223 F.3d 898 (8th Cir. 2000), 99-3917, Anastasoff v United States

Docket Nº:99-3917 EM
Citation:223 F.3d 898
Case Date:August 22, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 898

223 F.3d 898 (8th Cir. 2000)




No. 99-3917 EM

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 22, 2000

Submitted: May 8, 2000

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Before Richard S. Arnold and Heaney, Circuit Judges, and Magnuson,1 District Judge.

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Richard S. Arnold, Circuit Judge.

Faye Anastasoff seeks a refund of overpaid federal income tax. On April 13, 1996, Ms. Anastasoff mailed her refund claim to the Internal Revenue Service for taxes paid on April 15, 1993. The Service denied her claim under 26 U.S.C. § 6511(b), which limits refunds to taxes paid in the three years prior to the filing of a claim. Although her claim was mailed within this period, it was received and filed on April 16, 1996, three years and one day after she overpaid her taxes, one day late. In many cases, "the Mailbox Rule," 26 U.S.C. § 7502, saves claims like Ms. Anastasoff's that would have been timely if received when mailed; they are deemed received when postmarked. But § 7502 applies only to claims that are untimely, and the parties agree that under 26 U.S.C. § 6511(a), which measures the timeliness of the refund claim itself, her claim was received on time. The issue then is whether § 7502 can be applied, for the purposes of § 6511(b)'s three-year refund limitation, to a claim that was timely under § 6511(a). The District Court2 held that § 7502 could not apply to any part of a timely claim, and granted judgment for the Service. On appeal, Ms. Anastasoff argues that § 7502 should apply whenever necessary to fulfill its remedial purpose, i.e., to save taxpayers from the vagaries of the postal system, even when only part of the claim is untimely. We affirm the judgment of the District Court.


We rejected precisely the same legal argument in Christie v. United States, No. 91-2375MN (8th Cir. Mar. 20, 1992) (per curiam) (unpublished). In Christie, as here, we considered a refund claim mailed just prior to § 6511(b)'s three-year bar and received just after. Like Ms. Anastasoff, the Christie taxpayers argued that § 7502 should operate regardless of the claim's timeliness under § 6511(a) to save their claim under § 6511(b). We held that even if § 7502 could apply to a timely claim, it would not help in this situation: If § 7502 were applied to the claim, it would be deemed received before the return. But § 6511(a) provides that a claim must be submitted within two years of overpayment if no return has yet been filed - not three years. In other words, to save the claim under § 6511(b) only makes it untimely under § 6511(a). Ms. Anastasoff does not attempt to distinguish Christie. She does argue that a relevant regulation was not cited in Christie, but the reasoning of the Christie opinion is squarely inconsistent with the effect taxpayer desires to attribute to the regulation.

Although it is our only case directly in point, Ms. Anastasoff contends that we are not bound by Christie because it is an unpublished decision and thus not a precedent under 8th Circuit Rule 28A(i). We disagree. We hold that the portion of Rule 28A(i) that declares that unpublished opinions are not precedent is unconstitutional under Article III, because it purports to confer on the federal courts a power that goes beyond the "judicial."

The Rule provides:

Unpublished opinions are not precedent and parties generally should not cite them. When relevant to establishing the doctrines of res judicata, collateral estoppel, or the law of the case, however, the parties may cite any unpublished opinion. Parties may also cite an unpublished opinion of this court if the opinion has persuasive value on a material issue and no published opinion of this or another court would serve as well . . ..

Inherent in every judicial decision is a declaration and interpretation of a general principle or rule of law. Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177-78

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(1803). This declaration of law is authoritative to the extent necessary for the decision, and must be applied in subsequent cases to similarly situated parties. James B. Beam Distilling Co. v. Georgia, 501 U.S. 529, 544 (1991); Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheat. 264, 399 (1821). These principles, which form the doctrine of precedent, were well established and well regarded at the time this nation was founded. The Framers of the Constitution considered these principles to derive from the nature of judicial power, and intended that they would limit the judicial power delegated to the courts by Article III of the Constitution.3 Accordingly, we conclude that 8th Circuit Rule 28A(i), insofar as it would allow us to avoid the precedential effect of our prior decisions, purports to expand the judicial power beyond the bounds of Article III, and is therefore unconstitutional. That rule does not, therefore, free us from our duty to follow this Court's decision in Christie.


The doctrine of precedent was well-established by the time the Framers gathered in Philadelphia. Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law: 1780-1860 8-9 (1977); J.H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History 227 (1990); Sir William Holdsworth, Case Law, 50 L.Q.R. 180 (1934). See, e.g., 1 Sir William W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England *69 (1765) ("it is an established rule to abide by former precedents"). To the jurists of the late eighteenth century (and thus by and large to the Framers),4 the doctrine seemed not just well established but an immemorial custom, the way judging had always been carried out, part of the course of the law.5 In addition, the Framers had inherited a very favorable view of precedent from the seventeenth century, especially through the writings and reports of Sir Edward Coke; the assertion of the authority of precedent had been effective in past struggles of the English people against royal usurpations, and for the rule of law against the arbitrary power of government.6 In sum, the doctrine of precedent was not merely well established; it was the historic method of judicial decision-making, and well regarded as a bulwark of judicial independence in past struggles for liberty.

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Modern legal scholars tend to justify the authority of precedents on equitable or prudential grounds.7 By contrast, on the eighteenth-century view (most influentially expounded by Blackstone), the judge's duty to follow precedent derives from the nature of the judicial power itself.8 As Blackstone defined it, each exercise of the "judicial power" requires judges "to determine the law" arising upon the facts of the case. 3 Blackstone, Commentaries *25. "To determine the law" meant not only choosing the appropriate legal principle but also expounding and interpreting it, so that "the law in that case, being solemnly declared and determined, what before was uncertain, and perhaps indifferent, is now become a permanent rule . . .."...

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