Tax Court Does Not Have Jurisdiction Over Duplicate Request for Relief

By James Beavers, J.D., LL.M., CPA

The Tax Court held that it lacked jurisdiction over a request for Sec. 6015(f) equitable relief that was based on the same facts and grounds for relief as an earlier request that had been denied by the IRS.

Facts

Judith Barnes was married to Nathan Genrich. On their joint return for 1997, Genrich reported a tax liability from the sale of real property owned by Barnes but did not fully pay the tax liability arising from the sale. Barnes and Genrich divorced in 1998. In November 2000, Barnes filed a Form 8857, Request for Innocent Spouse Relief (and Separation of Liability and Equitable Relief), seeking equitable relief from liability for the 1997 underpayment. In the request, Barnes argued that she was entitled to relief because (1) she did not know the contents of the 1997 return (her signature on the return had been forged) although she was aware of the property sale, and (2) she had been told that her husband would pay the taxes on the sale from his own funds.

The IRS determined that Barnes was not entitled to relief. In September 2001, the Service sent her a Letter 3279 (final determination letter) explaining why it was denying her relief; it stated that the letter represented the Service’s final determination and that Barnes could file a petition with the Tax Court protesting the IRS’s determination within 90 days of the date of the letter. Barnes did not file a petition with the Tax Court within 90 days.

Five and a half years later, Barnes filed another Form 8857 seeking Sec. 6015(f) equitable relief from the 1997 underpayment. The new Form 8857 contained a more detailed recitation of the facts included in the first Form 8857 and also alleged that her ex-husband and his business partner had been convicted of criminal securities fraud. In a Letter 3657C (a no-consideration letter), the IRS informed Barnes that it was rejecting her request on the grounds that Barnes had already filed a request for relief that the IRS had considered and denied. Therefore, according to the IRS, because the facts in the case had not changed, it could take no action on her request.

After receiving the Letter 3657C, on July 11, 2007, Barnes filed a petition with the Tax Court “for redetermination of the decision set forth by the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in the Final Notice of Determination, dated September 13, 2001, and as amended by its Letter 3657C dated May 1, 2007.” The IRS sought to have the case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, based on the fact that “the petition was not filed in response to a letter that would confer jurisdiction on the court.”

Barnes’s Arguments

Under Sec. 6015(e)(1)(A), the Tax Court has jurisdiction over a request for equitable relief under Sec. 6015(f) if the taxpayer files a petition for relief with the tax court by the earlier of (1) 90 days after the IRS mails the taxpayer a notice of final determination with respect to the taxpayer’s request for relief or (2) six months after the taxpayer makes the request for relief. Barnes conceded that her petition was not filed within 90 days of the mailing of the notice of final determination. However, she argued that her petition was timely because she filed it within 90 days of the Letter 3657C, which she claimed was an amendment to the 2001 notice and was “in effect” the Service’s final determination. Alternatively, she argued that if the IRS’s Letter 3657C did not constitute a determination within the meaning of Sec. 6015(e)(1)(A)(i)(I), then her petition was timely under Sec. 6015(e)(1)(A)(i)(II), because more than six months had elapsed since March 2, 2007, the date she requested relief.

The Tax Court’s Decision

The Tax Court rejected both of Barnes’s arguments. Addressing the first argument, the Tax Court found after reviewing Barnes’s second request for relief that it presented essentially the same facts and grounds for relief as her first request. Although it noted that the issue was not expressly addressed in the statute, the Tax Court stated it did not believe that the limitation period for filing a petition after a final determination should be defeated or extended by a taxpayer’s filing of a succession of duplicative requests for relief. The Tax Court further held that the Letter 3657C was not a final notice of determination because the letter did not purport to be a final notice of determination or an amendment to the original final notice and was not intended as such by the IRS.

With respect to Barnes’s second argument, the Tax Court held that because the second Form 8857 was not a qualifying request for relief, Barnes was not entitled to a second determination based on the request. Therefore, the Service’s failure to issue a second determination did not provide grounds for Barnes to invoke the Tax Court’s jurisdiction under Sec. 6015(e)(1)(A).

Reflections

Although this is a case of first impression for the Tax Court with respect to requests for relief under Sec. 6015(f), the courts have considered and come to the same conclusion about duplicate submissions of other types of claims and requests, such as claims for refund (e.g., Pransky, 318 F.3d 536 (3d Cir. 2003)) and requests for the abatement of interest (e.g., Yuen, 112 T.C. 123 (1999)).

Barnes, 103 T.C. No. 14 (2008)

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