Does residency status under a treaty affect whether a taxpayer must file FBAR forms? An often-used “escape hatch” to avoid FBAR filing may be the subject of future litigation after a judge’s order.
A recent decision from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled in part for one side and in part for the other in Aroeste v. United States, a case of Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) filing and penalties and where a request for records might just the first stage in litigation that could impact many FBAR non-filers.
Plaintiffs Alberto and Estella Aroeste sued the U.S. to recoup penalty payments and to discharge still- outstanding penalties for the non-filing of an FBAR for 2012 and 2013. The penalties were assessed after a three-year administrative audit of the Aroestes’ filings for tax years 2011 through 2015. The U.S. counterclaimed against the plaintiffs to recover the balance of unpaid penalties.
The district court partially stayed the case while it awaits a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bittner v. U.S. That case presents a conflict over statutes under the Bank Secrecy Act whether a “violation” is the failure to file an annual FBAR no matter the number of foreign accounts or whether there is a separate violation for each account improperly reported.
The California district court said a decision in Bittner will control any penalties the plaintiffs owe.
Neither side disputed some details of this case. For example, an IRS audit of both plaintiffs’ tax filings for the 2011 through 2015 resulted in an assessment of some $3 million in back taxes and penalties, most of that from penalties assessed for failure to file information returns. The IRS audit led to the FBAR penalties at issue in this lawsuit, which were assessed only for tax years 2012 and 2013 because the plaintiffs did not disclose their holdings in various foreign bank accounts during those tax years.
The Aroestes seek in discovery the entire administrative record of the IRS during the now-completed audit – more than 7,000 pages.