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Delinquent Taxpayer Not Required to Have Legal Interest in Records Summoned by IRS, H.K. Polselli, SCt, 2023-1 USTC ¶50,179

The Supreme Court has held that the exception to the notice requirement in Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) does not apply where a delinquent taxpayer has a legal interest in accounts or records summoned by the IRS under Code Sec. 7602(a). The IRS had entered official assessments against an individual for unpaid taxes and penalties, following which a revenue officer had issued summonses to three banks seeking financial records of several third parties, including the taxpayers. Subsequently, the taxpayers moved to quash the summonses. The District Court concluded that, under Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i), no notice was required and that taxpayers, therefore, could not bring a motion to quash. The Court of Appeals also affirmed, finding that the summonses fell within the exception in Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) to the general notice requirement.

Exceptions to Notice Requirement

The taxpayers argued that the exception to the notice requirement in Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) applies only if the delinquent taxpayer has a legal interest in the accounts or records summoned by the IRS. However, the statute does not mention legal interest and does not require that a taxpayer maintain such an interest for the exception to apply. Further, the taxpayers’ arguments in support of their proposed legal interest test, failed. The taxpayers first contended that the phrase “in aid of the collection” would not be accomplished by summons unless it was targeted at an account containing assets that the IRS can collect to satisfy the taxpayers’ liability. However, a summons might not itself reveal taxpayer assets that can be collected but it might help the IRS find such assets.

The taxpayers’ second argument that if Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) is read to exempt every summons from notice that would help the IRS collect an “assessment” against a delinquent taxpayer, there would be no work left for the second exception to notice, found in Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(ii). However, clause (i) applies upon an assessment, while clause (ii) applies upon a finding of liability. In addition, clause (i) concerns delinquent taxpayers, while clause (ii) concerns transferees or fiduciaries. As a result, clause (ii) permits the IRS to issue unnoticed summonses to aid its collection from transferees or fiduciaries before it makes an official assessment of liability. Consequently, Code Sec. 7609(c)(2)(D)(i) does not require that a taxpayer maintain a legal interest in records summoned by the IRS.

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