We have all heard the famous quote about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit applied this concept in its March 8 opinion in Annamalai v. Comm’r, No. 17-60255. There, the issue was whether the taxpayers could extend into perpetuity the 90-day deadline to file an appeal by filing successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. Under the facts presented, the answer was no.
Taxpayers have 90 days after a decision of the Tax Court to file an appeal. If a party makes a timely motion to vacate or revise the Tax Court’s decision, the 90 days runs from the later of either entry of the order disposing the motion or entry of a new decision.
In Annamalai, the taxpayers filed successive motions to vacate a Tax Court decision. After the Tax Court entered a final decision in favor of the government, the taxpayers unsuccessfully moved to vacate the decision. Rather than filing a notice of appeal within 90 days after the denial, the taxpayers filed another motion to vacate that did not raise any substantially new grounds or arguments. After the Tax Court denied the second motion, the taxpayers filed the notice of appeal. The notice of appeal was filed 117 days after the ruling on the first motion and 83 days after the ruling on the second motion.
The Fifth Circuit dismissed the taxpayers’ appeal, which it noted involved a jurisdictional issue of first impression. The court agreed with the general principle that tolling motions may not be tacked together to perpetuate the prescribed time for appeal. As such, the 90-day period ran from the ruling on the first motion, and the appeal was thereby untimely and dismissed.
The Fifth Circuit declined to address the issue of whether a second motion to vacate on substantially different grounds and new arguments would be acceptable. The court noted that it is acceptable in the civil context, suggesting it may be permitted.
Practice Point: Absent intervening events such as new case law directly on point, motions to vacate or reconsider are rarely granted in tax cases. Indeed, filing a motion to vacate or reconsider may provide an opportunity for the court to bolster its prior opinion and lessen the chances of success on appeal. In a situation where a motion to vacate or reconsider is pursued, taxpayers should take care to ensure that all arguments supporting such a motion are properly placed before the court and that an appeal is filed within the statutory-prescribed period if the motion is denied.