Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Use Certified Mail With The IRS

I am looking at Baldwin v U.S., at least as much as I can between the September and October 15th due dates.

In the blog equivalence of cinematic foreboding, the case comes out of the Ninth Circuit.

The Baldwins filed a 2007 joint tax return showing an approximate $2.5 million loss from a movie production business.

They filed to carry the loss back to 2005 for a refund.

They had three years to file the refund claim. The three years started with the filing of their 2007 return – that is, the year that showed the loss. They filed their 2007 return on extension, so three years later would be October 15, 2011.

They filed the refund claim on June 21, 2011.

Seems plenty of time.

They filed using regular mail.

The IRS said they never received the refund claim.


The three years expired. Sorry about your luck, Baldwins, purred the IRS.

You know this went to court.

It went to a California district court.

And we get to talk about the mailbox rule.

There is a provision in the tax Code that timely-mailing-equals-timely filing with the IRS. That is the reason you hear (not as much now in the era of electronic filing) of people heading to the post office on April 15th. Folks want to get that “April 15” stamped on the envelope, as that stamp means the return is considered timely filed with the IRS.

By the way, that provision did not enter the Code until 1954.

What did folks do before 1954?

They relied on common law.

Common law allows one to presume that a properly-mailed envelope will arrive in the ordinary time required to get from here to there. One would have to prove that one mailed the envelope, of course, but once that was done the presumption that the mail arrived in normal time would kick-in.

In 1954 Congress added the following:
§ 7502 Timely mailing treated as timely filing and paying.
(a)  General rule.
(1)  Date of delivery.
If any return, claim, statement, or other document required to be filed, or any payment required to be made, within a prescribed period or on or before a prescribed date under authority of any provision of the internal revenue laws is, after such period or such date, delivered by United States mail to the agency, officer, or office with which such return, claim, statement, or other document is required to be filed, or to which such payment is required to be made, the date of the United States postmark stamped on the cover in which such return, claim, statement, or other document, or payment, is mailed shall be deemed to be the date of delivery or the date of payment, as the case may be.
Section (c) is important here:
(c)  Registered and certified mailing; electronic filing.
(1)  Registered mail.
For purposes of this section , if any return, claim, statement, or other document, or payment, is sent by United States registered mail-
(A)  such registration shall be prima facie evidence that the return, claim, statement, or other document was delivered to the agency, officer, or office to which addressed; and
(B)  the date of registration shall be deemed the postmark date.

Section (c) is why accountants encourage the use of certified mail with tax returns.

But the Baldwins did not certify their mailing.

They instead argued that they met the common-law standard for timely filing.

Seems a solid argument.

The IRS went low.

There are Court cases out there (Anderson, for example) that decided that the common law standard continued to exist even after the codification of Section 7502. It makes sense – at least to me - as that is what common law means.

The IRS argued that Section 7502 did away with the common-law standard, and the cases deciding otherwise were decided erroneously.

Sounds like a truckload of fine-cut bull manure to me.

Let’s load the truck.

There was a case in 1984 called Chevron. From it came the Chevron doctrine, an administrative law principle that a government agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous or unclear statute should be respected by a court.

I get the concept.

The first thing the agency has to do is show that the statute is ambiguous or unclear.

Does Section 7502 appear ambiguous or unclear to you?

We are going to need a jump to get this truck going.

Let’s introduce National Cable & Telecommunications Association v Brand X. That case has to do with the internet and whether it is an information service or a telecommunication service.

Sounds boring.

Let’s look at the Ninth Circuit’s take-away from Brand X:
But [a] court’s prior judicial construction of a statute trumps an agency construction otherwise entitled to Chevron deference only if the prior court decision holds that its construction follows from the unambiguous terms of the statute and thus leaves no room for agency discretion.”
Let me translate that word salad:
Since the prior Court decisions (let’s use Anderson as an example) did not specifically say that the statute was unambiguous, the statute is therefore ambiguous.

So, if I do not make clear that I am not a Robert Howard sword-and-sorcery, skilled, powerful and fearless giant weapon-wielding barbarian, then it can be deduced that I am that very said barbarian?


Brand X lets me say that Section 7502 is ambiguous, at which point Chevron kicks-in and allows me to argue that the underlying statute means anything I want it to say.

There is an aisle for this at Borders. It is called “Fiction.”

The Baldwins did not get to rely on common-law. Since they could not meet requirements of Section 7502(c), they lost out altogether. No carryback refund for them.

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