United States v. Brockamp

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Brockamp
LOCATION: Senator Byrd's Office

DOCKET NO.: 95-1225
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 519 US 347 (1997)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1996
DECIDED: Feb 18, 1997

ADVOCATES:
Lawrence G. Wallace - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner
Robert F. Klueger - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Stanley B. McGill, whose estate is administrated by Marion Brockamp, paid the Internal Revenue Service money he did not owe. McGill, or his representative, submitted an administrative refund claim several years past the end of the applicable filing period set forth in the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. McGill asked the court to extend the statutory period for an "equitable" reason, namely that he had a mental disability that caused the delay. Although such a reason is not mentioned in the Internal Revenue Code, the Court of Appeals read the statute as if it contained an implied "equitable tolling" exception, which the court found justified, and therefore permitted the actions to proceed.

Question

May courts toll, for nonstatutory reasons, the statutory time limitations for filing tax refund claims set forth in the Internal Revenue Code of 1986?

Media for United States v. Brockamp

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 03, 1996 in United States v. Brockamp

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 95-1225, United States v. Marian Brockamp.

Mr. Wallace.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In these companion cases a divided panel of the court of appeals held that equitable tolling may be applied to enlarge or suspend the statutory periods that limit the time for filings and the amount of recovery that may be had on tax refund claims.

As we recount in our brief, recent decisions of the First, Fourth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits have held to the contrary.

Our submission is that those four circuits reach a result that is required by the text of the interrelated statutory provisions that govern here, and I would like to turn to the statutory text now, which is set out at pages 2 to 4 of the Government's brief.

And we start with the last of the provisions that set out section 7422(a) of the Internal Revenue Code, which the term before last in United States v. Williams this Court referred to as a provision that requires administrative exhaustion.

William H. Rehnquist:

This is found on page 4?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

On page 4 of the Government's brief, in the gray covers, and it says that no suit or proceeding shall be maintained in any courts, skipping down, until... for a refund, until a claim for refund or credit has been duly filed with the Secretary according to the provisions of law in that regard.

And the controlling provisions in our view are those set forth on the preceding two pages, the various provisions of section 6511 of the Internal Revenue Code, and... and that section starts off in subsection (a) with a statement of a period of limitation on filing a refund claim with the Internal Revenue Service.

For present purposes, since a tax return is required for an income tax, the claim must be filed within 3 years from the time the return was filed, or 2 years from the time the tax was paid.

Stephen G. Breyer:

May I ask what might be an irrelevant question on that point, but would help with my understanding of the statute?

Apparently, in their brief on page 18 it did say as first enacted it said it's within 3 years from the time the return was required to be filed, and when you read the statute... the same thing came up I think last year, you know, in a different case.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Yes.

Stephen G. Breyer:

And I've never been able to understand the statute for that reason.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

In the Mundy case.

Stephen G. Breyer:

And it left those words, was required, out, and then it seems as if you could file a return like, 82 years later, and 82 years later, now, it's not too late, and they start the statute running, but the grab-back only goes back 2 or 3 years.

Now, what was--

--Why don't you get these things amended for us, Mr. Wallace, so they can make some sense?

[Laughter]

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, that's not part of the duties that I have--

[Laughter]

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--but the Government is looking into the possibility of statutory amendment.

The question is, the tolls--

--Well, didn't... wasn't there a provision offered for amending this very section?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

There hasn't actually been a provision offered.

There was an announcement that a provision was being prepared--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Oh.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

--for offering, but it still has not been offered.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is it still being prepared, though?