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Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in One Tax Case, Denies it in Several Others

Historically, the Supreme Court of the United States rarely grants petitions for certiorari in tax cases, and it appears this trend continues in the current term.

On September 30, 2021, the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari in Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner. The case presents the question of whether Internal Revenue Code Section 6330(d)(1), which establishes a 30-day time limit for filing a petition in the US Tax Court to review a notice of determination by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in a collection due process matter, is a jurisdictional requirement or a claim-processing rule subject to the equitable tolling doctrine.

On October 4, 2021, the Supreme Court denied petitions for certiorari in Healthcare Distribution Alliance v. James and Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm PLLC v. United States. The former involved a challenge to a US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decision that held that an opioid stewardship surcharge was a tax within the meaning of the Tax Injunction Act. The Court also found that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to rule on the challenge to the payment. The latter case involved a law firm’s challenge to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the IRS could use a “John Doe” summons to seek the identifies of taxpayers who it believed may have taken the firm’s advice to hide income offshore.

The Supreme Court also denied petitions for certiorari in the following cases:

  • Perkins v. Commissioner: A case regarding the taxability of income derived from the sale of land and gravel mined from treaty-protected land by an enrolled member of the Seneca Nation
  • Kimble v. United States: A case focused on Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts penalties and
  • Razzouk v. United States: A case involving restitution for tax and bribery convictions

Still pending are petitions in Willis v. United States (which involves the value of collectible coins seized by the government and deposited into an IRS account) and Clay v. Commissioner (which deals with a dispute over whether to follow guidance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or the IRS).

Practice Point: Although the Supreme Court rarely reviews tax cases, when it does, the decision is usually important because it’s applicable to numerous taxpayers. For example, cases such as Mayo Found. for Med. Educ. & Research v. United States and United States v. Home Concrete & Supply LLC both provided significant guidance for taxpayers regarding the IRS’s scope of regulatory authority. Additionally, non-tax cases from the Supreme Court can contain general principles that are also applicable and impact tax positions taken, or being considered, by taxpayers. Thus, it is important that taxpayers and their representatives stay abreast on what is happening at the Supreme Court.




Finding John Doe, Part II: IRS Secures Another Victory to “Root Out” Virtual Currency Tax Noncompliance

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has scored another significant victory in its rapidly increasing virtual currency tax enforcement efforts. On May 5, 2021, the US District Court for the Northern District of California entered an order authorizing the IRS to serve a John Doe summons on popular cryptocurrency exchange, Payward Ventures Inc. d/b/a Kraken (Kraken). Specifically, the court’s order grants the IRS permission to serve a John Doe summons on Kraken in order to obtain information on US taxpayers who conducted the equivalent of at least $20,000 in total transactions for each year from 2016 to 2020.

If the IRS follows its playbook from the Coinbase summons, its victory here and with the Poloniex summons (upheld by a court in Massachusetts a few weeks ago), will likely result in thousands of US taxpayers receiving a letter from the IRS regarding their virtual currency transactions. As noted in its response to the court, over the past few years the IRS has learned a great deal about analyzing these transactions and is in possession of information from foreign virtual currency exchanges it’s also analyzing. This victory, coupled with the IRS’ increased knowledge of virtual currency transactions, is a big step in its efforts to, as stated in the IRS’ court filing, “root out tax noncompliance.”

As we previously noted in “Finding John Doe: IRS Steps up Enforcement Efforts to Take the Anonymity Out of Virtual Currency,” the court ordered the government to submit a response explaining its need for the information requested in its summons to Kraken. The government’s response indicates that the IRS has made significant progress in its analysis of summoned data from other cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Coinbase, and its ability to follow leads in the cryptocurrency marketplace. The court’s order approving the summons significantly reinforces the strength of the IRS’ crypto pursuit. These efforts are not solely focused on identifying tax noncompliance at a single exchange like Kraken but to identify the conduct for individuals transacting in cryptocurrency with Kraken accounts who may have additional accounts at other exchanges.

In citing its need for additional information to the court, the IRS expressly stated that in its experience from processing the Coinbase summons information, it has learned that taxpayers will use aliases, false addresses, post office boxes, fictitious entity names or other means to disguise their true identity. Taxpayers who create and use false information are more likely to evade their taxes, the IRS argued. The summons approved by the court requires Kraken to produce extensive records and data regarding its accountholders. Among other things, the summons requires Kraken to produce the following for each US-based account with at least $20,000 in annual transactions:

  • Account registration records and user profile information, including name, date of birth, taxpayer ID number, physical address, email address and telephone number
  • History of any IP addresses used to access the account
  • Payment [...]

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The IRS May Be Coming for Your Bitcoins

If you have traded Bitcoin or other crypto-currencies, you probably know that their taxation may be as uncertain as your potential for reward or loss. Since 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has publicized how it believes these investments should be treated for US federal income tax purposes. If you have failed to report your virtual currency transaction, the result in Coinbase, a recent IRS “John Doe” summons enforcement case, should convince you that it is time to ensure you are compliant with tax laws. The IRS may be coming for your Bitcoins!

IRS Guidance – Bitcoins Are Property

In IRS Notice 2014-21, 2014-16 IRB 938, the IRS explained that so-called “virtual currencies” that can be exchanged for traditional currency are “property” for federal income tax purposes. As such, a taxpayer must report gain or loss on its sale or exchange, measured against the taxpayer’s cost to purchase the virtual currency. In the notice, the IRS also made clear that “virtual currencies” are not currency for Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 988 purposes. (more…)




Sovereign Immunity Principles Bar Taxpayers from Challenging John Doe Summonses

We recently wrote here about “John Doe” summonses and a case where an anonymous “John Doe” was allowed to intervene in a summons enforcement action. To refresh, under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records would be covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons to a third party to produce documents related to the unidentified taxpayers.

In Hohman v. United States, Case No. 16-cv-11429 (E.D. Mich. July 11, 2017), two John Doe summonses directed a banking institution to deliver to the IRS records related to three accounts, which were identified only by account numbers. Two of the accounts were held by limited liability companies (LLCs) and the other was held by an individual. The banking institution notified some of the account-holders that it had received a John Doe summons that sought records for accounts relating to them.

The account-holders filed a civil action, alleging that the IRS’s efforts to obtain their financial records through the use of John Doe summonses violated the federal Right to Financial Privacy Act (RFPA). The RFPA accords customers of banks and similar financial institutions certain rights to be notified of and to challenge in court administrative subpoenas of financial records in the possession of banks.  The individual account-holder did not allege that the IRS actually obtained or disclosed any records of account information as a result of the John Doe summons.

The government moved, under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), to dismiss the RFPA claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The government asserted that it has sovereign immunity from the account-holders’ RFPA claims. The waiver of sovereign immunity under the RFPA applies only to claims that a government authority disclosed or obtained financial records.

The court agreed with the government. First, the court concluded that the RFPA’s waiver of sovereign immunity applies only to “customers,” and the LLCs were not “customers” as defined under the RFPA. The court reasoned that the plain language of the RFPA does not state that an LLC is either a “person” or a “customer” and the court was not at liberty to expand the definitions. Second, the court concluded that sovereign immunity was not waived with respect to the individual’s claim because the individual had not alleged that the IRS actually obtained or disclosed any financial records or information from the account as a result of the John Doe summons.

Practice Point:  Although waivers of sovereign immunity are often construed strictly, taxpayers should consult with their advisors to determine whether their particular facts may allow an action against the government.




John Doe Intervenes in Virtual Currency Summons Enforcement Case

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.

(more…)




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