt with in the CDP process. 

Most recently, there has been a small group working to continue the focus on CDP issues and advance goals from the Summit Initiative.  We are working to build out our committees and regularly seek for people to contact us if they would like to take part.  An additional goal has been to organize and submit the findings from the breakout sessions for you to read.  For those efforts, I would like to thank Matthew James, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Director at North Carolina Central University School of Law and Nikki McCain, in private practice and former Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Director at the University of South Dakota School of Law.  They are helping to drive CDP Summit Initiative efforts and edited these session reports.

As we provide you with the reports from the breakout sessions, we also included the introductory notes from the session descriptions to give you context and acknowledge the session leaders.  Thank you also to Erin Stearns and Christine Speidel for providing the notes for their sessions that made up these reports.

Today’s post will provide the reports of the breakout groups discussing notices and the administrative process.  Tomorrow’s post will discuss the report of the litigation breakout group.

Breakout: Improving IRS CDP Notices and Communications

Panelists: William Schmidt, Jeff Wilson, Beverly Winstead

This session will educate participants about IRS communication approaches as they pertain to CDP rights and procedures and known issues with the communications. The session leaders will facilitate an exchange of ideas for more effective messaging to increase taxpayer participation in CDP and more effective engagement with Collections at the earliest possible stage.

Prompts provided by the steering committee.

  1. IRS Publications and Website:
    1. Improve communication effectiveness of CDP publications and IRS website’s CDP content to educate taxpayers to make informed procedure choices;
    1. Emphasize to taxpayers and practitioners the importance, at the earliest possible stage, of creating a comprehensive record supporting a fair and sustainable collection alternative.
  2. IRS Notices (Section 6320 –lien and 6330 –levy). Improve CDP notices to look less like a bill for tax, with CDP hearing rights offered later in the notice without highlight or comment about the value of exercising CDP rights. For example, among other strategies and tactics, pursue the rights-based notice test developed by TAS that was suspended.
  3. IRS Form 12153: Revise CDP hearing request Form 12153, without losing its ease of completion, to make it more functional for the taxpayer. Potential changes include content clarifying lien vs. levy circumstances and explaining collection alternatives.

During this session, the group brainstormed revisions to the CDP Notices, which included:

  • Work towards simpler, layman’s notification letter available in various languages (as required by IRM 22.31.1.1.5.1, but also noting issues with determining taxpayers’ primary language), including term definitions such as garnishment;
  • Notice should clearly explain information to taxpayers and representatives and provide the expectations at and from a CDP hearing. Such information may include:
    • What can be achieved through a CDP hearing; 
      • E.g., collection alternatives available, methods of addressing liens (discharge, subordination, withdrawal, and explanations), ability to address issue of liability.
    • What documents IRS will require and why they need them;
    • What else taxpayers need to do to prepare for their CDP hearings.
      • Note: this information is not readily available on the IRS website. Pub 1660 addresses CDP hearings but could more plainly and thoroughly explain the process and options involved, e.g., Pub. 1660 does not mention Currently Not Collectible status at all.
  • Adjust the appearance of the notice informing the taxpayer of the right to request a CDP hearing (e.g., emphasize the difference/importance of the notice so the taxpayer does not disregard this notice as they would other notices);
  • Add a cover letter to the notice that explains taxpayer rights, collection alternatives (written in bold), availability of LITCs, and references important information listed elsewhere;
  • Appeals should be more consistent in acknowledging when it receives CDP cases;
    • E.g., standardize the letter that indicates the CDP hearing is in progress.
  • Develop a mechanism for taxpayers and representatives to track case status similar to the “Where’s My Refund” tool on the IRS website;
    • Alternatively, a call-in line to track CDP hearing status based on an assigned CDP hearing number.
  • Include contact information for LITCs that serve the taxpayer’s geographic area as part of the notices giving the taxpayer a right to a CDP hearing (LT 11 or Letter 1058).
    • Appeals could send out the current IRS Pub. 4134, which lists all LITCs by state but does not indicate each LITC’s geographic coverage area. Some attendees expressed concerns that Pub. 4134 is too long to send with CDP notices. As something of an aside, someone suggested it would be helpful to modify Pub. 4134 to better indicate each LITC’s geographic coverage area.

The group then discussed potential modifications to Form 12153, Request for a Collection Due Process or Equivalent Hearing:

  • Changing the “I can’t pay” answers to add a Comment box rather than an “other” box in order to better explain the situation;
  • Possibility of adding a collection information statement (e.g., 433-F) with Form 12153.

The group also developed questions for the Service:

  • Are there ways to get clients to respond to notices sooner or convince them to open letters faster?
    • Perhaps there is a way to emphasize taxpayer rights, such as printing on the outside of the envelope or putting in a different stuffer notice.

Breakout: Improving CDP Administrative Proceedings

Panelists: Soree Finley, Susan Morgenstern, Erin Stearns

Participants will learn about opportunities for more effective engagement with IRS Appeals, including when a taxpayer may challenge the accuracy of an assessed liability, the critical role of a record in establishing a sustainable collection alternative to immediate full payment, and procedural traps for the unwary. Participants will collaborate to identify improvements yielding more efficient and effective application of CDP through constructive interaction between taxpayers (or their representatives) and Appeals.

This breakout session was very well attended with approximately 35 attendees (standing room only). The discussion was built around the three priorities identified by the Steering Committee, then transformed into the following questions:

  1. What if IRS expanded telephone outreach efforts and contacted taxpayers in CDP to request a completed Form 433-F or -A?
    1. IRS could proactively assist taxpayers early on with a sustainable collection alternative. If no collection alternative results, then IRS could assign a settlement officer for a CDP hearing.
  2. How could the IRS better promote availability of LITC assistance earlier in the CDP process?
  3. What could be done to educate taxpayers and representatives on how to challenge liability through CDP?

The discussion focused most on the first question. The group spent some time discussing pre-CDP hearing screening measures but primarily discussed work with Appeals generally and improvements to the Appeals process. On this question, the group offered the following suggestions:

  • Remedy some of the staffing challenges by hiring more Settlement Officers;
    • Noted effects of staffing challenges included instances where settlement officers missed CDP hearings without advanced warning and delays in processing hearings and receiving communications scheduling hearings.
  • IRS should consistently apply pre-CDP hearing screening by geographic region;
    • Attendees from all over the U.S. in the breakout session and many indicated they had never been contacted by an IRS employee screening the case prior to sending it to a Settlement Officer for a full-blown hearing, and overall the group expressed interest in having the IRS do this.
    • One concern expressed by a participant was that taxpayers (and perhaps representatives) might feel railroaded by the screening person into agreeing to a collection alternative that might not be the best long-term option. However, most of the group welcomed the idea of being able to resolve cases without a full-blown CDP hearing.
  • Allow representatives (even if just at LITCs) to engage in email dialogue with IRS;
    • This could enable an LITC representative to receive emails from either Collections or Appeals – verifying that the CDP hearing was timely requested, identifying what needs to be submitted, and allowing representatives to submit documents via email.
    • Alternatively, develop an online portal system, like medical providers, which allows taxpayers and representatives to engage with the IRS in a secure setting, and to upload documents, receive messages, schedule phone calls or in person appointments at a Taxpayer Assistance Center, etc. CDP hearings could be handled through such a portal more efficiently than they are handled now and with required privacy protections.
    • Briefly discussed that not all taxpayers are connected and online and there would still need to be opportunities for less connected taxpayers to engage that do not require online interaction.
  • Appeals should provide more face-to-face hearing opportunities (in-person or virtual), which several attendees indicated, were useful for taxpayers facing anxiety;
  • Improve interpreter services available to taxpayers with language barriers.
    • Taxpayers should not have to provide their own interpreters for CDP hearings.

The next question addressed how the IRS could better promote availability of LITC assistance earlier in the CDP process. The group provided the following suggestions:

  • Better inform Appeals offices of LITCs, the location of local LITCs, and the work performed by LITCs;
    • Attendees discussed that the Taxpayer First Act now permits all IRS employees, including those within Appeals, to inform taxpayers of not just the presence of LITCs, but to tell them about LITCs local to them who might be able to help them.
  • Discussed whether more involvement with taxpayers in CDP would be undesirable on any level, e.g., increasing workload in an undesirable way, but attendees did not see this as a problem and indicated they would like to be involved in CDP cases earlier so they could provide more assistance.

Scattershot Petitions and Valuing a Collection: Designated Orders 8/3/20 to 8/7/20

This blog post covers the 3 designated orders that were released during the first full week of August.  All of the petitioners were unrepresented and there are some basic mistakes they made.  Since this blog post addresses some issues that have been analyzed before, it is my hope that providing this further analysis will assist some unrepresented taxpayers from avoiding these mistakes in the future.  The topics include scattershot petitions and collection due process, with a specific focus on collection valuations.

Scattershot Petitions

These two cases I will discuss involve what I am terming “scattershot petitions.”  These are petitions that were filed that cover a broad number of tax years.  When the petitioners file these scattershot petitions, maybe there is a connective document like a notice of determination that would validly allow the petitioner to continue in Tax Court.  Rather often, when there was a valid notice of determination, the ninety-day period for filing a petition based on that notice has already expired.  In essence, we have a first-time hunter that runs into a field and fires a shotgun without applying the concept of aiming the shotgun.  To change metaphors, it seems to be the “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” method of court filing.

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This then becomes a waste of resources because both the Tax Court and the IRS have to respond to the petition.  First, the IRS has to research regarding all of the tax years.  Was there a notice of deficiency filed for any of the years mentioned in the petition?  If so, did the period for filing a petition based on the notice expire before the petition was filed?  The IRS files regarding that information to the Tax Court and the judge writes a corresponding order.  Going through this process takes time and resources that would not have been wasted if the petitioner better understood the process and filed a valid petition.  This seems to happen often enough that they regularly appear in designated orders such as the two cases dealt with by Judge Buch here.

  • Docket No. 6600-19, James Matthew Enright v. C.I.R., Order and Order of Dismissal available here.

In the first case, Mr. Enright filed a petition to place at issue tax years 2000 through 2019.  He stated, “Never received the notice of Deficiency; [n]ever received the notice of Determination.”  However, this is not the first time Mr. Enright filed such a broad petition.  He had two prior Tax Court cases that attempted to place at issue tax years 1958 through 2017.  There had been notices of deficiency issued for 2001, 2003, and 2004, but the petition was too late for those years.  Both parties moved the Court to dismiss the case and the Court does so.

            However, since Mr. Enright is a repeat customer, he gets a door prize.  The Court may impose a penalty when a taxpayer position is frivolous or groundless under IRC 6673 up to $25,000 (for more on 6673 penalties, look here).   As the judge notes the IRS had to review 20 years of records and had exhibits over 70 pages, he deems that a sanction is appropriate, ordering a $2,000 penalty (which I thought was only mildly harsher than a slap on the wrist).

  • Docket No. 18571-19, Craig Douglas Hoglund & Christine Joan Hoglund v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The second case brings up different issues, partly because it is due to issues related to married couple tax filing. 

The Hoglunds did not file a timely tax return for 2016.  As of September 3, 2019, neither spouse had filed a 2016 tax return, but that is the date the IRS issued a notice of deficiency addressed solely to Mrs. Hoglund.

In response, the Hoglunds filed a joint petition with the Tax Court.  With regard to the years of the notice, they listed “2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2016” and part of the reason in their narrative explanation of why they disagree, they wrote that they “always file jointly.”

The IRS filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction with regard to Mr. Hoglund and to dismiss and strike for lack of jurisdiction with regard to Mrs. Hoglund concerning all tax years except for 2016.  In the motion to dismiss, the IRS notes the Hoglunds have already had several Tax Court cases where they tried to place multiple tax years at issue.  One example is docket number 7171-19L (also with Judge Buch), where the Hoglunds tried to place tax years 2006 through 2014 at issue, but the Court dismissed all years but 2008 through 2010 (the only years addressed in the notice).

The Hoglunds made two arguments in response to the IRS motion.  The first argument is that their jointly filed tax returns throughout their marriage implies the IRS must send them a joint notice of deficiency.  The second argument is that years not under consideration for a particular tax year’s hearing are considered in making a determination.

For the first argument, the Court points out that filing a joint tax return is an elective choice.  At the time of the notice, the Hoglunds had not filed a joint tax return so it was proper for the IRS to issue the notice to Mrs. Hoglund solely.

Regarding the second argument, the Court notes that the Hoglunds are correct in that the Court can take into account tax years that are not under consideration regarding reviewing a particular tax year.  That does not mean that gives the Court jurisdiction over those other tax years.  IRC section 6213(a) only gives the Court jurisdiction to redetermine a deficiency as set forth in the notice of deficiency.

In summary, the Court in this case only has jurisdiction based on the notice of deficiency for tax year 2016 and taxpayer Mrs. Hoglund only.  The Court may take into account other tax years relating to 2016, but that does not afford the Court jurisdiction over those years.

As a result, the arguments from the Hoglunds failed and the Court granted the IRS motion to dismiss regarding Mr. Hoglund and tax years for Mrs. Hoglund outside of 2016.  The caption of the case is also amended so that Mrs. Hoglund is now the sole petitioner.

No mention of a 6673 penalty here, though I think it would have been warranted.

Valuing a Collection

Docket No. 10242-19, Craig A. Sopin & Ruth Sopin v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

This case generally fits into a recurring theme regarding Collection Due Process (CDP) cases.  To give the quick summary – petitioner had a lien or levy issue, did not provide all the documents requested by the IRS, files a petition with the Tax Court based on the determination, the Tax Court finds there was no abuse of discretion by the examiner so the petitioner loses upon review at Tax Court because the judge granted the IRS motion for summary judgment.

            What is different with the Sopins?  Let’s dig into the details.  They filed a tax return for the 2016 tax year with a liability of $38,528.  After that amount was unpaid, the IRS submitted both a notice of intent to levy and a notice of federal tax lien.  The Sopins timely filed a Form 12153 to request a CDP hearing.  For the CDP hearing, the IRS settlement officer requested that the Sopins submit their delinquent 2017 tax return, a Form 433-A (collection information statement), a Form 12277 (application for withdrawal of filed notice of federal tax lien), and proof of estimated tax payments for tax year 2018 to date.

            The Sopins submitted their delinquent 2017 tax return, which had a balance due.  The Sopins got a one-week extension in order to fill out Form 433-A, but they never submitted the forms 433-A or 12277.  When they filed their 2018 tax return, also delinquent with a balance due, they had not made any quarterly estimated payments.  The predictable results for the Sopins went as I detailed in the first paragraph – no relief under Collection Due Process leading to the Tax Court case where their noncompliance led to the Court granting the IRS motion for summary judgment.

What I found the most interesting was the sentence in the order – “Mr. Sopin advised that he was unable to complete a Form 433-A because it was too difficult to assess the value of the assets in his collection of memorabilia from the sinking of the RMS Titanic.”  What’s this?  He is a collector of memorabilia related to the Titanic?  Nowhere else in the order does it mention any other items regarding Mr. Sopin’s collection, but I thought it was something worth examining.

Generally, I was a bit curious about how the IRS treats collections.  I am one of those in the world with a hobby collection – in my case, comic books and other pop culture items.  When turning to IRS Form 433-A, section 19 requires a taxpayer to give a value for personal assets.  The section looks for amounts regarding “furniture, personal effects, artwork, jewelry, collections (coins, guns, etc.), antiques or other assets.”  What should be done to respond to the IRS regarding the current fair market value of such a collection?

When I turned to the Internal Revenue Manual for assistance in valuing Mr. Sopin’s Titanic collection, I found Internal Revenue Manual section 5.8.5.4.  It provides that the IRS can turn to “[h]omeowners or renters insurance policies and riders to identify high value personal items such as jewelry, antiques, or artwork.”  With regard to other high value assets, the IRM suggests appraisals for the value of a business, vehicle, or real estate.

In section 5.8.5.11, it states, “The taxpayer’s declared value of household goods is usually acceptable unless there are articles of extraordinary value, such as antiques, artwork, jewelry, or collector’s items. Exercise discretion in determining whether the assets warrant personal inspection.”

Additionally, when looking at an Offer in Compromise, Section 3 is for Personal Asset Information.  One part of the section is about other valuable items “(artwork, collections, jewelry, items of value in safe deposit boxes, interest in a company or business that is not publicly traded, etc.)”.  When listing such an item, the calculation is to take the current market value, multiply it by .8 (this is to determine the quick sale value – a calculation of 80% of fair market value – see IRM 5.8.5.4.1), then subtract the loan balance to arrive at the value of the valuable item.  After adding up the various valuable items, take the entire amount and subtract $9,690. 

In other words, if you are dealing with a client with a collection that is considering an Offer in Compromise, that is not necessarily a deal-breaker.  While we often value our possessions highly, it is worth remembering what amount we can get for them when sold.  In IRM 5.8.5.13, they define the fair market value as “the price at which a willing seller will sell and a willing buyer will pay for the property, given time to obtain the best and highest possible price.”  When it comes to personal property, the common thought is how much the item(s) would sell for at a garage sale or flea market setting.  For a client who highly values a collection, often times it may not be worth $9,700 or more and essentially gets devalued in an Offer in Compromise.

Another consideration is that there are taxpayer protections resulting from the IRC 6343 levy exemptions that protect taxpayer assets such as personal property that also help to preserve items such as taxpayer collectibles or other valuable items.

I am not sure if Mr. Sopin had highly valuable personal items where he should have gotten an appraisal for his Titanic collection, but that might have been a possibility.  Whatever method Mr. Sopin used, he should have found a value for the Titanic collection and submitted the Form 433-A (and other documents) to the IRS by the deadline.

And the moral of the story?  Provide all of the requested documents to the IRS and meet the deadlines.  It does not mean you automatically win your CDP case in Tax Court, but it likely prevents you from an automatic loss of the case if you do.

A Family Court Spin on Whistleblowing, Supervisory Approval, and Trial Scheduling: Designated Orders 7/6/20 to 7/10/20

Even though there were only three orders for the week I monitored in July, there wound up being enough interesting topics to write about.  The longest order is interesting because it puts a different spin on whistleblower cases before the Tax Court.  The next case focuses on timely written supervisory approval for IRS penalties.  Finally, there is another case dealing with trial scheduling issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Nevada Whistleblower in Family Court

Docket No. 20287-18W, Monique Epperson v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

Most often we think of whistleblower claims in a certain way.  It might be that the whistleblower was an employee who learned of misdeeds with regard to taxes or it might be that a person finds out through business dealings of foul play concerning tax reporting.  I doubt Family Court would be in the top answers concerning whistleblowing, but that is the topic of today’s case.

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You see, Ms. Epperson is a Nevada resident who was involved in a child custody dispute in her local family law court system in years 2016 and 2017.  Both her and her ex-husband were ordered to retain the services of various attorney, physician and psychology service providers from a list of court-approved outsource service providers.  She independently contracted with those providers and paid by cash, check or credit card during those 2 tax years.

It seems that Ms. Epperson had a bone to pick with how things went in family law court, but she was creative since most people do not think about the IRS when it comes to getting even.  Ms. Epperson is different because she chose to contact the IRS Whistleblower Office.  In December 2017, the IRS Whistleblower Office received five Forms 211, Application for Award for Original Information, from Ms. Epperson – all dated November 28, 2017.  The targets of those Forms were the Family Court and four independent contractors paid by her or her ex-husband during their court proceedings.

Her claim against the Family Court is that it should have issued Forms 1099-MISC to the various service providers because of the IRS requirement that when a business pays an independent contractor $600 or more over the course of a tax year, it should report those payments on a Form 1099-MISC issued to the independent contractor.  Her claim against the contractors is that they underreported income during the tax year, which would be easier to conceal in connection with child custody matters because they are usually sealed and unavailable for public viewing.

When the IRS Whistleblower Office reviewed the claims, they combined all five whistleblower claims into one group and applied a common decision.  The decision was based on the fact that the Family Court did not make payments to the independent contractors and the litigants (such as Ms. Epperson and her ex-husband) made the payments instead.  As none of those individual litigants are a business, they were not required to report payments by Form 1099-MISC.  The conclusion was there was no credible tax issue and the whistleblower claims were denied.

Ms. Epperson next timely filed her Tax Court petition.  Over time, the IRS filed a motion for summary judgment and Ms. Epperson filed her opposition to the motion, each with unsworn declarations under penalty of perjury in support of the motions.

This Tax Court filing comes about because Congress gave whistleblowers the ability to seek judicial review of their award determinations, but that review is limited to award determinations made under IRC section 7623(b), not 7623(a).  As a result, judicial review is only available for claims where the proceeds in dispute exceed $2,000,000 and an individual target taxpayer has gross income of at least $200,000 for the tax year(s) at issue. 

Ms. Epperson’s claim?  Unknown as to amounts paid to the Family Court, and, taken in the light most favorable to her, could have exceeded $2,000,000.  The claim against the contractors was fairly small (the $13,055 paid by her and her ex-husband to the contractors).  The contractors were three individuals and a corporation but nothing in the court pleadings or exhibits provides the gross income of those contractors.  Again, in the light most favorable to her, their gross income could have exceeded $200,000.  However, the proceeds in dispute for the contractors fell below the $2,000,000 threshold of IRC section 7623(b)(5)(B).

That threshold limitation is not jurisdictional, but it is an affirmative defense that must be raised and proven by the IRS.  In this case, the IRS did not raise that defense in their answer, but raised it in their motion for summary judgment.  An affirmative defense cannot be raised for the first time in a motion for summary judgment.  Since that defense was raised in the motion and not the answer, it will not be considered by the Court.  The fact that the contractor claims fell below the $2 million threshold was not fatal to Ms. Epperson’s petition for judicial review.

In reviewing the administrative record, there is explanation as to the determination regarding the Family Court but not explanation regarding the determination for the contractors.  The evidence indicates that there was a determination regarding the Family Court and the claims against the contractors were sent along in conjunction with that determination.  In the Court’s conclusion, there was no abuse of discretion regarding the Whistleblower Office determination regarding the Family Court but the IRS did not satisfy the burden of showing entitlement to summary judgment regarding the contractors.

The IRS motion for summary judgment with respect to the Family Court claim was granted while the motion for summary judgment with respect to the contractor claims was denied without prejudice.  The IRS Whistleblower Office determination with respect to the Family Court claim was sustained.

Supervisory Approval for IRS Penalties

Docket No. 15309-15, Jesus R. Oropeza, v. C.I.R., Order available here.

There are pending cross-motions for partial summary judgment in this case on the issue of whether the IRS secured timely written supervisory approval subject to IRC section 6751(b)(1) for the notice of deficiency.

In January 2015 – the revenue agent assigned to this case sent the petitioner a Letter 5153 and attached a revenue agent report asserting a 20% accuracy-related penalty attributable to one or more of the options under IRC section 6662(b)(1), (2), (3), or (6).  In the report, the agent stated that that the underpayment application is zero where a 40% penalty under 6662(h), (i), or (j) would be applied.  Two weeks later, the revenue agent’s immediate supervisor signed a civil penalty form approving a 20% penalty for substantial understatement [6662(b)(2)].  The penalty form did not cite any of the other three grounds or a 40% penalty.

In May 2015 – the revenue agent and someone who is potentially his immediate supervisor prepared a joint memo for IRS Chief Counsel.  The memo, signed by both, recommends the penalty be increased from 20% to 40% under 6662(i) on the ground that the petitioner engaged in a “nondisclosed noneconomic substance transaction.”  Five days later, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency asserting a 40% penalty for a “nondisclosed noneconomic substance transaction” but said it was a 40% 6662(b)(6) penalty.  In the alternative, the notice determined a 20% penalty attributable to negligence or substantial understatement of income tax.

The Court asks for the parties to submit briefs on the following issues by August 7: Assuming, for the purpose of argument, that the IRS did not secure timely supervisory approval for the penalty or penalties asserted in the revenue agent report –

  • Should the report be regarded as asserting all four types of 20% penalty, including the 20% penalty for engaging in a noneconomic substance transaction under section 6662(b)(6)?, and
  • If the 6662(b)(6) penalty was asserted in the report but not timely approved, can the IRS urge there was secured approval for a “40% section 6662(b)(6) penalty under 6662(i) even though the latter subsection operates only to increase the 6662(b)(6) penalty, which hypothetically was not timely approved?

I would make an argument in this case under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights about right # 10, the right to a fair and just tax system.  It seems to me there is a bit of a whipsaw effect going on here because of the quick movement between a 20% penalty and a 40% penalty.  First, the petitioner learns of a 20% penalty.  Later, the IRS stance is that it is a 40% penalty or, in the alternative, a 20% penalty.  Where is the finality for a taxpayer in those kind of changes?

Trial Scheduling Issues in the Pandemic

Docket No. 14546-15, 28751-15 (consolidated), YA Global Investments, LP f.k.a. Cornell Capital Partners, LP, et al. v. C.I.R., Order available here.

In November 2019, these consolidated cases were set for trial to commence September 14, 2020 in New York, New York.  Because of COVID-19 concerns, an order issued in April 2020 cancelled the Special Trial Session and struck the cases from the calendar.  The parties later agreed to have a Special Trial Session commencing Tuesday, October 13, by remote trial proceeding.  This order gives instructions regarding the trial and amends the pretrial schedule so that the pretrial schedule spans the end of July through the end of September 2020.

I did have a thought that maybe this was not meant to be a designated order.  Usually, all cases that are consolidated are listed in the daily designated orders.  In this case, there was only one of the two consolidated cases that were included in the designated orders.  I am not entirely convinced either way, though this case does lay out the pretrial schedule and addresses other concerns in the COVID-19 trial scheduling era so it may be useful reference.

 

A Webber Update, Possible Pandemic Changes, and Conservation Easements: Designated Orders 5/11/20 to 5/15/20 and 6/8/20 to 6/12/20

There were 7 designated orders during the week I monitored in May and 1 designated order for the week I monitored in June (Mark Alan Staples order), covering a variety of topics.  We start with an order updating the Webber case and its Collection Due Process issues.  Next, is there a change in the Tax Court treatment of motions to dismiss during the COVID-19 pandemic?  Following that, there are conservation easement, innocent spouse and other cases to review.

A Webber Update

Docket No. 14307-18 L, Scott Allan Webber v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Previously in Procedurally Taxing, the Webber case prompted discussion and change regarding Collection Due Process (CDP) and jurisdiction in Tax Court.  I wrote here regarding the case and Judge Gustafson’s taking issue with a prior IRS motion to dismiss.  The motion to dismiss was based on an IRS notice concerning CDP rights that had 2 addresses listed, one to request a CDP hearing and the other to make payment to the IRS on the listed amount due.  Mr. Webber had attempted to submit his CDP hearing request, but wound up mailing it to the payment address by mistake.  Based on the request’s movement through the IRS bureaucracy, it arrived at the correct location but late enough to only allow Mr. Webber an equivalent hearing (limiting his access to Tax Court review).  After Judge Gustafson took the IRS to task on the motion to dismiss as being a harsh result for such a simple taxpayer mistake, the IRS withdrew their motion to dismiss.  Things were not done regarding CDP, though, as there was a CDP Summit Initiative Workshop where these types of issues with CDP notices were discussed (also here).  Keith wrote here that a result of this discussion led to a program manager technical assistant (PMTA) memo setting new IRS policy to determine timeliness of a CDP hearing request.  The new policy is based on the type of situation above – receipt of a CDP hearing request at an incorrect office when it was mailed to the incorrect office because of being an office listed on the notice. 

I would like to also announce that the IRS is making a revision to the Internal Revenue Manual at IRM 8.22.5.3 to reflect that PMTA memo.  The revision will be effective beginning July 6 and will be incorporated into the IRM within 2 years of the date of this memorandum, reflected here (this links to a Tax Notes article available only to subscribers). 

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Got that?  Because the current designated order has a change of topic.  This designated order’s topic is shift from jurisdiction to the topic of credit elects.

In fact, Mr. Webber is dealing with a credit elect dating back to 2003 (when it was $71,012).  Over the years, that credit elect was applied to each tax year until we are dealing with the tax year at issue and the question of whether a credit elect of $77,782 from 2012 applies to his 2013 tax return.  If so, it reduces his 2013 total tax of $5,690 so that there is a credit elect of $72,092 that would carry to the 2014 tax return.

The problem is that Mr. Webber has received conflicting messages from the IRS regarding allowance of the credit elect over the years.  Certainly, removing an earlier link in the chain of credit elects would affect the 2013 tax year.  Part of the problem is that the review by Appeals during his CDP hearing was not honoring a prior IRS letter allowing the credit elect for tax years 2004 and 2005.

This order deals with both an IRS motion for summary judgment and Mr. Webber’s response, which contains a motion to dismiss and a motion to remand.

Mr. Webber presents the issue raised, the availability of the credit elect for tax year 2013, as a challenge to the existence of an underlying liability.  He contends that no valid CDP hearing was conducted asking to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, but also asking for a remand back to Appeals for them to take appropriate action.  The judge finds dismissal for lack of jurisdiction to be unwarranted.  Regarding remand, Judge Gustafson says it may or may not be necessary based on the IRS argument concerning the credit elect issue in the CDP hearing so no remand at this time.  Both motions are denied (the motion to remand denied without prejudice).

While the Court is not adjudicating Mr. Webber’s entitlement to the overpayment underlying the credit elect in 2013, the Court does have the responsibility to determine if the IRS allowed the overpayment but failed to credit it.  The Court states that is a genuine dispute of material fact since Appeals gave a statement in 2012 that they are allowing the full amount of the claimed credit elect for 2004 and 2005.  Appeals stated in the more recent CDP hearing that the question needed to be resolved outside Appeals so the Court reviews possible reasoning (statute of limitations, non-determination years, or refunds received).  None of that is conclusive so there is a genuine dispute of fact, leading to denial of the motion for summary judgment.  The parties are currently filing joint status reports to the Court.

Bob Kamman wanted to let us know about some coincidences – there is a citation in this order to a published Tax Court opinion from 2012 that also involves a credit-elect dispute in a CDP context.  The taxpayer is named Hershal Weber and the opinion was written by Judge Gustafson.  The more things change, the more they stay the same?

Stance on Motions to Dismiss During Pandemic?

Docket No. 10386-19S, Salvador Vazquez, v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This order is rather short, but notable.  The order begins by stating this case was scheduled for the Los Angeles trial session beginning June 1 before COVID-19 disrupted the Tax Court calendars.  The IRS filed a motion to dismiss for failure to properly prosecute on May 6, stating that the petitioner failed to respond to numerous attempts by the IRS to make contact.

Judge Carluzzo states:  “Under the circumstances and at this stage of the proceedings, we are reluctant to impose the harsh sanction that respondent requests. Our reluctance, however, to impose the sanction at this time in this case should not in any way be taken as a suggestion that a party’s behavior, as petitioner’s behavior is described in respondent’s motion, could not support such a sanction under appropriate circumstances.”

It is too soon to tell if this is any type of new position for the Tax Court regarding motions to dismiss during these pandemic times.  Since then, the judge ordered the parties to, separately or together, submit reports by August 24.

Conservation Easements

In recent years, the IRS has been taking a harder stance against several organizations that have claimed deductions for the donations of conservation easements.  For those looking to learn more about the issues, I recommend listening to two of the June 2020 podcast episodes from Tax Notes Talk.  A problem I have noticed is that both the bad apples and the good ones have been swept up in the IRS enforcement efforts.  For example, a request I have seen from the good apples is that they would like to get sample language from the IRS on how to draft documents relating to the conservation easement donation that will be satisfactory to the IRS.

One current development regarding conservation easement cases is that the IRS announced in IR-2020-130 that certain taxpayers with syndicated conservation easement issues will receive letters regarding time-limited settlement offers in docketed Tax Court cases.  Perhaps that will help reduce the conservation easement cases on Tax Court dockets.

  • Docket No. 5444-13, Oakbrook Land Holdings, LLC, William Duane Horton, Tax Matters Partner v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Oakbrook Land Holdings would like to reopen the record to add four deeds from the Nature Conservancy that have language to support the argument that Oakbrook’s deed doesn’t violate the regulation regarding their conservation easement donation.  The Court ruled the evidence is merely cumulative.  Also, the Conservancy’s comments, not practices, are what is discussed so the proffered deeds won’t change the outcome of the case.  The motion to supplement the record is denied.

  • Docket No. 10896-17, Highpoint Holdings, LLC, High Point Land Manager, LLC, Tax Matters Partner, v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This case required a look to state law in Tennessee regarding interpretation of the deed at issue and that does not help Highpoint Holdings.  The IRS motion for partial summary judgment is granted and the parties are to submit their status reports on how to proceed in the case.

Innocent Spouse

Docket No. 4899-18, Doris Ann Whitaker v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This is an innocent spouse case that came to Tax Court as Ms. Whitaker is seeking relief from joint liability for 2005 income tax, pursuant to IRC 6015(f).  Ms. Whitaker has not completed high school and is employed as a nurse’s aide.  When filing the 2005 tax return, income attributable to her then-disabled and drug-addicted husband was not reported on the return.  Ms. Whitaker did not report his income as she incorrectly understood “married filing jointly” to mean “married filing separately”.  Basically, she thought filing the joint return took care of her obligations and her husband was required to file his own separate return.

The IRS filed their motion for summary judgment, arguing “there remains no genuine issue of material fact for trial”.  The Court, when reviewing the facts and circumstances, takes Ms. Whitaker’s education and resources into account and finds this factor is sufficient to prompt a holding that there is a genuine issue of material fact to prompt denial of the motion without prejudice.

However, what to make of the recent amendment to IRC 6015(e)(7)?  The amendment requires the Tax Court to review applicable innocent spouse cases based on (A) the administrative record established at the time of the determination, and (B) any additional newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence.  What should be done with motions for summary judgment in conjunction with these evidentiary requirements?  In this case, only the IRS motion is on hand.  The Court has the discretion to construe an opposition to a summary judgment motion as a cross-motion for summary judgment but only where the parties have adequate notice and adequate opportunity to respond.  There was no such notice to treat Ms. Whitaker’s opposition as a cross-motion.  The Court orders the parties to communicate toward settlement.  The next order is for the IRS to file a certified administrative record and motion for summary judgment based on that record.  Ms. Whitaker is ordered to file any objections she would have about the administrative record, a response to the motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment.  The Clerk of the Court is also ordered to serve on Ms. Whitaker a copy of the information letter regarding the local Low Income Taxpayer Clinics potentially providing assistance to her (this case is being worked by Winston-Salem IRS Counsel so presumably this would be the 2 North Carolina clinics).

There have been subsequent orders filed in this case.  The first order relays that in a telephone conference between the parties that the IRS is conceding the IRC 6015 issue in the case so the parties are ordered to file a proposed stipulated decision or joint status report no later than July 17.  The second order relays that the IRS filed a motion for entry of decision on June 24, proposing a zero deficiency and no penalty due for the 2005 tax year, after applying IRC section 6015(b), and there is no overpayment in income tax due to petitioner for the 2005 tax year.  However, the motion states that the petitioner objects so Ms. Whitaker is to file no later than July 24 a response to the motion explaining why it should not be granted and a decision should be entered in this case.

Unless there is a procedural issue in her case I am overlooking, I find this to be a win for Ms. Whitaker and think she should not file a response to the motion.

Short Takes on Issues

  • Docket No. 6946-19SL, Soccer Garage, Inc., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This case concerns Collection Due Process regarding a levy and penalties for failure to file.  The IRS argues there was an intentional disregard of the filing requirement.  There are not enough facts provided regarding the petitioner’s intent so the Court denied the IRS motion for summary judgment.

  • Docket No. 10662-19W, Wade H. Horsey v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Mr. Hosey requested the reconsideration of the determination of a whistleblower claim and his motion was denied.

  • Docket No. 6560-18, Mark Alan Staples v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

Mr. Staples filed a motion for new trial that the Court had to recharacterize as a motion for reconsideration of findings or opinion.  Mr. Staples made arguments about the characterization of his retirement benefits, Constitutional arguments, and generally argued about his computation regarding tax year 2015.  The Court denied the motion as the IRS computations were in line with the Court’s memorandum findings of fact and opinion.  On this case, I am generally confused by the petitioner’s actions – was he a tax protestor or just ignorant of tax procedure?  Either way, his motion was filed in vain.

 

Protective Orders, New Matters and Other Issues: Designated Orders 4/13/20 to 4/17/20

There were 5 designated orders during this week from the Tax Court that covered a variety of topics.  The orders themselves were fairly short but covered some interesting points of litigation.  There is no major spotlight here, but each will get some degree of coverage.

Protective Orders

Docket Nos. 24373-18, 13826-19 (consolidated), Martin Lewis & Trina Lewis, v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The petitioners felt they needed a protective order in Tax Court because they have Tax Court cases for tax years 2014 and 2015 yet there is also a revenue agent that issued a summons to Mr. Lewis for calendar years 2012 through 2018.  The IRS objected to the motion for a protective order.

What is going on?  To begin, the deficiencies in the Tax Court cases relate to disallowed captive insurance premiums paid to Cedar Insurance, Ltd in 2014 and 2015.  Cedar Insurance is a micro-captive insurance company domiciled in Nevis.  It was formed and managed by Retained Risk Manager, LLC.  The payments were deducted by the petitioners as a flow through from a Subchapter S Corporation, Lewis, Kaufman, Reid, Stukey, Gattis, & Co., PC.  That is a CPA firm where Mr. Lewis was the managing shareholder.

Following the petitions filed in the Tax Court cases, an IRS revenue agent served a summons on Mr. Lewis requesting him to appear before her in the matter of the IRC section 6700 investigation of Retained Risk Manager, LLC, for 2012 through 2018.

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Rule 103 is the Tax Court rule concerning Tax Court protective orders.  The petitioners cited that rule and to Universal Manufacturing v. Commissioner, but the controlling case, as cited by the IRS, is Ash v. Commissioner.  Rule 103 allows the Tax Court to issue orders to protect persons from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense resulting from the use of the Court’s discovery procedures.  Ash allows where Tax Court litigation commenced and an administrative summons would concern another taxpayer or a different tax year, the court would not exercise their inherent power.  They will exercise their power when a petitioner can show there is a lack of independent and sufficient reason for the summons.

With the IRS objection, they included the declaration from the revenue agent, which explains that she is seeking information from Mr. Lewis unrelated to the Tax Court cases.  Also, she has not communicated with IRS counsel of record and he will not attend the summons interview.

The Court was satisfied the summons is independent of the litigation and will hold the respondent to that representation.  If circumstances change or the petitioners have new evidence, the Court may consider the matter anew.  The petitioners’ motion was denied without prejudice.

Takeaway:  I was first surprised as an LL.M. student to learn that there are times that departments in the IRS work toward independent purposes.  With the many departments in the IRS, there are certainly times that they work toward different results or have mixed motives.  This certainly may be one of those times, but I do not blame the Lewises for thinking something smells fishy at the IRS and taking preventative measures against any harassment.

New Matter?

Docket Nos. 13382-17, 13385-17, 13387-17 (consolidated), Adrian D. Smith & Nancy W. Smith, et al., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The adjustments in these consolidated cases are due to a partnership-level examination of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, LLP, for tax years 2008 through 2010 concerning the disallowance of credits for research activity under IRC section 41.  The petitioners, partners of the LLP, filed a motion to shift the burden of proof, requesting an order shifting the burden of proof with respect to any new matters raised by the IRS regarding reasonable compensation under IRC sections 162 or 174.  The IRS filed their response.

The petitioners argue that the IRS had the sole issue raised during their examinations of whether the research conducted under the sample contracts was “funded research” under IRC section 41(d)(4)(H).  They claim the presentation of expert opinions on reasonable compensation requires different evidence compared to the contractual analysis of funded research that prompted the case.  Their argument is that the issue of reasonable compensation is beyond the scope of the notice of deficiency and constitutes a new matter.

Under precedent, the IRS determination of deficiency is presumed correct and the taxpayer bears the burden of proving it incorrect.  An exception to that rule applies when the IRS raises any new matter in a proceeding.  When the notice of deficiency fails to describe the basis on which the IRS relies to support the deficiency determination and that basis requires the presentation of evidence different than what is necessary to resolve the notice of deficiency’s determinations, the new basis is treated as a new matter where the IRS bears the burden of proof.

Additionally, the objective language in the notice of deficiency remains the controlling factor.  A new position taken by the IRS is not a ‘new matter’ if it “merely clarifies or develops [the] Commissioner’s original determination without requiring the presentation of different evidence, being inconsistent with [the] Commissioner’s original determination, or increasing the amount of the deficiency.”

In the Court’s review, the judge agrees with the IRS argument that the reasonableness of petitioners’ compensation was not a new matter.  The Court notes the objective language of the notices of deficiency at issue were broad, stating that the expenses claimed by the LLP did not qualify for the credit for increasing research activities under code section 41.  The indication to the petitioners was that they would have to provide evidence that it did qualify, leading to the need to provide evidence on how the compensation meets the reasonable research expenditures requirements of code section 174(e). 

The judge states the IRS reasonable compensation argument does not require the presentation of new evidence but merely clarifies or develops the original determination in the notices.  The issue of reasonable compensation is consistent with the original determinations in the notices of deficiency and it does not increase the amount of the deficiencies.  As a result, there is no new matter and the motion to shift the burden is denied.

Takeaway:  I can understand the side for the petitioners here if they were focused on “funded research” in examination and the IRS turns to “reasonable compensation.”  However, the judge believes that the notice of deficiency is broad enough regarding research activities that “reasonable compensation” does not constitute a new matter. 

Other Issues

Docket No. 7421-19, Little Horse Creek Property, LLC, Little Horse Creek, LLC, Tax Matters Partner v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This case is about a charitable contribution deduction claimed by an LLC for a conservation easement.  The IRS filed a motion for partial summary judgment, urging alternative grounds for denying the claimed deduction.  The IRS reasoning is based on contentions including an allegedly impermissible donor improvements clause.  Soon after, they filed a motion to stay proceedings asking that discovery and other pre-trial proceedings be stayed pending resolution of the motion for partial summary judgment.

The petitioner went ahead and filed two requests for admissions, with due dates in April and May of this year.  Both sets of requests were directed primarily to matters the petitioner believes are relevant to the proper disposition of the donor improvements issue.

The petitioner next filed a timely response to the motion to stay proceedings, contending that responses to its requests for admissions will support its defense against the motion for summary judgment and will support a potential cross-motion for summary judgment on one or more issues.

The Court desires to have all relevant material at the same time, to enable the Court to determine whether there exist any genuine disputes of material fact.  Accordingly, they deny the IRS motion to stay proceedings that would relieve the IRS from responding to the two sets of requests for admissions.  They grant the IRS motion to stay proceedings that will defer other forms of discovery until after the disposition of the IRS motion for partial summary judgment and any cross-motion from the petitioner on the donor improvements issue.

Docket No. 18748-18, Pengcheng Si v. C.I.R., Order available here.

After a trial in this case, the Court decided for the IRS and sustained the disallowance of deductions for other expenses, meals and entertainment, and legal and professional services.  Mr. Si filed a motion for reconsideration regarding the legal and professional services.

The legal and professional expenses are from a qui tam action filed in 2009 against a former employer under the False Claims Act that did not conclude until 2018.  Mr. Si paid $19,737 to an attorney in 2015 for legal work and the action underlying those fees was dismissed with prejudice in 2018, with no indication of any award or settlement proceeds paid in 2015.

The Court previously held that IRC section 62(a)(20) prevents deductions in excess of proceeds includible in gross income from an action brought under the False Claims Act.  Since there were no proceeds paid, the deduction is disallowed.  As the motion for reconsideration does not address that statute, it is denied.

Docket No. 25068-17L, Kent Trembly v. C.I.R., Order available here.

This case was on the docket for Omaha, Nebraska, for April 20 before the Tax Court cancelled their dockets due to COVID-19.  The IRS had filed a motion for summary judgment, but the petitioner has not been responsive.

Giving the petitioner the benefit of the doubt, the Court presumes that he thought the cancelled trial setting meant he did not need to respond to the motion.  The Court gave him an extension in this order to May 1 to respond. 

Since then, petitioner’s counsel withdrew so things are not looking good.  The Court gave Mr. Trembly an extension until June 12 to file a response and ordered that he register by June 5 for electronic access.

 

Hints of Coronavirus, Interlocutory Appeal, and Nonresponsiveness: Designated Orders 3/9/20 to 3/20/20

I am going to be writing about 2 weeks in my report on designated orders for March.  The first week is a week that I am covering for Samantha Galvin as she nears the end of her maternity leave (which I trust was not your typical maternity leave).  The second week is my normal week in the rotation to review designated orders.  The first week had 9 orders (with 2 additional consolidated orders) and the second week had 3 (with 5 additional consolidated).

I thought it would be better to group the orders thematically rather than chronologically.  The orders cover a broad range of topics that include first hints of coronavirus scheduling issues, interlocutory appeal, non-responsiveness (both on the petitioner and respondent sides), tax protestor-style arguments, Collection Due Process and more.

First Coronavirus Issues

Docket No. 23069-16, Kevin John, Sr. & Whitney S. Witasick v. C.I.R., Order available here.

In this case, two issues are involved.  First, the IRS filed a motion for leave pursuant to Rule 41(a) regarding computational errors in the original notice of deficiency.  Second, the petitioners responded with a motion to continue, stating that the IRS surprised them with this motion so close to trial and that if the Court grants the motion, they will need to hire counsel.

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With regard to the IRS motion, the Court is troubled since the motion was filed more than 3 years after the notice of deficiency.  The case is facing its sixth continuance and the IRS motion came only 18 days prior to (the since cancelled) trial.

The petitioners moved for a continuance to the April 14 docket.  In their email with IRS counsel, they mention a continuance for trial until October; however, IRS counsel only agreed to a continuance to an April 14 trial.

The continuances for trial in this case were starting to be affected by the coronavirus issues (alluded to as “reasons unrelated to the pending motions in this case” for cancellation of the March 16 Philadelphia trial session).  In fact, this order was issued two days after the first Tax Court press release that cancelled trial sessions because of coronavirus issues (that press release cancelled trial sessions for March 16 through April 3).  That was the first of three press releases issued by the Tax Court, ultimately cancelling the rest of the then-currently scheduled trial sessions for the year, which were trials scheduled through July 3.

The IRS motion for leave to file first amendment to answer is granted.  The petitioners’ motion for continuance is denied.  The parties are to file a joint status report on or before May 11.  If the parties have not settled, they are to report on the preparation of the stipulation of facts and preparation for trial.

Interlocutory Appeal

Docket No. 19493-17, Belair Woods, LLC, Effingham Managers, LLC, Tax Matters Partner v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The subject matter in this case involves a charitable contribution deduction claimed by Belair Woods for a conservation easement.  The Tax Court has issued two opinions already in order to address issues in the case.  Within the second of the opinions, the Court held that the IRS met the supervisory approval requirements of Internal Revenue Code section 6751(b)(1) regarding penalties asserted under Code section 6662(c),(d) and (h).  Belair Woods filed a motion to certify for interlocutory appeal regarding the supervisory approval issue and the IRS filed a response objecting to the motion.

For those of you (like me) who do not work often with interlocutory appeals, they are appeals filed regarding a ruling by a court made before the trial has concluded.  Such an appeal asks for appellate review regarding an aspect of the case before the trial’s conclusion.

Here is the law regarding Tax Court interlocutory appeals as provided within the order (where you can find citations) – Internal Revenue Code section 7482(a)(2)(A) permits certification of an interlocutory order for immediate appellate review only if there is the conclusion that “a controlling question of law is involved with respect to which there is a substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from that order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.”  Certification of an interlocutory order for immediate appeal is an exceptional measure that courts employ sparingly.  Before certifying such an order, the trial judge must confirm that the order involves a “controlling question of law” and that “substantial ground for difference of opinion” exists for the correctness of the determination underlying the order.  The judge must also decide whether an immediate appeal will “materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.”  To decide those factors, the Court must weigh policies favoring the “avoidance of piecemeal litigation and dilatory and harassing appeals.”  A “controlling question of law” must be a pure issue of law that “the court of appeals ‘can decide quickly and cleanly without having to study the record.’”  A “controlling question” is not simply “a question which if decided erroneously would lead to a reversal on appeal.”  Instead, it is one that is “serious to the conduct of the litigation.”  The requirement that an immediate appeal “materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation” means the resolution of the controlling legal question “would serve to avoid a trial or otherwise substantially shorten the litigation.”

The Court does not believe the supervisory approval issue involves a “controlling question of law” or that immediate appeal of the issue would “materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation.”  The supervisory approval is not serious to the overall conduct of the litigation and only relates to the penalties.  It is not ultimately relevant to the decision whether Belair is entitled to the deduction for the easement.

The immediate appeal would also not avoid or meaningfully shorten the litigation.  In fact, it would do the opposite.  Witnesses involved in the tax preparation would likely need to testify twice with regard to the charitable contribution deduction at trial and also the supervisory approval issue at interlocutory appeal.  Thus, the interlocutory appeal would protract, not shorten, the proceedings needed to resolve the issues.

The Court denied the Belair Woods motion to certify for interlocutory appeal.

I do not have much to add as I agree that the interlocutory appeal would extend the proceedings.  I presume Belair Woods was taking a desperation move to see if the interlocutory appeal could get the penalties removed.

Nonresponsive Respondent

  • Docket Nos. 13382-17, 13385-17, 13387-17 (consolidated), Adrian D. Smith & Nancy W. Smith, et al., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The petitioners filed a motion to compel responses to interrogatories regarding their first set of 15 interrogatories to the IRS.  The case is about the research credit under Internal Revenue Code section 41 and the interrogatories ask the IRS to explain what aspect of the four-part test the IRS asserts they are not able to meet with regard to the research credit.

The Court reviews the responses and finds that the IRS was not sufficiently responsive in 14 of the 15 interrogatories.  They have a deadline of one week to provide full, complete and responsive answers or they may be precluded from introducing evidence that would have been responsive to petitioners’ interrogatories, or other sanctions as the Court may deem appropriate.

  • Docket Nos. 27268-13, 27309-13, 27371-13, 27373-13, 27374-13, 27375-13 (consolidated), Edward J. Tangel & Beatrice C. Tangel, et al., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

In this case, also about the research credit, the IRS did not respond to informal discovery.  The petitioners then served 22 interrogatories (with subparts) and 19 requests for production of documents connected to those interrogatory requests.  The IRS generally objected to the discovery requests, asserting they were unduly burdensome, called for legal conclusions, and exceeded the 25 interrogatory limit.

In 2018, the Court issued an order directing the parties to select a sample of research and experimentation projects for trial.  The parties agreed on 14 sample projects.  The petitioners asked the IRS to revisit the discovery responses by focusing on the 14 projects, but the IRS indicated their answers had not changed.  In 2020, the petitioners sent second sets of interrogatories and of requests for production of documents.  This time, the interrogatories were 15 questions limited to the 14 projects.

The IRS responded that no response was required to the interrogatories because petitioners exceeded the number of interrogatories, “the Commissioner is not required to prepare a statement of every fact or detail known to him,” and “petitioners bear the burden of proving their entitlement to the research credit.”  As they said no documents were identified in the interrogatories, they declined to identify or produce any documents.

In the Court’s analysis, the interrogatories did not exceed the limits of Rule 71(a).  The IRS is not required to state every fact known or a statement of legal authorities upon which they rely.  However, it is necessary for each party to know the position of the other party.  The discovery requests are designed to inquire into the IRS contentions.  The IRS response is insufficient to allow the petitioners to reasonably prepare for trial.

The order grants the petitioners’ motion in part, requiring the IRS to complete their supplemental responses to the interrogatories with respect to the 14 projects in a month’s time.  The motion is denied in part that the IRS is not required to disclose the legal authorities upon which they rely and they are not required to explain how each document relied upon relates to their contentions.

Even though these cases have different judges, both of these cases involve nonresponsive IRS counsel during the discovery phase regarding research credit cases set for trial in Chicago.  Maybe I am wrong, but that looks like a pattern to me.

Non-Responsive Petitioners

  • Docket No. 25051-17S, Sandra Adams Griffin v. C.I.R., Order of Dismissal and Decision available here.
  • Docket No. 2524-19, Justin Alexander Boyte v. C.I.R., Order of Dismissal and Decision available here.

In both of these cases, Judge Gale documents how the petitioners were contacted and did not respond to the Motion to Dismiss or appear in court for trial.  The judge granted the IRS motions to dismiss and dismissed the cases for failure to properly prosecute, deciding the respective deficiencies against the petitioners.

Collection Due Process Cases

  • Docket No. 14883-19 L, R. Dianne Varick, v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

This case is based on Ms. Varick owing $71,961.21 for 2015.  She submitted a timely Form 12153 for a Collection Due Process hearing regarding proposed levy action.  She expressed interest in an installment agreement of $1,000 per month.  Ms. Varick submitted the requested Forms 433-A and 433-B.  In the telephone hearing, the settlement officer determined that an appropriate minimum payment for Ms. Varick would be $1,050 per month.

Ms. Varick protested, saying she could not pay that amount.  She said she could not even afford the $1,000 per month, but felt obligated to offer at least that amount.  She submitted a revised 433-A.  The settlement officer recomputed the amounts and found that Ms. Varick had disposable income of $1,913 and could pay an installment agreement amount of $1,100 per month.  Ms. Varick again stated she could not afford the amount.

The notice of determination followed, which led to the petition to Tax Court.  Upon the judge’s review, the amount proposed by the settlement officer had been within $100 of the amount proposed by Ms. Varick.  There was found to be no abuse of discretion, the IRS motion for summary judgment was granted, allowing them to proceed with the levy.

I admit to having mixed feelings here.  On the one hand, I think they might have been able to come to a compromise on the installment agreement.  On the other, if Ms. Varick looks to be able to afford the higher installment agreement on paper she might have protested the proposed installment agreement too much.

  • Docket No. 11424-19 L, Research Scientific Services LLC v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

This is a Collection Due Process case regarding a business based on forms 940 and 941.  The aggregate employment tax liabilities, including interest and penalties, exceeds $200,000.  Mr. Moffatt, an officer of Research Scientific Services LLC and its representative, thought his negotiations on his individual tax issues also applied to his business tax issues.  That is the ultimate mix-up.

Mr. Moffatt is now on a payment plan regarding his individual tax issues.  He would like to resolve the business tax issues and the Court mentions potential for the LLC to have collection alternatives like an installment agreement or Offer in Compromise.

Mr. Moffatt, on behalf of the business, did not submit missing tax returns, a completed Form 433-B, or provide supporting documentation in relation to the Collection Due Process hearing.  As a result, the settlement officer did not have abuse of discretion.  The IRS motion for summary judgment was granted and the levy action is sustained.

While I feel sympathy for Mr. Moffatt, it sounds like he mismanaged the business, but it wound up with the correct result in court.

Tax Protestors?

Docket No. 7073-19, Ryan Foster v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Docket No. 7196-19, Jo Ann Sharp & Randall W. Sharp v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Docket No. 7077-19, Jo Ann Sharp v. C.I.R., Order available here.

What we have here are a series of similar orders from Judge Copeland.  In each, the petitioner(s) filed a motion for summary judgment.  In those motions, they list seven points that mostly focus on Internal Revenue Code section 280E.  The arguments allege violations that the IRS violated the constitutional rights of the petitioners with regard to the Fifth Amendment, Sixteenth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, and Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, among other arguments.

What follows that is an analysis regarding motions for summary judgment.  The motions were not supported by affidavits or declarations made on personal knowledge or by documents.  Without the supporting statements or documents, factual assertions in a summary judgment motion are not admissible evidence.  The motions were all denied without prejudice.

My take on these matters is that these were frivolous tax protestor-style arguments that the Court quickly denied.

Petitioner Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

Docket No. 9095-19, William Michael Shumer & Susan Elaine Shumer v. C.I.R., Order available here.

The petitioners filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction regarding their 2016 tax year notice of deficiency.  Their first argument, which is about the notice, does not get very far.  They do not argue whether it was timely filed or dispute whether they received it.  No, they state that the IRS employee did not have authority to sign the notice.  That argument is quickly dismantled – the notice of deficiency is not required to be specially signed by an authorized agent.

For their second argument, the petitioners argue regarding an IRS letter they received before filing the petition that the IRS determined they owe no additional tax.  The petitioners are concerned regarding their prayer for relief, where they requested the Court abate all penalties and determine they are due a refund of $75,325.27.

The Court denies the motion to dismiss.  Also, the penalty and refund issues are ripe for trial; the case was scheduled at that time for trial June 15 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On its face, I would say this unrepresented couple sounds confused by the process.  It did not help anything if the IRS actually sent a letter like they claim.  In my practice, I have seen contradictory letters from the IRS.  It does not help anyone’s understanding of matters when the IRS mails out contradictory messages.