Saturday, July 2, 2011
A divided federal appeals court in Washington said a group of taxpayers will be allowed to challenge the procedure the IRS set up to refund billions of dollars collected through an unlawful tax on telephone calls. [Cohen v. United States, No. 08-5808) (D.C. Cir. July 1, 2011) (en banc)]
The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit voted 6-3 to send back to the trial court a dispute over whether the IRS refund procedure is unconstitutional. The 10 plaintiffs want an injunction ordering the IRS to craft a new refund method.
The appeals court did not take a stance on the merits of the IRS’s refund scheme, instead addressing only whether the court has oversight. The court ordered additional proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. ...
At issue is whether the plaintiffs must first file refund claims with the IRS and then litigate their dispute in tax suits or whether the group of taxpayers can sue under the Administrate Procedure Act without taking any of the earlier steps. A report issued by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration said the IRS illegally collected $8 billion between February 2003 and August 2006.
The six judges in the majority, including Janice Rogers Brown, who wrote the opinion for the court, rejected the IRS claim that the suit is barred because it seeks restraint of the assessment and collection of taxes. The IRS, the majority said, sees a world in which “no challenge to its actions is ever outside the closed loop of its taxing authority.”
“This suit is not about the excise tax, its assessment or its illegal collection. Nor is it about the money owed the taxpayers,” Brown said. “This suit is about the obstacle course, and the decisions made by the IRS while setting it up.”
Brown said the suit is permitted under the Administrative Procedure Act because it “questions the administrative procedures by which the IRS allows taxpayers to request refunds for the wrongfully collected excise tax.” ...
The IRS, Brown wrote, is no victim. The taxpayer plaintiffs “are not raiders in pursuit of an unwarranted windfall.” The plaintiffs, the court said, “are aggrieved citizens in search of accountability.”