SCOTUS Declines to Decide Late-Filed Tax Return Issue

Posted by NCBRC - February 24, 2017

The Supreme Court denied cert. in the case of Smith v. I.R.S., No. 16-497 (U.S.) dashing hopes of a definitive resolution of the issue of whether a late-filed tax return may constitute a “return” within the meaning of the hanging paragraph to section 523(a) (petition denied, (Feb. 21, 2017)). As NACBA/NCBRC argued in its amicus brief in support of certiorari, the question has deeply divided the courts with the Eighth Circuit relying on the accuracy of the documents purporting to constitute the return and permitting discharge if a bankruptcy petition is filed two years after a late-filed return, Colsen v. United States (In re Colsen), 446 F.3d 836 (8th Cir. 2006); the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, finding that once the IRS has made its own assessment of tax liability the late-filed return is not considered a return for purposes of bankruptcy dischargeability, e.g. Smith v. United States (In re Smith), 828 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 2016); and the First, Fifth and Tenth Circuits taking the draconian approach epitomized by McCoy v. Mississippi State Tax Comm’n (In re McCoy), 666 F.3d 924 (5th Cir. 2012), that all taxes described on late-filed returns—even those filed one day late for any reason—are barred from discharge. Unfortunately, given the sharp divide between circuits, treatment of a late-filed return will continue to be based on luck of the geographical draw.

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One Comment

  • Kenneth Keate
    Posted February 25, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    The DOJ is currently litigating this issue in a bankruptcy Court in the 8th Circuit. My client filed some returns after the IRS assessed taxes (Note, it did NOT file a 6020(b) return), and was late on others.

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