UNITED STATES V. BOYLE, 469 U. S. 241 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Boyle, 469 U.S. 241 (1985)

United States v. Boyle

No. 83-1266

Argued October 10, 1984

Decided January 9, 1985

469 U.S. 241


Respondent, executor of his mother's will, retained an attorney to handle the estate. Respondent provided the attorney with all relevant information and records for filing a federal estate tax return, which under § 6075(a) of the Internal Revenue Code was required to be filed within nine months of the decedent's death. Respondent inquired of the attorney from time to time as to the preparation of the return, and was assured that it would be filed on time. But the return was filed three months late, apparently because of a clerical oversight in omitting the filing date from the attorney's calendar. Acting pursuant to § 6651(a)(1) of the Code, which provides a penalty for failure to file a return when due "unless it is shown that such failure is due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect," the Internal Revenue Service assessed a penalty for the late filing. Respondent paid the penalty and filed a suit in Federal District Court for a refund, contending that the penalty was unjustified because his failure to file the return on time was "due to reasonable cause," i.e., reliance on his attorney. The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment for respondent. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The failure to make a timely filing of a tax return is not excused by the taxpayer's reliance on an agent, and such reliance is not "reasonable cause" for a late filing under § 6651(a)(1). While engaging an attorney to assist in probate proceedings is plainly an exercise of the "ordinary business care and prudence" that the relevant Treasury Regulation requires the taxpayer to demonstrate to excuse a late filing, this does not answer the question presented here. To say that it was "reasonable" for respondent to assume that the attorney would meet the statutory deadline may resolve the matter as between them, but not with respect to the respondent's obligation under that statute. It requires no special training or effort on the taxpayer's part to ascertain a deadline and ensure that it is met. That the attorney, as respondent's agent, was expected to attend to the matter does not relieve the principal of his duty to meet the deadline. Pp. 469 U. S. 245-252.

10 F.2d 1251, reversed.

Page 469 U. S. 242

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which MARSHALL, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined,post, p. 469 U. S. 252.

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