United States Tax Court

On July 28, 2017, the Tax Court denied the April 14, 2016 Joint Motion to Remand the case to the IRS Whistleblower Office.  In the joint motion, the parties represented that the IRS Whistleblower Office had reconsidered its determination.  The Tax Court previously issued an order for the parties to file a status report by October 19, 2016, to report the efforts to resolve the case and held the joint motion in abeyance.  A similar order was issued on October 25, 2016, for the parties to file a status report on or before April 25, 2017.  On April 11, 2017, respondent filed a status report indicating that the IRS Whistleblower Office is prepared to make a revised determination regarding petitioner’s claim and asked the Court to grant the Motion to Remand.  On April 20, 2017, petitioner advised the Court that he believes that remand is unnecessary and would needlessly delay the case. 

The Court walks through an interesting discussion about when remand would be appropriate.  Ultimately, the Court follows what it has previously done in cases where the IRS reopens a claim or reexamines its determination, stating:

We see no reason why remand is required to enable to Office to issue a new final determination letter.  Alternatively, if the parties have resolved all issues in this case to their mutual satisfaction, they may employ this Court’s standard procedures for bringing this case to an end.  This order does not foreclose the possibility of remand, should we determine that we may properly order one, in a future whistleblower case where a remand would serve a useful purpose.

This resolution follows Whistleblower 21276-13W v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, wherein the Court retained jurisdiction of the claim and required the parties to file status reports while the parties to resolve the case and allow the IRS Whistleblower Office to review, investigate, and evaluate the merits of those whistleblowers’ claim. 

We believe that allowing the parties to work to resolve the case this way is similar to allowing taxpayers, who have not already gone to Appeals, to go to Appeals after filing a petition with the Tax Court.  Ultimately, this allows the parties to find a resolution while preventing whistleblower cases from being unnecessarily delayed.  

The ability to remain anonymous throughout the administrative and judicial whistleblower award determination an appeal processes has been a common theme in the concerns that we hear from clients and something that I spoke about on a panel at the ABA Section of Taxation Meeting in May of 2016.  This includes how to protect the whistleblower’s identity, the taxpayer’s information, and when a protective order is appropriate.  This is a very complex area, which should be discussed with your attorney as you weigh the decision to pursue litigation in the Tax Court.

The ability of a whistleblower to proceed anonymously in the Tax Court is a balance of the public’s interest in open courts and the interest of protecting the identity of confidential informants.  This balance has generally resulted in whistleblowers being able to proceed anonymously. 

The Tax Court yesterday released Whistleblower 12568-16W v Commissioner.  This opinion addresses a whistleblower’s ability to proceed anonymously (and for the taxpayer’s information to be redacted) where the whistleblower claims that the taxpayer committed tax fraud resulting in a $3 billion tax liability.  This opinion walked through the Tax Court’s jurisprudence on a whistleblower’s ability to proceed anonymously, focusing on the balance between protecting a confidential informant’s identity and the public’s interest in open court proceedings.  Judge Halpern points out in this opinion that this balance can shift as the case progresses, citing the explanatory notes that were included at the time the Tax Court adopted Rule 345.  The Court stated that:

since we do not know what turns this case may take, and given the extraordinary amounts of uncollected tax and penalty liabilities petitioner alleges, with the possibility that petitioner might receive a whistleblower award up to 30%of the proceeds the Commissioner collects (an award that might equal or exceed $1 billion), see sec. 7623(b)(1), we cannot say that, at some future time in this action, we may not revisit the balancing between alleged harm to petitioner and the societal interest in knowing petitioner’s identity and determine that anonymity is no longer justified.

This serves as a reminder that the balancing test is something that we need to continue to look at throughout the litigation process, because balancing a whistleblower’s anonymity and the public’s interest in the proceedings can shift from the Tax Court’s perspective as the case proceeds.  As always, consult your attorney for specifics about your case.

The Tax Court held that it has jurisdiction to review the IRS’s whistleblower claims award determinations where the informant has alleged that they provided significant information to the IRS before and after December 20, 2006, the effective date of section 7623(b).  Whistleblower 11332-13W v. Commissioner, 142 T.C. No. 21, is a continuation of one of the cases where the whistleblower that was allowed to proceed anonymously and have the record sealed in one of the three cases released on May 20, 2014. 

In this case, the whistleblower first provided generic information regarding the tax fraud scheme engaged in by the whistleblower’s employer and several related entities and subsidiary companies to IRS and the Department of Justice in June of 2006.  The whistleblower had several more meetings with the IRS and DOJ in 2006.  The whistleblower continued to provide additional information relating to the tax scheme and those involved to the IRS and Department of Justice until the fall of 2009.  The whistleblower alleges that the information provided after 2006 was not simply confirmatory details.  The Government entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement with one of the targets that led to a recovery of more than $30 million in taxes, penalties, and interest.  The Whistleblower Office granted that whistleblower an award under section 7623(a) and denied the whistleblower’s request for an award under section 7623(b).

The Court held that the whistleblower had satisfied the “pleading burden by alleging facts that respondent proceeded with an action against the targets using information brought to respondent’s attention by the whistleblower both before and after December 20, 2006.”  The Court held that the allegations are sufficient to establish jurisdiction. 

The Tax Court also released a second opinion, Whistleblower 10949-13W v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-106.  The Tax Court held, on similar facts as Whistleblower 11332-13W, 142 T.C. No. 21, that the Tax Court also had jurisdiction to hear their appeal of the IRS Whistleblower Office’s denial of their award under section 7623(b).

It is good to see that the Tax Court continues to broadly interpret its jurisdiction when it comes to appeals of whistleblower award determinations.  These cases demonstrate the Tax Court’s continued fairness in providing whistleblower with a venue to appeal award determinations under section 7623.