National Org. for Marriage v. IRS, No. 14-2363 (4th Cir. 2015)Annotate this Case
NOM appealed the district court’s denial of its motion under 26 U.S.C. 7431(c)(3) to collect attorneys’ fees from the IRS. NOM had filed suit against the IRS seeking damages for unlawful inspection and disclosure of confidential tax information by IRS agents. NOM sought statutory damages, actual damages, punitive damages, and costs and attorneys’ fees. the district court concluded that NOM was not a “prevailing party” under section 7430(c)(4)(A) because (1) it did not “substantially prevail [in litigation against the IRS] with respect to the amount in controversy, or . . . the most significant . . . issues presented,” and, alternatively, (2) the government’s position in the litigation was “substantially justified” under 7430(c)(4)(B). The court could not say that the government acted unreasonably prior to the summary judgment stage of the litigation by waiting to see what NOM’s evidence was and then challenging its sufficiency. In this case, the government adopted a reasonable strategy in conceding statutory damages, but challenging the existence and amount of both actual and punitive damages. The court agreed with the district court that the government’s litigation position was “substantially justified,” which, by itself, is sufficient to find that NOM was not a “prevailing party” under the statute. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.