Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Circuit Conflict in Important Cases that Allow the Supreme Court to Take Cert and Pronounce on the Difference between Legislative and Interpretive Regulations (3/30/21; 12/6/21)

I have thrashed around on this blog about the APA distinction between legislative and interpretive rules, focusing principally on regulations.  Briefly, the key points I have asserted in the blogs and elsewhere are:

The APA distinction between legislative and interpretive regulations continues to be viable despite claims from some scholarly quarters that they are not.

The distinction between the two categories is:  Legislative rules (must be by regulation) are like statutes; they are the law; they do not interpret the law.  Interpretive rules (can be by regulation) are not the law but are interpretations of the law (here the statute).

A legislative regulation like the consolidated return regulations authorized by specific delegation under § 1502 is the law just as if it were a statute.  A legislative regulation does not interpret the statute.

An interpretive regulation does interpret the statute.  Interpretations of statute can be tested for the reasonableness of the interpretation.  That is what Chevron does in the context  of agency interpretations in interpretive regulations.

An agency may adopt interpretive rules, at its choice in the form of notice and comment regulations, pursuant to the authority in “general authority” statutes (such as § 7805 of the IRC) or implied authority in the agency’s formative legislation.  

For example, § 482 which shares a provenance with § 1502 under the Revenue Act of 1928 when the prior version of the two statutes were split, with the 1928 predecessor of § 1502 conferring express delegated authority to Treasury to make the law in statute-like legislative regulations and the 1928 predecessor of § 482 not having that authority.  Can you imagine the howls from scholars, the practitioner community and the courts if the IRS asserted the authority to make legislative rules like the consolidated return rules under § 482 via its general authority in § 7805?

Adopting interpretive rules in notice and comment format does not make the interpretive rule legislative for purposes of the APA distinction.

Legislative rules (must be by regulation) are not entitled to Chevron deference because legislative rules are the law and are not interpretations of the law.  Chevron only tests reasonableness of interpretation against the text of a statute.  Chevron cannot test the reasonableness of either a statute or a legislative regulation (said to be statute-like).  Chevron can and does test interpretations in interpretive regulations to determine if the interpretations are reasonable within the scope of the statutory ambiguity.

Some, perhaps many, of these claims are not mainstream.  For example, some claim that Chevron applies only to legislative regulations.  This claim could be partially truth if their further claim that the legislative regulations category has taken over the interpretive regulation category, so that all notice and comment regulations are legislative even if all they do is to reasonably interpret ambiguous statutory text.  It is my claim that the interpretive regulation category continues viable (has not been taken over by the legislative regulation category) and that Chevron deference applies to interpretive regulations and does not apply to legislative regulations.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Nondelegation Debunked and Relationship to APA and Deference (3/19/21)

I write today again on administrative law issues that have occupied some scholarly interest starting with my teaching of Federal Tax Procedure starting in the 1990s.  The impetus for this blog entry is a fresh article on the nondelegation doctrine – fresh meaning recently published and a fresh accounting of the history related to the so-called nondelegation doctrine.  The article is Julian Davis Mortenson & Nicholas Bagley, Delegation at the Founding, 121 Colum. L. Rev. 277 (2021), here.  See also a Slate interview of the authors, Mark Joseph Stern, Neil Gorsuch Supports an Originalist Theory That Would Destroy Modern Governance (Slate 3/19/21), here.  I recommend both reads.

The full bore nondelegation doctrine on which the article is that Congress cannot delegate legislative powers to the Executive Branch.  The doctrine has no current sway in the decided cases.  Rather, as interpreted for some time now, Congress may delegate legislative powers when “an intelligible principle” which “clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of this delegated authority.” United States v. Henry, 888 F.3d 589, 596 (2d Cir. 2018);   The Supreme Court echoed this holding in the plurality opinion in Gundy v. United States, 583 U.S. ___, ___, 139 S.Ct. 2116, 2123 & 2129 (2019)

The authors claim that the so-called nondelegation doctrine has no basis in the history relevant to the original understanding of the Constitution.  As they point out, its use in the 1930s was to rein in the New Deal and that failed miserably as the nondelegation doctrine faded into a well-deserved obscurity.  But as the Law Review article and the Slate article note, it has roared back, fueled first by the ideology of the most ideological Supreme Court Justice, Justice Thomas.

From the Law Review article (p.285, footnote omitted):

In American Trucking, Justice Thomas wrote separately to say that “[o]n a future day . . . I would be willing to address the question whether our delegation jurisprudence has strayed too far from our Founders’ understanding of separation of powers.”  Scholars immediately took up his call to build an originalist case for the nondelegation doctrine.

 The Law Review article then covers the supposed scholarly thrashing at Justice Thomas’ invitation.  As explained in the Slate Article, scholars then “write long law review articles and books that give the theory a patina of historical credentials.” 

Professors Mortenson and Thomas argue that the patina of credibility for nondelegation is illusory.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

More on Delegations of Authority, Notices of Deficiency and Consents to Extend (3/18/21)

Yesterday, I posted on a case, Harriss v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2021-31, that led me into a discussion of delegated authority to make deficiency determinations from the Secretary of the Treasury down to employees (by function) in the IRS and related issues, including consents to extend the statute of limitations.  Burden of Persuasion As to Proper Delegated Authority for Statutorily Required IRS Action (Here Notice of Deficiency) (Federal Tax Procedure Blog 3/17/21), here.  A colleague engaged me on a couple of issues from the blog.  I thought I would present the issues here and my cut on the issues.  I have reformulated the issues to better present them here:

Issue 1:  The courts treat the Forms 872 (Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax) and its various iterations, such as Form 872-A (Special Consent to Extend the Time to Assess Tax) used for the statute extension authorized by than § 6501(c)(4)(A), here, as unilateral waivers rather than as contracts.

JAT Response to Issue 1:  I again direct readers to the article:  John A. Townsend & Lawrence R. Jones, Jr., Interpreting Consents to Extend the Statute of Limitations, 78 Tax Notes 459 (1998), here.  But the shorter answer is in the statute itself, § 6501(c)(4)(A) (bold-face supplied by JAT):

Where, before the expiration of the time prescribed for the assessment of any tax imposed by this title, except the estate tax provided in chapter 11, both the Secretary and the taxpayer have consented in writing to its assessment after such time, the tax may be assessed at any time prior to the expiration of the period agreed upon. The period so agreed upon may be extended by subsequent agreements in writing made before the expiration of the period previously agreed upon.

 The emphasized language requires:

1.        Both the IRS and the taxpayer must sign a consent to reflect the agreement.

2.        Both must sign be before the expiration of the period of limitation (even the aborted writing was after the period of limitation in Stearns, so that the facts of would give the victory to the IRS under the statute as written now)..

3.        The consent is an agreement (see “so agreed” in the statute) which certainly connotes something bilateral rather than just a unilateral waiver.  In the law of waiver, waiver is a unilateral not requiring any agreement by the other party.  (Of course, if the other party asserts waiver as a defense, the party may be said to be agreeing with the waiver but agreement is not thought of as an agreement in the way § 6501(c)(4)(A) written.)  In other words, a waiver is truly unilateral and  in the law of waiver there is no requirement that the other party sign or otherwise agree to a waiver for the waiver  to be effective.  All that is required is that the party waiving do the act necessary to constitute a waiver.

Issue 2: How can a Form 872 be a contract when the benefits flow only one-way – i.e., the IRS gets the benefit but the taxpayer gets nothing of benefit? 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Burden of Persuasion As to Proper Delegated Authority for Statutorily Required IRS Action (Here Notice of Deficiency) (3/17/21; 3/19/21)

In Harriss v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2021-31, TN here and GS here, the Tax Court addressed IRS employee authority and the burden on the taxpayer  to prove that the IRS employee taking the critical action, suggesting that the presumption of regularity applies to the authority to issue notices of deficiency.  Professor Bryan Camp has a good blog on this case and the presumption.   Bryan Camp, Lesson From The Tax Court: The Presumption Of Regularity For NODs (Tax Prof Blog 3/15/21), here.  (Professor Camp and I engage on some of the issues in the comments to his blog.)

I was particularly concerned about imposing upon the taxpayer the burden of proof on the taxpayer.  The Court called the burden the burden of proof without distinguishing between burden of persuasion and burden of production, but it is clear that the court is referring to the burden of persuasion.  The Court then thrashes around and ultimately concludes, in effect, that, while the IRS did not show that its own employee issuing the NOD had the properly delegated authority, the taxpayer did not show that she did not and therefore, as with burdens of persuasion in a state where the fact is not proved, the taxpayer loses.  (See more below as to whether the Tax Court was in equipoise as authority or could find that the employee had the delegated authority.)

It just doesn’t sound right to me that the IRS should not be required to prove its employee’s authority to take statutorily required action.

At p. 10 n. 6, the Tax Court distinguished Muncy v. Commissioner, 637 F. App'x 276 (8th Cir. 2016) which reversed a case where the Tax Court record did not indicate the IRS employee’s authority to issue an NOD and remanded for the Tax Court “to determine whether Miller had authority to issue the NOD that is the subject of this  case, and for further proceedings consistent with that determination.”  The implication, not expressly stated, was that the IRS should lose if the record does not show the authority.  Yet, in Harris, the Court seemed to hold that the taxpayer loses if the record does not show that the employee lacked the authority, distinguishing Muncy on the Golsen dodge.

As a matter of what I think is sound procedural practice in allocating burdens in litigation, it seems to me that the burden should be on the IRS.  The IRS is uniquely situated to show its employees’ authorities to undertake action.  The IRS has that evidence; the taxpayer does not have that evidence without substantial effort and perhaps obligatory discovery against the IRS.  (Practice Note: by way of discovery, I suggest request for admission and related interrogatory to force the IRS to show its hand; alternatively, I suggest that the taxpayer requested a stipulation that the IRS has no evidence to show proper authority.)

Here are some key components of the Court’s exegesis:

1. The general overview of delegations (pp. 8-9):

Section 6212(a) provides: “If the Secretary determines that there is a deficiency in respect of any tax imposed by subtitles A or B or chapter 41, 42, 43, or 44 he is authorized to send notice of such deficiency to the taxpayer by certified [*8] mail or registered mail.” Section 7701(a)(11)(B) defines “Secretary” to mean “the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate.” In this context “delegate” means “any officer, employee, or agency of the Treasury Department duly authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury directly, or indirectly by one or more redelegations of authority, to perform the function mentioned or described in the context”. Sec. 7701(a)(12)(A)(i).

By regulations the Secretary has extended the authority to determine deficiencies and to issue notices of deficiency to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue and to district directors, directors of service centers, and regional directors of appeals. See secs. 301.6212-1(a), 301.7701-9, Proced. & Admin. Regs. These regulations authorize the Commissioner to redelegate the performance of such functions to other officers or employees under his supervision and control; the Commissioner may also authorize further delegation of such authority by his delegates. See sec. 301.7701-9(c), Proced. & Admin. Regs. As permitted by these regulations, the authority to sign and issue notices of deficiency has been redelegated under Delegation Order 4-8, Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) pt., (2), and (3) (Sept. 4, 2012). The list of positions authorized under Delegation Order 4-8 includes “Department Managers, Campus [*9] Compliance Services (Small Business/Self-Employed)” and “Director, Return, Integrity and Compliance Services (Wage & Investment).”Id.

The Court cites IRM, (2), and (3) (Sept. 4, 2012) which provides redelegations or recognizes redelegations made elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Court Denies APA Attack on SDP Transition Denial Allegedly Forcing Taxpayers to Accept OVDP Penalty Structure (3/16/21)

 In Harrison v. IRS, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45582 (D. D.C. 3/11/21),* here, the taxpayers entered the OVDP program prior to the IRS offering the Streamlined Domestic Procedures (“SDP” program in 2014.  The SDP penalty requirements were less than the OVDP’s penalty requirements and required taxpayers to certify nonwillfulness and provide support for that certification.  Incident to the SDP, the IRS permitted taxpayers then in OVDP to “transition” to SDP.  The transition required (just as the SDP required) that taxpayers certify nonwillfulness and support the certification.  The IRS (through its Central Review Committee, determined that the taxpayers had not established their nonwillfulness and therefore left them in OVDP where the options were (i) accept the OVDP penalty structure which was more than SDP but less than the law could impose outside OVDP or (ii) opt out of OVDP and take their chances on audit.  Rather than take the risk of higher penalties on audit, the taxpayers chose to accept the OVDP penalty structure.  Accepting OVDP required that the taxpayers enter a closing agreement which provided, in part, that the taxpayers would not file a claim for refund of any amounts paid pursuant to the closing agreement.  They did and paid the resulting tax, penalties and interest, including the miscellaneous offshore penalty in lieu of an FBAR penalty in the amount of $519,943.44.

Two years after entering the closing agreement, the taxpayers brought what was in effect a refund suit but, apparently realizing that the closing agreement might be a bar, couched the suit under a mélange of legal theories:  (i) APA claims that the transition rules were adopted without notice and comment and, in any event, were arbitrary and capricious under APA section 706(2)(A); (ii) Due Process claim based on the alleged purported absence of procedural protections; and (iii) duress claim that the Closing Agreement was invalid.

The Court rejected their claims.  The Procedurally Taxing Blog has a good discussion of the APA aspect of the case.  Leslie Book, APA Offers No Avenue For Relief For Challenge to Offshore Transition Rules Penalty Regime (Procedurally Taxing Blog 3/15/21), here.  Basically, the Court held that a refund suit would be an adequate remedy thus precluding subject matter jurisdiction of the APA claims.  I encourage readers to read that blog and will only address here some nuances on the APA claims.  

 In the blog, Professor Book states:  “The needle can still be thread: if someone else  has fully paid and is not subject to a closing agreement they could bring a refund suit in federal court and get a court to consider the merits of the APA challenge.”  That is the part I want to thrash upon further.

Let’s posit that a taxpayer in the situation in the case did not accept the OVDP settlement but instead took their chances on audit and the general maximum 50% penalty was imposed.  No closing agreement is required.  So, in that case, I suppose Professor Book’s statement is that the taxpayers could then pursue their APA claims in the refund suit; alternatively, and more likely, the government would have pursued a collection suit and the taxpayer’s APA arguments could be pursued there (recall that the government must bring that suit within two years of the assessment of the FBAR penalty).  (In considering a refund suit possibility, recall also that full pre-litigation payment may not be required (James R. Malone, Half a Loaf Might Suffice: FBARS, Flora and Federal Jurisdiction (Post & Schell Tax Controversy Posts 2/13/17), here.) and in the collection suit, no pre-litigation payment is required.)  I suppose both of those potential options to present the APA claims might be deemed sufficiently adequate to preclude stand alone jurisdiction to present the APA claims.

 What exactly are those APA claims?

 Failure to adopt with notice and comment rulemaking

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Supreme Court Opinion Uses “Cleaned Up” Technique for First Time (3/3/21)

This morning’s NLJ Supreme Court Brief Email had this item (authored by Tony Mauro):  How SCOTUS Finally Got 'Cleaned Up.'  Mauro's article points to this quote from Justice Thomas' unanimous opinion in Brownback v. King, ___ U.S. ___, ___ S.Ct. ___, 2021 U.S. LEXIS 1198 (2021), here (emphasis supplied):

To “trigge[r] the doctrine of res judicata or claim preclusion” a judgment must be “‘on the merits.’” Semtek Int’l Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 531 U. S. 497, 502 (2001). Under that doctrine as it existed in 1946, a judgment is “on the merits” if the underlying decision “actually passes directly on the substance of a particular claim before the court.” Id., at 501–502 (cleaned up).

Focusing just on the bold-face sentence, here is the sentence from the Semtek opinion:  

The original connotation of an "on the merits" adjudication is one that actually "pass[es] directly on the substance of [a particular] claim" before the court.

The cleaned up quote looks much tidier and accessible to the reader than does the original in the Semtek opinion.  That is the point.

As explained in Mauro's article:

"The court's holding is the words that are used, not the punctuation," said Metzler, who promoted the phrase persistently on his widely-read Twitter feed Supreme Court Places and in an article published in the Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. In that article, Metzler complained that with the traditional clutter, citations "become an unwieldy mess packed with case cites and parenthetical information that tests the reader's ability to remember the point that the author was trying to make by using the quotation in the first place." Metzler is also the editor of previously unshared style guides of the Supreme Court and Solicitor General.

His campaign to propagate the phrase eventually caught on, and it found its way into all federal circuit courts. "We should welcome any effort to make judicial opinions more readable and accessible to every American citizen," said Judge James Ho of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, who has used the phrase. "To paraphrase my friends at the Green Bag, Citations should not look like goulash." Metzler's latest tally found that the phrase was used more than 5,000 times by lawyers and judges alike. But until last week, it never made it to the holy grail of the Supreme Court.

Recently, there had been hints that the high court was paying attention, Metzler said. Phrases like "quotation modified" or "quotation altered" were being used in Supreme Court decisions with the same purpose. Metzler wouldn't speculate on why "(cleaned up)" finally made it to the court and to Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the Brownback opinion.

But here is a guess: as of January 13, the Supreme Court has a new Reporter of Decisions named Rebecca Womeldorf. Part of her job is editing-or perhaps cleaning up-the court's opinions.

I have been using the cleaned up technique since I first learned of it from Bryan Garner’s Blog entry titled Law Prose Lesson 303: Cleaned Up Quotations and Citations (Bryan Garner Law Prose Blog June 2018), here.  Readers will recall that, for some time now, I explain the technique in a page link in the right hand column, titled Cleaning Up Quotes and Cites for Readability -- The "Cleaned Up" Technique, here.

Thanks Jack Metzler and thanks Justice Thomas.

This blog post is cross-posted on my Federal Tax Crimes Blog, here.