United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
ALICE J. COGGIN, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CATHERINE C. EAGLES, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Coggin filed suit seeking a refund of allegedly overpaid
federal income taxes for tax years 2001 through 2007. The
undisputed facts establish that Ms. Coggin intended to file
joint tax returns for the 2002 through 2007 tax years with
her husband and that the joint tax returns for those years,
filed in 2009 and 2010, were valid. Because a spouse cannot
revoke a valid joint return in order to pay a lesser amount
pursuant to a separate return filed years later, the
defendant is entitled to summary judgment on the claims
arising out of those tax years. Ms. Coggin concedes that she
is not entitled to a refund for the 2001 tax year and the
Court also will grant summary judgment to the defendant on
and Phil Coggin were married until his death in 2011. Mr.
Coggin was responsible for family financial matters. On
November 25, 2009, Mr. Coggin filed married-filing-jointly
tax returns for the 2001 through 2006 tax years on behalf of
himself and Ms. Coggin. See Doc. 47-8 (2002-2006
returns); Doc. 47-7 (2001-2006 payment). On August 24, 2010,
Mr. Coggin filed a joint tax return for the 2007 tax year.
Doc. 47-9. Mr. Coggin signed Ms. Coggin's signatures on
the 2002 through 2007 joint tax returns without her knowledge
or consent. See, e.g., Doc. 50-2 at 56-57; Doc. 47-2
at 29; Doc. 47-9. Mr. Coggin paid taxes in connection with
the filing of the 2001 through 2007 tax returns. Doc.
his death, Ms. Coggin learned that he had signed her name on
the 2001 through 2007 joint returns. She thereafter filed
married-filing-separately returns for those years and sought
a refund of part of the 2001 through 2007 taxes that Mr.
undisputed facts will be stated as needed to evaluate the
Tax Years 2002-2006 A. Overview of
refund suit, the plaintiff must show that (1) an outstanding
tax obligation was paid in full; (2) the amount of the tax
obligation that the IRS assessed is incorrect and the correct
amount of the tax; (3) she submitted a timely administrative
refund claim; and (4) she filed a timely court action for
refund. See generally Flora v. United States, 362
U.S. 145, 177 (1960) (finding that full payment of the tax
was a prerequisite to a refund suit); Johnson v. United
States, No. 7:13CV78, 2015 WL 4622710, at *2 (E.D. N.C.
July 31, 2015), aff'd 637 Fed.Appx. 106 (4th
Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (“In an action to recover
overpayment of tax, the taxpayer bears the burden of proof by
a preponderance of the evidence to demonstrate that the
determination was incorrect as well as the correct amount of
tax, if any”); 26 U.S.C. §§ 6511, 6532, 7422
(West, Westlaw through P.L. 115-193) (providing time
limitations and administrative exhaustion requirements).
Coggin maintains that the 2002-2007 joint returns filed by
Mr. Coggin are invalid and that the separate returns she
filed later are valid and show the correct amount of tax she
owes. She maintains that she is entitled to a refund based on
the difference between the taxes assessed and paid by Mr.
Coggin when he submitted the joint returns and the taxes
assessed in her separate tax returns, which showed a smaller
tax due. The defendants contend that the undisputed facts
establish that the 2002 through 2007 joint returns are valid
and cannot be revoked; as a result, Ms. Coggin cannot
establish that the taxes assessed in the separate returns are
correct and that she is entitled to a refund based on the
difference between the taxes assessed in the joint and
separate returns. Ms. Coggin maintains that there is a
genuine issue as to whether she intended to file the 2002
through 2007 joint tax returns and that this is a material
fact in view of the undisputed forgeries, since absent such
intent, those joint returns are invalid. Thus, this case
turns on whether the joint tax returns were valid.
Law on Validity
husband and wife may elect to file a joint tax return or they
may file separately. See 26 U.S.C. § 6013(a).
Except in circumstances not present here, a valid joint
return cannot be revoked. See United States v. Guy,
978 F.2d 934, 937 (6th Cir. 1992) (finding that the filing of
a valid joint return precludes the filing of a separate
return and citing 26 C.F.R. § 1.6013-1 (a)(1));
Ladden v. Comm'r, 38 T.C. 530, 534-35 (1962)
(finding that joint tax returns are not revocable); 26 C.F.R.
§ 1.6013-1 (a)(1) (West, Westlaw through July 6, 2018)
(“For any taxable year with respect to which a joint
return has been filed, separate returns shall not be made by
the spouses after the time for filing the return of either
has expired.”). A refund suit is not a mechanism for
revoking a valid joint tax return and substituting an
untimely separate return. See McNeil v. United
States, No. 96-CV-624, 1997 WL 634535, at *3 (N.D. Okla.
May 16, 1997) (dismissing refund claims based on untimely
separate return filed after valid joint return).
one spouse cannot file a valid joint return and then, years
later, seek to replace that joint return with a separate
return. See id.; see also Guy, 978 F.2d at
938 (allowing the government to recover a refund after
finding the refund was erroneous because it was calculated
based on a separate return that was filed after a valid joint
return). Consistent with this established law, the parties
appear to agree that if the joint returns filed by Mr. Coggin
were valid, then Ms. Coggin cannot seek to “undo”
those returns based on her later-filed separate returns. If,
however, the joint returns were not valid, then Ms. Coggin
could file valid separate returns.
valid, a joint return must be signed, typically by both the
husband and wife. See 26 U.S.C. § 6061(a)
(West, Westlaw through P.L. 115-193) (“any return . . .
shall be signed”); 26 C.F.R. § 1.6013-1(a)(2)
(requiring both the husband and wife to sign the joint
return); Olpin v. Comm'r, 270 F.3d 1297, 1300
(10th Cir. 2001) (explaining that the Code “clearly
states that, in order to be valid, a tax return must be
signed”). Generally, an unsigned tax return is invalid.
See, e.g., Lucas v. Pilliod Lumber Co., 281
U.S. 245, 249 (1930) (a return unverified by oath did not
meet the plain requirements of the statute); Bachner v.
Comm'r, 81 F.3d 1274, 1280 (3d Cir. 1996)
(“[I]nclusion of the taxpayer's signature is a
prerequisite to the validity of the tax return.”);
accord, Brafman v. United States, 384 F.2d
863, 868 (5th Cir. 1967); Shea v. Comm'r, 780
F.2d 561, 568 (6th Cir. 1986).
is a limited exception to the rule requiring both signatures:
when only one spouse signs a joint return, the return is
valid if the non-signing spouse intended to file jointly.
See Olpin, 270 F.3d at 1301 (10th Cir. 2001); In
re Hanesworth,936 F.2d 583 (table), 1991 WL 114639,
*1-2 (10th Cir. June 26, 1991); United States v.
Barnes, 509 Fed.Appx. 837, 839-40 (11th Cir. 2012).
“The intent to file jointly may be inferred from the
acquiescence of the nonsigning spouse.” Crew v.
Comm'r, 44 T.C.M. 1145 (CCH) (T.C. 1982). Thus,
“where a husband files a joint return without objection
of the wife, who fails to file a separate return, it will be
presumed the joint return was filed ...