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Latham Delivers Unanimous Supreme Court Victory in Significant Tax Case

April 25, 2022
Decision ensures that all taxpayers—and especially low-income and pro se taxpayers—will now receive a fair opportunity to have their day in court when facing an IRS collection action.

A cross-practice Latham team delivered a unanimous US Supreme Court win in Boechler, P.C. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, No. 20-1472—vindicating the rights of taxpayers in a case involving an important question of tax and civil procedure.

Amy Feinberg, an associate in the firm’s Tax Controversy Practice, brought in the Boechler case as a pro bono matter and argued the appeal before the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Supreme Court & Appellate partner Melissa Arbus Sherry, appellate associate Caroline Flynn, and Amy then secured a cert grant at the Supreme Court’s September 2021 long conference—out of over one thousand petitions considered. Boechler presented the question whether the 30-day deadline for a taxpayer to file a petition with the Tax Court to review the IRS’s determination in a “collection due process” hearing—a type of proceeding designed to protect taxpayers’ rights before the IRS seizes their property to pay a tax debt—is “jurisdictional,” meaning that a failure to meet the deadline deprives the Tax Court of authority to hear the appeal no matter what. The Latham team argued, based on a long line of Supreme Court precedent requiring Congress to “speak clearly” when it intends to give a filing deadline jurisdictional status, that the relevant provision merely set forth an ordinary claims-processing rule and should be subject to equitable exceptions in appropriate cases. Latham’s position earned substantial amicus support from organizations like the National Federation of Independent Businesses, taxpayer rights groups, and low-income taxpayer clinics. Melissa argued the case before the Court in January.

In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Court ruled in favor of Boechler, P.C. and reversed the Eighth Circuit. Embracing the Latham team’s reading of the statutory provision and reaffirming its precedent on jurisdictional requirements, the Court agreed that the statutory deadline “does not clearly mandate the [Commissioner’s] jurisdictional reading.” Significantly, the Court also went on to rule that the filing deadline can be equitably tolled—rejecting the Commissioner’s argument that an earlier decision, United States v. Brockamp (1997), effectively precluded the possibility of tolling for tax administration deadlines writ large. As a result of these twin holdings, all taxpayers—and especially low-income and pro se taxpayers—will now receive a fair opportunity to have their day in court when facing an IRS collection action.

In addition to Melissa, Caroline, and Amy, partner Brian McManus and associates Jaqueline Carney and Graham Haviland assisted with briefing and argument preparation. Tax associates Juliana Genova, Adnan Abdeen, and Ali Clionsky Kelly also assisted with reply briefing and argument preparation. Partners Rick Bress, Roman Martinez, Michael Bern, and Susan Engel, along with associates Samir Deger-Sen, Charlie Dameron, and Eric Konopka, served as moot court judges.