In tax litigation, there are often (at least) two important categories of issues to consider: (1) substantive; and (2) procedural. A great deal of tax litigation will be focused on the substance of the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) adjustments (e.g., was a taxpayer entitled to a particular deduction?). But the procedural aspects should not be ignored. If the IRS did not abide by its procedural requirements before making a tax adjustment, consideration should be given to whether the IRS’s adjustment is procedurally invalid. Sometimes taxpayers win on these issues; other times they do not. The United States Tax Court’s (Tax Court) recent case, Graev v. Commissioner, is an example of the latter.
In Graev, an IRS Revenue Agent determined that a 40 percent gross valuation misstatement penalty should apply. The Revenue Agent prepared a “Penalty Approval Form” in accordance with Internal Revenue Manual (I.R.M.) procedures and submitted it to his immediate supervisor. The supervisor checked the form’s “Approved” box and initialed the form in its space for “Group Manager Initials.” The Revenue Agent then prepared a proposed notice of deficiency determining the 40 percent penalty and no other penalties.
The proposed notice of deficiency was referred to the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Chief Counsel) for review, pursuant to I.R.M. procedures. The Chief Counsel attorney assigned to the case prepared a memorandum back to the Revenue Agent’s office with proposed revisions to the notice of deficiency. Specifically, the Chief Counsel attorney instructed the inclusion of an alternative 20 percent accuracy-related penalty. The Chief Counsel attorney signed the memorandum and his immediate supervisor initialed it.
The Revenue Agent revised the notice of deficiency to include the alternative 20 percent penalty, but his immediate supervisor did not approve it in writing. The IRS ultimately issued the revised notice of deficiency, which included a signature by an IRS Technical Services Territory Manager and a page on which the penalties were computed. Under the Internal Revenue Code (Code), the 20 percent and 40 percent penalties cannot be stacked. As a result, the computation for the 40 percent penalty was shown fully, but the computation for the 20 percent penalty was calculated as zero.