Bush v. United States, No. 16-3244 (7th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
The Bushes owed $100,000 in taxes. The IRS sought a 75% fraud penalty (26 U.S.C. 6663(a)); the Bushes proposed a 20% negligence penalty (section 6662(a)). On the date set for Tax Court trial, the Bushes filed for bankruptcy. The automatic stay prevented the Tax Court from proceeding. The government filed a proof of claim, proposing that the tax debt be given priority over other unsecured debts and that the penalty was nondischargeable. The Bushes initiated an adversary proceeding, asking for a 20% penalty, citing 11 U.S.C. 505(a)(1), which states that the court may determine the amount or legality of any tax, any fine or penalty relating to a tax ... whether or not contested before … [an] administrative tribunal. The IRS argued that section 505 does not grant subject-matter jurisdiction to bankruptcy judges and that only a potential effect on creditors’ distributions justifies a decision by a bankruptcy judge about any tax dispute. The Seventh Circuit held that a bankruptcy court can determine the amount of a debtor’s tax obligations. Section 505 does not address jurisdiction bu simply sets out a task for bankruptcy judges. Whether the judge should exercise that authority to determine tax liability is a distinct question. The bankruptcy is apparently done; the estate’s available assets have been used to pay debts and the stay has expired. This residual dispute should not remain with the bankruptcy judge but should be left to the Tax Court.