The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is seeking a $2.1 million payment from a grandmother who accidentally failed to file specific paperwork.
Boston-based Monica Toth, 82, is facing the seizure of a multi-million dollar endowment -- left to her by her father who fled Nazi Germany and later became a successful U.S. businessman -- because she failed to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) annually prior to the year 2010.
The federal Bank Secrecy Act, which was passed in 1970, requires American citizens to report various bank records and information to the federal government. One clause requires anyone with more than $10,000 in foreign bank accounts to fill out an FBAR.
According to a Reason.com report on the situation, the IRS launched an audit in 2011. The agency ultimately determined that she underpaid taxes some years, but overpaid in others.
Toth ultimately paid $40,000 in penalties.
Then, the IRS once again came for Toth due to her failure to file FBARs prior to 2010. Under federal law, the maximum penalty for this offense is $100,000 or half the balance of the reported account, whichever is greater.
The IRS declared Toth's actions "reckless" and filed to seize half the money of the account, totally approximately $2.1 million. Per Reason:
It doesn't matter whether Toth's failure to file the form deprived the IRS of taxes it was owed or whether she was actively trying to deceive the government. All that mattered was that she didn't file a proper record of the bank account that the IRS contends she should have known she needed to file.
The issue at hand, according to the aforementioned report, is whether or not "annually completing a one-page form can be considered an excessive fine that violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution's Bill of Rights."
Toth, her family, and her legal team have called upon the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. She is being represented by the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Virginia organization that has previously won Supreme Court cases.
In Timbs v. Indiana (2019), the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Eighth Amendment applied to state-level asset forfeitures. In that specific case, Indiana officials seized an SUV from a man arrested for selling heroin and attempted to keep it.
At the time, late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that one of the reasons the Eighth Amendment exists is to prevent government entities from using fines not as a punishment but "as a source of revenue."
The New York Post noted that Toth and her lawyers are in for an uphill battle -- two lower courts have already sided with the government on the Toth case, leading Institute for Justice attorney Brian Morris to say, “Across the country, Americans suffer from abusive fines."
The IRS has a policy of not commenting on ongoing litigation, and has therefore not issued a statement regarding this case. It is not immediately clear when Toth will return to court.
What do you think about the Monica Toth case?
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