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Defending Taxpayers from a One-Sided Tax Filing Deadline Rule

2 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

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Mr. and Mrs. Stocker did what many Americans do and waited until the day their taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. es were due, October 15, 2007, to mail them. Mr. Stocker went to the Post Office and handed envelopes containing his 2006 federal taxes, 2006 Michigan taxes, and amended 2003 federal taxes to the postal clerk. He did not obtain proof that the October 15 postmark was affixed to them, nor did he properly fill out a registered mail receipt.

While Michigan received the tax filing with a postmark of October 15, and the IRS concedes that they received one of the envelopes with a postmark of October 15, the IRS asserts that the envelope containing the 2003 federal tax return was postmarked October 19. Because it was late, the IRS ruled the return to be filed past its deadline, costing the Stockers their $64,058 tax refundA tax refund is a reimbursement to taxpayers who have overpaid their taxes, often due to having employers withhold too much from paychecks. The U.S. Treasury estimates that nearly three-fourths of taxpayers are over-withheld, resulting in a tax refund for millions. Overpaying taxes can be viewed as an interest-free loan to the government. On the other hand, approximately one-fifth of taxpayers underwithhold; this can occur if a person works multiple jobs and does not appropriately adjust their W-4 to account for additional income, or if spousal income is not appropriately accounted for on W-4s. . The IRS has lost or destroyed the envelope, in violation of IRS policy, but reports that it stamped the tax return upon receipt and the stamp indicates the late postmark. The Stockers appealed the IRS ruling, providing evidence from their accountant, Mr. Stocker, and Michigan showing it likely that the postmark actually was October 15.

The trial court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit have ruled against the Stockers. These courts have held that only the actual physical envelope can be considered as evidence of what the postmark was. Other “extrinsic” evidence, such as affidavits or contemporaneously filed tax returns, are inadmissible. Two other appeals courts agree with this result, while four other appeals courts and the Tax Court have allowed admission of other evidence.

The Stockers are now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Tax Foundation has filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting their effort to get the Court to hear their case. In our brief, we argue:

  • The Sixth Circuit’s interpretation stacks the deck against taxpayers by adding a restrictive evidentiary rule that is not in the federal law governing tax filings. In future cases where the IRS “loses” the only admissible evidence, taxpayers will automatically lose, which is not the intent of Congress.
  • The statute in question has national application but the lower court ruling means taxpayers in some states face harsher treatment. The Supreme Court should resolve this uneven application and uncertainty.
  • The implication of the “extrinsic evidence” prohibition adopted by the lower court is that taxpayers should never be trusted to be truthful, but the IRS should always be trusted to be truthful. Such a standard threatens to foster general public disenchantment with the government and the law.

The case is Robert W. Stocker et ux. v. United States, No. 13-278.