Argument Preview

One of the five cases being argued in April at the Federal Circuit that attracted an amicus brief is Dixon v. United States, a tax case. In this case, the Federal Circuit will review a decision of the Court of Federal Claims to dismiss Dixon’s “assessed additional income tax claim” for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and in the alternative for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. This is our argument preview.

Dixon in his opening brief first asserts the Court of Federal Claims incorrectly applied the law governing informal claims. According to Dixon, an “informal claim is a claim for refund that does not abide by the formalities of the statute and treasury regulations but provides the [Internal Revenue Service] with sufficient information for it to investigate the claim.” Dixon, moreover, argues that he “cured the informalities,” notably his lack of signature, “by resubmitting the amended claims for” the relevant year “with his original signature.” Second, Dixon argues that the lower court’s “holding contradicts the premise of the informal claim doctrine.” He argues “the informal doctrine is not a waiver doctrine,” but rather, “[u]nder this doctrine, the informal claim is a notice that contains sufficient information to justify the tolling of the statute of limitations.” Moreover, Dixon agues, the Court of Federal Claims “failed to realize the distinction between [] two separate judicial doctrines and incorrectly found that Dixon did not submit ‘duly filed’ returns.”

In its response brief, the government argues the Court of Federal Claims correctly rejected Mr. Dixon’s contention that tax forms signed by Dixon’s tax preparer and not Dixon “are informal refund claims that were ‘perfected’ when Mr. Dixon filed untimely signed forms.” Further, the government asserts, “[t]he informal-claim-doctrine argument fails for four reasons.” The government argues (1) “the signature requirement for refund claims is a statutory requirement that the IRS has no power to dispense with;” (2) “even if unsigned [tax forms] could be informal refund claims, they need not be considered as informal claims especially if they mislead the IRS;” (3) “Treas. Reg. § 301.6402-2(b)(1) makes plain that a purported refund claim that does not comply with two core requirements cannot be considered a refund claim ‘for any purpose;’” and (4) “the out-of-time filing that ‘perfects’ the initial deficient refund claim must be filed while the IRS still has jurisdiction over the claim.”

In his reply brief, Dixon highlights how the Federal Circuit’s precedents led to four doctrines “known as the informal claim doctrine, the Angelus Milling waiver doctrine, the general claim doctrine, and the germaneness doctrine.” According to Dixon, “which doctrine provides the adequate judicial remedy depends on whether the taxpayer filed a formal or informal claim.” “This case,” he continues, “presents another example where a lower court convolutes the informal claim doctrine and the Angelus Milling waiver doctrine.” Furthermore, Dixon asserts, the government “clings to the lower court’s misconstructions of the doctrines and is simultaneously attempting to acknowledge the difference between the informal clam doctrine and the Angelus Milling waiver doctrine while trying to convince this Court that the application of the doctrines are nearly identical.” According to Dixon, “[t]his is a mistake of law.”

The Center for Taxpayer Rights filed an amicus brief in support of Dixon. In it, the Center argues that, “[a]lthough the amended tax returns Dixon initially filed without signing and verifying under penalty of perjury were deficient, the informal claim doctrine, which goes back nearly a century, prevents such mistakes from extinguishing a taxpayer’s rights where the informal claim provides the IRS with notice of the taxpayer’s intent to seek a claim for refund and the taxpayer corrects the claim while still pending.”

Oral argument in this case will be heard on Tuesday of next week, April 4. We will keep track of the case and report on any developments.