From Redactions to Reasonable Cause: Designated Orders 1/20/20 to 1/24/20

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This week in review for January brought a group of orders with no common theme.  Two orders concern incorrect filings by petitioners, another deals with the Court’s jurisdiction for a petition, one is based on the statute of limitations in a TEFRA proceeding, and the final one is a bench opinion dealing with a taxpayer’s reasonable cause and good faith for a substantial understatement penalty.

Petitioners Needing Filing Help

Docket No. 19551-19S, Eric Bukhman & Marina Bukhman v. C.I.R., Order available here.

To begin with, I want to continue to give support for the Tax Court’s assistance with petitioners.  Many of the petitioners are pro se and need assistance with filing matters.  The Court is quite patient with them and helps them through matters.  One example is the Bukhmans.  They filed their petition without signatures.  Chief Judge Foley gave them until February 14 to ratify the petition by submitting their signatures to the Court.  The Clerk of the Court even provides them a tailored form to ratify their petition.  In fact, they did so on February 5.

Docket No. 11485-17S, Charles Easterwood & Ann M. Easterwood v. C.I.R., Order available here.

That does not explain what happened with the Easterwoods.  They are represented by counsel so there is no excuse about being pro se.  In fact, the Court directed the IRS to respond to its order.  Instead, petitioners’ counsel responded.  Included in the response was a copy of the Notice of Deficiency that did not have the taxpayer identification numbers redacted.  In the order, the response from petitioners’ counsel was stricken and the IRS was ordered they no longer needed to respond.  Caleb Smith wrote about the subsequent order directing petitioners’ counsel to refile the response with proper redactions.

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I am going to take a moment to examine proper Tax Court filing.  Certainly, making sure the petitioners sign the petition is an obvious first step.  However, petitioners and counsel do not always think about redacting.  It is necessary to review the documents thoroughly because the IRS likes to put social security numbers on nearly every page.  Additionally, it is worth looking at the bar codes to see if the taxpayer’s number is embedded within the barcode number.  Next, do not forget about the scannable bar codes or QR codes that the IRS uses.  Is the taxpayer’s information included there?  I am not sure.  I do not want my client’s information to be publicly available so I redact all of those items.  Yes, I feel like I am using whiteout at the level of a conspiracy theorist, but at least I am actively protecting my client.

Let me take another moment here to speak to the IRS.  Since they are in charge of drafting these documents that then need to be filed with Tax Court, is it possible to change the specific forms such as the Notice of Deficiency that give taxpayers the ability to petition Tax Court?  By removing the taxpayer identification numbers, there would no longer be the need for pro se taxpayers or counsel to redact forms.  There would also no longer be the problem for the Tax Court to decide how to grant access to forms that may or may not have been correctly redacted when filed.  I am suggesting that the solution to this issue for petitioners and the Tax Court could start at the source.  Just saying.

Missing the Mark

Docket No. 8400-19, Laurence Harvey Edelson v. C.I.R., Order of Dismissal for Lack of Jurisdiction available here.

Mr. Edelson filed a petition with the Tax Court on May 23, 2019, alleging he never received a notice of deficiency for tax years 2005-2008 and 2010-2017.  He also stated he never received a notice of determination for those same years.  He did not attach any documents with his petition.

What is the history?  The IRS sent notices of deficiency for 2005 (on September 4, 2007), 2006 and 2007 (on May 25, 2011), and 2008 (on February 7, 2011).  There was a notice of determination for 2005 issued December 2008.  Mr. Edelson and the IRS agreed to an installment agreement for 2006-2008 tax years.  The IRS did not send notices of deficiency or notices of determination for 2010-2017.

The IRS filed a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction because the 2005-2008 tax years were not timely and there were no notices of deficiency for the other years.  The Court granted the motion because they lacked jurisdiction for those tax years based on the reasons cited above.

Has the Statute of Limitations Run?

Docket No. 22295-16, 22296-16 (consolidated), Ramat Associates, Wil-Coser Associates, a Partner Other Than the Tax Matters Partner, et al., v. C.I.R., Order available here.

These consolidated cases are TEFRA cases that involve Ramat Associates (Ramat), a Delaware limited liability company.  By a Notice of Final Partnership Administrative Adjustment (FPAA), the IRS adjusted certain partnership items of Ramat’s for the 2006 tax year and determined an accuracy-related penalty.  By a second FPAA, the IRS did the same for the 2007 and 2008 tax years.

The petitioner moved for judgment on the pleadings in both consolidated cases and moved for partial summary judgment in docket # 22296-16 with respect to tax year 2008.  Both motions are based on the notion that the period of limitations has run for the assessment of taxes and penalties resulting from the adjustments made in the FPAAs.  The IRS objected.

Petitioner’s argument is based off IRC section 6229(a), which provides the period for assessing tax with regard to partnership and affected items shall not expire before three years after the later of the date on which the partnership return is filed or the last day for filing such return without regard to extensions.  Section 6229(d) tolls that period if, within the period, the IRS mails an FPAA to the partnership’s tax matters partner.

The IRS instead relies on IRC section 6501(a), saying section 6229 is not a stand-alone statute of limitations, but extends 6501(a) in certain circumstances.  Section 6501 controls the statute of limitations at the partner level for the assessment of any tax flowing from the adjustments in the case.  Section 6501(a) “provides, generally, that the amount of any tax imposed shall be assessed within three years after the return was filed, unless extended or another exception applies” while 6229(a) describes the minimum period for the assessment any tax attributable to partnership items.

The Court agrees with the IRS argument and states the IRS pled facts in sufficient detail to establish a genuine dispute as to a material question of fact whether the section 6501(a) period of limitations has lapsed for the assessment of any tax resulting from the adjustments in the FPAAs.  The Court denied both of the petitioner’s motions.

Penalties for the Taxpayer?

Docket No. 13072-18, Floyd X. Proctor v. C.I.R., Order of Service of Transcript available here.

In this bench opinion, Judge Gustafson examines a taxpayer’s reasonable cause and good faith to determine whether he should be liable for the penalties the IRS imposed.

The IRS issued a notice of deficiency to Mr. Proctor based on his adjustments to income and deductions reported on his Schedule C.  The IRS also assessed timely filing penalties and accuracy-related penalties.  The parties settled regarding the tax deficiencies, but still at issue before the court were the different penalties.

Mr. Proctor has a high school education and worked for the Department of Defense (“DOD”).  In 2011, he formed an LLC and bought a dump truck.  In 2014 and 2015 (the years at issue), he operated a trucking business in addition to his DOD employment.

The 2014 tax return was filed about 9 months late and the 2015 tax return about 11 months late.  Mr. Proctor takes responsibility for the late filings, saying he was not paying attention, was negligent, and he is not trying to get out of being at fault.

Mr. Proctor testified that he connected with a man named Mr. Charles who did similar work and advised him regarding tax filing for their occupation.  Mr. Proctor used Tax Act software for the two returns.  Mr. Proctor showed Mr. Charles the Forms 1099 issued and received, the cancelled checks, invoices, and receipts for trucking expenses.  Mr. Proctor did not realize he had not received all Forms 1099 for his trucking activity income (probably missing his snow-plowing income).  As a result, Mr. Proctor under-reported his income for those years.  Also, he reported expenses which he agreed by stipulation should be reduced.

Judge Gustafson is convinced that the deductions were not deliberately faked.  He is persuaded that Mr. Proctor believed he prepared his tax returns correctly, with serious and forthright efforts.  Accordingly, the judge believes Mr. Proctor did his reasonable best to prepare a correct tax return.

When the IRS examined Mr. Proctor’s returns, he provided bank statements and other financial information.  The IRS informed him that his returns were in error.  Mr. Proctor hired an accountant who prepared profit and loss statements for the trucking business.  After those statements were supplied to the IRS, the IRS prepared the statutory notice of deficiency.  Before communicating the penalty determination to Mr. Proctor, the individual who made that determination obtained written approval from his immediate supervisor.

In reviewing the case, Judge Gustafson finds that Mr. Proctor is liable for the section 6651(a)(1) timely filing penalty since Mr. Proctor admits his lateness was due to his neglect.

Next, Judge Gustafson turns to the accuracy-related penalty for Mr. Proctor.  As a reminder, the 6662(a) penalty is an accuracy-related penalty of 20 percent of the portion of the underpayment attributable to the taxpayer’s negligence or disregard of rules and regulations.

Is his understatement substantial?  Yes, it meets the requirement of exceeding $5,000 and it exceeds by more than 10% the tax liability Mr. Proctor should have reported on his return.

Regarding negligence, that means there must be a “failure to make a reasonable attempt to comply with the provisions of the internal revenue laws or to exercise ordinary and reasonable care in the preparation of a tax return.”  Negligence was not addressed based on the review of reasonable cause below.

For the IRS burden of production, they met their burden because the understatements were substantial and there was compliance with the supervisory approval requirements of section 6751(b).

Section 6664(c)(1) provides that no penalty shall be imposed under sections 6662 or 6663 regarding an underpayment if shown there was reasonable cause and the taxpayer acted in good faith regarding that underpayment.  Those are based on facts and circumstances, including “the experience, knowledge, and education of the taxpayer” (26 C.F.R. sec. 1.6664-4(b)(1)).  For experience, the judge states Mr. Proctor had no experience in keeping books or filing returns for a business.  For knowledge, he had little help in return preparation.  Mr. Proctor had modest education.

For determining reasonable cause, “the most important factor is the extent of the taxpayer’s effort to assess the taxpayer’s proper tax liability” (id).  Judge Gustafson holds that Mr. Proctor made a serious and good-faith effort to comply with his tax filing requirement and report his correct liability.

Judge Gustafson held that Mr. Proctor had reasonable cause and showed good faith so he was not liable for the accuracy-related penalty.

In my view, this was a fair decision for Mr. Proctor.  He received some relief regarding the accuracy-related penalty due to his situation, yet still owed the penalty due to his late filing.  He also had the tax due in his settlement with the IRS.  Sounds like the definition of a compromise to me.

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.

Comments

  1. Scott Davies says

    I frequently ask the Tax Court for copies of petitions. You see all kinds of interesting things. Unfortunately, most of the petitions suffer from T.C. Rule 27(a) defects and that includes petitions filed by law firms. I submitted a SAMS issue (33872) to ask the IRS to address what seems to me a lot of needless risk. This went nowhere. Some IRS employees don’t even recognize there is a risk for taxpayers when Social Security numbers, account numbers and other sensitive information is splattered all over documents that have to be filed with the Court. I recently entered an appearance to help a low income petitioner who was already in the Tax Court with an unredacted petition. I asked Counsel if there was any objection to substituting the petition with a redacted copy. I assumed there would be no objection. I was informed there was no objection in my case because, as I was informed . . . the Court would never supply an unredacted document to a third party. I make mistakes, too. But with respect to creating needless risk for taxpayers, I think there’s a lot of room for improvement on the IRS’s part.

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