On July 12, 2019, I wrote about one case in which the Tax Court applied the reasoning in Guralnik v. Commissioner to extend the time within which a taxpayer could file their Tax Court petition during the government shutdown. We picked up that case through the Tax Court’s designated order feature. As we have discussed before the order feature of the Tax Court’s web site allows users to perform word searches. Inspired by the first case and expecting there should be others, Carl Smith did such a search and found others to which he alerted me. I had my research assistant, Michael Waalkes, follow up on Carl’s research and this post will identify the cases we have found in which Guralnik has made a difference as well as a few where it did not. Leading into the shutdown, we reminded readers on December 31, 2018, not to forget Guralnik. It’s clear from these orders that the Tax Court did not forget it and that the earlier case we wrote about was part of a concerted effort on the part of the court to identify cases in which the court opened its doors to cases which would otherwise have been late but for the application of Guralnik to the situation.
In each of these cases the IRS moved to dismiss. At some point perhaps the IRS will accept Guralnik and no longer file a motion to dismiss or it will seek to litigate it in the circuits. At least for this round of government shutdown, the IRS seems content to raise the issue in every case but accept the outcome in every case without filing an appeal. Of course, if the IRS accepts Guralnik without filing a motion to dismiss, we would not find the case through an order search so it may have accepted many more cases than it contested. Perhaps the issue is a function of getting the word to the field offices. The possibility also exists that it wants to bring each situation to the court’s attention and have the court make the specific decision allowing the case to move forward.
Per the search of the Tax Court orders: here are the cases involving Guralnik’s application to the government shutdown, in which the Court denied an IRS motion to dismiss for a petition due during the shutdown: Coleman v. Commissioner, Docket No. 1856-19; Baird v. Commissioner, Docket No. 1706-19; Meaut v. Commissioner, Docket No.: 1851-19; Crager v. Commissioner, Docket No. 2191-19; Vlach v. Commissioner, Docket No. 614-19S; Wilson v. Commissioner, Docket No. 0691-19S; Hamilton v. Commissioner, Docket No. 436-19S; Doherty v. Commissioner, Docket No. 101-19; Cajuste v. Commissioner, Docket No. 2190-19; Witt v. Commissioner, Docket No. 2071-19; Kendrick v. Commissioner, Docket No. 806-19S; Baird v. Commissioner, Docket No. 1706-19; Worku v. Commissioner, Docket No. 1864-19; Gettys v. Commissioner, Docket No.1686-19S; Hager v. Commissioner, Docket No. 1854-19.
The Tax Court appears to have adopted a standard policy in cases where the IRS files a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction on timeliness for petitions due during the government shutdown. The Court first issues a generic order (sample linked here) citing Guralnik and requiring that the IRS supplement its motion, which leads to the IRS conceding timeliness in its supplement and the Court then denying the motion to dismiss.
Despite the 14 cases listed above in which the Tax Court did open its doors, some petitioners still remained outside of the benefit created by the extra time resulting from the government shutdown. These cases deserve a closer look since they do not follow the cookie cutter results of the cases listed above. In Bancroft v. Commissioner, Docket No. 2063-19, the Tax Court issued its standard order for the IRS to file a supplement to its motion to dismiss, which the IRS did. The Tax Court then granted the motion to dismiss without issuing an order, so it’s unclear why the Court wasn’t convinced that the shutdown affected the timeliness of the petition filing. It would have been nice to have some reasoning here given the importance of the issue. We did not pay to obtain the response filed by the IRS which might have made it clear why the court granted the motion to dismiss in this case.
And in Barnhart v. Commissioner, Docket No. 5783-19S, in response to an IRS motion to dismiss for late-filing a petition that was due on December 24, 2018 (several days before December 28, 2018 when the Tax Court stopped operating), the petitioners argued that their efforts to administratively resolve their issue with the IRS had been hampered by the government shutdown, as the IRS began its furlough earlier on December 22, 2018, two days before the filing deadline. But Judge Foley granted the motion to dismiss and issued an order finding that a government shutdown at the administrative level was not sufficient to alter the filing deadline with the Tax Court, which at the time was still unaffected. This case demonstrates the confusion that some petitioners might have had between the shutdown of the IRS (and most of the government) and the shutdown of the Tax Court (and most of the courts). The non-budget funds available to the courts allowed them to remain open for a short period after the rest of the government shut its doors. Perhaps this confusion should not matter from a jurisdictional standpoint but the whole issue of shutdown must have caused confusion for some parties seeking a remedy.
Finally, in Janjic v. Commissioner, Docket No. 2003-19, the petitioner was a taxpayer who lived abroad and did not return to the U.S. until during the period of the IRS furlough. The petitioner argued that she was unaware that the Tax Court was still operational during this time and thus the Court should still consider the case. The Tax Court disagreed, and Judge Foley granted the IRS motion to dismiss, while noting his sympathy for the petitioner’s situation. The Janjic case most clearly raises the issue of confusion and provides a possible basis for equitable tolling should the time frame for filing a petition in a deficiency proceeding prove not to be jurisdictional.
The issue of jurisdictional nature of the timing of the filing of a deficiency case will be argued in the 9th Circuit in San Francisco on October 22, 2019, in the cases of Organic Cannabis Foundation LLC v. Commissioner, Ninth Circuit Docket No. 17-72874 and Northern California Small Business Assistants, Inc. v. Commissioner, Ninth Circuit Docket No. 17-72877. We will be closely watching those cases as the decision there could impact other petitioners like Ms. Janjic who file their Tax Court petitions late but have a reason for doing so that would support a finding of equitable tolling. Although we have not written as standalone post on Organic Cannabis and Northern California Small Business Assistants, we did discuss them in the December 31, 2018 post linked above. Just as a reminder, here is what we wrote in that post:
There are currently before the Ninth Circuit two companion cases of petitions sent in around the same time as Guralnik, also by FedEx First Overnight, that arrived a day late. In these cases, Organic Cannabis Foundation LLC v. Commissioner, Ninth Cir. Docket No. 17-72874, and Northern California Small Business Assistants, Inc. v. Commissioner, Ninth Circuit Docket No. 17-72877, it is not clear why the petitions were filed late, but it appears that the Federal Express driver could not access the open Tax Court Clerk’s Office on the last day – either because of construction work, police activity, or some other reason – so the driver returned the following day (one day too late if section 7502 can’t be used). In unpublished orders issued on July 25, 2017 (here and here), the Tax Court declined to extend Guranik to cover situations where the Clerk’s Office was in fact open.
In the Ninth Circuit, the taxpayers not only seek to extend Guralnik, but also argue (as the tax clinic at Harvard did in Guralnik) that the deficiency petition filing deadline is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling. The DOJ relies on the holding in Guralnik, but argues that Guralnik cannot be stretched to cover the situation where the Clerk’s office is actually open. Since the parties cannot confer jurisdiction in a case merely by not making certain arguments, it would not be impossible for the Ninth Circuit to eventually rule both in these cases that the filing deadline is jurisdictional and that the Tax Court cannot import into its own rules any rule from the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that extends the filing deadline when the Clerk’s Office is formally closed. That is, nothing stops the Ninth Circuit from rejecting the latter holding in Guralnik. Thus, until there are some court of appeals rulings on this fact pattern, it may be wise not to try to rely on the closure of the government as a reason for not mailing a Tax Court petition on time or attempting hand delivery to the court on the first date it reopens. The cases before the Ninth Circuit are fully briefed… Among the briefs there are amicus briefs from the Harvard tax clinic arguing that the filing deadline is not jurisdictional and is subject to equitable tolling.
Of course, we are closely following the jurisdictional nature of the timing of filing Tax Court petitions in several of the bases for jurisdiction. With respect to the recent decision of the D.C. Circuit that the time for filing a petition in a whistleblower case is not jurisdictional, blogged here, the Department of Justice has requested more time to decide whether to request an en banc review of the decision. As discussed in the blog post on the Myers case, because the language in the whistleblower statute essentially mirrors the language in the Collection Due Process statute passed several years earlier, the Myers decision essentially sets up a split between the D.C. Circuit and the 9th Circuit on this issue which creates at the least the possibility of a trip to the Supreme Court.