Federal Income Tax Litigation: the Basics

When taxpayers file their income tax returns, a determination of tax is made. The IRS must then “assess” a tax liability in order to collect the amount owed. Generally, the period for assessment is three years from the due date, or from the date the return is filed, whichever is later (see this article for more details on the IRS statute of limitations).

If the IRS questions a tax return, it may then begin the audit process. The IRS may conduct its audit at the taxpayer’s place of business (“field audit”), in IRS offices (“office audit”), or by correspondence. If the IRS agent then determines after the audit that a tax deficiency exists but the taxpayer does not agree, the revenue agent will then send the taxpayer an examination report called, “Revenue Agent’s Report” along with a letter termed a, “30-day letter”. The 30-day letter details various information and informs the taxpayer that he/she has a right to request a hearing with the IRS Appeals Division within 30 days.

At this point, the taxpayer has three options: (1) accept the IRS’ determination of the tax deficiency, (2) appeal to IRS Appeals, or (3) simply disregard the letter and wait for the next IRS notice. If the taxpayer then appeals to IRS Appeals and is unable to settle the case, or if the taxpayer simply disregards the 30-day letter, the IRS will then send a notice of deficiency letter called the, “90-day letter”.

The 90-day letter gives a taxpayer several options. He may pay the amount owed based upon the IRS determination of deficiency and pursue refund tax procedures in U.S. District Court or the Court of Federal Claims. A taxpayer may also petition to the Tax Court within 90 days (unlike pursuing refund procedures, payment of a deficiency is not required in order to litigate in Tax Court). If the taxpayer’s case involves less than $50,000 in dispute for each tax year, a taxpayer may file the case as a “small tax case” (also called, “S-case”). S-cases are advantageous for taxpayers who are arguing without legal counsel, as informal court procedures are used; however, right to appeal the case is waived. Finally, if a taxpayer does not respond to the 90-day letter at all, the tax deficiency is then assessed, and the amount owed may then be collected by the IRS if not paid within ten days. The IRS is required to give a notice and demand for payment within sixty days of assessing the deficiency.

If a taxpayer loses in Tax Court, the case may then be appealed to the Appellate Court in the Circuit the taxpayer resides when the case was filed (provided it is not an S-case). Alternatively, taxpayers who lost pursuing refund procedures in District Court may appeal to the Court of Appeals, and those who lost in the Court of Federal Claims may appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear appeals for any of the Circuit Courts.

This is a very basic overview of Federal Income Tax Procedure and Litigation. It is important to note, that depending upon your case, it may be strategically necessary to litigate in traditional district court, as opposed to Tax Court. This will involve more formal legal procedures.

Sherayzen Law Office can help you analyze your case, choose the appropriate litigation venue for the appeal, and vigorously represent your interests before the IRS and in courts.

Call NOW to discuss this case with an experienced tax attorney!