Unsuccessful Petitioners in Collection Due Process and Premium Tax Credit Cases: Designated Orders 11/25/19 to 11/29/19

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The end of November brought 3 designated orders, where (spoiler warnings) the petitioners did not prevail.  In two collection due process cases, the petitioners were non-compliant and that led to their downfall.  The last involves a bench opinion concerning the premium tax credit and income limitations to qualify.

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Collection Due Process Case 1

Docket No. 18362-18, Karson C. Kaebel v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

Mr. Kaebel did not file a tax return for 2011 and the IRS filed a substitute for return.  Based on the substitute for return, the IRS mailed a statutory notice of deficiency.  Mr. Kaebel did not respond to the notice of deficiency so the IRS issued a Notice of Federal Tax Lien Filing and right to a Collection Due Process hearing in 2014, but he did not respond to that either.

In 2017, the IRS issued a Notice of Intent to Levy regarding Mr. Kaebel’s personal property.  Here, he filed a form 12153 in response to his right to a Collection Due Process hearing.  On the form, he stated that he disputed the proposed tax and penalties, requested a face-to-face hearing, which he intended to record, and his interest in discussing collection alternatives if convinced he owed the tax.

The settlement officer informed him that he could not dispute the underlying liability for the tax and additions since he did not do so in response to the 2014 notice.  The officer scheduled a telephone conference, informing Mr. Kaebel he was not eligible for a face-to-face hearing.  In order to be eligible for collection alternatives, Mr. Kaebel would need to submit a completed Form 433-A, file tax returns for 2012 through 2016, and provide proof of being current on estimated tax payments.  If Mr. Kaebel provided proof of the filed tax returns and estimated tax payments, the settlement officer would consider the face-to-face hearing request.

Since Mr. Kaebel did not provide the requested documentation and did not attend the telephone hearing, the Appeals Team Manager sustained the proposed levy action.

Mr. Kaebel disputed receiving the statutory notice of deficiency and whether one had been issued.  IRS Appeals has a copy of the statutory notice and reviewed the Certified Mailing List to confirm that the notice was mailed to his address of record.

Mr. Kaebel timely petitioned the Tax Court.  In his assertions, he says the IRS did not provide him with requested documents, was not granted a face-to-face hearing, was not granted the opportunity to challenge the liability, and did not receive the notice of deficiency.  He also states the statutory notice was not verified by a duly authorized delegate as required by the Internal Revenue Code, having no idea who “S1STSIGA” is.  The IRS moved for summary judgment on the grounds there was no abuse of discretion.

In the Court’s analysis, Mr. Kaebel received the notice of deficiency and did not act upon his opportunity to challenge the liability then.  Next, the face-to-face hearing is not mandatory so it was justified to deny Mr. Kaebel’s request there.  Mr. Kaebel did not provide the requested documents.  Last, case law recognizes a presumption of official regularity to conclude the signature on IRS notices comes from a duly authorized IRS officer.

The Court concludes there is no abuse of discretion and grants the IRS motion for summary judgment.

Collection Due Process Case 2

Docket No. 21687-18 L, Debra Zalk Spitulnik & Charles Alan Spitulnik v. C.I.R., Order and Decision available here.

The Spitulniks had tax liabilities for tax years 2008, 2009, and 2012.  By October 2017, the outstanding balances for those years were approximately $58,000, $108,000, and $1,800 for those tax years, respectively.  The IRS at that point filed a Notice of Federal Tax Lien.

In response to the notice of the tax lien, the Spitulniks requested a Collection Due Process hearing.  On their form, they asked for an installment agreement, lien withdrawal, and innocent spouse relief (that relief is being reviewed under a separate Tax Court case).  They attached to their request a letter describing their medical conditions, related financial hardships, and difficulties they faced in managing their financial obligations.  The IRS determined they “met one or more of the elements” of IRC section 6323(j) and withdrew the federal tax lien.

In scheduling the Collection Due Process hearing, the Appeals Officer informed the Spitulniks that they would need to be current on their 2017 and 2018 tax obligations to consider an installment agreement.  To do so, they would need to submit $31,486 in estimated payments toward their 2017 tax account (estimated because the 2017 tax return was on extension and not yet filed), plus any 2018 estimated payment required.

Before the hearing, the Spitulniks submitted correspondence about their financial situation but nothing about compliance with estimated tax payments.  On the date of the hearing, they informed the officer that they submitted a $17,000 estimated tax payment for 2017.  He notified them they could not qualify for an installment agreement for the three years of liabilities because they were not fully in compliance.

The IRS issued a Notice of Determination Concerning Collection Action(s) under Section 6320 and/or 6330 concerning the prior removal of the tax lien and their ineligibility for the installment agreement based on noncompliance with payments for 2017 and 2018.

The Spitulniks timely petitioned the Tax Court based on the notice of determination.  Within their later submissions to the court, they provided an IRS transcript for 2017 that shows an overpayment for 2018 was applied toward the 2017 liability.  The transcript still shows an unpaid balance for 2017 of $10,689.51.  The IRS filed a motion for summary judgment.  The Spitulniks filed a response and the IRS replied.

In the Court’s analysis, the issues before the Court are whether there was abuse of discretion by the IRS regarding the notice of federal tax lien and the denial of the installment agreement.  Since the IRS withdrew the federal tax lien in 2017, the Court considers the issue resolved.  The Spitulniks were not compliant regarding payments for the 2017 tax year so could not qualify for an installment agreement.  There is no abuse of discretion since it is within the judgment of Appeals to require compliance when determining collection alternatives.  There is no genuine dispute as to any material fact so the motion for summary judgment was granted.

Takeaway:  For both cases, I understand that compliance is necessary in order to qualify for relief in a Collection Due Process hearing.  However, it seems like the requirements were too burdensome for the petitioners.  Mr. Kaebel, for example, had to get 5 years of tax returns filed and I have seen taxpayers unable to pay for multiple years of tax return preparation.  The Spitulniks had $31,486 owed and paid $17,000 for 2017.  They also communicated about medical conditions and financial difficulties so it seems they had issues but took a significant step toward compliance.

I realize that I am viewing these cases through the lens of a low income taxpayer clinic director so I might be giving them more sympathy than they are due.  However, I wonder if the bar was set too high by the IRS for them to find relief from the Collection Due Process system.

Premium Tax Credit Bench Opinion

Docket No. 13346-18S, Wayne Dennis Woodrow & Colleen J. Woodrow v. C.I.R., Order available here.

Originally, the IRS issued a notice of deficiency to the Woodrows regarding their 2016 federal income taxes with a section 6662(a) penalty.  The IRS conceded a portion of the deficiency and the penalty before trial at Tax Court.  The portion of the deficiency in dispute related to the premium tax credit.  At issue were whether the Woodrows were entitled to the premium tax credit and whether the advance payments of the premium tax credit received exceeded the credit.  Judge Carluzzo provided details in his bench opinion.

Mr. Woodrow was laid off after a long career in the coal industry.  He was able to continue with health insurance for his family through a private plan at least through 2015.  After there was a dramatic increase in the plan, Mr. Woodrow investigated and ultimately chose another plan with the same insurance carrier through the marketplace in 2016.  Part of his decision process was that a portion of the cost would be covered by the advance payment of the premium tax credit.

Mr. Woodrow prepared their return using tax software and the adjusted gross income shown on the return is significantly higher than anticipated, due to the majority of that increase being from distributions from his retirement account and pension plan.

To be an applicable taxpayer that qualifies for the premium tax credit under IRC section 36B(c), taxpayers must have household income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty guidelines.  Household income is based off of the modified adjusted gross income.  Contrary to the advice he received, the retirement income is included in the modified adjusted gross income for figuring the premium tax credit.  The retirement distributions pushed the Woodrows above 400 percent of the poverty guidelines.  They were no longer eligible for the premium tax credit so would need to repay the advance payment they no longer qualified for.

The main argument Mr. Woodrow makes against the repayment is that he received erroneous advice that the retirement income would not be part of the computation of household income for the premium tax credit.  Reliance on that advice led to choosing a marketplace plan they would not otherwise have chosen.  Both the IRS and the Tax Court provided their sympathies for the Woodrows, but they have no discretion to provide an alternative equitable result.

The deficiency determined in the notice, as modified by the IRS, was sustained and in order to give effect to the modification and concession of the 6662(a) penalty, the judge’s decision will be entered under Rule 155.

Takeaway:  In connecting the dots, I see a story where Mr. Woodrow was laid off from his job and took distributions from his retirement account and pension plan in order to have income to live off of.  Next, he self-prepared their tax return but did not take into account that the distributions negated the advance payment of the premium tax credit.  Looking to cut costs and provide for the family combined with ignorance of tax laws eventually led to problems with the IRS and a trip to Tax Court.

As noted above, the Court is sympathetic to taxpayers in these circumstances regarding the premium tax credit.  The main case cited is McGuire v. Commissioner, 149 T.C. 254 (2017), where the Court explains that they are “not a court of equity” and “cannot ignore the law to achieve an equitable result.”  For discussions of that case and related links regarding the premium tax credit in Procedurally Taxing, links are here, here and here.

William Schmidt 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 Kansas City Tax Clinic, the Legal Aid of Western Missouri Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and the Kansas Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. He records and edits a tax podcast called Tax Justice Warriors.

Comments

  1. Scott Davies says

    This wasn’t Mr. Kaebel’s first visit to the Tax Court, nor was this his first collections case. I can only speculate about his ability to pay a return preparer. However, he did pay the Court’s filing fees. Also, he appears to be the Head Coach of a major professional sports team. That should be the kind of job that allows you to pay for return prep. Mr. Kaebel will hopefully find a way to overcome his compliance barriers. It’s just that poverty doesn’t seem to be one of them.

    • I don’t believe the comment above is correct. It appears that Kaebel was a minor league hockey player that never made the NHL and is now a minor league hockey coach. The leagues in which he has coached pay very little. That doesn’t excuse anything, of course. I am in full agreement that Kaebel has been around the block more than a few times with the IRS. He has lost repeatedly at every level of the Federal court process and I have no doubt we will hear from him again.

      • Scott Davies says

        Okay Steve is right. There’s a couple of teams that sound pretty similar and I’ve never really been a big NHL fan so I didn’t recognize the difference at first. Good catch! We’ll see what happens in the next pending case.

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