Judge Goeke Asks: “After Boechler, Is the 30-Day Deadline to Request a CDP Hearing Subject to Equitable Tolling?”

In Boechler, the Supreme Court held that the 30-day deadline in IRC 6330(d)(1) in which to file a Tax Court petition after the IRS issues a post-CDP-hearing notice of determination is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling.  There is another 30-day deadline in CDP – the deadline in IRC 6330(a)(3)(B) in which to file a Form 12153 requesting a CDP hearing at Appeals.  PT readers know that the regulations provide that if a taxpayer files a Form 12153 beyond that 30-day deadline, but within a year, Appeals will give the taxpayer an equivalent hearing and, at the end, issue a “Decision Letter on Equivalent Hearing”, which is not appealable to the Tax Court.  However, the Tax Court has held that it may deem a decision letter to be treated as a notice of determination grounding Tax Court jurisdiction if the court finds that, in fact, the taxpayer had not filed a late Form 12153, and so should have been given a CDP hearing and notice of determination.  Craig v. Commissioner, 119 T.C. 252 (2002).

In two cases before Judge Goeke, the taxpayer is trying to use a decision letter to ground the Tax Court’s jurisdiction under Craig

  1. Organic Cannabis Foundation, Docket No. 381-22L (not to be confused with the Organic Cannabis deficiency case in which the Ninth Circuit, pre-Boechler, held that the Tax Court petition filing deadline is jurisdictional and not subject to equitable tolling – issues being reconsidered by the Tax Court currently in the Hallmark Research Collective case, on which I last blogged here).
  2. Assure Healthcare Providers, Inc./Daughters of Esther Fellowship, Docket No. 10409-22L – a case assigned by the Chief Judge to Judge Goeke on November 3, 2022, presumably after Judge Goeke had made the Chief Judge aware of his already possessing a case involving the IRC 6330(a)(3)(B) deadline.

In both cases, the parties have made filings on motions to dismiss, but the Judge was unhappy because the cases involved a late filing of a Form 12153, and the parties had not discussed Boechler at all or sufficiently for him to decide whether the IRC 6330(a)(3)(B) filing deadline is jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling.  If it is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling and the taxpayers had a sufficiently good excuse for late filing, the judge assumes (rightly, I think) that, under Craig, the Tax Court should consider the decision letter as a notice of determination after what should have been a CDP hearing.

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IRC 6330(a)(3)(B) requires that the notice of intention to levy include a statement of “the right of the person to request a hearing during the 30-day period under paragraph (2)”. 

IRC 6330(b)(1) states:  “If the person requests a hearing in writing under subsection (a)(3)(B) and states the grounds for the requested hearing, such hearing shall be held by the Internal Revenue Service Independent Office of Appeals.” 

I don’t see that this language contains any “clear statement” from Congress that excepts this deadline from the current rule that filing deadlines are no longer jurisdictional.  Nor do I see anything in the language that rebuts the presumption that filing deadlines are subject to equitable tolling.

This is not the first time that the issue of whether the IRC 6330(a)(3)(B) filing deadline is subject to equitable tolling has arisen in a Tax Court case.  There have been a few cases involving whether a Form 12153 was timely filed when it was mailed to the wrong IRS office within the 30-day deadline, but was received in the right office (by internal IRS forwarding) after the 30-day deadline passed.  In a 2018 post, I noted several cases in which Tax Court judges appeared to take inconsistent positions regarding these situations and a case before Judge Gale in which he indicated that he might have to ask for briefing on the issue of whether the filing deadline is jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling under recent Supreme Court case law.  Judge Gale never had to ask for the additional briefing because the parties reached a settlement, and the taxpayer successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss the case – something one can do in a CDP case, but not in a deficiency case. 

In my post, I also noted that the Internal Revenue Manual also sometimes treats timely mailing or delivery to the wrong IRS office as giving rise to a CDP hearing, even though the right office does not receive the request in the 30-day period.  Current IRM 5.19.8.4.2(8) (12-17-19) states: 

If the CDP hearing request is not addressed to the correct office as indicated in the CDP notice, the date to determine timeliness is the date the request is received by the IRS office to which the request should have been sent. However, if the address does not appear on the notice, or if it is determined that the taxpayer received erroneous instructions from an IRS employee resulting in the request being sent to the wrong office, use the postmark date to that office to determine timeliness.

Note:  A request that is hand-carried to a local Taxpayer Assistance Center will be timely if delivered within the 30-day period during which taxpayers may request a hearing.

To take advantage of the IRC 7502(a) timely-mailing-is-timely-filing statutory extension, the mailing must be to the correct address.  This may not be the case for equitable tolling, where timely filing in the wrong forum is a common equitable tolling ground – a ground that the IRS seems to be using for a CDP request erroneously filed in a Taxpayer Assistance Center.  Another common equitable tolling ground is where the defendant misled the plaintiff into late filing, which is another situation discussed in the above-quoted Manual section.  These IRS-accepted excuses are, it seems to me, not compatible with the IRS arguing that the filing deadline is jurisdictional.

Judge Goeke issued an order on November 7, 2022, in the Assure Healthcare case directing that “each party . . . on or before January 17, 2023, . . . file with the Court a memorandum as to their position regarding the application of Boechler to the facts of this case and to address whether ‘determination’ under section 6330(d)(1) includes an alternative hearing result when equitable tolling would have required respondent to apply the hearing procedures for a timely administrative hearing request.”

The Judge also issued an order on November 14, 2022, in the Organic Cannabis case directing the taxpayer “on or before January 10, 2023, to file with the Court a memorandum regarding the application of Boechler to the facts of this case and to address whether ‘determination’ includes the result of an equivalent hearing when the doctrine of equitable tolling would have required respondent to apply the CDP hearing procedures for a timely administrative hearing request” and the IRS “on or before February 1, 2023, to file with the Court a reply to petitioner’s memorandum”.

We will keep you posted on additional developments in these cases.

Supreme Court Update for Taxes and the October 2022 Term

Thanks to Carl Smith, I write to point out the cases accepted for the Supreme Court term starting October 3, 2022, that might have some impact on tax procedure.  Three of the cases are related to the issues of jurisdiction and equitable tolling raised in Boechler during the last term and one relates to the calculation of the FBAR penalty.

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1)  Arellano v. McDonough – This case will be argued October 4.  The questions presented are:  (1) Whether the rebuttable presumption of equitable tolling from Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs applies to the one-year statutory deadline in 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(1) for seeking retroactive disability benefits, and, if so, whether the government has rebutted that presumption; and (2) whether, if 38 U.S.C. § 5110(b)(1) is amenable to equitable tolling, this case should be remanded so the agency can consider the particular facts and circumstances in the first instance.

2)  United States v. Bittner – This case will be argued on November 2.  Andy Weiner blogged this case for PT back in January.  This case presents the issue of the calculation of the penalty for failure to timely file the Foreign Bank & Financial Accounts information, commonly known as FBAR.  The IRS seeks to calculate the penalty based on each account not reported and taxpayers want to limit the penalty to the failure to file the form (which could contain multiple accounts).  The circuits are split.  The financial difference in the calculation of the penalty can be enormous with the per form approach limiting the penalty to $10,000 per year while the amount with the IRS approach is a multiple of the number of accounts times $10,000.  The Center for Taxpayer Rights has filed an amicus brief on behalf of the per form approach.  This brief was authored by Gwen Moore.  The American College of Tax Counsel has also filed an amicus brief arguing for the per form approach.  This brief was authored by the law firm of Kostelanetz & Fink.

3)  Wilkins v. United States – This is a private quiet title action, where the Circuits are split over whether the quiet title filing deadline in district court is jurisdictional. The issue of equitable tolling is not involved. I think this is an easy win for the petitioners.  The provisions granting district court’s jurisdiction are not the same as the filing deadline, and the filing deadline merely reads:

(g) Any civil action under this section, except for an action brought by a State, shall be barred unless it is commenced within twelve years of the date upon which it accrued. Such action shall be deemed to have accrued on the date the plaintiff or his predecessor in interest knew or should have known of the claim of the United States. 

The “shall be barred” language is similar to that in the FTCA deadlines, which were held not jurisdictional in Kwai Fun Wong (2015).  Oral argument has not yet been set.

4) MOAC Mall Holdings LLC v. Transform Holdco LLC — The cert. petition reads:

In Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., this Court clarified that limitations on judicial relief should not be treated as jurisdictional absent a clear statement by Congress. At least six circuits have held that 11 U.S.C. 363(m) does not limit the appellate courts’ jurisdiction to review unstayed bankruptcy court sale orders, but rather limits only the remedies available in such an appeal. By its plain terms, Section 363(m) presupposes a “reversal or modification on appeal” of a sale order, and specifies only that such reversal or modification “does not affect the validity of [the] sale” to a good faith purchaser, leaving the courts free to fashion other remedies without that effect.

In the present case, the Second Circuit held, to the contrary, that Section 363(m) deprived the appellate courts of jurisdiction over an appeal from a lease assignment order deemed “integral” to an already completed sale order, notwithstanding that: the sale order was not contingent on the assignment; the sale price was fixed without regard to whether the lease could be assigned; and respondent had expressly waived (in successfully opposing a stay) any argument that Section 363(m) would bar appellate review. A month later, the Fifth Circuit re-confirmed that it also treats Section 363(m) as jurisdiction-stripping.

The question presented is:

Whether Bankruptcy Code Section 363(m) limits the appellate courts’ jurisdiction over any sale order or order deemed “integral” to a sale order, such that it is not subject to waiver, and even when a remedy could be fashioned that does not affect the validity of the sale.

Oral argument has not yet been set.

Boechler Works

In Boechler v. Commissioner, 142 S. Ct. 1493 (2022) the Supreme Court held that the time period for filing a petition in Tax Court in a Collection Due Process (CDP) case is not jurisdictional.  The Supreme Court also held that the statute is subject to equitable tolling; however, we have predicted in many blog posts that based on historical patterns the most likely application of  the decision would occur when the IRS did not affirmatively raise late filing as a defense.  An order entered yesterday in Ahmad v. Commissioner, Dk. No. 37926-21L appears to be the first order holding that the IRS waived the right to raise late filing as a defense and allowing the case to move forward for a merits determination.

In Ahmad the IRS issued a CDP determination letter on November 23, 2021, sustaining the decision to file a notice of federal tax lien (NFTL).  He filed a petition challenging the filing of the NFTL because he is unemployed and on public assistance.  The IRS filed a motion for summary judgment which the Tax Court grants; however, in doing so it notes that he filed his petition on December 30, 2021.  This date is more than 30 days after the notice and appears to create a late filed petition. 

In footnote 7 of the order the Court notes that the IRS waived any potential objection based on the timeliness of the petition.  In the motion for summary judgment the IRS apparently expressly conceded that he filed the petition on time.  The Court states:

Therefore, the timeliness requirement in section 6330(d)(1) poses no bar to the Court’s jurisdiction in this case.

Earlier in footnote 7 the Court explained the impact of Boechler on the jurisdiction of the Court with regard to timely filing and made clear that the IRS must affirmatively raise timeliness in order to have the Court rule on this issue.

Prior to the Boechler decision the Tax Court did not merely rely on the IRS to raise the timeliness of the filing of a petition but it affirmatively analyzed the filing to determine timeliness.  Based on the research of the Tax Court’s show cause orders in these situations, Carl Smith determined that the Tax Court raised the timeliness issue in over 200 cases each year where the IRS never objected to the taxpayer’s case as late filed.  We predicted that far more taxpayers would benefit from the lack of Tax Court policing timeliness than would benefit from equitable tolling.  The Ahmad case doesn’t predict the number of times this will happen but it makes clear that absent an affirmative objection by the IRS the case will move forward to whatever disposition it deserves on the merits.

Here, the Court grants the summary judgment motion so the failure of the IRS to raise timeliness in the filing of the petition serves as a mere pyrrhic victory.  Nonetheless, the Ahmad case lets us know that a new era has begun.  I blogged earlier about this change in the whistleblower cases because of the DC Circuit’s decision in Myers v. Commissioner, 928 F.3d 1025.  Now it happens in CDP cases.  Depending on the outcome of Hallmark and other cases challenging the timeliness issue in deficiency cases, it could happen in deficiency cases where 95% of the cases exist.

Another Update on Boechler Follow-on Litigation – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my post-Boechler litigation update.  Part 1, involving deficiency litigation, ran on August 1, 2022, and can be found here

Today’s post addresses what is happening in the many CDP cases (including Boechler) that are before the courts where the IRS had argued to the Tax Court that the cases should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on account of late filing.  As I noted in my Part 1 introduction, the courts have not yet issued any rulings in CDP cases about whether equitable tolling applies on the facts of any case, and I expect we won’t see the first such ruling until 2023.

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Boechler

The taxpayer in Boechler did not put into the record any information as to why it filed late and so deserved equitable tolling.  In its opinion dated April 21, 2022, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the Eighth Circuit to address whether equitable tolling applied on the facts.  There is a May 23, 2022, entry on the Tax Court docket sheet for Boechler (Docket No. 18578-17L) stating, “U.S.C.A. 8th Circuit mandate is recalled, and case is reopened”.  But there have been no further filings in the case in the Tax Court since that date. 

Since the IRS moved to dismiss Boechler before the IRS filed an answer, the next step in the case will be for the IRS to file an answer in which, if it wants, it will plead late filing as a statute of limitations defense.  Tax Court Rule 39 provides that statute of limitations defenses and equitable arguments are “special matters” that the parties must plead.  If the IRS in its answer raises a statute of limitations defense, the taxpayer will have to respond by filing a reply in which the taxpayer pleads equitable tolling and sets out some facts in support. 

It is far from clear that Boechler will ever generate a ruling on whether the facts therein justify equitable tolling.  Recall that parties at any time can settle non-jurisdictional issues, such as late filing or the merits.  My hunch is that the Boechler case settles on remand after the IRS attorney for the first time looks at the taxpayer’s proof that it filed W-2s with the Social Security Administration.  Boechler merely involves a penalty for alleged non-filing with that agency.

Castillo

On May 11, 2022, Les did a post on a district court opinion in Castillo.  In that case, the IRS mailed out a CDP notice of determination to the taxpayer and a copy to the taxpayer’s former POA, but not to her current POA.  USPS records reflect that the notice was never delivered to the taxpayer (it’s still listed as “in transit”), and if the prior POA received his copy of the notice, he never alerted the taxpayer or the current POA. 

The current POA is Elizabeth Maresca, the director of the tax clinic at Fordham.  She was puzzled why she hadn’t seen the notice of determination that she had been expecting, so she ordered a transcript of account and discovered thereon an entry for the issuance of such a notice many months before.  Within 30 days after seeing the transcript (but still not having yet seen a copy of the notice), Elizabeth filed a Tax Court petition and sought equitable tolling of the filing deadline.  She also brought suit against the government in district court for the IRS’ wrongful disclosure of tax information to the prior POA.  Les’ post concerns that wrongful disclosure suit.

The IRS in the Castillo Tax Court case (Docket No. 18336-19L) initially filed an answer.  After the court brought to the IRS’ attention the probable late filing of the petition, the IRS then filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.  The Tax Court then dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, and Ms. Castillo appealed to the Second Circuit (Docket No. 20-1635).  In the Second Circuit, the parties briefed the issue of whether the CDP petition filing deadline is jurisdictional or subject to equitable tolling, but then asked the Second Circuit to hold the case in abeyance pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boechler

Five days after the Supreme Court issued its Boechler ruling, Ms. Castillo moved the Second Circuit to rule by summary reversal, that her Tax Court petition was timely under equitable tolling and to remand the case to the Tax Court for it to consider the merits of her CDP arguments.  On April 29, 2022, the DOJ responded to the motion and agreed that Boechler applied and that the case should be remanded to the Tax Court, but the DOJ argued that the Tax Court, in the first instance, should decide whether the facts justified equitable tolling.

On August 2, 2022, a 3-judge motions panel of the Second Circuit (with one judge mysteriously recusing himself) issued an order vacating the Tax Court’s dismissal order, denying summary reversal, and remanding the case to the Tax Court “for further proceedings in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Boechler”.

The Tax Court has long held that non-receipt of a properly-addressed notice of deficiency during the 90-day period to file is no excuse for late filing a Tax Court petition, and all those courts of appeal to have faced the issue have agreed.  See, e.g., Guthrie v. Sawyer, 970 F.2d 733, 737 (10th Cir. 1992); Follum v. Commissioner, 128 F.3d 118, 120 (2d Cir. 1997); United States v. Goldston, 324 F. App’x 835, 837 (11th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (collecting cases).  In Weber v. Commissioner, 122 T.C. 258 (2004), the Tax Court extended this holding to cover properly-addressed CDP notices of determination not received during the 30-day period to file. 

In her initial Tax Court filings and in the Second Circuit briefing, Ms. Castillo argued that, based on legislative history and the structure of CDP, it was wrong of the Tax Court to extend the deficiency precedent to CDP.  I think that for Ms. Castillo to win on remand, she will also have to get the Tax Court to overrule Weber.  In the Second Circuit, The Center for Taxpayer Rights’ amicus brief was devoted entirely to expanding upon the anti-Weber argument.  While the Second Circuit had once, in an unpublished opinion, followed Weber; Kaplan v. Commissioner, 552 Fed. Appx. 77 (2d Cir. 2014); it did so without discussing whether Congress might have wanted a different rule in CDP cases from the rule in deficiency cases.  And Kaplan was litigated by a pro se taxpayer who never argued that Weber was wrongly decided.  The Weber issue has not yet been addressed in any published opinion of any Circuit court. 

The remand order says nothing about this anti-Weber argument.  I presume that the anti-Weber argument can be considered by the Tax Court under the terms of the Second Circuit’s remand order, but I am not 100% certain, as the order makes no reference to the argument.

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the Culp case, which is a notice of deficiency case where the taxpayers did not receive the notice during the 90-day period to file.  In their brief to the Third Circuit, the Culps go farther and argue that the deficiency precedent should no longer survive Boechler, since there is precedent outside the tax area that non-receipt or late receipt of governmental “tickets” to court are circumstances beyond the plaintiff’s control that can justify equitable tolling.  See, e.g., Checo v. Shinseki, 748 F.3d 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2014) (en banc) (120-day period to file in the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims); Kramer v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 461 Fed. Appx. 167 (3d Cir. 2012) (60-day period in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge denial of Social Security disability benefits in district court).

Amanasu Environment Corp.

 In Amanasu Environment Corp. v Commissioner, Docket No. 5192-20L, on December 13, 2019, the IRS issued a CDP notice of determination to a taxpayer having an address in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Presumably because this was international mail, records of the USPS and Canada Post show that the taxpayer did not receive the notice until January 18, 2020 – several days after the 30-day Tax Court petition filing deadline passed.  On March 13, 2020, the taxpayer mailed a petition to the Tax Court, accompanied by a request for New York City as the place of trial.  On March 17, 2020, the Tax Court received and filed the petition and request.  On September 2, 2020, the IRS surprisingly filed an answer in the case.  (The initial filing of answers in the CDP cases of Castillo and Amanasu and the deficiency case of Gruis — discussed in Part 1 of this post — shows, among other things, how often IRS lawyers miss late filing of petitions.)  On November 19, 2020, the IRS woke up and moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction for late filing. 

Frank Agostino represents the taxpayer, having picked up the case at a New York City calendar call.  Frank responded to the motion to dismiss by arguing that the CDP filing deadline is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling and should be tolled in this case.  The Tax Court held the motion in abeyance pending the ruling in Boechler.  On May 18, 2022, Judge Carluzzo issued an order, reading in full:

For the reasons set forth in Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner, No. 20-1472 (U.S. April 21, 2022), it is

ORDERED that respondent’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, filed November 19, 2020 is denied.

It is further ORDERED that jurisdiction in this case is no longer retained by the undersigned.

It is further ORDERED that this case is restored to the general docket for trial or other disposition.

On June 22, 2022, the IRS submitted an unopposed motion for leave to file an amendment to its answer in which it raised the statute of limitations defense.  On July 22, 2022, the Tax Court granted the motion.  Frank will be filing a reply to the amendment to the answer, raising equitable tolling as the taxpayer’s defense to the IRS statute of limitations defense.  Since no one has ever seen what such an amendment to answer pleading a statute of limitations defense on account of a petition’s late filing looks like, I attach a copy of the amendment to answer here, courtesy of Frank.

Myers

The filing deadline under IRC 7623(b)(4) for a Tax Court whistleblower award petition was held not jurisdictional and subject to equitable tolling in Myers v. Commissioner, 928 F.3d 1025 (D.C. Cir. 2019).  However, as in CDP, to date, the Tax Court has not issued a ruling on whether equitable tolling applies on the facts of Myers or any other such whistleblower award case. 

It is my understanding that the Tax Court held off on making any ruling on equitable tolling in Myers, just in case the Supreme Court ruled for the IRS in Boechler.  Had the Supreme Court ruled for the IRS in Boechler, effectively, that would likely have overruled the Myers opinion, since the two filing deadline statutes are worded so similarly. 

In June 2020, the IRS filed an amended answer raising late filing as a statute of limitations defense, and the taxpayer filed a reply seeking equitable tolling.  In November 2020, the IRS moved for summary judgment that the facts alleged in the reply do not give rise to equitable tolling.  That motion is currently pending before Judge Ashford.

Other Cases

By an order dated September 30, 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Boechler.  Shortly thereafter, the Tax Court stopped dismissing late-filed CDP cases for lack of jurisdiction, pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boechler

In May and June 2022, after the Supreme Court decided Boechler, the Tax Court issued orders in all of the cases where the motions had been held in abeyance.  There were about 30 such orders, and they all look like the terse order Judge Carluzzo issued in Amanasu (which was one of the 30-or-so cases). 

That there were only about 30 CDP cases with this issue over 7 months confirms that the IRS and DOJ have always vastly overstated to the courts the number of Tax Court cases that would be affected by Boechler annually.  In oral argument at the Supreme Court, the lawyer arguing the case on behalf of the Solicitor General told Justice Thomas that the government estimated that 300 cases a year would be affected by the Boechler ruling.  That figure was obviously wrong because it was an estimate of how many CDP cases are dismissed each year for lack of jurisdiction for any reason, not how many cases are dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for late filing.  Typically, two-thirds of dismissals for lack of jurisdiction are only for failure to pay the filing fee or obtain a fee waiver. 

Keith and I knew that far fewer than 100 CDP cases each year would be affected by Boechler and that the primary effect of the Boechler ruling would be to eliminate the Tax Court’s sua sponte issuing orders to show cause why a CDP case should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction for late filing.  Probably a quarter of all dismissals of late-filed CDP and deficiency cases come after the Tax Court has pointed out to the IRS, in an order to show cause, the probable late filing of the petition – a fact which the IRS hadn’t noticed.  After Boechler, such orders to show cause in CDP will be a thing of the past, and so a small but significant number of taxpayers who filed late will stay in the Tax Court, even without having to argue for, or even having facts plausibly justifying, equitable tolling.

In the roughly 30 CDP cases where the IRS moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or the Tax Court issued an order to show cause, the IRS will now have to file answers or amendments to answers if it wants to argue for dismissal for late filing.  Other than Amanasu, I haven’t looked an any of these cases’ docket sheets to see whether the IRS has yet done so.  It is my expectation that the IRS will again complain of late filing in nearly all of these cases.  And it is my further expectation, based on the usual lack of response by taxpayers to motions to dismiss for late filing, that only about 5% of taxpayers will respond with what could be termed an equitable tolling excuse for late filing.  Five percent of 30 is 1.5 cases, and one of those cases is Amanasu.  So, I expect extremely few of the other 30-or-so cases to become litigating vehicles for equitable tolling.  (The number of deficiency equitable tolling cases, if Hallmark goes the taxpayer’s way, will be an order of magnitude higher, though still not back-breaking for the IRS or Tax Court.) 

I think the Tax Court will issue a precedential opinion the first time that it considers whether the facts in any CDP or whistleblower award case qualify for equitable tolling.  A published opinion is needed because it is unclear what law on equitable tolling would apply in the Tax Court.  There appears to be a federal common law of equitable tolling generated outside the tax law that I suspect the Tax Court will adopt.  Among other things, I hope the Tax Court looks to equitable tolling opinions coming out of the Article I Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and its reviewing court, the Federal Circuit, that have been applied to late-filed petitions in the Veterans Court for decades. 

My guess is that the initial ruling of how the Tax Court will apply the doctrine of equitable tolling will come in Amanasu or Myers, which are furthest along on the newly-required pleading of the issues.  I also guess that the first equitable tolling ruling will come out in 2023.

Another Update on Boechler Follow-on Litigation – Part 1

On June 28, 2022, I did a post summarizing the status of post-Boechler litigation over whether the IRC 6213(a) deficiency petition filing deadline is still jurisdictional and not subject to equitable tolling after Boechler.  There have been a few developments in the two cases discussed in the post, and I wanted to update you and provide links to recent filings.  The short update is that (1) all briefing has been completed in the Hallmark case before Judge Gustafson, and he is presumably already actively working on a Tax Court opinion, and (2) the Culp case in the Third Circuit survived the government’s motion for summary affirmance, and the Culps have filed their opening brief.  The Third Circuit also denied the government’s motion to strike the merits amicus brief of The Center for Taxpayer Rights that had been filed shortly after the government moved for summary affirmance. 

I also wanted to do an initial post on what has been happening after Boechler with CDP cases that present the questions resolved by the Supreme Court.  The short update here is that the courts have not yet issued any rulings in CDP cases about whether equitable tolling applied on the facts of a particular case, and I don’t expect we will see the first such ruling until 2023.  

Because of the length of the update, I am breaking it into two parts.  Part 1 discusses the deficiency litigation.  Part 2 will discuss the CDP litigation.

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Hallmark

In my June 28 post, I wrote that, a few days after Boechler was decided, a taxpayer named Hallmark Research Collective had moved to vacate the Tax Court’s dismissal for lack of jurisdiction of its one-day-late deficiency petition.  Even before the Supreme Court decided Boechler, Hallmark had argued that the deficiency filing deadline is no longer jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling.  Hallmark is seeking COVID-related equitable tolling. 

The motion to vacate was assigned to Judge Gustafson, and the Tax Court promptly stopped issuing orders of dismissals for lack of jurisdiction in all other cases where the IRS moved to dismiss a deficiency case for lack of jurisdiction, pending the ruling in Hallmark.  In a post Keith did on Hallmark on May 3, 2022, Keith provided links to the taxpayer’s motion to vacate and its 51-page memorandum of law that accompanied the motion.  In my July 28 post, I provided a link to the IRS’ 18-page response objecting to granting the motion.  On July 15, 2022, the taxpayer filed a 32-page reply to the IRS’ response, which you can find here.

As to why the reply was so long, the main reason is that the taxpayer chose to expand upon its argument that the filing deadline in IRC 6213(a) is not jurisdictional by presenting a more detailed analysis of how the Board of Tax Appeals acquired its deficiency jurisdiction in 1924 and 1926. 

The original Board filing deadline for income tax deficiency petitions was in the second sentence of sec. 274(a) of the Revenue Act of 1924.  The taxpayer argues that the actual jurisdictional grant to the Board to hear deficiency cases was at sec. 900(e) of that act, though neither provision used the word “jurisdiction”.

In the Revenue Act of 1926, sec. 274(a)’s second sentence was amended to prohibit Sundays from being the end of the filing deadline, but Congress did not, when redrafting the sentence, include the word “jurisdiction”.  By contrast, Congress first used the word “jurisdiction” in multiple provision of that act (which made the Board more court-like and provided for Circuit Court direct review of Board rulings).  Congress also enacted in that act the predecessors of IRC 6214(a) and (b) and 6512(b)(2), in each case using the word “jurisdiction”.

Hallmark’s reply also contains several pages of quotes from opinions by Tax Court judges (most currently sitting) calling IRC 6214(a) the source of the Tax Court’s deficiency jurisdiction.  In its response, the IRS had simply ignored the argument that IRC 6214(a) is the source of the Tax Court’s deficiency jurisdiction, not IRC 6213(a).  The IRS argues that IRC 6213(a) is the source of the Tax Court’s deficiency jurisdiction, except in cases where a larger deficiency is sought than is set out in the notice of deficiency, in which case IRC 6214(a) is merely the source of the Tax Court’s jurisdiction for the excess.

Hallmark is now fully briefed.  My expectation is that Judge Gustafson will be drafting an opinion that the Chief Judge will send to the full court for review.  I would love to be proved wrong and see an earlier opinion, but my guess is that the opinion of the full court in Hallmark will not come out before Christmas, even though hundreds of motions to dismiss are probably already currently sitting in limbo pending the opinion and more will be filed in the interim.

Culp

In my June 28 post, I wrote about a pro se appeal of a Tax Court dismissal of a late-filed deficiency case, Culp, that is before the Third Circuit.  The Culps argue that they filed a late Tax Court petition both (1) because before they filed they had never received the original or a copy of the notice of deficiency and (2) because TAS, purporting to help them fight levies, bamboozled them into not going to court.  TAS never told them that a notice of deficiency had been sent.  The Culps seek equitable tolling and a refund of monies taken by (1) levies on their Social Security benefits and (2) an offset of a later-year overpayment against the deficiency.

In my post, I mentioned the DOJ’s motion for summary affirmance.  I also mentioned and provided a link to the merits amicus brief that The Center for Taxpayer Rights filed in the case a few days after the DOJ motion for summary affirmance, but before the Third Circuit had ruled on the motion.  The DOJ had also moved to strike the amicus brief as premature.  On July 6, 2022, a 3-judge motions panel of the Third Circuit denied both DOJ motions, so the case proceeds to regular briefing.

On July 29, 2022, the Culps filed their opening brief for the appellants, which can be found here.  Although the Culps are retired lawyers in their 70s, their specialty was employment discrimination law.  Their pro se brief may disappoint some of us who are tax procedure specialists.

The DOJ’s brief for appellee is due in late August or early September.  (I am not sure the exact date because the Culps filed their brief a few days early, and I don’t know if that impacts the date that the DOJ’s brief is due.)  However, I anticipate that the DOJ will, as usual, ask for and be granted a 21- or 30-day extension to file its brief.

I expect oral argument in Culp will occur in the Third Circuit early next year and an opinion will be issued in the spring.  I expect that the Tax Court’s ruling in Hallmark (1) will precede the Third Circuit’s ruling in Culp and (2) will be brought to the attention of the Third Circuit before it rules.

Other Deficiency Cases

Of course, once an opinion in Hallmark is issued, the Tax Court will likely promptly issue hundreds of similarly-ruling orders in cases in which either the IRS had moved to dismiss a late-filed deficiency petition for lack of jurisdiction or the Tax Court had issued an order to show cause why the deficiency case should not be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction on account of late filing. 

If the Tax Court in Hallmark rules against the taxpayer, those hundreds of orders will be final and immediately appealable to nearly every Circuit Court of Appeals, except the Federal Circuit.  However, I don’t expect many taxpayers to appeal such dismissals.  It would only make sense to appeal such a dismissal if the taxpayer thought he or she had good ground for equitable tolling.  And, I suspect that only about 5% of such dismissals would involve even a plausible argument for equitable tolling. 

Hallmark is appealable to the Ninth Circuit, and I expect that it would be the first case to be appealed.  I would be surprised if more than 5-8 deficiency cases got appealed in 2023 to Circuits other than the Ninth Circuit.  Over time, though, new orders of dismissal in other case would be issued.  If any Circuit disagreed with another Circuit in a post-Boechler ruling, I would anticipate a new Supreme Court opinion to resolve the issue, unless Congress (hopefully) stepped in to resolve the dispute.  I do not look forward to so much future appellate litigation.

If the Tax Court in Hallmark holds that the deficiency filing deadline is no longer jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling, the court will deny all of the held-up IRS motions to dismiss and discharge any held-up orders to show cause.  Such rulings allowing the cases to go forward would be interlocutory rulings, not ordinarily subject to immediate review.

IRC 7482(a)(2)(A) states:

When any judge of the Tax Court includes in an interlocutory order a statement 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, the United States Court of Appeals may, in its discretion, permit an appeal to be taken from such order, if application is made to it within 10 days after the entry of such order.  Neither the application for nor the granting of an appeal under this paragraph shall stay proceedings in the Tax Court, unless a stay is ordered by a judge of the Tax Court or by the United States Court of Appeals which has jurisdiction of the appeal or a judge of that court.

Tax Court Rule 193(a) provides, in part:

For the purpose of seeking the review of any order of the Tax Court which is not otherwise immediately appealable, a party may request the Court to include, or the Court on its own motion may include, a statement in such order 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.  Any such request by a party shall be made by motion which shall set forth with particularity the grounds therefor and note whether there is any objection thereto.  

Perhaps being over-confident that it will win the Hallmark case, the IRS has not yet filed any motion under Rule 193(a).  It is unclear whether a pro-taxpayer ruling in Hallmark will, without such a motion, contain a statement “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.”

It is my hope that, if the Tax Court rules that IRC 6213(a)’s deficiency filing deadline is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling, both the IRS and DOJ would accept that ruling and would argue in support of that ruling in any appellate court that, on its own, decides to consider the issue.  Perhaps my hope is naïve, but one can always hope.

I am aware of only one other late-filed deficiency case in which the taxpayer is already arguing that the IRC 6213(a) filing deadline is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling, Gruis v. Commissioner, Tax Court Docket No. 11951-22.  I mentioned Gruis in my June 28 post.  On May 27, 2022, a lawyer for an LITC who is aware of the Boechler opinion late-filed the petition, which asked for equitable tolling.  The case involves HOH status and disallowed EITC and CTC.  It will be appealable to the Eighth Circuit – the same Circuit that got the law wrong on CDP in Boechler.  As an update, surprisingly, on July 15, 2022, the IRS filed an answer in the case.  The IRS has not (yet) moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction.  I don’t know where this case might be going.  It may get resolved a different way, though, since the taxpayer also argues that the IRS sent the notice of deficiency to an address that was no longer her last known address (hence, she did not receive the notice in time to timely petition).

What’s Happening in Myers and Whistleblower Cases After the Decision the Statute is a Claims Processing Rule

In 2019 the D.C. Circuit held in Myers v. Commissioner, 928 F.3d 1025, that the language creating the Tax Court’s basis for jurisdiction to hear whistleblower cases did not create a jurisdictional filing deadline.  It also held the time period subject to equitable tolling.  So, can the subsequent history of Myers provide insight into how the Tax Court will handle equitable tolling cases in Collection Due Process cases (CDP)?  No, it cannot because the Court held off on looking into equitable tolling waiting for the outcome in Boechler, but the post-Myers cases do provide insight into what happens when no one raises the issue of late filing.

Since the Myers decision, it does not appear that the Tax Court has issued any other rulings on whistleblower cases deciding an equitable tolling issue.  This signals how rarely equitable tolling issues present themselves. The IRS Whistleblower Office Annual Report to Congress (of which the most recent report posted to IRS.gov is for FYE 2020; see https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5241.pdf) says in Table 3 on page 24 that there were 118 IRC 7623(b) claims in litigation as of 9/30/20, but then confusingly notes:  “There are closed claims that are in litigation. Table 3 identifies only open claims.”  Does that mean that Tax Court cases are not in the 118 or are in the 118?  This probably means that the 118 cases in litigation are pending Tax Court cases.  The Tax Court has reported to Congress that during FYE 2021 there were 63 whistleblower (WB) cases filed.  https://www.ustaxcourt.gov/resources/budget_justification/FY_2023_Congressional_Budget_Justification.pdf

The benefit of Myers to taxpayers who file late, however, appears to be in prohibiting the Tax Court from issuing orders to show cause why a whistleblower case should be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction (LOJ).  This post will discuss four opinions below, each of which suggests that the Tax Court would have issued orders to show cause to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction due to late filing, had the filing deadline been jurisdictional.  This provides a window into what will happen with late filed CDP cases where the IRS does not raise the timing of the filing.    In Myers any benefit from the D.C. Circuit opinion as confirmed by the Supreme Court in Boechler will come from the application of equitable tolling.

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Looking at the whistleblower cases decided since the Myers decision, Carl Smith found the following cases:

(1)  In Whistleblower 15977-18W, T.C. Memo. 2021-143 (12/29/21), the taxpayer lost on summary judgment because the Tax Court upheld a determination by the WB office that the WB did not provide specific enough information.  (Query whether the more recent D.C. Circuit case, Li v. Commissioner, would have required the Tax Court to dismiss this case for LOJ because the WB office did not appear to take any action on the claim beyond asking SB/SE to look into the claim.  There is no mention of any proceeding done against the taxpayer.)  The WB office issued a notice of determination to the WB on Oct. 16, 2017.  The WB, who lived overseas, may not have received the notice of determination until after the 30 days to petition expired.  In any event, the WB petitioned the Tax Court on Aug. 16, 2018.  The IRS did not raise to the Tax Court that the case should be dismissed for late filing.  Here’s footnote 3 from the opinion:

Petitioner resided outside of the United States when the petition was filed.  In Myers v. Commissioner, 928 F.3d 1025, 1036-1037, 442 U.S. App. D.C. 110 (D.C. Cir. 2019), rev’g and remanding 148 T.C. 438 (2017), the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the 30-day period for filing a petition to initiate a whistleblower action is subject to equitable tolling. The D.C. Circuit is the appellate venue for this case. See sec. 7482(b)(1) (penultimate sentence). We thus follow its precedent. See Golsen v. Commissioner, 54 T.C. 742, 757 (1970), aff’d, 445 F.2d 985 (10th Cir. 1971). Consistently with Myers, we hold that we have jurisdiction to consider this case. And since neither party has questioned the filing of the petition after the 30-day period or addressed the subject of equitable tolling, we will proceed to consider the pending motions.

The Tax Court did exactly what it should have.  It no longer has the right to raise timeliness issues on its own.  This will happen more and more now that the CDP cases have entered the pool of cases subject to the claims processing rule. 

(2)  Similar is Damiani, T.C. Memo. 2020-132, where the court saw that, obviously, the petition was not timely filed.  Here’s a bit from the Damiani opinion:

The Office agreed with Mr. Wiggins’ recommendation and on June 14, 2019, issued a final determination letter rejecting petitioner’s claims. The letter stated in pertinent part that “[t]he claim has been rejected because the information submitted did not identify an issue regarding tax underpayments or violations of internal revenue laws.” The letter informed petitioner: “If you disagree with this determination, you have 30 days from the date of this letter to file a petition with the Tax Court.”

Petitioner petitioned this Court for review of the Office’s determination. Her petition was mailed from Germany, postmarked by Deutsche Post on July 31, 2019, and was received and filed by the Court on August 12, 2019. 

. . . .

Consistently with Myers, we hold that we have jurisdiction to consider this case. And since neither party has questioned the filing of the petition after the 30-day period or addressed the subject of equitable tolling, we will proceed to consider respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

(3) Also similar is Friedel, T.C. Memo. 2020-131.  Here’s a bit from the Friedel opinion:

The Office agreed with both recommendations and issued on April 30 and May 8, 2019, final determination letters rejecting petitioner’s claims. Each letter stated in pertinent part that “[t]he claim has been rejected because the IRS decided not to pursue the information you provided.” The letters informed petitioner: “If you disagree with this determination, you have 30 days from the date of this letter to file a petition with the Tax Court.”

Petitioner petitioned this Court for review of the Office’s determinations. His petition was mailed from Germany, postmarked by Deutsche Post on June 11, 2019, and was received and filed by the Court on June 24, 2019. 

. . . .

[S]ince neither party has questioned the filing of the petition after the 30-day period or addressed the subject of equitable tolling, we will proceed to consider respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

(4)  Also similar is Stevenson, T.C. Memo. 2020-137, where the court expressed concern that the petition might not have been timely, but did not actually find facts as to the 30-day deadline.  The court there wrote:

Section 7623(b)(4) provides that “[a]ny determination regarding an award * * * may, within 30 days of such determination, be appealed to the Tax Court (and the Tax Court shall have jurisdiction with  respect to such matter).” The Office issued its determination letter to petitioner on April 10, 2019. He signed his petition on May 2, 2019, but the mailing date is unclear. See sec. 7502(a). The petition was received and filed by the Court on May 13, 2019, more than 30 days after the date on which the Office issued the determination letter.

. . . .

Since neither party has questioned the filing of the petition after the 30-day period or addressed the subject of equitable tolling, we will proceed to consider respondent’s motion for summary judgment.

In all of these cases, the IRS successfully moved for summary judgment.  Perhaps the IRS was so confident it would win on summary judgment that it did not bother to raise the petition untimeliness issues. In the amicus brief the Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed for the Center for Taxpayer Rights in Boechler at the cert. stage, we predicted this outcome.  It may well turn out that it is more important to taxpayers that the Tax Court can’t raise timeliness issues on its own if a deadline is not jurisdictional than that the taxpayers can also raise equitable tolling. 

As the recent post on the application of 7459 pointed out by detailing the number of dismissals in deficiency, CDP, innocent spouse, and WB cases, there will be more (1) cases in which the IRS just misses the late filing and so doesn’t raise the issue than (2) cases where the IRS will raise the issue and the taxpayer will argue for equitable tolling.  It may be that the WBs in each of the above cases had an equitable tolling argument (e.g., non-receipt during the 30-day period, like Ms. Castillo), but they never had to present one.

Boechler Challenge to Tax Court Position on IRC 6213

Hallmark Research Collective, Tax Court Dk. No. 21284-21, filed a petition on September 2, 2021, in response to a notice of deficiency. The IRS answered the case on November 10, 2021; however, the Tax Court in policing cases to determine if it had jurisdiction issued a show cause order on November 17, 2021, seeking a response from the parties regarding why it should not dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

The parties responded to the show cause order and the Tax Court decided that it lacked jurisdiction because the petition in the case was filed one day late. On April 1, 2022, the Tax Court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

Yesterday, Hallmark filed a Motion to Vacate Order of Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction and accompanied the motion with a legal memorandum setting out in detail why IRC 6213 does not create a jurisdictional time period and why prior Tax Court precedent driving dismissal of its case should be overturned following the Supreme Court’s decision in Boechler. Hallmark also argues that the filing deadline is subject to equitable tolling, and Hallmark seeks to present evidence on that issue later in the case. Shortly after the filing of the motion, the Court issued an order giving the IRS 30 days to respond.

While the Tax Court dismisses many deficiency cases for lack of jurisdiction, Hallmark may be the first case to squarely raise the issue of jurisdiction after the Boechler decision. The legal memorandum goes into great detail to explain the reasons why the Court’s prior jurisprudence has lost its underpinnings.

The Tax Court will undoubtedly give the IRS the opportunity to agree with Hallmark before rendering a decision.  I anticipate that the Tax Court will endeavor to act swiftly because of the volume of dismissals each year and the impact of the jurisdictional decision on practice at the Court.

The legal memorandum provides an outline for others who may seek to challenge the Tax Court’s decisions regarding jurisdiction in deficiency cases and details of case dismissals in recent months in order to show the impact of the issue.

What Happens After Boechler – Part 4: The IRS Argues That Equitable Tolling Would Not Apply in Deficiency Cases

As discussed in the prior three posts of this series, the Supreme Court decision in Boechler clearly rejected the Tax Court’s position set out in the portion of its opinion in Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. 230 (2016) that held the time period for filing a petition in the Tax Court in a Collection Due Process (CDP) case is jurisdictional.  Petitioners who file a late Tax Court petition in a CDP case, joining petitioners in whistleblower cases and passport cases, will no longer find themselves tossed from the court automatically based on the date of court filing, but still face significant hurdles.  Petitioners seeking relief in the Tax Court outside of the three types of cases where decisions have removed the time period as a jurisdictional barrier still have some work to do in persuading the Tax Court as to how far the Boechler opinion applies.  Today’s post, part 4 in a four part series looking at the impact of Boechler, discusses the Supreme Court’s approach to the application of equitable tolling, including what CDP petitioners must do to overcome the hurdle of equitable tolling and the application of equitable tolling to deficiency proceedings once the courts determine the time for filing no longer provides a barrier. 

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The Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School wrote its entire amicus brief in the Boechler case on the equitable tolling issue.  It did so because of the importance that the Supreme Court determine not only that the time for filing a petition pursuant to IRC 6330 does not create a jurisdictional barrier but also that petitioners could demonstrate through equitable factors the right to have the merits of their case heard by the Tax Court.  The IRS argued that even if the statute did not create a jurisdictional barrier petitioners should nonetheless still not have the opportunity to come into Tax Court because equitable tolling should not apply to a tax case.  The IRS relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Brockamp, 519 U.S. 347 (1997).  The IRS has cited to Brockamp in every case leading up to and including Boechler, essentially arguing that it created a special exception for tax cases making equitable tolling inapplicable.  The Supreme Court soundly rejected this argument.

The Supreme Court started the equitable tolling section of the opinion with a broad statement about the general applicability of equitable tolling:

Equitable tolling is a traditional feature of American jurisprudence and a background principle against which Congress drafts limitations periods. Lozano, 572 U. S., at 10–11. Because we do not understand Con­gress to alter that backdrop lightly, nonjurisdictional limi­tations periods are presumptively subject to equitable toll­ing. Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U. S. 89, 95–96 (1990).

In a footnote it took a mild swipe at a passing argument by the IRS that equitable tolling only applies in Article III courts, noting that it had already applied equitable tolling to non-Article III courts and citing, inter alia, to its decision in favor of the IRS in Young v. United States, 535 U.S. 43, 47 (2002) in which it, at the request of the IRS, granted equitable tolling to determine that the IRS could have a priority claim in a bankruptcy case.  It’s hard to imagine how the IRS could even make a passing argument on this issue given that it sought, and received, equitable tolling in a non-Article III court just two decades ago.

Applying the general principle of equitable tolling to the CDP statute the Supreme Court said:

We see nothing to rebut the presumption here. Section 6330(d)(1) does not expressly prohibit equitable tolling, and its short, 30-day time limit is directed at the taxpayer, not the court. Cf. id., at 94–96 (holding that a statutory time limit with the same characteristics is subject to equitable tolling). The deadline also appears in a section of the Tax Code that is “‘“unusually protective”’” of taxpayers and a scheme in which “‘laymen, unassisted by trained lawyers,’” often “‘initiate the process.’” Auburn, 568 U. S., at 160. This context does nothing to rebut the presumption that nonjurisdictional deadlines can be equitably tolled.

Count on the IRS arguing that the “unusually protective” aspect of CDP prevents equitable tolling from applying in deficiency cases.  As I discussed in the first post of this series, however, CDP should not be viewed as a unique provision and the same reasons that equitable tolling applies in a CDP case should also apply to deficiency cases.

The Court spent the next couple paragraphs explaining why Brockamp does not apply to CDP cases.  For the same reasons discussed in Boechler, Brockamp should not apply in deficiency cases.  Even though far more deficiency cases are filed in Tax Court than CDP cases, the total number of cases bears no comparison to the number of refund claims at issue in Brockamp.  One can only hope that this explanation resonates with the IRS, and it will refrain from citing Brockamp every time someone wants equitable tolling.  We will soon find out.

The Court then addressed the IRS’s final argument regarding equitable tolling – that creating uncertainty in the timing of the collection injunction of IRC 6330(d)(1) will cause big problems.  Here the Court states:

The Commissioner protests that if equitable tolling is available, the IRS will not know whether it can proceed with a collection action after §6330(d)(1)’s deadline passes. The Commissioner acknowledges that the deadline is al­ready subject to tolling provisions found elsewhere in the Tax Code—for example, tolling is available to taxpayers lo­cated in a combat zone or disaster area. Tr. of Oral Arg.37–40. But he says that the IRS can easily account for these contingencies because it continuously monitors whether any taxpayer is in a combat zone or disaster area. Ibid. Tolling the §6330(d)(1) deadline outside these circum­stances, the Commissioner insists, would create much more uncertainty.

In its brief to the Supreme Court the Solicitor General cited unsupported data not in the record of the case about numbers of cases and IRS internal processes.  I do not understand how that is allowed.  This is not information the Supreme Court could take judicial notice of.  In reviewing the information provided, I did not understand how the IRS arrived at the information the Solicitor General cited to the Supreme Court.  The information did not seem correct but it’s hard to argue against unsupported information that just magically appears. 

Aside from the fact that the Solicitor General feels it is appropriate to raise new information not in the record and not publicly available in its brief, which undermines the whole point of having a record, the data was, in fact, wrong.  It later sent a letter to the Supreme Court walking back the information in its brief and stating that the data was wrong but offering new unsupported data.  I found this offensive to the system.  The Court did not comment on it.  Perhaps it’s normal for the Solicitor General and the agency to toss non-public data into a Supreme Court brief, but I cannot understand how that is appropriate.

The IRS has to deal with uncertainty that a Tax Court case has begun and the collection injunction has come into existence all the time.  No better example exists than what has happened at the Tax Court during the pandemic.  By failing to notify the IRS of the filing of a Tax Court petition for a few months, the Tax Court set the IRS off into collection mode.  This has created problems for taxpayers and for the IRS but they are problems that get worked out and this has happened with thousands of cases.  Arguing that allowing the taxpayer to raise equitable tolling because it will create a problem when the problem already exists and gets fixed on a regular basis should not serve as a reason for preventing equitable tolling.  That solution is anything but equitable for individuals who miss the deadline for a good reason.

In responding to the IRS’s equitable tolling statute of limitations and levy authority uncertainty argument, the Supreme Court avoided discussing the two statutory extensions that the IRS said it could easily deal with (i.e., the IRC 7508 combat zone and IRC 7508A disaster declaration extensions) and simply focused on the more common statutory extension provided in IRC 7502, the timely-mailing-is-timely-filing extension.  The Court wrote:

We are not convinced that the possibility of equitable tolling for the relatively small number of petitions at issue in this case will appreciably add to the uncertainty already present in the process. To take the most obvious example, petitions for review are considered filed when mailed. 26 U. S. C. §7502(a)(1). The 30-day deadline thus may come and go before a petition “filed” within that time comes to the IRS’s attention. Presumably, the IRS does not monitor when petitions for review are mailed. So it is not as if the IRS can confidently rush to seize property on day 31 anyway.

Thus, one would expect that the equitable tolling statute of limitations and levy authority uncertainty argument will be rejected as well in a future court case involving equitable tolling of the IRC 6213(a) deficiency petition filing deadline.

The Supreme Court’s decision sends the Boechler law firm back to the Tax Court which will now decide if the late petition meets the equitable tolling tests.  Because the Tax Court has previously determined all of its deadlines for hearing cases are jurisdictional, it has not developed a body of law on equitable tolling.  Undoubtedly, it will now look to equitable tolling jurisprudence developed in other jurisdictions that did not bar its consideration.  What should we expect?

As the Tax Clinic’s brief points out, courts have generally developed three bases for applying equitable tolling: 1) actively misleading taxpayers about the filing deadline as the IRS did in Rubel, Matuszak and Nauflett; 2) extraordinary circumstances which prevent taxpayers from timely filing as occurred in Castillo and Atuke; and 3) timely filing petitions in the wrong forum as regularly happens and as we discussed here.

One of the first cases that the Tax Court may hear is the Castillo case which has been held by the Second Circuit awaiting the decision in Boechler.  The Fordham Tax Clinic represents Ms. Castillo who has yet to receive her CDP notice of determination even though it was mailed by the IRS to her last known address more than two years ago.  Postal records show it has never been delivered.  She filed her CDP petition late after finding out about the CDP notice of determination through an informal channel long after the deadline for filing passed. Castillo should provide the Tax Court with a slam dunk opportunity to grant equitable tolling and begin to develop its jurisprudence on this issue.  Undoubtedly petitioners will seek the benefit of equitable tolling without the favorable facts present in the Castillo case and the Tax Court will have the opportunity over the next few years to set the standards it will apply in letting in the handful of cases with deserving facts.  If you are bringing an equitable tolling case to the Tax Court look at the factors other courts have developed and bring deserving cases to the Court with well-developed arguments.