Taxpayer proved timely mailing of Tax Court petitions, Seventh Circuit holds

By Sally P. Schreiber, J.D.

A taxpayer whose lawyer used print-at-home postage when mailing several Tax Court petitions timely filed those petitions, the Seventh Circuit held, reversing and remanding the case to the Tax Court for consideration on the merits (Tilden, No. 15-3838 (7th Cir. 1/13/17), rev'g and remanding T.C. Memo. 2015-188).

Robert H. Tilden received deficiency notices from the IRS for his 2005, 2010, 2011, and 2012 tax years. The last day to file petitions challenging the deficiencies was April 21, 2015. Tilden's legal counsel waited until the last day, April 21, and filed the petitions using a "print-at-home" postage service purchased from Stamps.com. The postage included a certified delivery supplement. The label bore a mark of April 21, and an employee at the legal counsel's law firm stated that she delivered the petitions to the Salt Lake City post office on that date.

Nonetheless, the post office tracking system did not enter them into its certified mail tracking system until April 23; the Tax Court received the petitions on April 29. The Tax Court, under Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3), treated the date the petitions were entered in the post office's tracking system as the filing date and, because they were two days late, dismissed Tilden's petitions. When Tilden sought reconsideration by the Tax Court, the IRS at that point agreed that he had met the timely filing requirements under Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1), but the Tax Court refused to allow the IRS to change its position, arguing that the filing deadline was jurisdictional and could not be waived by the parties' agreement. In Tilden's appeal, the Seventh Circuit considered whether the deadline for filing a petition with the Tax Court was jurisdictional. It determined that, as the Tax Court had held in Guralnik, 146 T.C. No. 15 (2016), the filing deadline was jurisdictional.

However, the Seventh Circuit further found that although parties cannot stipulate to jurisdiction, they can agree on facts that determine jurisdiction. Because the parties agreed that the requirements of Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(1) were met (i.e., the envelope containing the petition had been delivered to the post office on April 21 and the IRS conceded that certified mail can take eight days to reach the Tax Court when mailed from Utah), the petition was timely unless, as the Tax Court had held, Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3) applied.

The Seventh Circuit concluded that the Tax Court was mistaken. The court explained that Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3) specifies what happens if an envelope has both a private postmark and a postmark from the U.S. Postal Service. Finding that the Post Office tracking date was not a postmark because the Post Office did not treat it as one, it determined the envelope with Tilden's petition had only one postmark. Because it was not a case where there were competing postmarks, Regs. Sec. 301.7502-1(c)(1)(iii)(B)(3) did not apply.

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