In Crim v. Commissioner, the Tax Court dismissed a case in which the petitioner sought to obtain Tax Court review of the rejection of the denial of an offer in compromise for doubt as to liability. The Tax Court dismisses the case because the petitioner did not have the statutory predicate for jurisdiction – a collection due process (CDP) determination letter. Petitioner argued that the offer rejection letter, which came from the examination division because the offer was a doubt as to liability offer “reflects a ‘determination’ sufficient to invoke the Court’s jurisdiction.” Petitioner sought to use the decision of the Tax Court in Craig v. Commissioner, 119 T.C. 252, 257 (2002), which held that a wrongly issued decision letter could form the basis for a timely petition where the IRS should have issued the taxpayer a determination letter, as a hook for similar treatment of the rejection letter he received from the IRS. The Court did not accept this argument.
The IRS rejected the doubt as to liability offer because the IRS does not have the ability in that process to compromise a liability previously determined by the Tax Court, other courts, or in a closing agreement. The liability petitioner asked the IRS to review was a restitution order for $17,242,806.57 issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania resulting from Mr. Crim’s criminal conviction for conspiracy to defraud the United States under 18 U.S.C. 371 and the corrupt interference statute in IRC 7212(a). The IRS cannot compromise restitution orders whether the request comes in a doubt as to liability or a doubt as to collectability offer because the amount has been ordered by the district court. Mr. Crim’s underlying complaint concerns the timing of the change in the manner in which the IRS can collect on restitution orders. His criminal acts occurred prior to 2010, but in 2010 Congress changed the law to permit assessment of the restitution amount as if it were a tax and collection on that assessment as we have discussed here, here, and here. Mr. Crim views the change in the law as applied to him as violating the ex post facto clause of the constitution. The Third Circuit rejected his argument twice, here and here, as premature because the IRS had not tried to collect at that point.
The Tax Court performed its normal jurisdictional analysis. In addition, it looked at the Craig decision to determine if its decision in Craig could stretch to cover a letter from the examination division. The Tax Court determined that the letter sent to Mr. Crim rejecting his offer in compromise for doubt as to liability could not be construed to be a determination letter and that it lacked jurisdiction over his case. The Court provided several reasons: 1) the letter did not come from Appeals; 2) the letter did not purport to sustain a notice of Federal tax lien or a proposed levy; 3) the record does not suggest Mr. Crim had requested a CDP hearing at the time the letter was issued; and 4) the record does not suggest the IRS had issued a levy or filed a NFTL. The Court went on to apply Craig to this situation and point out that in Craig, the Appeals Office made a mistake in a “real” CDP case and issued the wrong letter, but here there is no CDP case which would allow the Court to construe the letter sent to Mr. Crim as a mistake.
Finally, the Tax Court addressed Mr. Crim’s argument that the 3d Circuit told him that he could raise his ex post facto argument if the IRS seeks to collect from him and that the statement by the 3d Circuit should allow him to come to Tax Court to make that argument. The Tax Court pointed out that the 3d Circuit did not, and could not, open the doors of the Tax Court for him to bring a case at any time. He needed to have the proper prerequisite in order to do so, and he did not have it yet.
Nothing about the decision is surprising. The nine page order goes into greater detail explaining why the Tax Court lacks jurisdiction than I might have expected, but the case is one that may be one of first impression at the Court. Mr. Crim may be back if at some point the IRS takes the type of collection action that would allow him to invoke jurisdiction. At that time, he will have the chance to argue that individuals who committed their crimes prior to the change in the law in 2010 regarding assessment of restitution orders should not apply in his circumstance. In the meantime, maybe others in his situation will make the argument and establish precedent on this issue.