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LITC Wins in Ninth Circuit

July 29, 2015

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    Charles Lewis '16, Aaron Johnson '16, and LITC professor Jan Pierce

Lewis & Clark law students and the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) scored a big win in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently.

The case (Barbara Knudsen v. CIR) was the first of its kind that addressed the interpretation of the Qualified Offer Rule (QOR), a statute in the Tax Code. The rule essentially states that if a taxpayer makes a qualified offer to settle with the IRS, the IRS does not accept the offer, and the taxpayer does as well or better at trial, then the taxpayer is awarded attorney fees. The case decided the question of whether a unilateral concession by the IRS after trial is in fact considered a settlement. This is important because the Tax Code differentiates between a concession and a settlement. If the unilateral concession is a settlement, then the clinic, which represented Knudsen, does not get attorney fees.

On May 4, Ashley McDonald ’15 made the oral argument before the Ninth Circuit under the supervision of Denis Vannier ’04, pro bono appellate attorney. McDonald was assisted by Caleb Smith ’15, and by third year student Aaron Johnson who conducted legal research. The opinion, filed on July 15, agreed with the LITC that a post-trial concession is not a settlement. The case was remanded back to the Tax Court for a determination of attorney fees. The opinion will be a published opinion.

This decision is a big win not only for the clinic and the students, but for low income taxpayers in general. “There is a lot of pride that comes with knowing that we are working together at this stage of the case to secure the best outcome for the LITC, those who put in so much hard work before us, and low income taxpayers everywhere. It is gratifying to be a small part of a published opinion that makes an important clarification in tax law,” says Johnson.

Under the supervision of Clinical Professor Jan Pierce, Johnson and third year student Charles Lewis have been working diligently on the clinic’s application for attorney fees in the Ninth Circuit since the opinion came out.

“I came to the LITC to increase my exposure to practical tax law. Now I am part of a team that is responsible for a published Ninth Circuit opinion,” says Lewis. “The LITC is a great experience not only because the practical experience gained, but also because of the vast amount of work we do to help the low income community.”

The clinic filed the Bill of Costs and will file the application for attorney fees for the appeal to the court within the next few weeks.

A previous story about the case was published in May. Visit our Tax Law program web pages to find out more about curriculum, clinical and pro-bono opportunities, faculty, and more.

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