In the last two weeks of 2019 we are running material which we have primarily covered during the year but which discusses the important developments during this year. As we reflect on what has transpired during the year, let’s also think about how we can improve the tax procedure process going forward.
In BASR Partnership et al. v. United States, a tax matters partners submitted a nominal $1 qualified offer to the IRS, prevailed at summary judgment, and then successfully moved for award of litigation costs under IRC 7430. Upon appeal to the Federal Circuit, the government argued against the award, asserting, among other things, that the award was abuse of discretion because the nominal offer was not a good faith attempt at settlement. Despite the partnership context, the case has implications for low-income taxpayers, who often utilize nominal qualified offers in frozen refund litigation. If the court accepted the government’s argument, it might cost doubt on the validity of nominal qualified offers and lead to further government arguments in the low-income taxpayer context. However, the court ruled for the taxpayer, holding that the nominal qualified offer was reasonable and the award was not an abuse of discretion. The tax clinics at Georgia State and at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School filed an amicus brief in this case on behalf of BASR.
See Ted Afield, Nominal Qualified Offers and TEFRA, Procedurally Taxing (Feb. 25, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/nominal-qualified-offers-and-tefra/
Another important issue is the use of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in litigation. In Moya v. Commissioner, the Tax Court rejected the taxpayer’s TBOR-based argument in a deficiency case, looking to the history of the TBOR to find that it “accords taxpayers no rights they did not already possess”. The Tax Court may soon face such arguments outside the deficiency context and could rule differently. While thus far, the TBOR has not proven a strong support for taxpayers’ arguments, it will hopefully spur new, more taxpayer-protective changes to regulations and subregulatory guidance.
Keith Fogg, NEO – A Series of Reflections, Procedurally Taxing (July 8, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/neo-a-series-of-reflections/
Keith Fogg, TBOR Provides no Relief in Tax Court Deficiency Proceeding, Procedurally Taxing (May 13, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/tbor-provides-no-relief-in-tax-court-deficiency-proceeding/
Litigation of merits in bankruptcy
In Bush v. United States, the 7th Circuit addressed whether a bankruptcy court has jurisdiction to determine a debtors’ tax liability. The 7th Circuit found in the affirmative, determining that the bankruptcy court did have jurisdiction, but found that the court had no reason do so over the Tax Court, where the appellants had originally litigated the separate question of the tax liability. The 7th Circuit’s decision favors taxpayers who may have already lost (or never had in the first place) their statutory right to go to Tax Court, by providing another legal avenue for a redetermination of tax liability.
See Keith Fogg, New Circuit Precedent on Issue of Litigating Tax Merits in Bankruptcy, Procedurally Taxing (Oct. 18, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/new-circuit-precedent-on-issue-of-litigating-tax-merits-in-bankruptcy/
Late e-filed returns and reliance
Generally, taxpayers cannot avoid assessment of a late-filing penalty due to reliance upon a third-party preparer, per the 1985 case United States v. Boyle. Courts have recently begun to address whether this applies to e-filing of tax returns. In Intress v. United States, the taxpayers made the argument that a late filing penalty was inappropriate, because the late filing was due to their tax preparer failing to hit ‘send’ when filing through e-file software. However, the district court was unconvinced, applying Boyle to the e-filing context and rejecting taxpayers’ attempt to avoid the penalty. Nevertheless, as e-filing becomes the dominant form of tax return filing, this issue may increasingly be litigated.
See Keith Fogg, Reliance on Preparer Does Not Excuse Late E-Filing of Return, Procedurally Taxing (Sep. 4, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/reliance-on-preparer-does-not-excuse-late-e-filing-of-return/
Leslie Book, Update on Haynes v US: Fifth Circuit Remands and Punts on Whether Boyle Applies in E-Filing Cases, Procedurally Taxing (Feb. 12, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/update-on-haynes-v-us-fifth-circuit-remands-and-punts-on-whether-boyle-applies-in-e-filing-cases/
Passport revocation is expected to be an increasingly utilized and contested IRS enforcement technique. In July 2019, the IRS released a revision to the Internal Revenue Manual (5.1.12) that provides guidance on the passport decertification process. Currently, taxpayers with tax debts in excess of $50,000 (and satisfy other criteria listed in the IRM) are considered to have “seriously delinquent tax debts”, which can result in certification of the debt to the State Department. Taxpayers with such debts will eventually receive notices, which carry a right of appeal to the Tax Court or U.S. District Court. The IRM revision details these processes, as well as the process of reversing a passport certification to the State Department.
See Nancy Rossner, IRM Changes to Passport Decertification and Revocation Procedures, Procedurally Taxing (Aug. 27, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/irm-changes-to-passport-decertification-and-revocation-procedures/
Fraud by return preparer
Another potential issue for future litigation is the question of whether tax return preparer fraud triggers the fraud exception to the three-year statute of limitations for assessment. In the most recent instance, Finnegan v. Commissioner, the 11th Circuit briefly addressed the issue but ended up ruling that the taxpayers had failed to preserve the issue for appeal. In 2015, the Federal Circuit addressed the question in a similar case, BASR Partnership v. United States, and found that the fraud exception is not triggered by third party fraud and only applies when the actual taxpayer acts with “intent to evade tax”. The Tax Court, meanwhile, has held to its ruling in Allen v. Commissioner, which held that a fraudulent return triggers the fraud exception, regardless if the taxpayer had the requisite intent or not.
See Keith Fogg, 11th Circuit Affirms Tax Court Decision Regarding Fraud by Preparer, Procedurally Taxing (July 22, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/11th-circuit-affirms-tax-court-decision-regarding-fraud-by-preparer/
Last known address
Another recently litigated question is whether filing a Form 2848 with a new taxpayer address is sufficient to put the IRS on notice of the taxpayer’s last known address. In Gregory v. Commissioner, the taxpayers submitted a new 2848 and a 4868 extension request with their new address, but the IRS did not adjust its records and issued a subsequent notice of deficiency to the taxpayer’s old address. The Tax Court looked to the applicable regulation, 301.6212-2, which defines “last known address” as “the address that appears on the taxpayer’s most recently filed and properly processed Federal tax return”. The Tax Court then found that neither the 2848 nor 4868 constituted a “return” under the regulatory definition and thus did not give notice. The court then proceeded to analyze whether the forms gave “clear and concise notice” of the address change, finding that they did not, in part because both included disclaimers that their filing will not change last known address. The taxpayers have appealed to the 3rd Circuit and are now represented by the tax clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. The opening brief for the Appellant was filed on November 20.
See Keith Fogg, Tax Court Holds Power of Attorney Form Inadequate to Change a Taxpayer’s Address, Procedurally Taxing (Apr. 2, 2019), https://procedurallytaxing.com/tax-court-holds-power-of-attorney-form-inadequate-to-change-a-taxpayers-address/