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Denise M. Mudigere focuses her practice on representing individuals and entities in all stages of federal civil and criminal tax controversies. She represents clients in US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examinations, administrative appeals, and litigation. Denise has settled multiple tax disputes in administrative proceedings and with IRS legal counsel—avoiding litigation in court, when possible. Read Denise Mudigere's full bio.

We have all heard the famous quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit applied this concept in its March 8 opinion in Annamalai v. Comm’r, No. 17-60255. There, the issue was whether the taxpayers could extend into perpetuity the 90-day deadline to file an appeal by filing successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. Under the facts presented, the answer was no.

Taxpayers have 90 days after a decision of the Tax Court to file an appeal. If a party makes a timely motion to vacate or revise the Tax Court’s decision, the 90 days runs from the later of either entry of the order disposing the motion or entry of a new decision.

In Annamalai, the taxpayers filed successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. After the Tax Court entered a final decision in favor of the government, the taxpayers unsuccessfully moved to vacate the decision. Rather than filing a notice of appeal within 90 days after the denial, the taxpayers filed another motion to vacate that did not raise any substantially new grounds or arguments. After the Tax Court denied the second motion, the taxpayers filed the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal was filed 117 days after the ruling on the first motion and 83 days after the ruling on the second motion.

The Fifth Circuit dismissed the taxpayers’ appeal, which it noted involved a jurisdictional issue of first impression. The court agreed with the general principle that tolling motions may not be tacked together to perpetuate the prescribed time for appeal. As such, the 90-day period ran from the ruling on the first motion, and the appeal was thereby untimely and dismissed.

The Fifth Circuit declined to address the issue of whether a second motion to vacate on substantially different grounds and new arguments would be acceptable. The court noted that it is acceptable in the civil context, suggesting it may be permitted.

Practice Point: Absent intervening events such as new case law directly on point, motions to vacate or reconsider are rarely granted in tax cases. Indeed, filing a motion to vacate or reconsider may provide an opportunity for the court to bolster its prior opinion and lessen the chances of success on appeal. In a situation where a motion to vacate or reconsider is pursued, taxpayers should take care to ensure that all arguments supporting such a motion are properly placed before the court and that an appeal is filed within the statutory-prescribed period if the motion is denied.

Today, taxing authorities across the globe, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), are increasing their efforts to gather and share sensitive taxpayer information, often aggressively seeking copies of tax advice, opinions and analysis prepared by counsel and other advisors. In some situations, tax advisors specifically draft their advice to be shared with third parties, but frequently the IRS seeks advice that was always intended to be confidential client communications—for example, drafts and emails containing unfinished analysis and unguarded commentary. Sharing this latter type of advice could be problematic for taxpayers because such advice could be used as a road map for examiners during an audit and may mislead the IRS regarding the strength or weakness of a taxpayer’s reporting positions.

Last month, we spoke to tax executives at Tax Executives Institute forums in Houston and Chicago about the IRS’s increased use of treaty requests to obtain US taxpayers’ documents and information from international tax authorities. Continue Reading Maintaining Confidentiality While Navigating Cross-Border Transactions

Courts continue to strike down the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as it continues to test the bounds of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine through the issuance of improper summonses. In the last several years, the IRS has filed numerous summons enforcement proceedings related to the production of documents generally protected by the attorney-client privilege, tax-practitioner privilege, and/or work product doctrine. These summonses include overt requests for “tax advice” and “tax analysis,” which several courts have refused to enforce. For example, see Schaeffler v. United States, 806 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2015).

Once again, in United States v. Micro Cap KY Insurance Co., Inc. (Eastern District of Kentucky), a federal district court rejected the IRS’s arguments and refused to enforce an inappropriate summons. The opinion is available here. The IRS filed this enforcement proceeding seeking to compel the production of confidential communications between taxpayers and the lawyers that assisted them in forming a captive insurance company. After conducting an in camera review (where the judge privately reviewed the documents without admitting them in the record), the judge found the taxpayers had properly invoked privilege since each document “predominately involve[d] legal advice within the retention of [] counsel.”

The court also rejected the government’s argument that the attorney-client privilege was waived by raising a reasonable cause and reliance on counsel defense to penalties in the taxpayers’ case filed in Tax Court. Because the government’s argument was untimely, it was waived and rejected outright. The court, however, proceeded to explain how the argument also failed on its merits. Continue Reading The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

In Battat v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court recently affirmed its own constitutionality, in releasing an opinion relating to the President’s authority to remove Tax Court Judges.  The taxpayer filed a motion asking the court to disqualify all Tax Court Judges and to declare unconstitutional IRC Section 7443(f), which provides circumstances by which the President can remove Tax Court Judges.  The court denied this motion, holding that the President’s limited removal authority does not violate separation of powers principles.  The opinion describes the court’s operations, including procedures for the removal of judges, statutory provisions relating to the establishment and government of the court, and caselaw relating to the jurisprudence of the court.  Most interestingly, it provides a detailed history of the Tax Court—from its creation by Congress in 1924 as the Board of Tax Appeals and its reestablishment as the US Tax Court in 1969 through present day.

Arguably the most important aspect of litigating a case in the Tax Court or in a refund forum is the timely filing of the petition or complaint.  Absent timely filing, the court may not have jurisdiction and the case could be dismissed without the court ever reaching the substantive issues.  On January 13, 2017, the Seventh Circuit joined several other circuit courts in confirming that the time for filing a petition in Tax Court is jurisdictional, not a claims processing rule.

In Tilden v. Commissioner, No. 15-3838 (available here), the taxpayer’s petition was mailed on the last day of the 90-day filing deadline.  It was not stamped and bore no postmark; instead, a USPS print-at-home postage label was attached by legal staff, and it was delivered to the post office the same day.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) argued this was insufficient for timelymailing under the “mailbox rule” of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 7502.  The Tax Court disagreed with both parties about what section of the regulations applied, and used the date the envelope was entered into the postal service’s tracking system as the date of postmark and filing—which was two days late.  Thus, the Tax Court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction (available here).

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit raised sua sponte the issue of whether the filing deadline for a Tax Court petition is jurisdictional or a claims processing rule.  The proper characterization of the filing deadline is extremely important.  If the deadline is considered jurisdictional, then late filing automatically precludes the taxpayer from seeking relief in the Tax Court.  But, the taxpayer may still pay the tax due, file a claim for refund with the IRS, and file a complaint in a refund forum (if the IRS denies or fails to timely act on the claim).  On the other hand, if the deadline is a claims processing rule, the taxpayer’s options may be limited.  Although the taxpayer that files a late petition might be able to demonstrate that the Tax Court should hear its case, if the court were to determine that the petition was untimely, it arguably would be required under the Code to enter a decision on the merits for the IRS, rather than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.  That result eliminates the alternative refund forum.

In Tilden, the Seventh Circuit considered the Supreme Court’s current approach in non-tax cases for determining whether deadlines are jurisdictional or claims processing rules, but decided that the language of the relevant statute and the body of Tax Court and circuit court precedent compelled a finding that the 90-day deadline is jurisdictional.  Finding it “imprudent to reject that body of precedent” under principles of stare decisis, the Seventh Circuit followed the Tax Court and other circuit court precedent.  The Seventh Circuit further disagreed with the Tax Court’s holding on the relevant postmark regulations to conclude that the petition was timely filed.

Practice Point: The Seventh Circuit’s opinion is a good reminder as to the potential consequences of missing a filing deadline.  Taxpayers (and their lawyers) should not wait until the last minute to file their petitions and should also take care to ensure they use the proper method of delivery. The “unnecessary risk [of] waiting until the last day” carries with it potentially serious consequences that can, and should, be avoided.

The IRS is spending increasingly less time auditing large companies. This is a good thing, right?  But wait, the IRS is starting to launch audit campaigns. And some large taxpayers are still being audited even if they are not caught up in a campaign. What could be some of the consequences of these dynamics?

A recent report confirmed that IRS audits of large companies have fallen steeply in recent years. The report conducted by TRAC (Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) (available here) analyzed IRS audit history of large companies from 2010 through 2015.  The study found the IRS spent 34 percent less time on average auditing companies with $250 million or more in assets (Big Corps) in 2015 than it did in 2010.  Audits of the largest companies are declining even more sharply: the IRS spent 47 percent less time auditing companies with assets of $20 billion or more (Giant Corps). Further, the total number of large businesses audited by the IRS’s LB&I (Large Business & International) Division in 2016 is 22 percent lower than it was last year during this time period.

Large taxpayers may take a deep breath once their continuous audit cycle becomes less continuous or stops altogether. This is understandable. But if you are a taxpayer that is audited, a number of important questions immediately come to mind:

  • Will we have good rapport with a new IRS audit team? We spent years building our relationship with the previous IRS team—has all that very important work gone out the window? Will I have the time to build rapport with the new IRS team, or will they be under such time pressure to audit discrete issues that we will have little opportunity to interact with the team and shape the audit plan?
  • Will the IRS team arrive with a preconceived idea of the “proper outcome”? Will information document requests (IDRs) be standardized? Will we be able to effectively negotiate the scope of IDRs? Or will the IRS team simply be fact-gatherers for a more centralized committee that makes decisions?
  • Will we be able to meet with actual decision makers? Or will the decision makers be a committee in the background that we never truly get to engage in a meaningful discussion? Will centralized decision makers take into account the specifics of our situation, or will we be “lumped in” with other taxpayers?
  • Will the IRS issue “fighting regulations” in an attempt to chill legitimate transactions? Will IRS audit teams attempt to apply these fighting regulations to transactions that predate the effective date of the new regulations? After all, doesn’t the IRS often contend that the new regulations are not really a change and simply reflect existing law?
  • Will fewer audits mean bigger adjustments? What institutional pressure is IRS Exam under to propose very large adjustments? What about penalties?
  • Will IRS Appeals exercise true independence and concede improper adjustments? Or will IRS Appeals simply “split the baby” based on inflated numbers? Will this combination of factors result in more high-dollar tax cases going to court?
  • Were continuous audits really a bad thing?