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United States v. Stein

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 31, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ESTELLE STEIN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 1:15-cv-20884-UU

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, TJOFLAT, MARCUS, WILSON, WILLIAM PRYOR, MARTIN, JORDAN, ROSENBAUM, JULIE CARNES, NEWSOM, and HULL, Circuit Judges.

          JORDAN, Circuit Judge:

         We hold that an affidavit which satisfies Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure may create an issue of material fact and preclude summary judgment even if it is self-serving and uncorroborated. And because this principle applies in all civil cases, including those in the realm of tax law, we overrule that portion of Mays v. United States, 763 F.2d 1295, 1297 (11th Cir. 1985), which is (or may be interpreted to be) to the contrary.

         I

         This case concerns IRS assessments, so we begin with some basic tax concepts. An assessment "amounts to an IRS determination that a taxpayer owes the [f]ederal [g]overnment a certain amount of unpaid taxes, " and is "entitled to a legal presumption of correctness-a presumption that can help the [g]overnment prove its case against a taxpayer in court." United States v. Fior D'Italia, Inc., 536 U.S. 238, 242 (2002). "In reducing an assessment to judgment, the [g]overnment must first prove that the assessment was properly made. . . . [If it does so, ] the taxpayer must then prove that the assessment is erroneous in order to prevail." United States v. White, 466 F.3d 1241, 1248 (11th Cir. 2006). As far as we can tell, there are no reported federal cases addressing what evidence a taxpayer needs to present to show that an IRS assessment has been paid or satisfied.

         A

         In 2015, the government sued Estelle Stein for outstanding tax assessments, late penalties, and interest owed for tax years 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. See 26 U.S.C. § 7402. Its complaint alleged that Ms. Stein owed approximately $220, 000 plus fees and statutory additions.

         When it moved for summary judgment, the government sought to demonstrate that Ms. Stein had outstanding tax assessments by submitting copies of her federal tax returns, transcripts of her accounts for the tax years in question, and an affidavit from an IRS officer. The government acknowledged that Ms. Stein had paid the taxes due for 1996, 1999, and 2000 (as well as some additional small amounts), but claimed she had not satisfied the accrued penalties and interest for those years. As for 2001 and 2002, the government asserted that Ms. Stein had not paid any taxes, penalties, or interest. The government did not depose Ms. Stein.

         In response to the government's summary judgment motion, Ms. Stein submitted an affidavit of her own stating that, "to the best of [her] recollection, " she had paid the taxes and penalties owed for the years in question. Her affidavit specified that she had retained an accounting firm to file the tax returns after the death of her husband, who had been solely responsible for filing the couple's tax returns and paying their taxes; that she recalled paying the taxes due, including penalties, for each of those tax returns; that she no longer had bank statements to establish her payments to the IRS; that she could not obtain statements from her bank to prove her payments; and that the IRS had acknowledged misapplying her tax payment for 1996 to tax year 1979. The relevant paragraphs of Ms. Stein's affidavit stated as follows:

8. For 1996, this tax return was filed on November 15, 2004. The IRS had no record of receiving any payment and is claiming the full amount of the tax is due, along with interest and penalties.
* * *
10. For the year 1999, I filed the return as surviving spouse on February 11, 2005. The return showed an amount due of $33, 612. I paid $35, 226, which included the late penalty. The IRS has a record of that payment.
11. For the year 2000, I filed my return as surviving spouse on January 11, 2005. The amount due on the return was $4, 127. I paid $4, 349.00, which amount included the late penalty. The IRS ...

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