Watch What You Post
Sydney Chaney Thomas is a persistent blogger, with blogs going back to January 2014. You can find recipes, stories about living in San Francisco, CA, meditations, and her “ethical and sustainable sailing apparel brand” at sidneychaneythomas.com. You can also find the posts that share her sadness over the sudden death of her husband in 2016.
After the passing of her husband, the widow found out that the joint tax returns she filed with her husband for 2012 – 2014 left some taxes unpaid. Ms. Thomas sought relief under Section 6015(f). The IRS denied her request in September 2020 and Ms. Thomas petitioned the court in November 2020 to review the IRS decision.
The Innocent Spouse Rules (section 6015’s) have provisions for spouses who do not know that taxes haven’t been paid and request to be not responsible for these taxes. For those that don’t qualify for spousal relief, Section 6015(f) allows the IRS to waive joint liability if “taking into account all the facts and circumstances, it is inequitable to hold the individual liable for any unpaid tax or any deficiency (or any portion of either)”.
The IRS started focusing on Thomas’ blog posts. The first blog was from November 2016 and the last one was from January 2022. The court said the content of the posts were relevant because they reflected on Thomas’s assets, lifestyle and business as well as her relationship with her former husband. Thomas argued that the IRS could not use those posts as they were not part of the administrative record the court was allowed to consider in innocent spouse cases.
The court noted that while it is generally limited to the administrative record in innocent spouse cases, this section of code provides an exception for “newly discovered evidence”. The court believed that the IRS discovered the posts by searching the internet AFTER the taxpayer filed her petition in court and since there was no evidence the IRS knew of the posts any sooner, the court concluded the blog posts were admissible. Thomas v. Comm’r 160 T.C. No. 4 (T.C. 2023).
The one thing taxpayers need to know is that the IRS has the internet and knows how to use it. When you get that “itch” to posts those pictures of your family vacation on a private yacht on Facebook/Instagram/or any other social media platform, you may be giving evidence to the IRS.