The Supreme Court Rejects Toth FBAR Willful Penalties Case (2023)

The Supreme Court Rejects Toth FBAR Willful Penalties Case (2023)

Supreme Court Rejects FBAR Willful Violation ‘Excessive Fines’ Argument

Recently, in 2023 the Supreme Court rejected a Writ of Certiorari in the willful FBAR Penalty case of Toth. The dissent by Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch clearly shows the absurdity of the court rejecting the ‘excessive fines’ argument in a case where an 82-year-old woman owes several million dollars in fines after her dad escaped the clutches of the Nazis in Germany. The undisclosed account was in Switzerland – noting, that Petitioner’s father fled Germany in the 1930s to escape violent antisemitism and deposited money into the Swiss Bank for protection and not to avoid any US tax requirements. FATCA had not yet been introduced and neither had the FBAR filing requirement – both of these came later, with Taxpayers not being required to report FATCA until 2012 (for 2011 tax returns). Let’s look at how the courts failed Ms. Toth.

Supreme Court and Toth

The Supreme Court Dissent is reproduced below.

      • The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. JUSTICE GORSUCH, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.

      • In the 1930s, Monica Toth’s father fled his home in Germany to escape the swell of violent antisemitism. Eventually, he found his way to South America, where he made a new life with his young family and went on to enjoy a successful business career in Buenos Aires. But perhaps owing to his early formative experiences, Ms. Toth’s father always kept a reserve of funds in a Swiss bank account. Shortly before his death, he gave Ms. Toth several million dollars, also in a Swiss bank account. He encouraged his daughter to keep the money there—just in case. Ms. Toth, now in her eighties and an American citizen, followed her father’s advice. For several years, however, she failed to report her foreign bank account to the federal government as the law requires. 31 U. S. C. §5314.

      • Toth insists this was an innocent mistake. She says she did not know of the reporting obligation. And when she learned of it, she says, she completed the necessary disclosures. The Internal Revenue Service saw things differently. Pursuant to §5321, the agency charged Ms. Toth with willfully violating §5314’s reporting requirement and assessed a civil penalty of $2.1 million—half of the balance of Ms. Toth’s account—plus another $1 million in late fees and interest. Initially, Ms. Toth sought to represent herself in proceedings challenging the IRS’s assessment, but that did not go well. Later, Ms. Toth engaged counsel who argued that the IRS’s assessment violated the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment. But the First Circuit rejected this line of defense. It held that the Constitution’s protection against excessive fines did not apply to Ms. Toth’s case because the IRS’s assessment against her was “not tied to any criminal sanction” and served a “remedial” purpose. 33 F. 4th 1, 16, 17–19 (2022).

      • This decision is difficult to reconcile with our precedents. We have recognized that the Excessive Fines Clause “traces its venerable lineage” to Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. Timbs v. Indiana, 586 U. S. ___, ___–___ (2019) (slip op., at 4–5). We have held that “[p]rotection against excessive punitive economic sanctions” is “‘fundamental’” and “‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 7).

      • And all that would mean little if the government could evade constitutional scrutiny under the Clause’s terms by the simple expedient of fixing a “civil” label on the fines it imposes and declining to pursue any related “criminal” case. Far from permitting that kind of maneuver, this Court has warned the Constitution guards against it. See Austin v. United States, 509 U. S. 602, 610 (1993) (“[T]he question is not, as the United States would have it, whether [a monetary penalty] is civil or criminal, but rather whether it is punishment.”); see also Giaccio v. Pennsylvania, 382 U. S. 399, 402 (1966); Sessions v. Dimaya, 584 U. S. ___, ___ (2018) (GORSUCH, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 10).

      • Nor is a statutory penalty beneath constitutional notice because it serves a “remedial” purpose. Really, the notion of “nonpunitive penalties” is “a contradiction in terms.” United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U. S. 321, 346 (1998) (Kennedy, J., dissenting). Just take this case. The government did not calculate Ms. Toth’s penalty with reference to any losses or expenses it had incurred. The government imposed its penalty to punish her and, in that way, deter others.

      • Even supposing, however, that Ms. Toth’s penalty bore both punitive and compensatory purposes, it would still merit constitutional review. Under our cases a fine that serves even “in part to punish” is subject to analysis under the Excessive Fines Clause. Austin, 509 U. S., at 610 (emphasis added).

      • Toth and her amici identify still more reasons to worry about the First Circuit’s decision. They say it clashes with the approach many other courts have taken in similar cases. Pet. for Cert. 18–25 (collecting cases).

      • They observe that it incentivizes governments to impose exorbitant civil penalties as a means of raising revenue. Id., at 25–30. And they contend that it is difficult to square with the original understanding of the Eighth Amendment. Brief for Professor Beth A. Colgan as Amicus Curiae on Pet. for Cert. 4–13. For all these reasons, taking up this case would have been well worth our time.

      • As things stand, one can only hope that other lower courts will not repeat its mistakes.

Current Year vs Prior Year Non-Compliance

Once a taxpayer missed the tax and reporting (such as FBAR and FATCA) requirements for prior years, they will want to be careful before submitting their information to the IRS in the current year. That is because they may risk making a quiet disclosure if they just begin filing forward in the current year and/or mass filing previous year forms without doing so under one of the approved IRS offshore submission procedures. Before filing prior untimely foreign reporting forms, taxpayers should consider speaking with a Board-Certified Tax Law Specialist that specializes exclusively in these types of offshore disclosure matters.

Avoid False Offshore Disclosure Submissions (Willful vs Non-Willful)

In recent years, the IRS has increased the level of scrutiny for certain streamlined procedure submissions. When a person is non-willful, they have an excellent chance of making a successful submission to Streamlined Procedures. If they are willful, they would submit to the IRS Voluntary Disclosure Program instead. But, if a willful Taxpayer submits an intentionally false narrative under the Streamlined Procedures (and gets caught), they may become subject to significant fines and penalties

Golding & Golding: About Our International Tax Law Firm

Golding & Golding specializes exclusively in international tax, specifically IRS offshore disclosure

Contact our firm today for assistance.