The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has proposed regulations to clarify the rules regarding supervisory approval of federal civil tax penalties under IRC Section 6751(b). Since Chai v. Commissioner, there has been a substantial number of cases litigating issues involving supervisory approval of federal civil tax penalties. Back in September, we posted about the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth and Eleventh Circuits split in which both Courts departed from long-standing US Tax Court precedence on the timing requirement of supervisor approval. Those two decisions, along with others, prompted this new guidance “to have clear and uniform regulatory standards.”
The proposed regulations address three timing rules: (1) penalties subject to pre-assessment review in the Tax Court; (2) penalties raised in the Tax Court after a petition and (3) penalties assessed without prior opportunity for Tax Court review.
Specifically, the proposed regulations allow supervisors to approve the initial determination of a penalty up until the time the IRS issues a pre-assessment notice, such as a Statutory Notice of Deficiency, which is the notice that provides taxpayers with a ticket to the Tax Court. The proposed regulations explain that “earlier deadlines created by the Tax Court do not ensure that penalties are only imposed where appropriate” and the “bright-line rule relieves supervisors from having to predict whether approval at a certain point will be too early or too late.” Additionally, penalties raised in the Tax Court after a petition is filed, such as an answer or an amended answer, would need supervisory approval any time prior to the penalty being raised. Supervisory approval for penalties not subject to pre-assessment review in the Tax Court may be obtained at any time prior to the assessment.
The proposed regulations require the approval of “the immediate supervisor,” which is defined as “any individual with responsibility to approve another individual’s proposal of penalties without the proposal being subject to an intermediary’s approval.” The term is also not limited to any particular individual.
Comments and requests for a public hearing must be received by July 10, 2023.
Practice Point: Penalties continue to be a hot topic in the tax controversy arena. The updated guidance promises to clarify and standardize the requirements of supervisory approval of IRS penalties, with the hope and expectation of reducing litigation on the issue. From the taxpayer’s perspective, ideally, the new regulations will enable examiners and managers the opportunity to thoroughly review the facts and circumstances of cases before deciding if penalties are warranted. We will continue to follow and report on any new developments.
Please see the links to our prior commentary on Code Section 6751 below: