The Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic handles tax controversies involving civil federal income or employment taxes. The clinic does not handle refund suits that are filed in U.S. District Court or U.S. Claims Court, nor state or corporate tax issues. It also does not prepare tax returns.
The cases coming to the clinic usually fall into in one of the following four types:
Many individuals who contact the clinic have not only significant tax problems, but also other legal or personal problems. These other problems may relate to unemployment, substance abuse, spousal abuse, child abuse, illiteracy, medical and emotional issues. A student attorney should be alert to the presence of these issues, but not attempt to resolve them.
The taxpayer has received one of a variety of 30-day letters. The preliminary administrative 30-day letter proposes the re-determination of tax by the IRS. This 30-day letter follows an audit (examination) by an IRS agent. It asks the taxpayer to either sign and return an agreement to the examiner's findings or request a conference with an appeals officer. The request for a conference must be submitted within a 30-day period. Normally, a "Protest" will be filed following a request for an appeals conference (hearing). This preliminary, administrative 30-day letter does not impose a statutory deadline. Other 30-day letters impose statutory deadlines. These letters are issued under Sections 6320 and 6330 and they follow the assessment of tax. These letters permit a taxpayer to request a hearing to appeal a lien or levy. If an appeal is denied, a taxpayer is then given 30 days to petition the Tax Court.
The taxpayer has received one of the statutory 90-day letters. One of the 90-day letters is a Statutory Notice of Deficiency issued under (IRC § 6212). To be timely, this 90-day letter must be mailed by the IRS before the expiration of the statute of limitations on assessment of tax. It permits the taxpayer to petition the U.S. Tax Court for review of the deficiency prior to payment. The petition must be filed within a 90-days after the letter is mailed by the IRS to the taxpayer. The notice will indicate the last day on which a petition may be filed. Failure to file a petition within the 90-day period excludes the U.S. Tax Court from jurisdiction. Another 90-day letter is issued under § 6015, which permits a taxpayer to petition the Tax Court following denial by the IRS of relief from joint and several liability.
The clinic may file a petition in the U.S. Tax Court on behalf of a client. Also, the Clinic may represent a taxpayer who has filed a petition with the Court pro se and is seeking help with either settlement or litigation.
The taxpayer has failed to respond to IRS pre-assessment letters, tax has been assessed and the matter is in collections. The taxpayer may then receive a statutory Notice of Lein or a statutory Notice of Levy. This type of case will be accepted where there is a substantive tax issue involved or where tax equity dictates it. If the matter has been transferred to collections, it may be appropriate to prepare an Offer in Compromise or an installment agreement. If a statutory notice is received the taxpayer has only 30 days within which to challenge the collection action.
The client’s privacy should be respected and caution should be exercised so as not to offend the client by questioning him about suspected nontax problems. However, you should be prepared to refer your client to an appropriate social service agency.
The clinic maintains a list of agencies that are available to meet the special needs of Atlanta-area residents. If a referral is made to one of the agencies, document the referral in writing with the name and telephone number of an appropriate agency, disclaim any affiliation with the agency, and refrain from guaranteeing results. If a referral is made, write a memo to the client’s case file describing the circumstances surrounding the referral. One of the clinic directors should be consulted before a referral is made.
During subsequent conversations with the client, you should avoid questioning him or her about the outcome of the referral.