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Matuszak v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

July 5, 2017

LINDA JEAN MATUSZAK, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: April 20, 2017

         Petitioner-appellant Linda Jean Matuszak appeals from a December 29, 2015 order of the United States Tax Court (Marvel, C.J.) dismissing her untimely petition for innocent spouse relief for lack of jurisdiction, and from a July 29, 2016 order of the same court denying Matuszak's motion to vacate the order of dismissal. Matuszak concedes her petition was filed after the ninety-day period specified in I.R.C. § 6015(e)(1)(A), but argues the deadline may be tolled for equitable reasons. We conclude the statutory period is jurisdictional and AFFIRM.

          Jeffrey Zink, Federal Tax Clinic, Harvard Law School, Jamaica Plain, MA (T. Keith Fogg, Federal Tax Clinic, Harvard Law School, Jamaica Plain, MA; Carlton M. Smith, New York, NY, on the brief), for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Richard Caldarone, Attorney, Tax Division (Diana L. Erbsen, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Gilbert S. Rothenberg, Francesca Ugolini, Attorneys, Tax Division, on the brief), for Caroline D. Ciraolo, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Washington, D.C., for Respondent-Appellee.

          Before: Calabresi, Wesley, and Lohier, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         The Internal Revenue Code generally holds spouses jointly and severally liable for the entire tax due on a joint return. See I.R.C. § 6013(d)(3). Section 6015 creates several exceptions to that rule. It relieves a spouse of joint and several liability in certain circumstances in which the other spouse fails to report income or reports it improperly, the couple is legally separated or no longer living together, or it would be inequitable to hold the spouse liable for the amount due. See I.R.C. § 6015(b)(1), (c), (f). If the Internal Revenue Service (the "IRS") denies a request for relief under § 6015, also known as "innocent spouse relief, " the spouse has ninety days from the date of the IRS's final determination to petition the United States Tax Court for review. See id. § 6015(e)(1)(A).

         This appeal arises from the dismissal of a petition for innocent spouse relief based on petitioner-appellant Linda Jean Matuszak's failure to comply with the ninety-day deadline in § 6015(e)(1)(A). The issue is whether Matuszak's failure to file the petition within the statutorily prescribed period deprives the Tax Court of jurisdiction to review her claim. We conclude that it does and affirm the dismissal of Matuszak's untimely petition for lack of jurisdiction.

         I.

         Matuszak and her husband filed joint income tax returns in 2007 and 2008. In 2012, Matuszak's husband pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and filing a materially false income tax return, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341, 1342 and I.R.C. § 7206(1), for engaging in a scheme to defraud his employer of more than $1 million and failing to report the stolen money as income. As part of the plea agreement, Matuszak's husband agreed to "file legal and accurate amended income tax returns . . . for calendar years 2007 and 2008, " J.A. 72, which resulted in income tax deficiencies of approximately $333, 964 for 2007 and $105, 055 for 2008, see id. at 83. The Matuszaks stipulated to the deficiencies, and the IRS assessed them the amounts due.

         In March 2014, Matuszak requested innocent spouse relief for both taxable years. The IRS granted her request for the 2008 deficiency, but denied relief for the 2007 deficiency in a final notice of determination dated October 7, 2014. Ninety-one days later, on January 6, 2015, Matuszak mailed a petition to the Tax Court seeking review of that decision.

         The IRS moved to dismiss Matuszak's petition for lack of jurisdiction based on her failure to comply with the ninety-day deadline in § 6015(e)(1)(A). That section details how-and, crucially, when-a spouse may petition the Tax Court for review of the IRS's denial of innocent spouse relief:

In addition to any other remedy provided by law, the individual may petition the Tax Court (and the Tax Court shall have jurisdiction) to determine the appropriate relief available to the individual under this section if such petition is filed . . . not later than the close of the 90th day after the date [the IRS issues its final ...

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