Monday, July 20, 2015
Innocent Spouse Taxpayer Recovers Litigation Costs by Making a “Qualified Offer” and Then Prevailing in Court
Innocent Spouse Taxpayer Recovers Litigation Costs by Making a “Qualified Offer” and Then Prevailing in Court The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, reversed the Tax Court in Knudsen v. C.I.R., 116 AFTR 2d ¶2015-5051 (9th Cir. 2015) finding that Taxpayer was a prevailing party eligible to recover reasonable litigation costs. The Ninth Circuit determined that she was entitled to an award of costs as a "qualified offer" because she offered to settle her tax liability, the offer was not acted upon and her ultimate liability was zero. Innocent spouse (equitable relief) - background Each spouse is liable jointly and severally for the tax, interest, and most penalties when they file a joint return. Code §6015(f) permits equitable relief to a requesting spouse if, taking into account all of the facts and circumstances, it is inequitable to hold the requesting spouse liable. Litigation costs - background. Under Code §7430, taxpayers who prevail against the U.S. in court may be awarded reasonable litigation and administrative costs unless the IRS's position is substantially justified (Code §7430(c)(4)(B)), or the taxpayer fails to substantiate his claim for reasonable litigation costs. But a taxpayer may also make a qualified offer (“QO”) under Code §7430(g)(1) to settle a tax controversy. If that offer is rejected by the IRS and the amount of the QO is greater than the taxpayer's ultimate liability, will be treated as a prevailing party. Using the QO, the taxpayer's qualification as a prevailing party does not depend on whether IRS's position was substantially justified or whether the taxpayer substantially prevailed in the proceeding. Ninth Circuit reverses. The Ninth Circuit Court found that its decision to grant costs to the taxpayer was consistent with the purpose of the QO, that is: to encourage settlements by imposing costs on the party who was unwilling to settle. Conclusion. The use of the QO tool is one that all tax practitioners should have in their arsenal to use to even the playing field when sometimes it seems the Government has endless funds to fight the taxpayer.