Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Fifth Circuit Applies FBAR NonWillful Penalty Per Account and Not Per Form (11/30/21)

In United States v. Bittner, ___ F. 4th ___ (5th Cir. 11/30/21), here, the Court held that the FBAR nonwillful penalty in 31 USC § 5314 and the underlying regulations  31 CFR §§ 1010.306 and 1010.350 applies on a per account rather than a per form basis, so that, in this case where Bittner had a financial interest in well over 25 accounts per year for each of three years, the per account penalties aggregated $1.77 million.

The Bittner opinion, a unanimous opinion, conflicts with the panel majority opinion in United States v. Boyd, 991 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2021), but draws heavily on Judge Ikuta’s dissenting opinion in Boyd.  See CA9 Holds in Boyd that Nonwillful FBAR Civil Penalty Is Per Form Rather Than Per Account When Correct Delinquent FBA`R Is Filed (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/24/21; 3/31/21)), here

Bittner may petition for certiorari, but the Supreme Court may want the issue to bubble around a bit more in the Circuits to see if a consensus can be reached, with all courts then moving to the consensus view.  Alternatively, the Court might take certiorari to resolve the conflict, treating this as one of the few “tax” (or tax-related) cases it must take every year.  It does not appear to me that either of the two alternatives the Court takes would create that much mischief, an affliction the Court not uncommonly exhibits in tax cases.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Civil Liability for Conduct that is Acquitted in Criminal Case (11/20/21)

The Kyle Rittenhouse acquittal on all counts is in the news.  Acquittal or conviction (on some or all counts) was sure to become a political charged phenomenon.  I don’t deal with the political issues here. I respond to a question I was asked yesterday as to whether Rittenhouse’s acquittal absolves him of potential civil liability related to the same conduct for which he was acquitted and specifically address the criminal tax analog of the phenomenon.

For a discussion of the nontax answer, I point readers to this discussion:  Euguene Volokh, Could Kyle Rittenhouse Be Sued for Negligence? (The Volokh Conspiracy 11/20/21), here.  Professor Volokh answers the question succinctly at the beginning of the blog post:

A criminal acquittal doesn't preclude a civil lawsuit out of the same claims. First, the acquittal resolves only that guilt couldn't be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (requiring, say, a >90% confidence level); the standard for civil liability is preponderance of the evidence (which requires just >50%, or perhaps ≥50%, if the injury is easily proved and the burden is then shifted to the defendant to prove self-defense).

A similar phenomenon plays out in the criminal tax area.  A criminal tax evasion acquittal does not prevent the imposition of the civil fraud penalty in § 6663.  And, for the same reason:  the burden of proof for the civil fraud penalty is less than for the criminal penalty. so that acquittal is not issue or claim preclusive for the civil fraud penalty.  Civil liability for the civil fraud penalty requires that the Government prove civil fraud liability by clear and convincing evidence, a burden that as articulated is less burdensome (so to speak) for the Government than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

 Here is the key paragraph from my Federal Tax Procedure Book (2021 Practitioner Edition), p. 333 here (footnotes omitted from the quote but may be viewed at the link here):

If the taxpayer is acquitted of the tax evasion charge, however, the IRS may still assert the civil fraud penalty (the acquittal is not preclusive that there was no civil fraud).  Why?  A finding of not guilty is not necessarily a finding of innocence; it is only a finding that the government failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  In an ensuing civil tax case, the government must establish fraud only by clear and convincing evidence, a substantially lesser burden than the beyond a reasonable doubt requirement for criminal conviction.  Accordingly, the IRS may and usually does assert the civil fraud penalty when the taxpayer has been acquitted.

Most civil liability exposures relate to liabilities such as negligence discussed above that require proof of liability by a preponderance of the evidence.  Liability for the civil fraud penalty requires proof by clear and convincing evidence, a standard that falls somewhere between beyond a reasonable doubt (the criminal conviction standard) and preponderance of the evidence.  For discussion of the difficulties in articulating these standards, particularly in jury instructions useful to a jury, see discussion in my book pp. 331-332, here, particularly at n. 1414 and pp.601-602.

This blog post is cross-posted on my Federal Tax Procedure Blog here.

Monday, November 8, 2021

District Court holds (1) FBAR Penalty Statute of Limitations is Waivable and (2) FBAR Nonwillful Penalty is Per Account (11/8/21)

In United States v. Solomon, No. 20-82236-CIV-CAN, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 210602 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 27, 2021), CL here, in a nonwillful FBAR collection suit, the Court held:

1. The FBAR assessment statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that may be waived by the person assessed the penalty (no distinction here between willful and nonwillful).  The FBAR assessment statute of limitations has no provision such as § 6501(c)(4) that requires that extensions by agreement must be made while the otherwise applicable period of limitations for tax assessments is still open; perhaps the implication is that, except for that explicit limitation on waivers by agreement, a taxpayer could waive with an untimely agreement. (In this regard, the Solomon court does conclude that the FBAR statute of limitations is not jurisdictional and thus can be waived.)  Accordingly, the execution of the agreement to extend for the FBAR penalties was a waiver of the statute of limitations that had already expired.  (On the jurisdictional issue, see Keith Fogg, IRS Succeeds in Jurisdictional Argument – With a Twist (Procedurally Taxing Blog 11/4/21), here.)

2.  The nonwillful penalty is per account rather than per form, adopting the Government’s position on this issue.  As the court notes in the following footnote (Slip Op. 10 n. 4):

n4 Of the courts that have addressed this issue to date, all but one have rejected the government's view, ruling or otherwise suggesting that a non-willful “violation” of the reporting requirement in 31 U.S.C. § 5314 is the failure to file an annual FBAR report — not the failure to “report” the citizen's interest in each foreign financial account. See United States v. Boyd, 991 F.3d 1077 (9th Cir. 2021) (rejecting government's view); United States v. Bittner, 469 F. Supp. 3d 709 (E.D. Tex. 2020) appeal docketed, No. 20-40612 (5th Cir. Sept. 18, 2020) (same); United States v. Kaufman, 3:18-CV-00787 (KAD), 2021 WL 83478, **8–11 (D. Conn. Jan. 11, 2021) (same); United States v. Giraldi, CV202830SDWLDW, 2021 WL 1016215, *5 n.8 (D.N.J. Mar. 16, 2021) (same). But see United States v. Stromme, No. 20-24800-CIV (S.D. Fla. Jan. 25, 2021) (ECF No. 18 p. 3) (granting judgment in favor of United States for the full amount of penalties sought, agreeing that “each unreported relationship with a foreign financial agency constitutes an FBAR violation”). 

The Court’s analysis is comprehensive and well-reasoned, adopting in part Judge Ikuta's dissent in Boyd.  (That is not to say that the court's conclusion is right, for I think the issue is the type of issue that really can go either way; as I view these "go either way" issues, they proceed in search of a consensus (either in the courts or by statutory amendment) so that similarly situated citizens at some point get treated similarly but until consensus is reached, it is messy.)  

Thursday, November 4, 2021

District Court Upholds Repatriation Order for FBAR Willful Penalty While Liability on Appeal (11/4/21; 11/5/21))

I have written before several posts on the trial level saga at the trial level in United States v. Scharzbaum (S.D. Fla. Dkt # 18-cv-81147-BLOOM/Reinhart) an FBAR collection suit.  See particularly District Court Muddles an FBAR Willful Penalty Case (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 3/21/20; 3/24/20), here.  Basically, after trial, the district court entered an FBAR willful penalty judgment of $12,555,813.  That judgment is now on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit and was recently argued.  11th Circ. Mulls If IRS Should Revisit $12.5M FBAR Penalty, 2020 (Law360 315-118) (no link, subscription required); the oral argument on 10/5/21 is on the Court’s web page here.

In United States v. Scharzbaum (S.D. Fla. Dkt # 18-cv-81147-BLOOM/Reinhart 10/26/12), GS here and Cl here, the district court, sustaining the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation, held that the Government was entitled to an order granting repatriation of funds in offshore accounts in support of collection of the judgment.  The Court supported the repatriation on the basis of the the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act of 1990, 28 U.S.C. §§ 3001, et seq. (“FDCPA”) and the incorporation of the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651.

The reason the Government wanted an order of repatriation is that, according to the Government, Schwarzaum was placing or had placed assets outside the collection power of the U.S., so that repatriation was necessary to collect the judgment.  Some interesting parts of the opinion are: