The Tax Court Looks for $1,410 in Dividends

Today I generated my first 1099s for clients. The Tax Court looked at a case where the petitioners said they didn’t receive three $470 dividends. The issuer said they sent the checks and a Form 1099-DIV. Who was right?

In the case of information returns, the burden of proof can shift to the IRS.

If a taxpayer asserts a reasonable dispute with respect to any item of income reported on a third-party information return and the taxpayer has fully cooperated with the Secretary, the Secretary has the burden of producing reasonable and probative information concerning that deficiency in addition to such information return.

But the Court never looked at that as it based its decision on “the preponderance of the evidence.”

The only evidence that the IRS had was a letter from Computerserve (the registered agent for BNSF, the company that might or might not have issued the dividends) that said they were issued and that a 1099-DIV was sent to the petitioner.

Petitioner husband has made numerous unsuccessful attempts in recent years to contact Computershare and Wells Fargo regarding various matters relating to his BNSF stockholdings, including payment of the disputed dividends…

Petitioner husband testified that petitioners did not receive the disputed dividend payments in 2009 or a Form 1099-DIV reporting those payments and that he does not recall having negotiated any checks. His testimony included details regarding the acquisition of BNSF by Berkshire Hathaway and his persistent but unsuccessful attempts to make inquires with Computerserve and Wells Fargo about the disputed dividend payments. He called the phone number provided in the February 28, 2014, letter, but was unable to speak to anyone regarding that
letter…

Petitioner husband has devoted a substantial amount of time to contest the relatively small amount of tax liability at issue here, and he testified consistently, clearly, and with considerable conviction in explaining the negative–that he did not receive the disputed dividend payments. He has persuaded us that he did not receive the disputed dividend payments in 2009.

I suspect that the petitioner had documentation of his phone calls to Computerserve and Wells Fargo. If you do ever find yourself in such a situation, keep good records of your attempts to obtain information.

In any case, this case does show that when there’s an incorrect information return (a 1099) it is possible to dispute it and win. It would have been a lot easier for the petitioners if they could have reached someone at Computerserve or Wells Fargo and explain their situation but we have to treat life as it is, not as we want it to be.

Case: Ebert v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2015-5

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