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Frances Carlson v. United States of America

December 12, 2011

FRANCES CARLSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEFENDANT.



ORDER

This cause comes before the Court on Plaintiff Frances Carlson's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 31). The United States has filed a response in opposition (Doc. No. 46). At issue is a series of penalties that the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") levied against Carlson pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 6701. For the reasons stated herein, Carlson's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The following facts are undisputed:

A. Carlson's Work at Jackson Hewitt

From 2002 through 2006, Carlson worked for two companies owned by Daniel Prewett*fn1 JH Accounting, Inc. and Simple Financial Solutions, Inc., doing business as Jackson Hewitt (collectively, "Jackson Hewitt"). While working for Prewett, Carlson prepared income tax returns, both for business entities and for individuals, and provided bookkeeping services for some clients.

B. Carlson's Interactions with the IRS

In 2007, the United States sued Prewett, Carlson, and others to enjoin them from acting as federal tax return preparers and from engaging in activity that is subject to a penalty under § 6701 (i.e., aiding or assisting in the preparation of any portion of a tax document, knowing that portion would result in an understatement of tax liability). In May 2009, Carlson consented to the injunction. In September 2009, the IRS assessed $148,000 in penalties against Carlson under § 6701, related to approximately forty income tax returns that the IRS alleged Carlson prepared between 2002 and 2006. After paying 15% of the penalties, Carlson challenged the assessment by filing a refund claim with the IRS.

On March 23, 2010, the IRS informed Carlson that her refund claim was denied in full. In its notification, the IRS explained that Carlson had the option of filing suit in district court, and that "[t]he time for filing suit without paying additional funds is 30 days after the date of this letter or 6 months and 30 days from the date you filed your claim[,] whichever date comes first." (Doc. No. 3, Ex. 1 at 15.) Carlson timely filed suit, thereby initiating this action, on April 19, 2010.

Meanwhile, Carlson had also requested a Collection Due Process ("CDP") hearing under 26 U.S.C. § 6330. The IRS appeals officer assigned to Carlson, Betty Landau, reviewed Carlson's CDP application, and between April and June 2010, Landau and Carlson's attorney discussed the penalties. On June 7, 2010, Landau sent Carlson's attorney a letter confirming her determination that the penalties for 2002 would be removed and that the remaining penalties would be reduced to the amounts that would have been assessed under 26 U.S.C. § 6694. Carlson's IRS Account Transcript indicates that, for each of the relevant years, her penalties under § 6701 were abated.

By letter dated September 2, 2010, having learned that Carlson had commenced this lawsuit, Landau informed Carlson's attorney that she had changed her determination to one that upheld all of the penalties assessed against Carlson. Thereafter, Carlson's penalties under § 6701 were restored.

C. The Present Lawsuit

In this action, Carlson seeks a judgment in the amount of the return preparer penalties assessed and collected from her for the years 2002 through 2006. Additionally, she asserts a denial of due process claim, in which she alleges that she was denied the ability to pursue an administrative appeal and file the instant lawsuit without paying the entire penalty amount. On September 23, 2010, the United States filed its answer and a counterclaim seeking a judgment for the full amount of the penalties against Carlson. (Doc. No. 10).

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The Court must draw all inferences from the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and resolve all reasonable doubts in that party's favor. Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006). The moving party bears the initial burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial. Id. Summary judgment must be entered "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element ...


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