Will the Third Time be the Charm for Appeals?

The IRS Office of Appeals describes its mission as,

[T]o resolve tax controversies, without litigation, on a basis which is fair and impartial to both the Government and the taxpayer in a manner that will enhance voluntary compliance and public confidence in the integrity and efficiency of the Service.

A case decided in Tax Court yesterday isn’t making Appeals look good.

Jurate Antioco sold a bed and breakfast on Martha’s Vineyard in 2006 and came into some money. With the proceeds she bought an apartment building in San Francisco and lived in one of the units; she moved her ailing 96-year-old mother into another. Three other units are rented and she lives off that income.

What Ms. Antioco didn’t realize until April 2008 is that she owed taxes on some of that money, a tax debt of $170,000. With all of her money tied up in the apartment building she couldn’t pay the IRS. So she suggested an installment agreement. The IRS wanted to seize (levy) the apartment building.

Fast forward to 2009, when IRS Appeals gets the case for the first time. Ms. Antioco has issues with borrowing against her apartment building (the current lender wouldn’t agree to it), and she has obvious economic hardships. No matter, IRS Appeals denies Ms. Antioco’s request; she filed a Tax Court case.

Before the case was heard, the IRS moved to remand the case stating that the Appeals officer had abused her discretion. Yes, the IRS admitted that the Appeals officer erred. The case was remanded, with the Tax Court noting that new financial documentation (an IRS Form 433-A) should be reviewed. You would think things would go smoothly; after all, the Tax Court told the IRS to look again at the financial issues.

No. The new Appeals officer called Ms. Antioco requesting documentation:

[H]e called Ms. Antioco several more times that day and at one point told her she was being uncooperative and that she didn’t have to go through with the case. He also told her to “put your money where your mouth is” and that he had been a witness in Tax Court. Ms. Antioco felt so threatened by Mr. Owyang’s calls that she stopped answering and hired an attorney to help her.

The Appeals officer made a preliminary determination that, “Ms. Antioco could pay her liabilities but “simply chose not to do so.” [emphasis in original]” Indeed, the Appeals officer thought that fraud had occurred when Ms. Antioco added her mother to the deed. Only there wasn’t fraud; she had provided documentation and adding her mother to the deed was a requirement of a new lender.

The Appeals officer further called Ms. Antioco a “won’t pay taxpayer.” The only problem is that,

There is nothing in the record to support any of these conclusions either. The record in fact shows just the opposite: Ms. Antioco didn’t even find out she owed any tax for 2006 and 2007 until her accountant told her in April 2008.

The Appeals officer also didn’t consider her mother’s ill health. “These were precisely the reasons Ms. Antioco listed as grounds for entering into a short-term installment agreement until she could either obtain a loan or sell the building after her mother passed away.” Only the Appeals officer ignored this. Ms. Antioco also noted economic hardships; again, the Appeals officer ignored this.

We have found that Mr. Owyang abused his discretion in sustaining the proposed levy and that we cannot uphold the supplemental notice of determination on any of the stated grounds…We will therefore again remand the case to Appeals to consider Ms. Antioco’s proposed installment agreement, her financial information, and whether special circumstances or economic hardship exists.

Hopefully, the third IRS Appeals officer will actually get it right.

Case: Antioco v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2013-35

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