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The IRS Argues IRC 6330 is Unique


In Boechler, the Supreme Court parsed the language of IRC 6330 looking for a clear statement from Congress that Congress intended to make into a jurisdictional limit the 30-day deadline to file a Tax Court petition after a Collection Due Process (CDP) notice of determination.   It did not find that clear statement. 

The next big fight will be interpreting IRC 6213(a) to determine if Congress made a clear statement in that provision.  In today’s blog post and in the posts in this series that will follow, I will examine the arguments the IRS will make based on the arguments it has made previously.  The posts will focus on the clear statement rule since the Supreme Court has held on numerous occasions that two tests apply in determining if a statute provides a jurisdictional time frame.  Carl Smith blogged about the jurisdictional nature of the time period in IRC 6213(a) two years ago when the Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center filed motions for reconsideration in three cases with strong equitable facts and favorable merits arguments. 

In addition to the clear statement rule, the second test – whether controlling Supreme Court jurisprudence exists to create a stare decisis exception to the general rule that filing deadlines are not jurisdictional – clearly does not apply to IRC 6213(a), since the question of whether the time period for filing a petition in Tax Court is jurisdictional has never resulted in a Supreme Court decision.  The Tax Court (in Guralnik) and the IRS have pointed to a long list of lower court opinions holding the IRC 6213(a) filing deadline jurisdictional.  Those cases do not qualify for the stare decisis exception. 

In Boechler, the IRS also cited that IRC 6213(a) precedent to the Supreme Court when arguing that Congress in 1998 intended to make the CDP filing deadline jurisdictional.  The Court not only rejected this argument, but also dismissed giving any deference to the IRC 6213(a) authority as follows:

So, I will spend no further time on the second test and focus exclusively on the clear statement rule.  I assume the IRS will do the same.

The IRS will argue that Congress created IRC 6330 as a benefit for taxpayers uniquely crafted to play a highly protective role by a Congress seeking to remedy perceived IRS abuses.  This makes IRC 6330 special and the outcome in Boechler limited. 

Looking back almost 100 years, you can find that the deficiency procedure created in 1924 also resulted from a Congress that sought to protect taxpayers from having to pay the relatively new income and estate taxes before contesting IRS adjustments.  The legislative history has statements about allowing taxpayers to avoid the need to go into bankruptcy because of an inability to pay and an inability to contest the additional taxes in court without first paying.  While the general perception sees the CDP provisions as taxpayer friendly ones and perceives, at this point in time, the deficiency procedures simply as the way the code is structured, both provisions arose out of a desire to protect taxpayer rights.  CDP provisions arrived later after Congress began enacting assessable penalties that skirted the deficiency procedures and after it broadened the scope of citizens impacted by taxes from the narrow band of high income individuals taxed in 1924 to the entire populace by 1998.  So, we shouldn’t dismiss Boechler as unique because it pertains to a provision designed to protect taxpayers.

Parsing IRC 6213(a) looking for a link between the grant of jurisdiction and the time period for filing presents an even greater challenge for the IRS than IRC 6330.  IRC 6213(a) just doesn’t link the time period for filing the petition with the grant of jurisdiction.  Bryan Camp’s article New Thinking About Jurisdictional Time Periods in the Tax Code (January 21, 2019), 73 The Tax Lawyer 1 (2019) parses several Tax Court jurisdictional provisions and determines that IRC 6213 does not link the time period to the grant of jurisdiction.  In getting to the parsing of the current language, Bryan takes a long walk through the history of IRC 6213(a) and how it arrived at its current language.  He then walks through the current language of this section of the Code:

The text of sentence (1) is not the kind of text that the Supreme Court has ever held to speak in jurisdictional terms. It contains no mandatory language, such as “the taxpayer must file . . . .” Even if it had mandatory language, the Court has repeatedly said that “Congress must do something special, beyond setting an exception-free deadline, to tag a statute of limitations as jurisdictional and so prohibit a court from tolling it.” 101 And there is nothing special about the text in sentence (1) of section 6213(a). It says nothing about what powers the Tax Court has. It says only what a taxpayer must do: petition for redetermination.

Sentence (4) does contain the magic word “jurisdiction.” The new thinking teaches that even the magic word “jurisdiction” appearing somewhere in the statute is not the kind of “clear statement” needed to overcome the presumption unless it hooks up to the limitations period tightly. At first glance, sentence (4) appears to contain the requisite connection because it references the need for a “timely petition.”

A closer look at what sentence (4) does dispels the appearance. The sentence removes power from the Tax Court in the face of an untimely petition. What power? Why, the power granted the Tax Court in sentence (3), the power to enjoin the Service. Sentence (4) does not say that the Tax Court shall have no powers at all in the face of an untimely petition, just that it will not have jurisdiction to enjoin or order a refund. The word jurisdiction in sentence (4) thus quite reasonably links to the Tax Court’s power to enjoin given in sentence (3). But nothing in sentence (4) hooks the timing requirements in sentence (1) to the jurisdictional grant in section 6214 to redetermine a deficiency.

Bryan discusses the link between IRC 6213 and 6214.  He finds that each provision contains a separate grant of jurisdiction.  Section 6213 creates jurisdiction to prohibit assessment with an injunction while section 6214 gives jurisdiction to redetermine a deficiency.  The injunction power, another taxpayer friendly provision, was added to the Code in 1988 as part of the first Taxpayer Bill of Rights.  Bryan points out that the word jurisdiction refers to the Tax Court’s power to enjoin and to issue a refund and not time limitations.  Even the title of the provision supports this reading – “Restrictions Applicable to Deficiencies: Petition to Tax Court.”

The Supreme Court’s precedent on jurisdiction does not turn on whether a statute seeks to assist or other factors that might make certain provisions unique.  Instead, it starts with a presumption that a time period is not jurisdictional.  It moves from that presumption to examining the statute to determine whether Congress has made a clear statement.  Making the determination requires carefully examining the text of the statute.  As described above in the language quoted from Bryan’s article, the text does not lead to the conclusion that IRC 6213(a) links the 90-day period to filing a petition to the grant of jurisdiction.

Not only is the text important but context is as well.  How does the time period relate to the statutory scheme surrounding the provision?  Bryan’s article looks at legislative context, judicial context and statutory context in explaining why, in none of these contexts, IRC 6213 provides the type of language or history that suggests the 90-day period for filing of petition creates a jurisdictional rule.

The main reason why the courts of appeal in Tilden v. Commissioner, 846 F.3d 882 (7th Cir. 2017), and Organic Cannabis Foundation v. Commissioner, 962 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2020), held the IRC 6213(a) filing deadline jurisdictional under the “clear statement” exception despite the first sentence of that section not even containing the word “jurisdiction” – is the word “jurisdiction” in the fourth sentence of IRC 6213(a), which limits the Tax Court’s injunctive jurisdiction to cases in which the petition in the main Tax Court action under the first sentence is “timely filed”.  But, that logic can no longer be relied on after Boechler.  IRC 6330(e)(1) contains copycat language giving the Tax Court jurisdiction to enjoin the IRS from improper levying during a CDP case in the Tax Court only if there was a “timely petition” in the main CDP action under IRC 6330(d).  Boechler’s demolition of the argument that IRC 6330(e)(1) language can cause the IRC 6330(d)(1) filing deadline to be jurisdictional should fully undermine the argument that similar language in the fourth sentence of IRC 6213(a) makes the filing deadline in the first sentence of that subsection jurisdictional.  Here’s what the Court wrote about this in Boechler:

The Commissioner contends that a neighboring provision clarifies the jurisdictional effect of the filing deadline.  Section 6330(e)(1) provides that “if a [collection due process] hearing is requested . . . the levy actions which are the subject of the requested hearing . . . shall be suspended for the period during which such hearing, and appeals therein, are pending.” To enforce that suspension, a “proper court, including the Tax Court,” may “enjoi[n]” a “levy or proceeding during the time the suspension . . . is in force,” but “[t]he Tax Court shall have no jurisdiction under this paragraph to enjoin any action or proceeding unless a timely appeal has been filed under subsection (d)(1).” § 6330(e)(1).

Section 6330(e)(1) thus plainly conditions the Tax Court’s jurisdiction to enjoin a levy on a timely filing under § 6330(d)(1). According to the Commissioner, this suggests that § 6330(d)(1)’s filing deadline is also jurisdictional. It would be strange, the Commissioner says, to make the deadline a jurisdictional requirement for a particular remedy (an injunction), but not for the underlying merits proceeding itself. If that were so, the Tax Court could accept late-filed petitions but would lack jurisdiction to enjoin collection in such cases. So if the IRS disobeyed § 6330(e)(1)’s instruction to suspend the levy during the hearing and any appeal, the taxpayer would have to initiate a new proceeding in district court to make the IRS stop.

We are unmoved—and not only because the scenario the Commissioner posits would arise from the IRS’s own recalcitrance. The possibility of dual-track jurisdiction might strengthen the Commissioner’s argument that his interpretation is superior to Boechler’s. Yet as we have already explained, the Commissioner’s interpretation must be not only better, but also clear. And the prospect that § 6330(e)(1) deprives the Tax Court of authority to issue an injunction in a subset of appeals (where a petition for review is both filed late and accepted on equitable tolling grounds) does not carry the Commissioner over that line. If anything, § 6330(e)(1)’s clear statement—that “[t]he Tax Court shall have no jurisdiction . . . to enjoin any action or proceeding unless a timely appeal has been filed”—highlights the lack of such clarity in § 6330(d)(1).

Think of IRC 6213(a) when you read the quote.

Avoid thinking about IRC 6330 as somehow a unique tax statute creating a time period for filing a Tax Court petition that is not jurisdictional.  Instead, focus on the purpose and the language of IRC 6213(a) in recognizing that for the same reason, though parsing though different statutory language, that the CDP provision does not create a jurisdictional time period for filing a petition, neither does the deficiency statute.



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