According to Law360, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed on May18thh 2023 a Sixth Circuit decision approving IRS summonses for the banking records of two law firms and the wife of a man owing $2 million in taxes, rejecting their arguments that they should have been notified of the requests.
In a unanimous opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court found that:
The Internal Revenue Service Wasn't Required To Notify
Firms Abraham & Rose PLC, Jerry R. Abraham PC And
Hanna Karcho Polselli, The Tax Debtor's Wife, of the
Him hhimSummonses Seeking Their Banking Records.
"None of the three components for excusing notice in [Section] 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) mentions a taxpayer's legal interest in records sought by the IRS, much less requires that a taxpayer maintain such an interest for the exception to apply," the opinion said.
The dispute stems from an IRS probe into the liabilities of Remo Polselli, whom the agency determined owed $2 million in unpaid taxes. An IRS agent had issued summonses to three banks: Wells Fargo Bank NA, JP Morgan Chase Bank NA and Bank of America NA, seeking records on accounts held by the two law firms as well as Hanna Polselli.
But the IRS didn't tell the firms or the spouse of the summonses. Instead, the banks notified them, and Hanna Polselli and the firms subsequently filed petitions in Michigan federal court to quash the summonses, according to the opinion.
A lower court found that Hanna Polselli and the firms couldn't sue to do away with the summonses because the IRS was trying to collect the taxes assessed against Polselli, and the plain meaning of Section 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) permits the IRS to skip notifying them in such circumstances. That statute specifically exempts from the general notice requirement summonses "issued in aid of the collection of" an assessment made against a different taxpayer.
In a 2-1 opinion, the Sixth Circuit agreed, saying it's clear the IRS issued the summonses in order to aid the collection of tax and locate Polselli's assets.
Polselli and the firms have argued that both the language of the statute and the history behind its enactment indicate that the exception is applicable only in limited circumstances, when the delinquent taxpayer has a legal interest in the requested records. The Ninth Circuit embraced such a test in Ip v. United States , according to Polselli and the firms.
But in the Supreme Court's opinion, Justice Roberts said there's no support in the statute for such a legal interest test, based on "a straightforward reading of the statutory text."
Moreover, Polselli and the firms have too narrow a reading of the statute's phrase "in aid of," the opinion said. While they've argued that the phrase requires that there be some sort of direct connection between a summons the IRS issues and taxes it collects, the agency can issue summonses that in some way help it locate assets without necessarily enabling the agency to collect taxes, the opinion said.
"Even if a summons may not itself reveal taxpayer assets that can be collected, it may nonetheless help the IRS find such assets," the opinion said.
In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said the IRS isn't automatically exempt from the notification requirements for IRS summonses when a tax matter enters the collection phase. The exception to the notice requirements is specifically intended to help the IRS out so notice of a summons doesn't tip off a delinquent taxpayer who might want to hide their assets, Justice Jackson wrote.
But that exception isn't intended to "devour the rule" requiring notice, she wrote in the concurring opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch.
"I believe that both courts and the IRS itself must be ever vigilant when determining when notice is not required," Justice Jackson said. "Doing so properly involves a careful fact-based inquiry that might well vary from case to case, depending on the scope and nature of the information the IRS seeks."
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