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Ninth Circuit Allows IRS to Overrule Common-Law Mailbox Rule

Most tax professionals are aware of the common-law “mailbox rule,” which provides that proof of proper mailing creates a rebuttable presumption that the document was physically delivered to the addressee. Internal Revenue Code (Code) section 7502 was enacted to codify the mailbox rule for tax purposes. Thus, for documents received after the applicable deadline, the document will be deemed to have been delivered on the date the document is postmarked. To protect taxpayers against a failure of delivery, Code section 7502 also provides that when a document is sent by registered mail, the registration serves as prima facie evidence that the document was delivered, and the date of registration is treated as the postmark date. In other words, if the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) claims not to have received a document, the presumption arises that such document was delivered so long as the taxpayer produces the registration.


E-Filing: Comments Provided to IRS Regarding Transmission Failures

As taxpayers are (or should be) aware, federal income tax returns must be timely filed to avoid potential penalties under Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6651. Historically, this meant mailing a tax return and, for returns filed close to the due date, ensuring that the “timely mailed, timely filed rule” applies (see here for our recent post on the “mailbox rule”). In recent years, there has been a push to electronically file tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, for one reason or another, the potential exists that an e-filed return may be rejected. (more…)

Tax Court: Mailbox Rule Can Apply with Postage Label

Within the Internal Revenue Code (Code) is a rule commonly known as the “mailbox rule” or the “timely mailed, timely filed rule.” Under Code Section 7502(b), the date that an item—including a Tax Court petition—is postmarked and mailed can also be the date the item is considered filed. When an item is received after the filing deadline, the mailbox rule can make all the difference. There are, however, procedural requirements which must be satisfied. In Pearson v. Commissioner, the Tax Court, in a court-reviewed opinion, held that a Tax Court petition mailed with a postage label was timely filed under the mailbox rule.

Taxpayers generally have 90 days to file a petition with the Tax Court after receiving a notice of deficiency. In Pearson, the Tax Court received the taxpayers’ petition one week after the 90-day period expired, but the envelope in which the petition was mailed bore a postage label dated within the 90-day period. The administrative assistant who created the postage label supplied the court with a declaration under penalty of perjury stating that she went to a US Post Office the same day as the postage label date and mailed the petition. (more…)

Circuit Courts Agree Timely Filing Requirement for a Tax Court Petition is Jurisdictional

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 [...]

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December 2016 Changes to the Federal Rules of Civil and Appellate Procedure: Electronic Service and Word Counts

December 1 is an important day for federal litigators and for tax practitioners with cases pending in federal district and appellate courts. It brings with it changes to the rules governing their day-to-day practices. This year, those changes are few and simple but important.

First, electronic service no longer entitles litigants to three extra days to respond to something. Items not served personally have historically triggered what many practitioners referred to as a “mailbox rule” of three extra days to respond to the item, and the concept appears in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(d) and Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 26(c). For many years, items served electronically were inexplicably treated (contrary to fact) as if they were not delivered immediately. That is no longer the case. The rules have caught up to technology, and in district court and the courts of appeals serving an item by email or using the electronic case filing (ECF) system’s notice function will not give one’s adversary additional time to respond unless a local rule preserves the status quo, as Eastern District of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 6 does.

Second, the courts of appeals have moved almost entirely to word-count limits for papers. For many years now, litigants did not have to comply with page limits for briefs if their papers complied with certain word-count limits. Other papers, however, such as motions and petitions had only page-count limits. Several applicable appellate rules (21 [mandamus petitions], 27 [motions], 29 [amicus briefs], 35 [rehearing en banc petitions], and 41 [rehearing petitions]) have been amended to include word-count limits. In addition, the word counts for briefs have been reduced from 14,000 to 13,000 for opening, response, and cross-appeal response-and-reply briefs; 16,500 to 15,300 for cross-appeal opening-and-response briefs; 7,000 to 6,500 for reply briefs.  Please see McDermott’s modified table showing the applicable word limits for the most common pleadings. These reductions were controversial when proposed and many circuits have opted out of them, as indicated in their local rules. E.g., 7th Cir. R. App. P. 32(c).

Finally, appellate practitioners need to determine how courts are implementing the changes. Some courts are applying the old rules to appeals docketed before December 1, 2016, and the new rules to ones docketed on or after December 1, 2016. Others are using the setting of the briefing schedule as the line of demarcation, and some appear willing to modify the rules in the middle of a briefing schedule.

Practice Note:  In light of these changes, now is a good time to review the local rules of the federal courts where your cases are pending or where you typically practice to ensure you are not dropping any deadlines or failing to meet your word counts.