Bedrosian v. United States, No. 17-3525 (3d Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
In 1973, Bedrosian opened a UBS savings account in Switzerland to make work purchases while traveling abroad. Later, he began to use it as a savings account. From 1973-2007, Handelman prepared Bedrosian’s income tax returns. In the 1990s Bedrosian told Handelman about the Swiss bank account. Handelman replied that Bedrosian had been breaking the law every year by not reporting the account but that his estate could deal with it after he was dead. Bedrosian continued not to report his UBS account. In 2005, Bedrosian created a second (investment) account. Handelman died. Bedrosian authorized his new accountant, Bransky, to obtain his records from Handelman’s offices. Bransky prepared Bedrosian’s 2007 tax return, listing the bank account, and a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR), 31 U.S.C. 5314, showing one of Bedrosian’s UBS accounts ($240,000); the account omitted contained $2 million. Bedrosian did not review the return but simply signed. He later sought legal counsel and began correcting his prior tax filings. In 2015 the IRS assessed a penalty for “willful” failure to disclose the larger UBS account at the statutory maximum of $975,789--50% of the undisclosed account. Bedrosian paid $9,757.89 and sought to recover that payment as an unlawful exaction. The government counterclaimed for $1,007,345. The district court concluded that Bedrosian’s violation was not willful.
The Third Circuit remanded, reserving the question of whether federal court jurisdiction is established when a taxpayer files suit to challenge an FBAR penalty before fully paying it. The court clarified that, to prove a “willful” FBAR violation, the government must satisfy the civil willfulness standard, which includes both knowing and reckless conduct.