Tax return filing season is fast approaching, and taxpayers big and small are preparing to file their returns. A recent US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit decision, Haynes v. United States, No. 17-50816 (5th Cir. Jan. 29, 2019), indicates that many of those taxpayers will face uncertainty if their returns are late due to preparer errors or technological issues when electronically filed (e-filed).

The court in Haynes declined to rule on whether the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Boyle, 469 US 241 (1985), applied to e-filing a tax return. The court instead remanded the case to resolve factual issues. In declining to examine the application of Boyle, the decision leaves in place uncertainty for many taxpayers who e-file their returns.

Internal Revenue Code Section 6651(a)(1) excuses a taxpayer from penalties for failure to file a return on time if they show the failure was “due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect.” In Boyle, an estate executor hired an experienced lawyer to prepare estate tax returns, but the lawyer failed to put the filing date on the calendar. Nevertheless, the court held that determining a deadline and meeting it did not require any special skills, and therefore relying on an agent was unreasonable. Accordingly, the Court in Boyle did not excuse late filing, and the taxpayer was subject to penalty.
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