67 F.3d 260 (9th Cir. 1995), 94-56424, Brockamp v. United States

Docket Nº:94-56424.
Citation:67 F.3d 260
Party Name:Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7805, 95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 13,427 Marian BROCKAMP, administrator and sole residuary beneficiary of the Estate of Stanley B. McGill, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:October 05, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 260

67 F.3d 260 (9th Cir. 1995)

Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7805,

95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 13,427

Marian BROCKAMP, administrator and sole residuary

beneficiary of the Estate of Stanley B. McGill,

Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

UNITED STATES of America, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 94-56424.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 5, 1995

Argued and Submitted June 5, 1995.

Robert F. Klueger, Boldra & Klueger, Encino, California, for plaintiff-appellant.

Bridget M. Rowan, Tax Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Page 261

Before: FLETCHER, WIGGINS, and FERNANDEZ, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge WIGGINS; Dissent by Judge FERNANDEZ.

WIGGINS, Circuit Judge:

Marian Brockamp, the administrator and sole beneficiary of the estate of her father, Stanley B. McGill, brought an action for a refund of his April 1984 income tax overpayment. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the United States, holding that the suit was precluded by the statute of limitations. We reverse and remand for further proceedings on Mr. McGill's mental incompetence.

BACKGROUND

In April 1984, Mr. McGill, who was 93 years old at the time, mailed a check to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") for $7,000, along with an application for an automatic extension of time to file his 1983 income tax return. He made no indication of his reason for sending the $7,000. Despite his extension request, Mr. McGill never filed an income tax return for 1983. More than two years later, on July 15, 1986, the IRS transferred the $7,000 from Mr. McGill's account into an "Excess Collection Account."

Mr. McGill died intestate on November 7, 1988 at the age of 98. During the administration of his estate, Mrs. Brockamp discovered the $7,000 payment and requested a refund. In a letter to the IRS, Mrs. Brockamp characterized her father as "senile" and stated that he had mistakenly sent the check for $7,000 rather than $700. On March 27, 1991, Mrs. Brockamp filed a tax return for Mr. McGill's 1983 tax liability. The IRS assessed $427 in taxes, and refused Mrs. Brockamp's refund request, based on the statute of limitations provided in I.R.C. Sec. 6511.

On August 3, 1993, Mrs. Brockamp filed suit against the United States seeking the return of the money paid by Mr. McGill. She argued that (1) the $7,000 check was a "deposit," rather than a payment, and therefore was not subject to the time limitations of Sec. 6511, and (2) even if the $7,000 was a payment, her refund claim was not barred because the statute of limitations imposed by Sec. 6511 was equitably tolled due to Mr. McGill's mental incompetence. The district court rejected both arguments. It concluded that the $7,000 was a payment, that equitable tolling never applies to tax refund cases, and, therefore, that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations. We conclude that equitable tolling can apply to tax refund cases, and we therefore reverse. We remand to the district court for a determination of Mr. McGill's mental capacity during the relevant time frame.

DISCUSSION

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court's construction and interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code is reviewed de novo. Miller v. United States, 38 F.3d 473, 475 (9th Cir.1994).

II. MERITS

A. Tax Refund Claims are Subject to Equitable Tolling

I.R.C. Sec. 6511(a) provides that a claim for refund of an overpayment must be filed within three years from the time the return was filed, or, if no return was filed, within two years from the date the tax was paid. The court lacks jurisdiction over a claim that does not satisfy Sec. 6511. United States v. Dalm, 494 U.S. 596, 602, 110 S.Ct. 1361, 1365, 108 L.Ed.2d 548 (1989). Mrs. Brockamp obviously cannot meet the two year deadline, as the tax was paid in April 1984, and she did not file her refund claim until March 1991. Nor can she meet the three year deadline, because taxpayers who file returns more than two years after their taxes are paid cannot take advantage of the three year period following the filing of a return. Miller v. United States, 38 F.3d 473, 475 (9th Cir.1994). Therefore, Sec. 6511 bars Mrs. Brockamp's claim unless equitable tolling applies to lift that bar.

The government relies on United States v. Dalm to support its position that the principles of equitable tolling cannot be applied to Sec. 6511. In Dalm, the Supreme Court considered

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whether equitable recoupment could serve as an independent basis for federal jurisdiction where the statutory requirements of Sec. 6511 were not satisfied. The Court held that the doctrine could not be applied to toll Sec. 6511. Dalm, 494 U.S. at 611, 110 S.Ct. at 1369-70.

Nine months later, however, in Irwin v. Department of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 111 S.Ct. 453, 112 L.Ed.2d 435 (1990), the Supreme Court declared a new, general rule holding that "the same rebuttable presumption of equitable tolling applicable to suits against private defendants should also apply to suits against the United States. Congress, of course, may provide otherwise if it wishes to do so." Id. at 95-96, 111 S.Ct. at 457 (Title VII action). In Irwin, the court changed its method of evaluating the availability of equitable tolling. Specifically, the court stated:

The continuing effort on our part to decide each case on an ad hoc basis, as we appear to have done in the past, would have the disadvantage of continuing unpredictability without the corresponding advantage of greater fidelity to the intent of Congress. We think that this case affords us an opportunity to adopt a more general rule to govern the applicability of equitable tolling in suits against the government.

Id. at 95, 111 S.Ct. at 457 (emphasis added). We believe that this language effectively limited the Dalm decision described above. Irwin requires that, in the absence of congressional action, statutes of limitations are, as a general rule, presumed to be subject to equitable tolling in suits against the United States.

Congress has never expressed any intention that equitable tolling should not apply to Sec. 6511. The specific language of the statute does not speak to the application of equitable tolling principles. Additionally, since the Supreme Court decided Irwin four years ago, Congress has done nothing to indicate that equitable tolling does not apply to Sec. 6511. Furthermore, as the court in Johnsen v. United States noted, the legislative history of Sec. 6511 "is absolutely devoid of any indication that Congress intended to preclude such equitable...

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