The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today affirmed a federal district court’s grant of summary judgment for the IRS, in a case concerning a taxpayer’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for pages withheld or redacted by the IRS.
The case is: Solers, Inc. v. IRS, No. 15-1608 (4th Cir. June 30, 2016). Read the Fourth Circuit’s decision [PDF 44 KB]
After the IRS closed its audit of the taxpayer (an information technology company) and proposed adjustments to its tax liability and potential penalties, the taxpayer submitted a FOIA request to the IRS for all documents in the IRS administrative file pertaining to the taxpayer’s tax liabilities and penalties. The IRS provided all but 26 pages of 261 pages located, and redacted 32 pages.
The taxpayer initiated this action, and eventually it was determined that the IRS would withhold six pages and redact four pages. Of these, there were six types of documents that were withheld or redacted, including handwritten notes prepared by the IRS revenue agent, a summary report, a graph, a checksheet, an activity record, and two emails.
The district court found that four pages of handwritten notes represented the IRS revenue agent’s mental processes and thoughts about the investigation, and could be withheld in their entirety because there were no segregable portions that could be produced. The Fourth Circuit agreed and affirmed.
With respect to certain other documents, the Fourth Circuit concluded that the attorney-client privilege justified the limited redaction by the IRS so as to keep confidential the specific issues on which the revenue agent sought legal advice while working on the tax audit.
Concerning the emails, the appeals court concluded that the district court did not err in holding that the IRS employees’ interest in maintaining the privacy of their names and contact information outweighed the public interest in the disclosure of this information.
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