On March 23, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued Rev. Proc. 2016-22, 2016-15 IRB 1, which clarifies and describes the practices for the administrative appeals process in cases docketed in the Tax Court. The stated purpose of the revenue procedure is to facilitate effective utilization of appeals and to achieve earlier development and resolution of Tax Court cases.
Previously, the procedures for the appeals process of Tax Court cases was contained in Rev. Proc. 87-24, 1987-1 C.B. 720. In October 2015, the IRS released a proposed revenue procedure updating the rules and requesting public comments. Three substantive comments were received and considered by the IRS, resulting in changes to the proposed revenue procedure. Rev. Proc. 2016-22 states that some of the suggestions that were not adopted may be addressed in other IRS guidance materials.
The general rule followed by the IRS is that all cases docketed in the Tax Court that have not previously been considered by IRS Appeals will be transferred to Appeals unless the taxpayer notifies IRS counsel that it wants to forego settlement consideration by Appeals. This rule is subject to certain exceptions, most notably if the case has been designated for litigation by the IRS. The revenue procedure also provides that “[i]n limited circumstances, a docketed case or issue will not be referred if Division Counsel or a higher level Counsel official determines that referral is not in the interest of sound tax administration.” Although no definition is provided, examples are provided of: (1) a case involving a significant issue common to other cases in litigation for which the IRS maintains a consistent position; or (2) cases related to a case over which the Department of Justice has jurisdiction. Referral to IRS Appeals will generally occur within 30 days of the case becoming at issue in the Tax Court, which can be either the date the Answer is filed by the IRS or a Reply (if required) is filed by the taxpayer.
The revenue procedure clarifies, and limits, the role of IRS counsel when a case is referred to Appeals. Unlike Rev. Proc. 87-24, the new revenue procedure provides that Appeals has sole discretion to determine whether IRS counsel may participate in any settlement conference and will consider input from the taxpayer on this point. It also clarifies that when a case is forwarded to Appeals for consideration, “Appeals has the sole authority to resolve the case through settlement until the case is returned to Counsel.” In the past, taxpayers were concerned about the ability of IRS counsel to disrupt a settlement reached with Appeals. If a settlement is reached with Appeals, IRS counsel’s involvement is ministerial in that counsel should only review any decision document signed by the taxpayer for accuracy and completeness before signing the decision document on behalf of the IRS and filing it with the Tax Court.
The new revenue procedure should also be a welcome development for estate tax cases given that there is no statutory provision to extend the three-year limitations period on assessment. For this reason, estate tax cases frequently end up in Tax Court without a prior opportunity for the estate/executor to receive consideration by Appeals. Given that almost all cases are settled at the Appeals level, the new revenue procedure should enhance the ability in estate tax cases to achieve settlement short of litigation with minimal IRS counsel involvement.
Overall, the new revenue procedure provides clarification on certain matters and gives more authority to Appeals when a case is referred to it. It remains to be seen whether, as indicated in the revenue procedure, the IRS will adopt additional rules and provide further clarification in future IRS guidance materials. Overall, the new rules should make settling a case that has not previously gone to Appeals more efficient after the case is docketed in Tax Court.