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Nauflett v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 14, 2018

SHARI RENEE NAUFLETT, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF INTERNAL REVENUE, Respondent - Appellee.

          Argued: May 9, 2018

          Appeal from the United States Tax Court. (Tax Ct. No. 024427-15)

         ARGUED:

          Allison Bray, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts; Carlton Malben Smith, New York, New York, for Appellant.

          Richard Caldarone, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          T. Keith Fogg, Director, Harvard Federal Tax Clinic, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, for Appellant.

          David A. Hubbert, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Francesca Ugolini, Tax Division, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          Before TRAXLER, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges.

          AGEE, Circuit Judge.

         Shari Renee Nauflett appeals from the dismissal by the United States Tax Court of her petition for relief from unpaid tax liability based on spousal innocence. Nauflett filed her petition one week after the expiration of the 90-day filing requirement in section 6015(e)(1)(A)(ii) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Tax Court held that the 90-day filing requirement is jurisdictional and thus cannot be excused for any reason. Nauflett argues that the deadline is instead a claim-processing rule subject to equitable tolling, and she alleges that she is entitled to have the deadline equitably tolled because the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) told her-incorrectly-that she had until the day she filed her petition to do so. For the reasons set out below, we affirm the Tax Court's order dismissing her petition for lack of jurisdiction.

         I.

         The IRS charged Shari and Derek Nauflett, wife and husband and joint income tax filers, as jointly and severally liable for unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties for tax years 2002-04 and 2008.[1] Nauflett requested relief under the innocent spouse doctrine.[2] The letters of final determination from the IRS denying Nauflett's request were dated June 17, 2015, and contained the following statement: "If you disagree with our decision, you can file a petition with the United States Tax Court to review our denial. You must file your petition within 90 days from the date of this letter. . . . [T]he IRS cannot change the time period." E.g., J.A. 15.

         Nauflett alleges that she contacted both the IRS contact person listed on the notification letter and an employee at the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service for assistance in navigating the review process because she believed that she was entitled to relief as an innocent spouse. According to Nauflett, both ...


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