New Thinking About Jurisdictional Time Periods in the Tax Code
61 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 21, 2019
Tax law is notoriously insular. For example, even as courts evolved their approach to reviewing agency regulations in general, they continued to embrace a special rule for the review of Treasury Regulations until the Supreme Court instructed otherwise in 2011 in Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research v. United States. Since that time, tax law has only haltingly abandoned old thinking about judicial review of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and only tentatively embraced the new thinking.
This article addresses another area of insularity in tax: the extent to which statutory periods of limitation in the Tax Code are properly viewed as jurisdictional restrictions on the authority of the Tax Court. Starting in the mid-2000’s the Supreme Court began an enthusiastic campaign to distinguish between time limits that were jurisdictional and time limits that were not jurisdictional (which it sometimes calls “claims processing rules”). The Court has explained that it means to restrict the term “jurisdictional” to “the classes of cases (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the persons (personal jurisdiction) falling within a court's adjudicatory authority.”
This article considers how the Supreme Court’s new thinking about statutory time periods should apply to the three most common time periods in the Tax Code that govern access to the Tax Court: the period in §6213 for contesting a Notice of Deficiency (NOD); the periods in §6320 and §6330 for contesting the outcome of an IRS Collection Due Process (CDP) hearing; and the period in §6015(e) for contesting a denial of innocent spouse relief. Both the Tax Court and most Courts of Appeals seem stuck on the old thinking. It’s time to change that.
Part I gives a brief overview of the Supreme Court’s new thinking. Part II then considers how that thinking should apply to each of the three periods. Contrary to existing lower court case law, Part II concludes that for the deficiency and CDP time periods, the new thinking leads to different conclusions from the old. The lower court cases have simply blindly followed old precedent without reconsidering the validity of that precedent. As to the spousal relief time period, however, Part II concludes that the two recent Circuit Court opinions on the issue have reasonably applied the new thinking in typing §6015(e) as jurisdictional.
Keywords: jurisdiction, time periods, jurisdictional, limitation periods, statutes of limitations, sovereign immunity, subject matter jurisdiction
JEL Classification: K10, K34, K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation