Justia Tax Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the IRS's motion to dismiss an action brought by plaintiff, seeking to recover penalties that he paid for filing late tax returns and making late tax payments for the 2012-2015 tax years. Plaintiff alleged that he was entitled to the "reasonable cause" exception to the otherwise mandatory penalties.The court concluded that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead reasonable cause under I.R.C. 6651(a)(1)–(2) for exemption from the mandatory penalties where plaintiff could have used ordinary business care and prudence to assure that his taxes were filed and paid, much like he conducted business and employed a CPA while incarcerated. Likewise, the court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate reasonable cause under I.R.C. 6654 for the same reasons. View "Lindsay v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Appellants Walter “Gil” Goodrich (individually and in his capacity as the executor of his father—Henry Goodrich, Sr.’s— succession), Henry Goodrich, Jr., and Laura Goodrich Watts brought suit against Defendant-Appellee United States of America. Plaintiffs claimed that, in an effort to discharge Henry Sr.’s tax liability, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) wrongfully levied their property, which they had inherited from their deceased mother, Tonia Goodrich, subject to Henry Sr.’s usufruct. A magistrate judge previously determined Plaintiffs were not the owners of money seized by the IRS, and that represented the value of certain liquidated securities. The Fifth Circuit determined that whether Plaintiffs were in fact owners of the disputed funds was an issue governed by Louisiana law. The Fifth Circuit declined further review until the Louisiana Supreme Court had a chance to review the ownership issue in the first instance. View "Goodrich, et al v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that an IRS transfer certificate is not necessary to transfer ownership of her account with Fidelity. The district court sua sponte dismissed the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that such a declaration would necessarily involve a determination with respect to federal taxes.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the Declaratory Judgment Act's federal-tax exception is a jurisdictional condition, requiring dismissal, rather than a nonjurisdictional condition, which may be waived. In this case, because the requested relief—declaring that plaintiff was not required to provide a transfer certificate to Fidelity—necessarily involves a determination with respect to federal taxes, the district court properly dismissed her action for lack of jurisdiction. View "Rivero v. Fidelity Investments, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the tax court and held that MoneyGram, a global payment services company, is not a "bank" under the tax code, 26 U.S.C. 581, because customers do not give MoneyGram money for safekeeping, which is the most basic feature of a bank. The court explained that purchasers of money orders are not placing funds with MoneyGram for safekeeping. Nor are the financial institutions that use MoneyGram to process official checks doing so for the purpose of safekeeping. In this case, examining the substance of MoneyGram's business confirms how the company has long described itself on its tax returns: as a nondepository institution. Therefore, without deposits, MoneyGram cannot be a bank. View "MoneyGram International, Inc. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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After the IRS assessed taxpayer in 2014 for tax deficiencies dating back to 2005, taxpayer contends that the assessment is barred by the Internal Revenue Code's three-year limitations period, which runs from the date "the return" is filed. The district court held that the limitations period never began to run because taxpayer never filed "the return."The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment allowing the tax assessment and held that taxpayer filed "the return" that started the limitations clock when he filed forms containing data sufficient to (1) show that he was liable for the taxes assessed and (2) calculate the extent of his tax liability. In this case, taxpayer's Forms 1040 and 1099 constitute "the return" that begins the running of the Internal Revenue Code's three-year assessment limitations period. Because the IRS assessment came more than three years after taxpayer filed those forms, the court concluded that the assessment is barred by the limitations period. The court remanded to the district court with instructions to remand the case to the bankruptcy court for entry of judgment in accord with the opinion. View "Quezada v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the tax court's denial of petitioners' motion for costs under 26 U.S.C. 7630. Petitioners moved for costs after a dispute over an IRS notice of deficiency assessing them about $51,000 in taxes, penalties, and interest that resulted in their favor. The court held that, given the available facts, the tax court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the IRS's position was substantially justified. In this case, the record plainly reflects a discrepancy between petitioners' return and the IRS's third-party material. Furthermore, when the Commissioner answered, the IRS had not received any substantiating documents from petitioners. Therefore, the tax court did not abuse its discretion. View "Johnson v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The IRS served a John Doe summons on the Texas Law Firm, which provides tax-planning advice, seeking documents for “U.S. taxpayers," who, during specified years, used the Firm's services "to acquire, establish, maintain, operate, or control" a foreign financial account, asset, or entity or any foreign or domestic financial account or assets in the name of such foreign entity. A John Doe summons, described in 26 U.S.C. 7609(c)(1), does not identify the person with respect to whose liability the summons is issued. The government made the required showings that the summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class, there is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of internal revenue law, and the information sought and the identity of the person or persons is not readily available from other sources. The Firm moved to quash, claiming that, despite the general rule a lawyer’s clients’ identities are not covered by the attorney-client privilege, an exception exists where disclosure would result in the disclosure of confidential communication.The Fifth Circuit affirmed in favor of the government. Blanket assertions of privilege are disfavored. The Firm's clients’ identities are not connected inextricably with privileged communication. If the Firm wishes to assert privilege as to any responsive documents, it may do so, using a privilege log to detail the foundation for each claim. View "Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm. P.L.L.C. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Commission issued the Estate a notice of deficiency, determining that the Estate had a $491,750.00 tax liability which differed from the Estate's tax return valuation. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the tax court's decision sustaining the Commission's determinations. The court held that the Estate holds a substituted limited partnership interest in SILP.The court also held that the Notice of Deficiency (including its attachments) fulfills the statutory requirement under 28 U.S.C. 6212. However, even assuming arguendo that the notice description was inadequate, the court could not invalidate it on that basis because Internal Revenue Code 7522(a) explicitly prohibits it from setting aside a notice for lacking the descriptive element. Finally, the court rejected the Estate's argument under the Administrative Procedure Act as without merit. View "Estate of Frank D. Streightoff v. Commissioner" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff successfully challenged in bankruptcy court a tax penalty assessed against him by the IRS that exceeded $40 million, plaintiff filed suit against the IRS and three IRS agents, in their individual capacities, pleading a claim for damages against the individual defendants under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), for allegedly violating his Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. Plaintiff also sought attorney's fees he incurred litigating the penalty issue in his Chapter 11 bankruptcy case under 26 U.S.C. 7430 and the Equal Access to Justice Act.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion and dismissal of the action with prejudice. The court held that the district court properly concluded that this case was a new Bivens context and that special factors existed under Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017). The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to recover attorney's fees because his request was untimely under 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B) and he was not a "prevailing party" under 26 U.S.C. 7430(c)(4)(A)(ii). View "Canada, Jr. v. United States (Internal Revenue Service)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, two private citizens and eighteen states, filed suit challenging the individual mandate requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The individual mandate required individuals to maintain health insurance coverage and, if individuals did not maintain this coverage, they must make a payment to the IRS called a shared responsibility payment.Plaintiffs argued that the individual mandate was no longer constitutional because: (1) Nat'l Fed'n of Indep. Bus. v. Sebelius, 567 U.S. 519, 538 (2012), rested the individual mandate's constitutionality exclusively on reading the provision as a tax; and (2) a 2017 amendment, which changed the amount of the shared responsibility payment to zero dollars, undermined any ability to characterize the individual mandate as a tax because the provision no longer generates revenue, a requirement for a tax. Plaintiffs further argued that the individual mandate was essential to, and inseverable from, the rest of the ACA and thus the entire ACA must be enjoined.The Fifth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court's judgment, holding that there is a live case or controversy because the intervenor-defendant states have standing to appeal and, even if they did not, there remains a live case or controversy between plaintiffs and the federal defendants; plaintiffs have Article III standing to bring this challenge to the ACA because the individual mandate injures both the individual plaintiffs, by requiring them to buy insurance that they do not want, and the state plaintiffs, by increasing their costs of complying with the reporting requirements that accompany the individual mandate; the individual mandate is unconstitutional because it can no longer be read as a tax, and there is no other constitutional provision that justifies this exercise of congressional power; and, on the severability question, the court remanded to the district court to provide additional analysis of the provisions of the ACA as they currently exist. View "Texas v. United States" on Justia Law