Passport: Seriously Delinquent Taxes

IRC 7345

The Tax Court ruled in Ifeoma Ezekwo v. Comm’r of Internal Revenue, T.C. Memo 2022-54 filed May 31, 2022 that there was no error in the Commissioner’s certification to the Department of State that the taxpayer had a “seriously delinquent tax debt,” and that her passport could be revoked, limited, or an application for the same could be denied.  IRC Section 7345 provides that if the IRS certifies that a taxpayer has a “seriously delinquent tax debt,” that certification is transmitted to the Department of State for action relating to a taxpayer’s passport.  A “seriously delinquent tax debt” is one that is unpaid, legally enforceable, and in excess of the current threshold adjusted for inflation – currently, $55,000. It is important to note that if a taxpayer is on an installment agreement, or in currently not collectible status, they are not seriously delinquent for this purpose.  This case is a straightforward fact pattern with a taxpayer seemingly in denial that they still owed the government money after levy.  As such, the Court disposed of the matter quickly.  Of note, the Court stated that the only determination they are allowed to make under the statute is whether the Commissioner’s certification of a taxpayer as seriously delinquent was “erroneous.”  They made this point to illustrate the fact that they cannot review the underlying liabilities in a review of the certification.  The Court also pointed out a couple of exclusions for debts that could be certified.  One was relating to a pending Collection Due Process hearing. If timely filed, the debt associated with the periods that triggered the hearing rights would not be included in the total debt for certification purposes.  Also, the Court explained that a debt for which innocent spouse relief is requested will not be part of the certification.   Taxpayers who have disagreements with the government, and are close to the threshold, could pay down the liability below the current amount that triggers the certification and de-certify.  Additionally, this author would note that if a case is assigned to a field Revenue Officer, there are provisions that allow them to expedite a request for decertification if a taxpayer meets an exemption – such as the placement of an installment agreement. During the pandemic, the certification process was paused.  That has since restarted and taxpayers are being certified at this time. 

Passport Revocation

IRC Section 7345 

The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Jeffrey T. Maehr v. United States Department of State, Case No. 20-1124, handed down an opinion on July 20, 2021 in which it ruled in a case of first impression nationwide that the federal government’s statute to force taxpayers to address their tax delinquencies or suffer withdrawal or revocation of their passport until the delinquency is addressed, was in fact constitutional. The taxpayer in the case attacked the law on three grounds: 1) that it violated substantive due process, 2) that is runs afoul of the principles announced in the Privileges and Immunities clauses, and 3) that it contradicts caselaw concerning the common law principle of ne exeat republica. The law at issue was passed by Congress as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST Act”) in 2015. A certification of delinquency must be transmitted by the IRS to the Department of State. Taxpayers may avoid or decertify by coming into compliance through the establishment of an installment agreement, a Partial Payment Installment Agreement, or even a determination of Currently Not Collectible. This case is an interesting read for the constitutional scholar but doesn’t change the statute at issue.