According to Law360, a Michigan federal court correctly dismissed a suit by cannabis business owners seeking to quash a third-party summons issued by the IRS requesting their companies' records because the summons aided a criminal investigation, the Sixth Circuit said Friday.
A three-judge panel determined that the summons issued to a data software company by the Internal Revenue Service seeking financial records of the various cannabis businesses that Kimberly and Richard Gaetano owned were valid to determine whether they underreported their federal taxes, according to its opinion.
The summons was essential to the agency's criminal investigation into whether the couple owed federal taxes, and the IRS proved that the summons met exceptions to the notice requirement under Internal Revenue Code Section 7609, U.S. Circuit Judge Ralph B. Guy Jr. said in the opinion.
"In sum, because the exception in Section 7609(c)(2)(E) applies, the bar of sovereign immunity remains, and subject-matter jurisdiction does not exist," Judge Guy said.
During the criminal investigation of the couple, the IRS issued a summons to the owners of Portal 42 LLC, a data software company that provides point-of-sale systems for cannabis businesses, of which the Gaetanos were clients. The summons sought the Gaetanos' records held by Portal 42 from the beginning of 2015 to Sept. 1, 2019, according to the opinion, and the couple wasn't notified of the summons by the IRS.
The Gaetanos filed suit against the IRS in 2019, requesting that the summons be quashed because they should have been notified under Section 7609, and argued that the summons was issued in bad faith.
During the lower court proceedings, the couple conceded that Portal 42 wasn't a third-party recordkeeper that required the IRS to notify the Gaetanos under an exception to Section 7609, and the IRS testified that it was investigating whether the Gaetanos underreported their federal taxes for their cannabis businesses.
The Michigan federal court determined that the IRS met the exceptions under Section 7609 that allowed the summons to be issued without notice to the Gaetanos and dismissed the couple's suit. The Gaetanos appealed that ruling, arguing that the criminal investigation conducted by the IRS was invalid because no quarterly tax period ends on Sept. 1, according to court documents.
In Its Opinion, The Sixth Circuit Affirmed That The Lower Court Correctly Determined The Summons Was Connected To The IRS’ Investigation Into Whether The Gaetanos Underreported Their Federal Tax Liability,
Per An IRS Agent’s Affidavit.
The couple also failed to prove how the summons was required to meet a four-factor test established by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1964 decision in U.S. v. Powell stipulating when a summons is valid.
In its Powell ruling, the Supreme Court stipulated that an agency must state a legitimate purpose for seeking information outside its possession that is relevant to an investigation and proper administrative procedures must be followed.
In the Gaetanos' case, the IRS agent's testimony alone most likely would have satisfied the Powell standard, but the lower court didn't have to address the issue because it correctly dismissed the suit for a lack of jurisdiction under Section 7609, the appeals court said.
"We cannot proceed to the Powell test when Section 7609 does not confer jurisdiction over this action," Judge Guy said. "As such, the Gaetanos have placed the cart before the horse."